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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What do you do when your spouse refuses to give "The Gift of Sex?"

It's time for me to wrap up my Gift of Sex series.

For the most part, I've written this series to the lower-drive wife or husband, and yes, 20-25% of husbands have a lower sex drive than their wives. I've been encouraging those husbands and wives to help improve the atmosphere of their marriages by giving more sexually. If you have missed any of these posts, the series starts here, and contains a list to all the posts in the series.

Today, however, for the conclusion, I want to write to the high-drive spouse who is doing most or all of the giving in the sexual aspect of your marriage. Or maybe you feel like your spouse is doing nothing but taking.

In either case, this is for those who are longing for The Gift of Sex to fill your marriage.

You Aren't Alone

The number of sexless marriages (or almost so) astounds and saddens me. The numbers are bad, with somewhere around 5% not having had sex in more than a year and 20% not in the past month, and things are trending worse in recent years.

It may not be much consolation to know that many marriages suffer from mismatched sex drives and less-than-fulfilling sex lives, but the fact remains that this is a common issue. In my recent survey 70% of people reported a severe mismatch in sex drives in their marriage. True, dissatisfied lovers are more likely to click on a survey entitled "Sexual Satisfaction in Marriage," but even given that caveat, the bleak numbers surprised me. Only 12% said that their sex drive was pretty close to equal that of their spouse. These are the fortunate few.

Of those reporting a big mismatch in sex drives, 37% ranked their sex lives as "poor" (1 to 3 on a 10 point scale). Even if you include those with "slightly" mismatched drives, the number reporting unhappy sex lives is still 35%. That's over one in three. Think that unhappy sex lives are only for those long-married? Nope, not at all. Just looking at those married 5 years or less, 42% with strongly mis-matched drives rated their sex lives in the basement.

Bottom line, there are plenty of sexually unhappy people out there.

Never Give Up

For my wife and I, our sex life has only had a few rough seasons when frequency was an issue, and we've never had what I would call a "poor" sex life. So maybe you think me unqualified to offer advice on the topic.

Though I may not have walked in your shoes, I can still share truth with you:
  1. It's never too late - I've read plenty of stories of marriages (even sexless ones) restored after many years of sexual drought.  
  2. God is a redeemer - God is for your marriage and His nature is to redeem. His desire is to restore the years to you that the enemy has stolen. Ask Him to.
  3. You can only change you - You've no doubt read this before, but it is true. Work on you. Work on being the best husband or wife you can be. 
  4. Get help - every situation is different, so I'm not going to spout some universal answer here. Getting to root of sexual problems can be hard. It may require medical attention, a counselor, a pastor, close friends. Do what you have to do to fix this.
  5. Grow in Non-sexual intimacy - sex is a very important component of marital intimacy, but you can work on other forms of intimacy to strengthen your marriage as much as possible. Don't withdraw. Don't give up. 
  6. Communicate - I can hear you, "I've talked until I'm blue in the face." But how you communicate your sexual needs matters a lot. Don't demand. Don't berate. Don't whine. Make it clear that it's for the sake of your marriage, for the sake of being one, for the sake of drawing and staying close. Sexual intimacy is an essential ingredient. That's the way God made it. It's okay to be strong and persistent, but be sure that the overriding message is "I love you, and I want us to have a great marriage." Work on communication in general, not just regarding sex.
  7. Keep Giving - Keep doing what you know to be right in the area of sexual generosity. Be a willing partner, stay engaged during lovemaking, Turn about may be fair play, but it won't help heal your sex life. 
Called to Christlike Love

In the end you have a choice to love your spouse with selfless, Christlike love or not. Long seasons of unmet needs of any kind, but especially sexual needs, make that really, really hard. I understand. But it doesn't change the standard to which we are called. I'll remind you of a passage of scripture that is found just before Paul's famous teaching on marriage:
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.  Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn't love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.
Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
Christ died for us while we were still mired in our sin, with no guarantee that we'd ever come into intimate relationship with him, much less even acknowledge his sacrifice on our behalf.

There are no magic answers or absolute guarantees when it comes to dealing with sexual issues, but the truth is that love is always the better choice. Choose to love. Choose to love well.

And cling to Jesus.
And now we have run into his heart to hide ourselves in his faithfulness. This is where we find his strength and comfort, for he empowers us to seize what has already been established ahead of time— an unshakeable hope! We have this certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God himself. Our anchor of hope is fastened to the mercy seat which sits in the heavenly realm beyond the sacred threshold, and where Jesus, our Forerunner, has gone in before us.
Hebrews 6:18-20 (The Passion Translation)

As I said, this is a road I've had to walk on briefly.  So I would love to hear from those of you who have been through this.  If you  have a spouse who was withholding sexually or acting as a sexual gatekeeper and have seen a turnaround, please share your story to encourage those who are in the middle of it. 

PS  Many of my marriage blogging friends have written eloquently on this topic. In my next post I'll share some links to some of what they've written.


Andrew said...

Oh, my. This is where I am. What to share? Can I even help, by sharing?

Here goes. I've been in a sexless marriage (and sleeping on the sofa) for over six years. But it's OK. Not because I don't have 'desires'; I'm more human than that!

It's OK because my wife simply doesn't want me physically (and I'm neither unwashed, hirsute, nor anatomically grotesque). She felt I was inept, and drew a line.

That is her right. I know Paul the Apostle would disagree, but the thing is, you can't legislate desire, and while she has agreed to sex as a duty ("I'll be present, but not involved") I couldn't see that as a solution.

Negotiation? No. Negotiating sex with someone who doesn't want you is a bit too close to prostitution.

What to do? Move on. NOT "to another partner, but to the realization that there are some things that you can't fix, some rivers too deep to ford.

Move on to a new marriage paradigm that puts sex aside, and leaves it there. Yes, it's a gift, and yes, it's too bad, but this is not a tragedy, and certainly no reason to reject or even sully a shared life, and love.

Easy words. Practically, here's how I did it -

* Develop a sense of identity that is not sexual, and use reading, movies, and other media to reinforce it. On the comic-book level, think of the Jedi.

* Develop and maintain an interest and/or avocation that places mental and physical demands on you; restore cars, build boats, something that engages your whole being.

* Concentrate on showing love in non-sexual ways, like leaving notes with inspiring Scripture on your wife's pillow, or pinned to the collar of her Rottweiler.

* Always think before you speak, especially in this situation; being human, you'll always have an undercurrent of resentment, and it can spill out in damaging ways. Cultivate the practice of speaking with deliberation and intention.

* Never use end-arounds to make your point. I used to comment on how much money insurance companies were spending on providing men with Viagra when they would not pay for lifesaving treatments...until I realized that these were digs directed at my wife. It was something I didn't NEED to say; I said it to make a point, in rather a juvenile way.

* Exercise, a lot, and take cold showers.

I think it is too late for us. Six years, and new habits have been established. If she came to me with a request to try again, I'd wonder, Why On Earth Now? You can't erase history, or turn back the clock, with a roll in the hay.

Unknown said...

Andrew, it is never too late. Bad habits can be unlearned and new, healthy ones learned. I changed after nearly twenty years. Healing can happen.

Andrew said...

But HOW?

D. Loon said...

I think Andrew's dead right, especially about developing interests and avocations. There is so much more to life and to marriage than sex, and there are numberless ways that people could go be forces for good in this world. Finding and engaging in good and useful things is a much better use of your divine gifts than having more sex.

D said...

Andrew is absolutely right. Sometimes the bigger gift of sex is NO sex. If absolutely no sex is what the wife wants, then the husband is also commanded to love her as he does his own body and to lay down his life for her as Jesus laid down his life for us. Sex is not the end all/be all of marriage. It is a component of marriage, but the relationship is the primary component. If both spouses are in agreement to no sex, and Satan is not tempting them, then a sexless marriage can be as holy as a sexual marriage. The key word is agreement.

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