How do you think a husband should respond when his wife won't have sex with him?

The Mark Gungor Show recently had a podcast that addressed how a husband should deal with a wife who won’t have sex with him. (You can find the podcast here; the bit I’m describing begins at around the 15-minute mark.)

As a wife who used to refuse to have much of a sexual relationship with her husband, I was curious about what the show would have to say.

Both Gungor and his co-host (Diane Brierley) made some good observations and comments. However, they didn’t go far enough, in my opinion.

What They Said

Gungor suggested that the husband who emailed should leave his wife in a temporary separation for the purpose of saving the marriage. He gave several reasons he thought this would work:

  • The wife will freak out if her husband isn’t there because the situation would become public.
  • It would bring the issue to the surface and would therefore result in a change to the situation with sex.
  • There isn’t always a reason for a wife to not have sex.
  • The one who is “most wrong” or resistant to change is the one who doesn’t want something public.
  • On some level, the refusing wife recognizes that it is wrong not to have sex with her husband.

Meanwhile, Brierley made these points:

  • We need to hear the wife’s side of the story to find out what the husband was doing that made her not want to have sex with him.
  • You have to make the marriage better in order to have better sex.
  • Women don’t just flip a switch and stop having sex.

They both made some important points to consider. What they say may be valid in many marriages. However, I think they just didn’t say enough.

What They Didn’t Say

While Gungor’s comments may be valid for some women, they don’t match my experience at all.

The wife will freak out if her husband isn’t there because the situation would become public. Yes, I would have freaked out—because my husband would have left me with all the responsibility and because he would have demonstrated very clearly that the only reason I mattered to him was because of sex. I would have been relieved, too—because it would allow me to comfortably inhabit the role of abandoned spouse and it would have completely relieved me of all the tension about sex.

It would bring the issue to the surface and would therefore result in a change to the situation with sex. Since in my mind, sex was an issue only as a response to my husband’s treatment of me, I would have seen this as further evidence of the fact that he didn’t love me, that the only thing he valued me for was sex. It would have been dealt with in a change, but I tend to have a caged animal reaction when I feel trapped. It would have been an ugly, ugly end of our marriage.

There isn’t always a reason. I think there is always a reason. However, I also think that the reason often has absolutely nothing to do with the refused spouse. Bad teachings and prior sexual experience, for instance, are reasons that are not about the refused spouse. So maybe there isn’t a reason that has anything to do with the husband, but I think there’s always a reason—and to suggest that a wife doesn’t have any reason at all is dismissive if she is refusing to have sex out of her own pain or shame.

The one who is “most wrong” or resistant to change is the one who doesn’t want something public. Because I thought my refusal was in response to my husband’s treatment of me, it was obvious to me that he was the most wrong. And there were times when my husband thought he was more wrong, too. I was good at pointing out his faults, after all. I didn’t want it all public, but it wasn’t about thinking I was wrong.

On some level, the refusing wife recognizes that it is wrong not to have sex with her husband. I knew the lack of sex was hurting my husband, but since he was hurting me, too, I wasn’t able to see this as wrong. I saw it as necessary safeguarding of my heart. “Wrong” never occurred to me.

Brierley’s points didn’t go far enough, either.

Women don’t just flip a switch and stop having sex. Actually, sometimes they do—and for reasons that have nothing to do with their marriages. For many women, the avoidance of sex has more to do with what they brought into the marriage than with anything in the marriage itself. Family and church teaching about sex, premarital sex, and what we learned about men and marriage in our childhoods can all be a dark cloud over the marriage bed.

We need to hear the wife’s side of the story to find out what the husband was doing that made her not want to have sex with him. I agree—although that assumes that her husband caused the problem. Even if her withholding of sex is a response to something he said or did, her response is on her shoulders, not on his. Even if it was something he did, him stopping it doesn’t help her unlearn habits that have developed as a response.

You have to make the marriage better in order to have better sex. Not necessarily. Sometimes, sex really is the problem. In my marriage, fixing sex was the thing that made the marriage better—not because sex was the only problem but because it eliminated a major tension in order for us both to have mental space and energy to grow.

They both left out two very important things:

  • Many wives really don’t understand the role that sex plays in God’s design for marriage. Withholding sex is often done as an emotional response to a relationship problem, and you just can’t apply logic to that situation and expect the emotions to fall into place.
  • Refusing to have a sexual relationship in marriage hurts the spouse and weakens the marriage. It is wrong to withhold sexual intimacy. It is a sin.

Women, what do you think about what Gungor and Brierley had to say about how this husband should respond to his wife’s refusal to have sex with him? Did your husband separate from you in order to save the marriage? What worked? What didn’t work? What persuaded you to begin to address sexual intimacy in your marriage?

In tomorrow’s post, we’ll take a look at what the Bible says about dealing with someone in sin. We’ll take a look at how that might work in a marriage where a wife won’t have sex with her husband.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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6 Thoughts on “When a Wife Won’t Have Sex: He Said, She Said

  1. “Women don’t just flip a switch and stop having sex. Actually, sometimes they do—and for reasons that have nothing to do with their marriages. For many women, the avoidance of sex has more to do with what they brought into the marriage than with anything in the marriage itself.”

    — I couldn’t agree more. In fact I would go so far as to say that the reason behind a sudden resistance to sexual relationship in marriage can even have nothing to do with sex or marriage at all (I’ve experienced this through the changes my body has gone through in pregnancy, and how it makes me feel sexually about myself and toward my husband).

    I also agree with the point you made about women not realising the role of sex in marriage as God designed it, at least in terms of how prevalent and ingrained it ought to be in our relationship and intimacy with our spouse. It’s easy for me to place sex as “of low importance” in our relationship because I don’t fully comprehend a. how important it is to my husband and b. how important God made it for both of us in marriage.

    Great post, thanks! 🙂

    • Sadly, there are marriages where the sexual problems begin, like a flipped switch, on the honeymoon. For various reasons, women sometimes think it is their job to inhibit their husbands’ sex drive–yet that drive is one of the very things that helps bond our husbands to us!

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Definitely 🙂 it’s so good to be reminded of these things, so that we have a relationship that glorifies Christ. I really appreciate the way your blog blesses so many in that way!

      • That’s me. Got married, didn’t have sex for 16 months. Didn’t even try. Went to counseling with our pastor, got to hear that she “didn’t see the point of it, unless it was to make babies”. So humiliating. Oh, the end of the 16 months? She wanted a baby. After 4 times in 2 months, she was pregnant, and that was it for another 18 months (tho there was a C-section delivery, so I would expect a longer recovery there). Look in the dictionary under “gullable” or “idiot”, you’ll see my picture there.

  2. lrritchie on January 4, 2015 at 2:27 pm said:

    I want to know where his wife was and if she feels like he’s right. Oh my!

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