When a Wife Won’t Have Sex: What Does the Bible Say?

The Bible lays out paths of healing and restoration.

Yesterday, I wrote about a Mark Gungor Show podcast that addressed a husband’s query about what to do about a wife who won’t have sex with him. I responded to some of the points made on the show. Today, I’d like to build on that to discuss several possible Biblical responses to this situation . You might want to read yesterday’s post before reading this one.

I am a strong advocate for understanding what has led to a wife not having sex with her husband, because I believe the knowledge can lay out a path of healing and restoration to pursue. The Bible shows us multiple paths to try.

 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. (1 Timothy 5:20 )

For some wives who refuse to have a sexual relationship with their husbands, a rebuke in the presence of all may be what is effective. This is pretty much what Gungor has recommended. In some situations, this is what works. It might carry with it a very ugly time, but it can ultimately lead to good results.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

For others, a spirit of gentleness is the best approach. A woman who feels hurt and whose refusal is rooted in a sense of self-protection will likely respond best to gentle approach that invites steps forward. Gentleness for one person might look different than gentleness for another. For me, gentleness begins with meeting me where I am in my emotional experience. For a good friend of mine, gentleness means being silent so she can be given space to initiate the hard conversation.

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. (Matthew 18:15 )

With other spouses, it is largely a matter of sharing your own hurt and letting him/her know how the behavior has been a sin against you. My husband shared his pain with me several times. While it didn’t result in immediate change, when I was ready to change, his words flooded back to me and helped me stay motivated in my efforts.

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. (James 4:17)

Be aware that while sin is sin, if a spouse doesn’t truly understand the behavior as sin, different conversations may be necessary than if the spouse were violating one of the ten commandments.

We don’t talk much about refusal as a sin, and that is an area where the church needs to do some work. We have a lot to say about sexual purity before marriage, but we don’t say nearly enough about the importance of sex in marriage and the ways a marriage can be hurt when one of the spouses is sexually deprived.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? (Matthew 7:3)

Although the speck in the spouse’s eye is there and needs to be addressed, we should always look at whether there is anything that we have contributed to either the original problem or to the continuation of the problem. I blamed my husband for what I saw as his emotional refusal of me, never thinking to look at whether there was a log in my own eye. Yeah, he should have done a better job with a lot of aspects of being my husband, but it wasn’t until I began to address my log that anything got better.

In some cases, there may be no log in our own eyes–but we should at least check. In my case, once I had gotten the log out of my own eye, I was in a much better place from which to confront my husband on the speck in his. A husband whose wife won’t have sex with him should look at his own words and actions. It is even possible that his wife has been trying to tell him for years and he dismissed it because he didn’t understand her pain

Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him (Luke 17:3 )

Work on the process of forgiveness in ourselves. When a spouse has repented and is demonstrating genuine effort to change, the refused spouse should be working to understand what forgiveness means. Does it mean accepting the pace of the change? Does it mean supporting the refusing spouse’s efforts? Does it mean working to identify patterns of behavior that grew out of the experience of being refused and then being intentional about responding in different ways? It is common for refused husbands to feel a lot of frustration because change isn’t happening quickly enough. Slow progress is still progress and might be what is necessary to make the progress permanent.

Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)

We can surround ourselves with others who can keep us accountable. Invite others into a spouse’s life to serve the same function. Get to know other married couples. When our spouses hurt us, encourage them them to be in relationship with other Christians who will speak into their lives.

Readers, which of these approaches was or would have been most effective with you? What would you add to this list?


Image courtesy of Arvind Balaraman at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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