What do you do when your spouse won’t have sex with you?

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(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.

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6 thoughts on “What do you do when your spouse won’t have sex with you?

  1. Incorrect.

    “In 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 Paul advises, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” Essentially this says that neither partner in a marriage has a right to deny sex with the other, except if they both make a mutual agreement to abstain for a specified period of time for prayer and fasting. This means a short time, because it is not likely one would or could reasonably continue a real fast for long periods. If he is eating meals then Paul says he should not deny you. One would be tempted to say “deny any reasonable request for sex,” but Paul doesn’t even put that limitation. “

  2. This post is wrong. If sex is not included in the idea of covenant then why does God specifically forbid sex outside covenant? I can’t even believe this was posted.

    1. Fightingpreacher,

      I suspect you didn’t read the ENTIRE blog post all the way to the end. However, at the point in the post where I say: “…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” I’m talking about EXPECTATIONS–not about one spouse refusing to have sex with the other spouse.

      So for example, in my scenario, if a man and woman were in a godly covenant marriage and the man had a horrible accident and was not in any way able to sexually participate with his spouse, the marriage would not end. That’s because in a covenant marriage, sexuality is focused on PLEASING MY SPOUSE rather than focused on self, “my needs”, and “my orgasm.” Even after the accident, the wife could honor her vow and please her spouse and be loving to him, whether she had intercourse or not. In your scenario, if the man had a horrible accident and was not able to sexually participate with his wife, she would just leave him! Hey…he’s not meeting her needs and she’s not having orgasms!

      God forbids sex outside covenant, because He is God and He gets to make the rules. In our marriages we are to KNOW our spouse and be intimate with them emotionally, mentally, spiritually and physically…not just physically. But if we want to obey God and put Him before our own lusts and our own opinions, then He says “Sex is reserved as a gift to be enjoyed only in a covenant commitment.” He does not say “If you get married, you have the right to expect your spouse to give you some sort of sex every X number of days and if s/he doesn’t, you can force them.”

      1. Yeah…I get the accidents and stuff. The problem is when both spouses sre perfectly healthy and one just ignores sex, and when it’s been discussed multiple times and the inly answer is “I don’t know” when it comes to a reason for not having sex….how long can someone expect a marriage to last? Seriously. We were abstinant during dating, why should I be saying the same as the world, that you don’t have sex once you’re married. I’m not ok with it.

  3. Cindy, I actually did read the post all the way to the end and I read it several times. I think it is important to remember the “vows” we speak at our weddings arent from the Bible. This is a significant distinction since the Bible clearly communicates that sex was an expected part of the covenant. We see it right from the beginning with God’s first command to Adam and Eve “Be fruitful and multiply”. We see it again in Genesis 3 with the two shall become one flesh. Of course this isnt speaking about sex exclusively, but sex is a definite expectation with the covenant. We also know that this is the expectation because through out the OT it is clear the sign of the covenant is consummation. I would agree there is no expectation in frequency and I am totally against any type of forced sexual activity (though what man wants that?). Though the Bible does not include a sexless marriage as grounds for divorce I believe it to be abuse and putting the spouse in a very dangerous place.

    I also disagree that God forbids sex outside of Covenant just because He is God and gets to do so. God forbids it because sexuality only has one healthy and godly expression. Inside the covenant of marriage with one man and one woman. Sex is important, because sex is what separates a relationship from a marriage otherwise without we are glorified roommates. Yes things like accidents, illness, etc happen making sex an impossibility, but I am not speaking about the extremes.

    1. May I point out several problems you present as an argument. Your desire to be the ‘fighting preacher’ outweighs the need for clear discussion, and causes some troubles.

      1) “…I think it is important to remember the “vows” we speak at our weddings arent from the Bible. This is a significant distinction since the Bible clearly communicates that sex was an expected part of the covenant…”

      These are not ‘vows’, these are vows, in accordance with God’s words in the Bible: “…Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth…” (Deut 23:23). Trying to downplay the importance of a promise made publicly before God by placing the word within quotes ignores the reality that the implications of God’s word hold as much credence as things written down. Or, to put it into logical language, any argument that is dependent upon prior, plainly stated true propositions is also true. In archaic language: “…The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture…”

      Cindy makes no argument that sex is NOT part of the marriage ‘covenant’ (a term also not found in the Bible but perfectly acceptable). She points out that your expectations do not cause your spouse to perform the things you want them to – nor even the things that they are morally obligated to do. While the Scripture (meaning God) certainly ‘expects’ us to act morally – including taking care of our spouses’ sexual needs, the reality of human life is that your expectations are generally unrealistic, and even idealistic. They cannot be the sole guide for your decision making.

      Put it even more clearly. Your argument is self-centered: you wish your spouse to provide for your sexual desires. Yet you must also have the same expectation that your spouse never sin. There is no reason why this expectation should be any less important in your life – and yet it is my suspicion that you give far less thought to this one than expecting your spouse to take care of your physical needs.

      This is not to say that sex is NOT to be expected as part of marriage. But sex is not what makes the marriage. Commitment is what makes the marriage. Sex is part of that commitment – but so is a whole lot more.

      You can easily have sex outside of marriage. You can easily have children outside of marriage. You can live together outside of marriage. You can buy things together outside of marriage, you can take trips together outside of marriage. The ONLY thing you cannot do without being married is to actually enter into a specific commitment to one other person. That commitment (what you call a ‘covenant’) is what defines the marriage. And the Bible is very clear on how that particular commitment is formed. But you cannot deny that everything else can take place outside of marriage without coming across as a fool.

      2) “…I also disagree that God forbids sex outside of Covenant just because He is God and gets to do so. God forbids it because sexuality only has one healthy and godly expression…”

      At Affaircare we affirm the sovereignty of God, and reject worldy philosophies. This means that we cannot accept a Platonic (or Kantian) argument such as yours. Morality does not exist as a separate and co-equal force with God. God does not make decisions because there are external rules that He must follow, nor are there any yardsticks of moral measurement to which He can be compared other than His own nature.

      God forbids sex outside of marriage because He has determined that sex within marriage IS the only healthy and godly expression. He was not forced to make this decision because of some external law that He must obey. Hence, when Cindy writes that “…He is God and He gets to make the rules…” she is saying exactly this: “…I am the LORD, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God…”

      Any standard that exists outside of God, which created boundaries by which He must abide to be considered moral, is something greater than God, and it would behoove us to worship that standard as the ‘higher power’ – it would be the true God, would it not?

      So to disagree that God makes the rules because He is God is to proclaim – as a ‘fightingpreacher’ – that there are powers greater than God which direct God’s actions. And I assume that is not what you want to say!

      3) Cindy does not denigrate the importance of sex. What she is speaking about here is the adulation of expectations: the implementation of your needs as paramount to God, the ascension of the self to God’s throne. Expecting your spouse to grant sex upon request may well be a nice thought – and an aspect of a healthy marriage, but the issue is this: on this site, we are not dealing with healthy marriages. We are dealing with fixing broken marriages, and to expect healthy activity from a diseased body is both an unreasonable expectation and an impediment to growth. The GOAL is a healthy sexual relationship (among the myriad of other healthy aspects of a good marriage). The advice here is that expecting healthy behavior from an unhealthy entity is foolish.

      Fix the marriage first.

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