The Greatest of These

The greatest of these is love.

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.

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8 Comments on “The Greatest of These”

  1. Beautiful…Really, just beautiful.

    Every time I reflect on St. Paul’s letter I feel like I have some many things to improve upon. I wish I could love as St.Paul depicts. It will always be a lifelong struggle for me, but then again, I am no saint.

    You talk about the cycle of refusal, “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.”. It is a vicious cycle. I always thought that this cycle started with rejection,. Rejecting sex was rejecting everything, it was rejecting me, rejecting my love, rejecting our marriage. I never thought about why I was rejected (it seems silly it seems now); I was too full of anger and resentment.

    I always focused on the “how” and the “what” of refusal, never the “why”. It was enlightening for me to read some examples of the “why”, “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”).”

    So…all I have to do is meet my wife’s emotional needs. As a pondered how to do this, I remembered you opening. St. Paul tells us how. Hmmm…I have a lot of work to do…

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. I keep reading about how wives reject their husbands. I’m convinced my wife does not believe that SHE rejects. In her eyes, I’m quite convinced that she believes she NEVER rejects when in fact, she rejects nearly every day. It’s not so much the direct refusal when a person asks for something in so much that it’s a constant state of mind for both!
    It’s like with me last night, it was offered to me (sort of) but I actually found myself growing angrier by the second. It felt so detached and impersonal as if I could have been with a doll, “Here I am. You may do me now. I’m just going to lie here until you finish. Oh and don’t pay attention to the hair even though I know you hate it.” So selfish. All I’m hearing is, “It is NOT better to give than to receive.”
    It’s times like these that make a person wish to have an affair or at least, take care of business themselves insomuch that it will take off the edge (of course, it never compensates for loneliness).
    I’m going to be away on business for a week and I actually am looking forward to it because I’m so tired of feeling depressed. Man o Man!
    Sorry, I’m just venting a little.

  3. Hi there venting, hang in there.
    For all who are reading this; I am in the “being refused” shoes. Every marriage has it’s issues. Everyone carries baggage into it, whether they know it or not. Some, more than others. Bottom line, We all need to be forgiving, and forgiven. We all need to take responsibility for our wrong doings and change. We cannot live the same way we did when we were single, and expect our marriages to survive. We are all imperfect as well. As it stands, affection, attention and compassion is all but gone in my marriage. I made some mistakes almost ten years ago, and almost again 8 years ago. Not withstanding my responsibility for my actions (whether or not a drink or two contributd to poor self control), the lonly environment darn near pushed those mistakes. Holding out on the things that your spouse has sworn to seek only from you, does nothing but seal the demise of the marital relationship. My spouse, whether she knows it, or is willing to admit it, made mistakes too. We hurt each other. If you are reading this blog, chances are you are looking for something to improve your relationship. Here is my two cents: Whatever the issue is, whatever the reason is (see those above), is it worth losing the marriage to hold a grudge?
    I wish my wife would have an active interest in information such as this, but she doesn’t. For all of you, please make the choice to fight for your marriages, it is worth it. A dead and cold marriage does more dammage over time, and passes on to the next generation (they will repeat what they grow up with). Dealing with hurtful issues is painful and hard, but that is the only way to get past them. For all who have awakened and changed their relationship, I say good for you and God bless you. You are part of a lucky couple. For those that are struggling, I pray you find what you are looking for, and make the right choices.

  4. You can’t ever change a spouse. You can only change yourself. Work on your relationship with God. Do what you can to support your spouse’s relationship with God. Be the best spouse you can be regardless of what the other one was doing. Be the best husband because it is the right thing to do and it is what God wants you to do–even if your wife is making your effort. Your responsibility does not hinge on her response.

  5. I believe one of the contributing factors is that when I make mention of the distance between us, in her eyes, she views it as I’m being critical and judgemental. In my eyes I’m merely pointing at the distance and asking why does it exist?! Even King David demanded his own soul to become joyful and praise God; that is no different for us within any relationship: We can “choose” to pull ourselves into a greater awareness concerning our spouse. I’ve often forced my mind to be cheerful and content although things surrounding me should have pushed me toward negativity.
    Most things I can get beyond but when it’s your own spouse that refuses to have an intimate relationship – wow, that’s embaressing, lonely, depressing, and causes me to become angry because it’s an everyday event. I’ve recently thought of Job’s wife; how she told Job to curse God for what He did to Job. It made me think, “Wow, what an unsupportive spouse!” It made me wonder about their intimacy. For me, intimacy starts with a mind-set that begins in the morning; it’s an attitude and intention. If the moment allows for physical closeness then the mind has already been conditioned and welcomes it.

  6. Great thoughts and ideas as usual! We all need to do a better job of loving like I Cor. 13 teaches us. I don’t know anyone, male or female who doesn’t need to do better at showing real love!

    Especially the part about keeping no record of wrongs.

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