Tag Archives: sexual problems in marriage

Sex Struggles in Marriage: Are You Part of the Problem?

Twice in the last two weeks, I’ve screwed up with readers and had to apologize for making assumptions I should not have made. If I explained each situation, you’d understand why I assumed what I did, but that doesn’t excuse my blunder. The fault rests squarely on my shoulders.

Even as I write that, it’s hard to admit, hard to feel the disappointment in myself, hard to fess up to my part.

Why do we struggle to say we’re sorry? For whatever part we had in a conflict? Why do we struggle with it so much in marriage? With it in our sex struggles in marriage?

Self-Preservation

All organisms possess self-preservation, “a natural or instinctive tendency to act so as to preserve one’s own existence” (Merriam-Webster). For humans, that existence includes our sense of self. When we feel attacked, we react in defense.

Interestingly, the two primary motivators of self-preservation behaviors are pain and fear. “Pain motivates the individual to withdraw from damaging situations, to protect a damaged body part while it heals, and to avoid similar experiences in the future,” while ” fear causes the organism to seek safety and may cause a release of adrenaline” (Wikipedia, self-preservation).

I’ve seen this time and time again regarding sexual problems. The pain and fear of what’s happening, or not happening, attacks a spouse’s sense of their self. Rather than ask where or how they might have contributed to problems in the marriage bed, they react defensively. It’s an understandable instinct of self-preservation — to protect themselves from experiencing further damage or to seek safety from the pain and fear they feel.

Defense Mechanisms

We all employ defense mechanisms to preserve ourselves. But we have individual tendencies to use certain ones more often than others.

Before you read on, think about the biggest problem you have regarding sex in your marriage. It may be a huge disconnect that has caused intense conflict or a smaller one that you both want to address. But as I outline six common defense mechanisms, consider that issue and ask which defense mechanisms you relate best to.

Do NOT try to identify your spouse is on this list. At least not yet. Work on yourself first!

1. Denial

“What problem? There’s no problem. I don’t know why my spouse thinks there’s a problem.”

Few people living in denial about sex problems are currently reading this blog post, because the Kings and Queens of De-Nile are unlikely to visit a Christian sex site. However, you may be denying other issues in the marriage that contribute to sexual problems, like relational conflict or porn use.

2. Compartmentalization

“Everything else is great in our marriage. It’s only the sex part that’s an issue.”

This could be true, if you’re dealing with a temporary downturn in intimacy or a physical impediment you need to address. But compartmentalization also happens when someone says the marriage shouldn’t be affected by a lack of sex or that spirituality and sexuality have nothing to do with each other. Truth is, sex struggles may tap into pain or fear, so it’s easier to simply set sex aside and close it off.

3. Projection

“I’m not the one with a problem. My spouse is the one with a problem.”

Again, this could be true if you have a deeply selfish or abusive spouse, but most of us don’t. (If you do, see Are You in an Abusive or Destructive Marriage?) Instead, projection is when we contribute to the problems or feel things we don’t want to feel, and instead of addressing those, we project them onto our spouse. One example is the unfaithful spouse who accuses their mate of cheating, but it could also be something like a refusing spouse who projects onto their spouse the accusation of controlling the marriage bed.

4. Rationalization

“It’s entirely reasonable for me to feel and react the way I do. Because…”

You can recognize rationalization when the sexual problem comes up in conversation, and you immediate have an answer that could be introduced with “Yeah, but…” Then you go on to explain the circumstances that warrant your feelings, actions, and reactions. For example, of course you don’t have more sex because it’s messy and takes too much time. (Concerns which can be addressed, by the way.) Another form this takes is whataboutism, where you rationalize your behavior by pointing out a separate failure of your spouse.

Confession: In a conflict, rationalization and I are practically besties. Sigh. #WorkInProgress

5. Overcompensation

“So our sex life isn’t great, but I do all these other awesome things.”

Compensation is a positive defense mechanism if used as a way to make up for weaknesses with strengths. For instance, I have a sign in my kitchen that reads, “I kiss better than I cook,” to remind my family that my cooking weakness is compensated by my affection for them. But it becomes a problem when we overcompensate, meaning we play the game of “don’t look here, look over here.” We point to what we want our spouse to see, without regard to the problem that matters more to them. This happens with sexual intimacy when a spouse says that they don’t want to have sex but they are a wonderful parent, house manager, breadwinner, etc. Or let’s say he’s demanding in the sack, but he gives his wife a lot of orgasms — whether or not that’s what she cares most about.

(By the way, I still cook and try to make it good. Sometimes, it’s quite good!)

6. Repression

“I don’t know why I’m this way. I just am.”

Repression is difficulty to identify because by definition it’s the unconscious blocking of unwanted thoughts, painful memories, or irrational beliefs. You don’t know you’re doing it, but that buried baggage is still affecting the sexual intimacy in your marriage. It could be as serious as childhood abuse you haven’t addressed or a less severe issue like sexual myths you absorbed. But if you’re having problems with sex and can’t identify the issue, it’s worth asking what you might have repressed for the sake of self-preservation.

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7. Other Defense Mechanisms

These common defense mechanisms address many struggles I’ve heard, but there are other defense mechanisms, including sublimation, regression, intellectualization, undoing, and more.

If you want to explore further, here are three good lists:

PsychCentral – 15 Common Defense Mechanisms
healthline – 10 Defense Mechanisms: What Are They and How They Help Us Cope
verywellmind – 20 Common Defense Mechanisms Used for Anxiety

Beyond Self-Defense

So we often avoid owning our part of a sexual problem in our marriage through defense mechanisms meant to achieve self-preservation. But is that God’s ultimate calling?

  • “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
  • “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
  • “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).
  • “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”(Philippians 2:3-4).
  • “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).
  • “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you” (John 15:12).

Look, God wants to preserve us. But He’s concerned with preserving the best of us and our unity (see John 17:22-23). In marriage, that unity is called “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:6).

As Christians and spouses, we must be willing to confront our pain and fear and seek deeper intimacy with one another. That requires honesty, vulnerability, and owning our part.

As Christians and spouses, we must be willing to confront our pain and fear and seek deeper intimacy with one another. That requires honesty, vulnerability, and owning our part. @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

I’ve messed up in my own marriage more times than I can count. But I can also see times when things were bad and I made them worse by setting up defense mechanisms to preserve myself at the expense of our relationship. In the end, I created more pain for both of us than we would have had just addressing the problem together, head-on.

Perhaps you can relate?

If you see yourself in this description, start with these two words: I’m sorry. You may be responsible for 90% of the issue or only 10% of the issue, but own your part.

Then begin figuring out how to do something different. What first steps can you take to improve the sexual intimacy in your marriage? Not what can my spouse do (remember projection?), but what can I do? Then pray for God’s wisdom and guidance as you do just that.

Have You Received Bad Marriage Counseling?

Back when our marriage was firmly planted in a pit of despair, we sought counseling. We tried marriage counseling three different times—not a single appointment, but an extended effort.

Likewise, I’ve often encouraged people to seek Christian counseling for their marriages or themselves, but I admit to worrying sometimes what they’ll get. Because our experience was a mixed bag, and some things said were sadly unhelpful.

None of our counselors was uncaring or incompetent or ungodly. Rather, our poor experiences simply weren’t what we needed, so our marriage didn’t improve and I sank further into despair. I thought: If we’re giving our marriage everything we’ve got, including Christian counseling, and it still isn’t working … maybe we should just call it quits.

With no disrespect to those people who tried to help our marriage, I want to share some “bad marriage counseling” approaches and give tips on how to recognize a good counselor for your marriage.

1. “I know what your problem is.”

Counselors see a lot of the same circumstances again and again. It’s true that for most people who have shared sexual problems with me on this blog or through email, someone else has shared a similar problem. So I can see how that would happen. It’s an easy stretch then to have a counselor spend an hour with a couple and think, “I’ve got this.” They announce, “I know what your problem is,” then describe the issues and prescribe a solution.

More than once, we had a counselor announce what our problem was—and they were off-base. They ascribed stereotypical gender roles or family back stories or internal motives that didn’t apply.

You wouldn’t trust a physician to diagnose strep without a throat culture, would you? Or cancer without a biopsy? Likewise, a good counselor needs to gather information about what you two are actually facing to be able to diagnose the problem and give specific solutions.

Look for someone who asks more questions than gives answers in the first few sessions. That’s not to say a good counselor won’t have insight and good advice—in fact, it’s a great idea for them to give you some obvious tips to get a few “quick wins”—but they should also take time seeing how your issues match common scenarios and how your relationship is different.

2. “Just work the program.” 

Two of our three counselors preferred a specific program to helping marriages. One used a particular book, which we were asked to purchase and read, and the other had his own canned approach. The message both gave was clear: You work the program, and your marriage will work.

I’m not knocking the books or programs people promote to help marriages. I’ve benefited a lot from specific perspectives like Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages and Emerson Eggerichs’s Love and Respect. But I grow concerned when we treat such programs like these, and His Needs, Her Needs by Willard T. Harley, as magic bullets for whatever ails your marriage. What if you work the program and the marriage still doesn’t work? If it’s not the fault of the program, it must be your marriage. Right?

Not right.

On my blog, I try to address specific sexual intimacy issues while returning again and again to principles that apply across marriages (like 3 G-Words to Improve Your Marriage and The Gospel in the Bedroom). Look, I don’t have a magic bullet, and change is hard. Your marriage has its own specific problems, and while the ultimate answer is Jesus, how Jesus works in your marriage is specific to your situation.

Your marriage has its own specific problems, and while the ultimate answer is Jesus, how Jesus works in your marriage is specific to your situation. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

Marriage counseling should be tailored to where a specific couple is and what they’re dealing with. Principles from programs can be helpful, but the program shouldn’t be the focus of healing the relationship. Just open up the Gospel and tell me if Jesus dealt with every person He encountered in the same way. Of course not! Are there principles He followed? Absolutely. But He tailored His approach to the specific person.

3. “It’s all his/her fault.”

Actually, the problem is a counselor letting a spouse get away with this attitude. I’d venture a guess that in 90% of counseling cases, one spouse thinks all the problems would go away if the other one would just change already. And some of those times, a counselor agrees.

Sure, there are situations in which one spouse is largely to blame—like with a serial adulterer, an ongoing addict, or an abuser. But the majority of marriages are two-to-tango in their dysfunction. Even if one person started the mess, something the other did enabled or escalated problems. Our reactions to our spouse’s bad behaviors make a real difference in whether it’s a blip in the marriage or a dynamic that takes hold.

Our reactions to our spouse's bad behaviors make a real difference in whether it's a blip in the marriage or a dynamic that takes hold. via @hotholyhumorous Click To Tweet

On the other hand, one of our counselors had a different message that seemed just as destructive to me: It’s all your fault if you let your spouse’s bad behavior affect you. This is the notion that you’re to blame for your reactions, so if you feel negative about something your spouse has done, that’s on you.

Whoa, wait a minute. So if my husband cheats on me, and I’m mad about it, I chose that emotion so it’s my fault? Um, no! There are reasonable reactions to certain behaviors in marriage, and we should not beat up a spouse for having those emotions. If your spouse woos the heck out of you, you’ll probably be happy about that. If your spouse pooh-poohs all your date plans for the night, you’ll probably be unhappy about that. That’s called caring about your relationship.

If you’re in couples counseling, your counselor should address where each of you can improve. They should intervene when one starts blaming the other too much or tries to shut down reasonable negative reactions to bad behavior. This is really just the application of the Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).

4. “That’s not important.” 

When you bring up something that matters to you in a couples counseling session, and the counselor says, “That doesn’t matter,” it feels like they just said that you don’t matter. Maybe they don’t say it quite that way; rather, they might try to steer the conversation away with something like, “Well, that’s a small thing, and we need to tackle the bigger issues here.” That sounds great, but if you brought up the way he refolds his clothes after you already did it, I’m guessing that issue stands for something bigger in the relationship.

This hasn’t happened to us much, but I’ve heard it from readers quite a bit—especially when it comes to sexual intimacy. The scenario is often this one: The higher-drive spouse brings up a lack of sex in the marriage, and the counselor dismisses that as a physical need that isn’t as important as “high-minded” issues like emotional connection and communication. Well, hello! God created sex to be one form of emotional connection and communication in a marriage.

If your core issues are not being addressed, find another counselor who will listen. Again, this would be like going to a doctor and saying, “My knee hurts every time I bend it”; if they said, “Well, that doesn’t matter. I just want to look at your throat,” you’d be annoyed that they didn’t care about your health. If your marital ache is your husband never doing a chore in the house, or your wife rolling her eyes when you talk, or your spouse neglecting sexual intimacy, find a counselor who’ll address it. Along with your spouse’s concerns, which also matter.

But how do you find a good Christian counselor?

You can Google search for a counselor in your area, and you can look into local churches. Larger churches often have a counselor on site or support a counseling practice in your area. But one of the best ways is word-of-mouth. For that, don’t just look for that person who goes to counseling all the time, but the one who has shown improvement. Who do you know that used to struggle with X and is doing much better now? Who did they see?

At your first appointment, ask questions about what kind of approach they take. They should be interviewing you about your situation, but this is also your opportunity to interview them to see if your goals and personalities will work together. Be open-minded and willing to hear tough stuff—that’s part of counseling—but look for someone who listens, gets along with both of you, and seems to be for your marriage.

And be willing to try more than one counselor if the first one or two aren’t a good fit. It’s okay to move on from someone who isn’t helping you to someone you might be able to. Seriously, you’d do that much for a car that the first mechanic wasn’t able to fix, so why wouldn’t you do it for your marriage?

Have you ever been to marriage counseling, and if so, what was your experience? What advice would you give for finding a good Christian counselor?

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Q&A with J: “My Marriage Bed Is a Mess” Part 2

Last week, I talked about the many emails in my inbox with specific stories of hardship surrounding the marriage bed. While I desperately wish I could clone myself and answer every single question fully, I simply cannot.

I’m one tiny part of the Body of Christ, and what I say isn’t the only wisdom out there by any means. I do what I can, but I trust that couples in rough situations can find godly answers from various sources.

Still, I want to share six candid responses that come to mind when reading stories from people who write me and essentially say, “Our marriage bed is a mess.”

Blog post title with unhappy couple in bed

Previously, I covered three possibilities that could apply to your circumstances. Very quickly, they are:

1. You’re married to a selfish jerk; that is, a spouse who dismisses your beliefs, belittles your feelings, and/or thinks your body belongs solely to them to be used as a sexual tool.

2. You are the selfish jerk, meaning you’re the one complaining about how you’re not getting everything you want in the marriage bed and arguing with your mate about how you’ve been mistreated.

3. You have a poor theology of sex, meaning you have been taught and/or adopted erroneous beliefs about sexual intimacy that have had a negative impact on your marriage.

For each of these issues, I provide some answers in the prior post.

Now for the next three responses that often occur to me as I read various scenarios. See if one of these applies to your situation:

4. You’re making mountains out of molehills. Just in case you’re not familiar with that idiom, it means that you’re taking what should be a minor issue and making it a major issue in your marriage. Such emails come from people who:

  • Get overly frustrated with their spouse for not doing a specific sexual activity. For instance, I understand the man who’d like his wife to swallow when she performs fellatio. What I don’t understand is acting like your sex life totally stinks because she won’t!
  • Take deep offense at mild slights. One example here would be the woman who cuts her husband off from sex because he glanced at a pretty girl in the restaurant, figuring somehow that means he’d rather be with her.
  • Hold grudges from past problems. These spouses have amazing memories and can bring up a whole Samsonite store of past baggage when it suits them. Any current issue is seen in light of their tally of offenses from the past, whether or not it applies.

One of the major shifts that helped my marriage so very much was starting to ask myself how much something really mattered. Was the slight personal? Or was my husband behaving in a way that was core to his personality or world view? Was it something I absolutely had to have? Or could I let it go? Was I accurately assessing what was happening? Or making assumptions that weren’t necessarily true?

I still have to do this from time to time, because it’s oh-so-easy to think that something that bothers you is colossally important. But it isn’t always that important. Sometimes you can just talk it out or let it go or … keep your mouth shut, pray for God to work on your heart, and be the one to change.

5. You’re making molehills out of mountains.

This is the spouse who watches “a little porn” and doesn’t think their mate should be upset. Or they had an extramarital affair and complain that she isn’t getting over it quickly enough, because after all, it’s “in the past.” It’s the spouse who doesn’t really like sex and thinks it isn’t that big a deal that it’s been a month or two.

While the previous problem was like people who get a paper cut and think they’re dying, this category is for those who are like the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, missing arms and bleeding profusely while proclaiming, “It’s just a flesh wound.”

Monty Python & the Holy Grail: King Arthur fighting armless Black Knight

Good gravy, what’s it going to take for you to understand your spouse is in emotional pain? And that you need to do something about it. Starting with taking your vows to love and cherish your mate seriously. That includes valuing their feelings and trying to work through issues together.

Even if something doesn’t seem big to you, find out why it matters to your spouse. Ask what they’re going through and show genuine compassion and respect. Also find out what really matters to God, because you might well have some false beliefs about what intimacy in marriage should look like. Soak yourself instead in the truth, the way God designed sex in marriage to be. It comes down to this: “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves” (Romans 12:10).

It comes down to this: 'Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.' Click To Tweet

6. You need to ask a different expert.

Having studied a lot about sexuality, and specifically sex from a biblical perspective, I consider myself something of an expert in this field. But I’m not a medical doctor or a licensed counselor or a church pastor or a parenting guru. I know my limits.

If you’re dealing with physical or body chemistry issues that impact your marriage bed, the first and best place to start is your doctor’s office. You may need to push for some answers, or even change doctors, but almost every physical challenge that affects your bedroom has an answer or treatment that will help. Ladies, if you’re looking for someone to consult, check out my post on finding a good gynecologist.

If you’re need resources on teaching young children or even teens about sex, I have written several posts for parents (like this one, this one, and this one). But I’m really not up on books, curriculum, or speakers in that field. My target audience is marrieds, particularly wives, and I mostly keep that focus.

There are other issues as well that I get asked about where I just don’t know and believe other experts are better qualified to answer. If you have a question about sex, consider who might be the best source. Maybe it is me, and I’m obviously happy to answer many questions I receive on this blog. But you might need to talk to your pastor, a doctor, or someone else to get the guidance you need. If you aren’t sure where to go, ask wise friends, whom I hope you have.

Once again, I wish I could get to more emails and answer each specifically. But hopefully these six answers address some of the challenges out there in marriage beds. I encourage you to ask some questions and try to figure out what the source of your problems is. And from that place, you can figure out what step to take next.

In all things, cover your marriage bed in prayer. And know that others are praying for you.

Are You Listening to What Your Spouse Says about Sex?

I’ll be honest: I’m sitting here on the Sunday after the United States inauguration and feeling sick and tired of the news, my Facebook feed, and people I know and love from both sides of the aisle being at constant odds with each other. In our politically charged atmosphere, some have become so hypersensitive that you can barely say anything without being misinterpreted, challenged, and even maligned. And yes, from both sides of political opinion. Seeing such large-scale conflict is rankling and stressful.

But you can turn off the TV, stay off Facebook, pop in a movie or a TV show, read a book, take a bubble bath, etc. to get away from all that rancor for a while. You can’t do that with the conflict in your marriage over sexual intimacy.

When it comes to the subject of sex, some marriages reside in an emotionally charged atmosphere where one or both of you are so hypersensitive that the other can barely say anything without being misinterpreted, challenged, and even maligned. On this smaller scale, the conflict reaches beyond stressful. It’s painful.

And you can’t escape. Because the sexuality in your marriage is an important piece that deserves attention, resolution, and nurturing. So you keep bringing up the subject and facing the same issues again and again and again.

Maybe the current stalemates in our political arena could illuminate some thoughts about resolving conflict regarding your marriage bed. Because you know what’s often missing from those political conversations I’ve seen? Listening.

Open-eared, open-minded, open-hearted listening.

Are You Listening to What Your Spouse Says about Sex? with ear icon

Dr. Gary Smalley, a marriage counselor and author, wrote about the importance of creating a safe environment for communication: “When your spouse feels safe, he is naturally inclined to relax and open his heart.” (See this Focus on the Family article.) When we’re dealing with a contentious issue, we anticipate getting criticized or stonewalled so we’re far less likely to speak honestly and find ways to move forward. It’s only when we feel safe to express our thoughts, feelings, and concerns that we can open up fully.

Whatever the issues surrounding your marriage bed, finding out what they actually are would surely be an important step. You can badger your reluctant spouse from now until the era of Buck Rogers to have more sex, demand less sex, pay attention to your orgasm, fulfill your fantasy, etc., and you’ll likely make little progress unless you find out why they don’t want to do what you think is such a great idea.

Very often, there is history, baggage, a deeper story behind your spouse’s resistance. Until you dig deeper and fix the underlying problems, you’ll still be in conflict.

Why not try listening?

Like really listening.

No, like shut up and listen.

No, shut up your brain, not just your mouth, and listen.

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. You might not agree with what your spouse says, but wouldn’t it be a great idea to better understand where he’s coming from? To at least get a sense of how he started at A and arrived at B?

You might even find out that you agree more than you thought.

How do you start these conversations? The ones where you actually let your spouse have a bit of monologue?

Don’t preach. Don’t explain. Don’t demand. Don’t push.

Ask a question. Listen to the answer. Ask a follow-up question. Listen to the answer. Ask another question. Listen to the answer. Ask for clarification. Listen to the answer.

Go away and mull it over.

Is this near impossible? For people like me, and many of you, yeah. It’s tough. Dare I say painful? You might have to burrow your teeth into your tongue so deep you leave gouges. But you were already in pain about your sex life anyway, so better to have a few tongue wounds and some progress in the bedroom.

Is this a single conversation? Probably not. It took years to mess up your sex life. No, really. Maybe it didn’t even happen with you there, but rather something that happened to your husband or wife before you even met them. But the deep-seated perspectives and approaches took a while to establish, so they won’t loosen up in a day.

Is this really the remedy? It’s part of the cure. If you two can’t communicate about sex at all, how are supposed to have fabulous sexual intimacy? I know couples who improved their sex lives a lot by one person taking positive steps, but I don’t know of a single couple who ended up with a fulfilling sex life that doesn’t communicate about it. At some point, they started talking honestly about their sexual intimacy.

We’re often eager to share with our spouse what we think about our sexual intimacy. But you might well need to change your approach and become more eager to understand what your beloved thinks about your sexual intimacy. Which means you need to ask the question: Am I listening to what my spouse says about sex?

If you aren’t, take the emotional earplugs out and create a safe environment for your spouse to say what they need to say. It may not be pleasant at first, but it will hopefully help you figure out where to go from here.

And be sure to pray for your unity.

Q&A with J: I’m in a Sexless Marriage

Today’s question is heartbreaking. Listen to this husband’s emotional pain as he writes:

It has been 22 months since my wife of 22 years has had sex with me. She has told me she doesn’t feel a desire for sex. She either has an excuse for not doing it or want even answer my requests. I am really struggling with the situation. I’m looking for suggestions on how to discuss the issue further with her. The most hurtful thing to me is that my interpretation of the situation is that she doesn’t care about me enough to do something for me that she knows would make me happy.

Low-drive wives who struggle with high-drive husbands, please read that last sentence. I hear this again and again from husbands who want greater sexual frequency: What hurts isn’t the “blue balls” of not getting any sex; it’s the dismissal of their emotional needs and desire to connect physically. As I’ve often said, if it was just about the sexual release, he could take care of that on his own. Rather, it’s about sexual intimacy with his wife.

Q&A with J: I'm in a Sexless Marriage

Experts define a “sexless marriage” as one in which couples have sex less than 10 times a year. This poor husband has gone completely without for 22 months — almost two years — which isn’t sex-less so much as sex-free. And it’s absolutely not okay.

Of course, I’d love to chat with the wife. Oftentimes, a woman will tell a girlfriend what’s really going on more than she will her husband. Because she’s embarrassed or doesn’t think he’ll understand or gets caught up in her own fears. It’s risky to talk to your spouse about what’s going on in your head and heart regarding this most vulnerable, intimate act. But the wife isn’t available at the moment.

That’s okay. While spouses cannot make one another change, we do have influence. So to this husband . . .

She has told me she doesn’t feel a desire for sex. To me, this is the key line in your email. Because that’s where I’d start.

Did she have desire previously? If she used to desire, or at least enjoy, sex but doesn’t now, what changed? That’s what you need to know. And if you can calmly have that conversation with her, you might discover the underlying cause. Has her sex drive diminished with perimenopause or menopause? Is she under greater stress now than before? Is she discouraged in your relationship in some way? What’s different now from the way things were before the 22-month dry spell began?

Getting her to share such information requires creating a secure space for her talk, and not feel judged. Yes, she might have failings she should own, but this isn’t the time to point fingers or apply blame. As much as possible, make this subject one you can discuss as easily as “What did you do today?” Keep in mind Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Approach your conversation with the goal of peace and understanding.

Does she have a desire for you? Too often, a lower-drive spouse views sex as an optional component of the relationship. If they feel like it, they’ll engage in sex. But if they don’t feel like it, they’ll just say they don’t want sex. That’s not the ultimate point, though, because it’s not just about sex. You clearly, and understandably, feel her rebuffing of sexual encounters as a personal rejection of you.

When you approach the subject of your sex life together, try to speak in terms of deep intimacy, loving acceptance, and physical expression of love. I understand you feel this as a strong physical need — because the longer you go, the more raging that physical drive can feel — but try to avoid statements like:

  • I want sex.
  • I need a sexual release.
  • I can’t go without for this long.

Dig deeper to what you really feel about this situation, with statements like:

  • I want us to connect physically.
  • I need to feel one flesh with you.
  • I miss you.

Make it clear that it’s not just the sex, but the sexual intimacy you desire with her. You can even liken your desire for sex to activities that make her feel connected to you — perhaps conversations, holding hands, vacations together, etc. Explain your perspective that sex is an important part of feeling uniquely connected to your wife.

The most hurtful thing to me is that my interpretation of the situation is that she doesn’t care about me enough to do something for me that she knows would make me happy. It’s normal and reasonable for you to feel rejected personally since she appears to be making no effort to address the lack of sex in your marriage. However, one thing here hit me as well. Yes, sex would make you happy. And I think you should be happy in that way.

But what about her happiness? What would your wife get from being sexually active with you? What’s the payoff in her world? Yes, of course we should serve one another in our marriages, but God also designed sexual intimacy to be mutually pleasurable. It’s not for one spouse or the other — it benefits you both.

Plenty of Christian wives have heard the erroneous message again and again: Sex is for him. What a pile of cowpattie! It’s for him and for her. God’s biological design of male and female and His Word repeatedly convey that He wants husband and wives to delight in this gift for marriage. What can you do to ensure your wife gets that message from you? That she knows it’s not all about your needs, but about your mutual needs and satisfaction?

Your wife might need to hear how much you want to sexually pleasure her to a mind-blowing climax, or maybe for now she just needs you to offer her a full-body massage with no strings attached. There are many ways you can communicate with your gaze, your words, and your touch that you long to bring her physical happiness that’s meaningful to her. From that place, wives are often more willing to engage sexually over time. Because they feel safe and cherished.

Those are some thoughts specific to your email, but I’ve written many times about related topics. Here are a few other posts you might want to check out:

How to Talk about Sexual Problems with Your Spouse – how-to advice

3 Things Higher-Drive Spouses Long For – perspectives for you

For Wives: When You Don’t Desire Sex – possible reasons for her low-libido

More on Wife’s Low Sex Drive – more resources on low libido

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