(Disclaimer: Affaircare is a Christian site, and so this reply is from that perspective. We are not judgmental or preachy, but rather answer as if we were speaking to other Christian people, in a practical and loving way.)
We get this question or problem very often from the people on our site, and it is a frequent marital issue and significant Love Extinguisher. Often when libidos are somewhat close, and for the most part Love Extinguishers are being avoided while Love Kindlers are being done, the couple can reach some sort of arrangement that is mutually satisfying and acceptable to both. The couple may jointly agree on 3 or 4 times a week and even though the higher one wishes for a bit more and the lower one a bit less–they agree and both are okay with that frequency.
However this becomes a dire situation when one of the two spouses has a higher libido and the other of the two has a lower one, and the lower one just decides they are not and/or will not have sex. It’s frequent to hear from the higher spouse that they’ve gone months–even occasionally years–in between sexual contact, and usually by then the spouse with the higher libido is going insane about to walk out and leave their marriage. What do they do? There are six concepts that I review on our site, so click on the Articles tab and select “My Spouse Won’t Have Sex With Me” (or here’s a link: No Sex). In our article we go into each concept and define each briefly but clearly. For this blog though I’m going to go straight to answering the question: How in the world is a spouse supposed to deal with that?
The very first thing the higher libido spouse needs to recognize and accept is that nowhere in the covenant vows do they have the right to EXPECT sex, expect a certain frequency, expect to force their spouse, or have the moral option to leave the marriage if there is not acceptable quantity. So the very first thing that a Christian spouse would do is take that option off the table, because Christian marriage is defined by commitment, not by happiness.
The next thing you do is come to a godly understanding of what sex IS. Sex is mutual intimacy expressed on a number of levels including physically. In Genesis it says that “Adam knew his wife…” and that word “knew” in Hebrew is REALLY rich! Here’s what it means: acknowledged, acquainted, aware, became known, cared, chose, clearly understood, cohabited, comprehended, concerned, considered, declared, detected, directed, discerned, disciplined, discovered, distinguished, endowed, experienced, found, gained, had knowledge of, had relations, informed, instructed, intimate friends, investigated, knew, lead, learned, made himself known, noticed, observed, perceived, predicted, provided, read, realized, recognized, regarded, satisfied, showed, took note, taught, told, understood. So the second step is not to say “I’ve tried everything and s/he just will not move!” but rather to look at yourself and your own concepts of intimacy. Practice doing all those verbs! Study sex in the Bible, and by changing yourself and your own heart and your own perceptions, bring yourself into alignment with God’s ideas about sexual pleasure.
The third step–after taking divorce off the table and doing the work to KNOW your spouse–is to review the concept of God-given authority in the marriage, starting with Ephesians 5:22-24 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.” Especially to see if you can determine why there might be a power struggle. Often when one spouse is refusing sex or turning it down, it has less to do with feeling tired and more to do with either lack of being connected (see the intimacy step above) or struggling to have power over some area of the marriage. In particular, if a husband is somewhat controlling and domineering, one way a wife maintains some power is by having the power over the frequency of sex! Thus, godly Authority is not “you are to dominate” but moreso, “I’m holding you more responsible to counsel and mentor this person to obey God.”
One way that EITHER spouse can work this out would be the next step actually–call a M.U.U. which is my funny anagram for Mutual United Understanding. Introduce the concept of M.U.U. to your spouse indicating that it is mutual so that both parties are involved, united so that the couple is in harmony, and it’s an enthusiastic Understanding that they reach together. Once the M.U.U. is called, nothing is done until it is resolved: call in sick to work, you don’t stop to drive kids to and from school and extra-curricular activities, you don’t go to your men’s group or her lady’s study until a resolution has been reached because denying it, avoiding it, and ignoring it breeds resentment and tears marriages apart.
The final two steps start with Love/Respect. Our marriages are a model of God’s love for us when we did not “deserve” it. God himself made a covenant with the nation of Israel and honored that covenant even though they were a “stiff-necked people.” And I believe this is what He wants us to model too. The commandments we have in Ephesians 5:33 are “Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” Note that it does not say “Husbands, love your wives if they are good wives, meet your needs, and give you plenty of sex” or “Wives, respect your husbands if they earn it, send you roses, and leave you love notes.” There’s no clause like that! In fact, it says to love her like Christ loved the Church, and He loved selflessly when the Church did not love him and was faithless. So in this step, we are commanded to do what is against our nature and offer exactly what our spouse needs.
The sixth step relates to the Our Bodies concept, namely that when you choose to marry you volunteer to release exclusive control of your body and state that you now share that with your spouse. I Corinthians 7:3-5 tells us: “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
This last step is taken after you’ve fully completed the other five steps and there is still no progress made in the healing of this issue. At that point, the final step is to sit down together, read together the verses in I Corinthians that say that the wife is held responsible to counsel and mentor her husband’s physical body to obey God’s ideas of sexual pleasure…and the husband is responsible to counsel and mentor his wife’s body to obey God’s ideas of sexual pleasure. Point out that it CLEARLY says right out “Do not deprive one another…” and indicate that the continuing refusal to participate in mutually satisfying sex is sin. This is not likely to be a very “popular” discussion, but facts is facts! At that point if they are aware it’s wrong and still choose to not obey, the problem isn’t “how much sex” but that there is unwillingness to obey God.