Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~1 Corinthians 13:4-7, ESV
In a recent survey of readers of The Forgiven Wife, I asked about reasons or experiences that led to sexual refusal in marriage. Responses from both refusing spouses and refused spouses fell into four general areas: previous experiences, beliefs (about religion, body image, self, and sex), relationship issues, and health/life problems.
One of these four areas got more responses than the others: relationship issues. I’m not surprised. My problem was never my desire for sex; rather, it was a desire for my husband based on deeper relationship issues we had. And I was pretty sure that we had to fix the relationship before sex would get any better. As it turned out, I’m a poster child for that not being the case. Working on sex led to a change in my heart, and that in turn led to growth and healing in our relationship.
The refusing wives who indicated relationship problems at the root of their refusal pointed mostly at their husbands’ actions. When I remember certain difficult moments in our marriage, I am seeing my husband’s actions and hearing his words. All I remember from me is how I felt about what my husband did and said.
1 Corinthians 13 has been a staple at countless Christian weddings. It is used to remind us what love is. During our difficult years, I frequently read that chapter and cried over all the things in our marriage that just weren’t the way love was supposed to be. I suspect that a lot of us women have used this chapter to understand how our husbands contributed to our relationship problems. The survey comments were no exception. Although no one specifically mentioned the Bible, 1 Corinthians does highlight several areas where women said their relationships faltered.
Love is patient and kind. Women expressed frustration that their husbands weren’t patient enough to just snuggle and cuddle without it turning into sex. A couple women commented that their husbands would not give them any foreplay because it took too long—meaning that sex felt like it was just for him.
Love does not insist on its own way. Refusing wives indicated that their husbands were just too insistent on things being a certain way. They worried that fulfilling his specific desires would create an expectation that next time would need to be better, more creative, or more “spicy” (“why isn’t vanilla sex good enough?”) Several women mentioned that their husbands were nice to them only when they wanted something sexually.
Love is not irritable or resentful. By far, the largest number of comments about relationship issues were about irritability and resentment. Some of it was a husband’s (“he was generally negative”), although some women noted that it was their resentment about a husband’s actions that were a problem (“when I feel my emotional needs (words of affirmation & acts of service) were not met, that is when I made sure his emotional needs (touch) were not met”). Women also cited trust issues, a husband’s past porn use, verbal abuse, and infidelity.
I understand. When husbands don’t give us what we’ve been led to expect in our primary earthly love relationship, we hurt. It is hard for us to give them what they want when they aren’t even doing a good job as a husband. It is easy to focus on their wrongdoing, isn’t it?
Once our sexual relationship had settled into a pattern of gate-keeping and refusing, it became a vicious cycle of these three things feeding into each other. When my husband wanted sex and I resisted, he got impatient, grouchy, and irritable. I became resentful and insisted on things being done my way and in my timing. And so on and so on and so on.
I was so focused on what my husband wasn’t doing that I forgot to pay attention to my own responsibility to him. 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t reminding us what we should expect from others; it is telling us how to be and what to do in love.
It’s hard to bear struggles or a husband’s mistakes. When things are hard, it’s hard to believe that they can get better. It’s hard to hope. It’s hard to endure rough patches.
Sometimes, love is a daily decision rather than a feeling. When we choose to love, we can also choose to bear, believe, hope, and endure. Are you so busy looking at how your husband has failed to love you that you haven’t bothered to look in the mirror to make sure you are loving him? If you’re looking for a first step to take in repairing your marriage, that just might be a good place to start.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.