Reader Question: My Husband Refuses to Talk About Important Stuff

by | Nov 19, 2018 | Resolving Conflict | 46 comments

When Your Husband Refuses to Talk
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What do you do when your husband refuses to talk about serious marriage issues?

Reader Question: What do I do when my husband refuses to talk about important stuff?We’re talking about intimacy this month on Bare Marriage, and over the last week I’ve had a number of people write in about husbands who refuse to talk and refuse to engage about important issues, and they’re at a loss. It reminded me of this post I wrote two years ago on having important conversations even if a husband is reluctant, and I thought it was important to rerun again.
I received a reader question from a woman whose husband’s view of sex is marred by prior porn use, and now he won’t talk about it. She writes: 

Reader Question

My husband and I both grew up in very conservative Mennonite communities. Nevertheless, my husband was still introduced to porn at a real young age.
We got married young and he knew all about sex due to porn but that’s all it’s ever been in our marriage. Sex. He doesn’t understand anything about foreplay, and while reading your blog post about the 10 ways porn can ruin a mind I saw our marriage and sex life in almost every point.
About 3 months ago he got tired of trying on his own to quit his porn addiction and accepted help from a friend. Now his good friend is his accountability partner and he’s only slipped up once or twice in 3 months. That is Amazing.
But on the other hand he won’t seek help with his misconceptions about sex. After sex he’s ready to roll over and sleep it all off, I’ve never climaxed and truth be told I’ve only been ‘turned on’ about twice in our marriage.
I’ve read some amazing books describing how sex is supposed to be in a Christian marriage and I’m willing to work on it but he isn’t. He thinks it should be something that comes to him naturally and is ashamed to ask questions.
I’m in a bind. I want to love sex. But I don’t know how to broach the subject of seeking help without him getting depressed about it.

At first glance, this question looks like it’s about sex. It’s actually not. It’s about how we, as wives, can get conversations going about important things when our husbands refuse to talk!

When your husband refuses to talk about important marriage issues: How to have difficult conversations when you feel distant from your husband.

But nevertheless, let’s deal with the sex stuff first:

If your husband doesn’t understand about foreplay, it’s likely because his body just works so much differently than yours and he just honestly doesn’t get it. And because sex is all messed up in his brain because of the porn, it’s a source of stress, and that’s why he doesn’t want to talk about it.

So two quick suggestions: I’ve got a really funny video you can show him in this post on foreplay which can help the conversation. Sometimes humour can get things going, and this is seriously funny!

31 Days to Great SexThe second is to work through 31 Days to Great Sex with him. It’s a book I wrote where everyday has a new challenge. You just read and then you do what it says. And that often makes these conversations much easier. When you’re just doing what a book says, it doesn’t feel as vulnerable or scary. And some of the early challenges will help him to understand how to turn you on. Some of the later ones will help you talk about the effects that porn has had on how he sees sex, and how to help sex become more mutual. And the ebook version is only $4.99, so it’s a really cheap way to get things going!

Check out 31 Days to Great Sex

But now I want to talk about the bigger issue that I see in this letter, one that applies to all of us, no matter what the issue is:

Why do we think that if a husband doesn’t want to talk about something, that it therefore won’t get talked about?

I see this dynamic a lot. A woman will want to talk about the finances in her marriage, and he’ll get upset and leave the room, and she’ll feel, “well, he refuses to talk about it, so there’s nothing I can do.”

Or, as in this case, a woman will bring something up, and he’ll get depressed, so she’ll back off, because she doesn’t want to cause discomfort.

Hold on a second.

If something is hurting your marriage, it matters.

If your husband wants to cut off a conversation about something, that does not mean that the conversation stops. It only stops if you let it stop.

And why do we let it stop?

Because ultimately we think that our experience in marriage does not matter as much as his.

Please hear me on this: Precious readers, you matter.

If sex is painful and he doesn’t care, that matters.

If he is angry a lot and yells a lot, that matters.

If you don’t feel safe, that matters.

If he won’t let you know about your financial situation, that matters.

If you simply feel lonely, even if nothing tangible is really wrong, that still matters.

And do you know why it matters? Because you matter.

Jesus loves you. You are precious. And your husband is not more precious than you are.

Now, you aren’t more precious than your husband, either, but God does not want your husband to get all of his needs met and you to get none of yours met.

You matter to God. He sees and He cares.

So why don’t we have these important discussions when our husbands refuse to continue conversations?

Because too often we women don’t feel like we have a right to.

It’s as simple as that.

I’m not saying you should be rude and yell at him. Not at all! But when we understand that we matter, and that intimacy is only attainable when we both feel heard, understood, and accepted, then we won’t allow difficult conversations to be avoided.

Ask yourself: what is the most important thing here?

Yes, he will feel awkwardness and discomfort if you have this conversation. She says that she doesn’t know how to talk about it without him getting depressed. You’re right; he may initially feel depressed.

But why does him feeling depressed stop a conversation that is absolutely vital to have? Why do so many women decide, “it is better for me to have an incredible amount of pain than for him to have some minor pain”?

9 Thoughts That Can Change Your MarriageThis is such a huge problem that I have seen over and over again in marriages, and it’s a large part of why I wrote 9 Thoughts That Can Change Your Marriage. About 3 chapters in the book are dedicated to this dynamic where women mistakenly believe that if there’s a problem, we need to fix it all by ourselves or learn to live with it.

And then what happens?

When we allow him to refuse to talk about an important issue, we lose all hopes at true intimacy.

Here’s another dynamic I have seen: a woman has a legitimate issue in the marriage. If she raises it, he gets angry or depressed, so she backs off. She acts as if everything is all right, because this is her way of respecting and loving him.

He enjoys the marriage because he gets what he wants. But then something happens. The happier he gets, the more resentful she gets. She knows that he doesn’t know her heart. She knows that his happiness is based on a lie.

Outwardly everything is great. But inwardly, she’s becoming more and more miserable. One day that misery will turn into real anger. How could he not love her enough to want to know the real her?

But how did this all get started? Because at the very beginning, she allowed her own feelings to be overlooked.

And so let me say this, loud and clear this morning:

It’s not just about his refusal to talk; it’s also about how we respond to that.

I have known several marriages where the husband walked all over the wife and where the wife was very miserable. Then the wife died, and the husband remarried. And within 6 months the husband had quit drinking, lost some weight, stopped swearing, and had generally become a more pleasant person. In many cases the kids were really resentful: why would Dad clean himself up for her, but not for Mom, who stood by him for so many years?

But the answer is quite simple. The new wife knew what she was worth, and wouldn’t put up with that kind of behaviour.

That’s much easier to do when you’re older (as these new wives were) and much harder when you’re younger. And too often in those first few years of marriage we start really bad patterns of communication that affect the next few decades of our lives. So let’s get this right!

A better way: How to have those difficult conversations, even when he refuses to talk

Maybe it’s time to start having some of those difficult conversations. Maybe it’s time to reverse some very negative patterns of interaction that can easily lead to resentment, bitterness, and a loss of intimacy. Maybe it’s time to fight for your marriage!

So pray and ask God to help you to see your husband’s heart and what the issues really are. Help him to prepare your heart and to see yourself with God’s eyes. And then you can say something like this (using the letter writer’s scenario as an example):

I can see that talking about this is making you uncomfortable, and I don’t want you to be sad. But you know what I want more? I want us to feel alive and close and madly in love! I want us to have everything that God wants for our marriage, because I love you so much that I refuse to settle for less.
So if you don’t want to talk about this now, that’s okay. We won’t. But this isn’t going away. And if we don’t talk about it now, we’ll have to talk about it tomorrow, or the day after that. Because it’s important. Our marriage is too important to NOT talk about it.
I love you. I want to have amazing sex with you. I want to feel real passion. But I don’t right now, because I think we’re missing out on the way it’s supposed to be. Sex is supposed to be about us both feeling amazing and feeling love, and right now, I have to tell you, it just feels like I’m being used. And I’m not willing to just be used. I think that will make me resentful in the long run, and it won’t help you to feel loved either.
So I want to make love with you. I want to have tons of sex with you. But I will only do that if we talk about this first and start looking into how to make me feel good. I will no longer have sex again with you until we talk about this. It’s too important, and I’m going to fight for this, because we matter–us together.

And then you follow through.
Maybe it’s time to break that silence and have some uncomfortable conversations.
Fight for your marriage, because, dear reader: You matter. 
Please note: if having this kind of conversation could cause you to become unsafe, and if you’re honestly scared of your husband, then you are likely in an abusive marriage and you need to get help. If you feel as if your safety is at risk, please call the police or a local abuse hotline. If you feel as if your husband will get angry or emotionally abuse you, please seek out a good counsellor to help you through confronting him and having these difficult conversations, and perhaps start with this post on emotionally destructive marriages
Let me know in the comments: Have you ever had to have a difficult conversation? What happened?
I wrote a number of posts to help figure out how to have those difficult conversations with your husband! These may help:


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Chris

    This is us, but in reverse. It is she who will not talk about the hard stuff.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m sorry, Chris! And it applies equally to men and women. Just because she doesn’t want to talk about it doesn’t mean that you let it drop. If something is important, it’s important. Letting it go will not help the marriage in the long run. And one other thing I like pointing out is this: Marriage is meant to be something that transforms us into Christ; it isn’t meant to be a place where people can escape from having to grow. Marriage should make us grow, not allow us cover so that we can ignore important things. Often it becomes the latter because we’re so sure marriage is for life that we figure there’s absolutely nothing we can do. But that isn’t true. We can set boundaries. We can refuse to act like it’s a marriage if the spouse isn’t acting like it’s a marriage. We can say, in a loving way, “I want to be X, Y, and Z for you, and I want to do A, B, and C. But I can’t do that until we talk about this. Our marriage is too important to me to let this go on. And I am willing to fight for the marriage.” Often it helps to have a third party, like a counsellor, aid you in this, and aid you in the conversations you need to have.
      Now, if you’ve done all this and he or she still refuses to talk or change, then bigger decisions may need to be made, depending on the issue at hand. But I think many of us just need to find our voice in the marriage, and realize that Jesus wants us to be GOOD, not just NICE. And those are two very different things sometimes.

      • M

        Hi, Sheila!
        While I believe we should put in some boundaries depending on the extent/root of the issue the couple is facing, I’d really struggle with supporting “We can refuse to act like it’s a marriage if the spouse isn’t acting like it’s a marriage”. I really don’t think we can. Marriage involves an extremely sacrificial attitude – not being a doormat – but if you’re in it for the long haul, like Christ intended, you still very much serve the other even when there’s no change. This is really, really tough, I realize. It requires much time with the Lord, trust in Him and much humility but continuing in love and showing it is a must. That’s what marriage looks like, and you simply can’t act as if it’s not a marriage just because your spouse isn’t. “Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance”. 1 Cor. 13:7
        Certainly, the problem can’t be ignored – it must be addressed as the Spirit leads but, I can say from experience that it can be a very long haul with very slow improvement yet eventually paying off! The spouse has to learn to trust you also in your approach, too, and that, in itself, can really try your patience! But…be in close communion with the Lord and He WILL guide you, give wisdom and clarity. And in the meantime, you be the best marriage partner you can be! I know, words can make it sound so simple sometimes when in reality that’s not the case, yet the bottom line is trusting the Lord – it’s how we grow in relationship to Him AND to others.
        Thanks again for all your hard work into making this blog great!

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I hear what you’re saying. I really do. And I don’t mean to say it lightly, but I think there’s a danger in the “marriage is for the long haul and divorce is not an issue” attitude, and it’s that the spouse who refuses to address issues has all the power in the relationship, and marriage then becomes a place where a person can hide, and can be safe from having to grow. That is never what God intended.
          Take alcoholism, for instance. If a spouse refuses to address the issue, and refuses to listen to a spouse’s plea to do something about this, then we know that this is not what God wants. God does not want marriage to become a place where people hide from growth. God wants marriage to be a place where we refine each other. And that’s where we may have to stop pretending.
          I don’t think this is to be done lightly, and I do think it should be done in Christian community, especially with a counsellor. And I think that there are times when God tells us to hold on and wait for His timing, and times when God tells us that we must do something.
          The problem is that we can’t take “do something” off of the table. God wants a marriage where people reflect Him, and what I’ve seen, over and over again in the church, is that a spouse uses a marriage to hide. That’s not glorifying to God. God cares more about the people in the marriage than He does about the marriage institution itself. So the question becomes: what steps should I be taking to help our marriage glorify God? And sometimes that means making difficult choices.
          I hope that people don’t do this hastily, or on their own, without the help of Christian community. But I don’t think we should take it off of the table. Certain things really do seriously endanger a family, like addictions, major debt, intimacy refusal, etc. And I do think that people need tools to deal with these things. It’s one thing if you’re just dealing with a person who is thoughtless, or who works too much, etc. But with things that genuinely endanger a family, I think more weight needs to be given to those, because in the long run that just brings death.

          • Sarah O

            I used to be in the “never divorce” camp…and then it became “unless physical danger”…and then added “adultery” since Jesus did sanction that as well…and then got some closer looks at addictions and criminal behavior…and then read about God himself having a divorce with Israel in Jeremiah…
            Life is so hard. I wish that all marriages worked out to happy endings. But my study of Scripture and personal experiences have caused me to abandon my checklist for identifying which marriages are salvageable and to avoid judging people who pursue divorce. God can work all that out without my help and I think He provided divorce as a sad mercy in a broken world. You can continue to love and continue to pray even after divorce, but saying “never for any reason” is emotional suttee in my opinion, and I can no longer reconcile that view with Scripture.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, that’s where I’m at, too. I think it comes from first asking, “what does glorify God here?” And we’ve gotten a really weird view of that, where too often the marriage itself is seen as glorifying God, even if the marriage is a stinking, rotting mess.
            Now, I do think that many people need to give things a lot more time. And I also think that people overreact about stupid things, and don’t truly learn to love sacrificially. But I also know that many people marry without the intention of ever really living in a marriage, where things are shared. That’s just a terrible thing to do to someone. And I do believe that God sees that. I wrote about being antidivorce but pro-remarriage, and that’s kind of where I’m at. I do think people divorce too easily. But on the other hand, I also think that God is not honoured by a marriage that consistently involves hurting another person.

          • M

            I understand; I should have qualified my comment to say that I believe there is definitely a clause for divorce . And as the commenter below stated, “He provided divorce as a sad mercy in a broken world.” It is indeed a sad mercy, but we are all broken human beings, and reconciliation is not always possible.
            I worry, however, that far too many of us take this “pass” much too quickly! We now live in an “instant” world and we treat our relationships like this! I’m not just talking marriage; this is evident with so many other relationships. Those of us that have lived much longer already truly understand better that investments in relationships do indeed take so much work! And much time! And as you already stated below, Sheila, many give up too quickly, overreact about stupid things or too easily and have not yet learned to love sacrificially. Time must be involved, yet I also see that in this day we really overlook that factor; we live in a world where our own rights are really touted above all else. I believe this is especially confusing for Christians who hear this message from the world in general, yet are trying to come to grips with the message of the cross – to love and serve others, yet looking after yourself as well. A real conundrum for them! Except…our trust and belief in His word! And He truly will lead and guide us with wisdom when we ask for it! Relationships is what God created us all for, for His glory.
            Lord, give us strength to endure and to hear your Word clearly where we struggle!

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            So true, Mary.
            I think maybe what I’d add to the conversation is this: I think when we take divorce off the table, we make it very hard to address serious issues.
            Ironically, I think when we put separation back on the table, we make it more likely that we’ll save those marriages. That’s really the approach that James Dobson took in his book Love Must Be Tough. Sometimes you let people deal with the consequences of their own bad behaviour, and when they realize what they are doing, and the ramifications of that, they’re more likely to commit again to the marriage and to work on it.
            Again, I’m not saying people should divorce. But we do have to have consequences for behaviour that damages a marriage. That’s the only way to make sure that a person “reaps what they sow”. Otherwise they’re sowing discord and hurt, but the other spouse is the one reaping it, and that’s wrong.
            But I don’t think this can be done without Christian community. You need people to help you and to make sure that you’ve got the right perspective. I write about that more in being a spouse, not an enabler, with some good examples of how Christian community can help in these rotten situations!

          • FollowerOfChrist

            This really took a spiral down hill. The threat of divorce is not part of God’s will. It is not a sad mercy but the result of one or both individual’s sin. I am grateful that my wife and I both decided, before we were married, that divorce was off the table. Scripture gives very little flexibility in this area for Christian marriages. While separation is necessary in cases of abuse, God’s desire is for restoration. I have had differences of opinions with some content here, but this is a simple biblical issue. This will be the my last comment on this site. Fight for your marriages, in a manner that honors God and your commitment to each other. You are worth the blessing that God has in store for you as you follow Him.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Actually, FollowerofChrist, Scripture does give reasons for divorce: abandonment by the spouse (of which abuse and addiction could certainly count); adultery, etc. Sometimes we do have to separate to make a spouse see the seriousness of the actions.
            Indeed, I would say that in order to take marriage seriously, you MUST leave room for divorce in these reasons. Otherwise you’re saying that marriage is just a piece of paper; it’s not about a true commitment or a true relationship.
            I’d invite all to read my post on why I’m antidivorce but proremarriage to get a broader picture of this.
            And then I’d invite readers to ask yourselves this question: If you are married to someone who is addicted to pornography; who spends so much that the family loses a house and can’t even keep up rent on an apartment; who is addicted to gambling; or even who simply never, ever speaks to the spouse or the kids, and gets angry if anyone speaks to him–do you think Jesus is pleased with this situation, and wants the spouse who is being hurt to have no recourse? Or do you think Jesus actually cares about the spouse and the children in this situation, and wants them to have some safety and some peace? Do you think Jesus wants the spouse who is doing these things to have the absolute freedom to keep doing them, because the wife and kids are trapped? Or do you think that Jesus wants the spouse to feel the repercussions of their actions?
            I think the way that we answer that question says a lot about what we think of Jesus, personally.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            And for balance, I’d also invite people to read “What If You Divorced for the Wrong Reasons?” None of this is easy. It’s always very sticky when real people are involved, which is why, as I have said countless times before, I don’t think these things should be done without being in good, solid Christian community who can help pray with you and support you and point you in the right direction.
            But sometimes one spouse is doing irreparable harm to a marriage. To leave the other spouse with no recourse, and with no way of saying, “I will not tolerate X”, is, in essence, telling that spouse that he or she should enable sin. And that is not biblical at all.

          • Sarah O

            Thank you for your reply, FollowerofChrist. I understand where you’re coming from. I’m glad you and your wife have enjoyed a wonderful marriage. My husband and I are also very happily married and it is an amazing blessing.
            I can best sum up our differences this way: it seems in your case that divorce is a sin. My case is that divorce is a symptom of sin – but not a sin in and of itself. So we agree that there cannot be divorce without sin present. It’s really a very tiny distinction that makes a world of difference.
            What moved me from your view (that I used to share) to mine was the God issued a writ of divorce to the nation of Israel in the Old Testament (Jer 3:8). Because God is perfect, He can’t sin. So if he divorced, divorce cannot be a sin. Abandonment of your spouse is a sin, but it remains for God to judge who is doing the abandoning – the spouse who files the paperwork (sometimes yes, they don’t have grounds) or the spouse being filed against (also sometimes yes, they have left their spouse no other recourse). But the legal piece is not the sin.
            I hope this makes sense.
            Mary – thank you for clarifying your position, I misunderstood. Yes, I would agree that we have more divorces than can be biblically accounted for, and that is horrible also.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Sarah, that’s an excellent way of explaining it! So true.
            And I agree with what you and Mary are saying as well–there are far too many divorces, and that is so very terrible on children. I kind of “went off” on a woman who sounded so selfish about wanting a divorce in this post, for instance, where she’s asking if she’ll lose her salvation if she divorces. That’s the example of someone who is trying to justify abandoning a spouse.
            It’s not black and white. Many divorces are absolutely terrible. But many marriages are, too. That’s why we need to get our eyes off of “is the divorce right” and onto instead “what glorifies God in this situation?” Enabling sin never does, and sometimes it’s enabling sin to divorce, and sometimes it’s enabling sin to take separation off of the table.

          • Ashley

            I want to comment about the idea about a lot of people divorcing way too soon. Maybe this isn’t the right box for that, but it’s a long thread and I’m on my phone.
            As some of you know, I’m divorced now. (He filed.) I’m in a Facebook group for separated and divorced Christians. There are so many women in the group who were abused and/or cheated on for years. I’m talking 10-20+ years. They tried and tried to make things work, and now they are shells of what they once were. It’s heartbreaking. I’m sure it’s true that some people give up too soon, but I think some people hang on too long.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I’d agree with you, Ashley. That’s why there isn’t any one size fits all advice, and why it’s so hard to talk about marriage sometimes. What might really apply to some people may just not apply to others. If someone is an abuser, you can’t change them. And God wants you to care for yourself.

          • Ashley

            I’m sure taking about marriage is super hard sometimes! I’m so glad you talk about it from all angles.

  2. Anon

    I have tried to have the difficult convos and we have even done some counseling. I feel like he is a master deflector when we try to talk about hard things. I’m to the point where I have separated myself from him emotionally and mostly financially/how we use our time (as that is where a lot of our disagreements arise). I think he notices that I’m not available to him as much, but he still doesn’t want to deal with our issues. My question is: if someone truly isn’t motivated to face difficult issues, then is me trying harder to force him to going to make any difference? I’m considering leaving because I can’t live like this.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Anon,
      I’m so sorry! And I’m especially sorry that so many people seem to choose to avoid love rather than to engage. I don’t know why people do that. To my dying day, I will never understand it. I know often the root is pain or selfishness, but all they’re doing is continuing the cycle. So sad. What a waste.
      I’d say that this is kind of the question you have to ask your counsellor. I don’t know the ins and outs of the situation, or what the actual issue is. But I do know that far too many people marry without ever having the intention of truly sharing themselves and doing life together and forming an actual couple, which is what it sounds like your husband is doing.
      Pray really hard. Seek some good counsel from people that you respect that you know love God. And ask your counsellor what to do. I think for things like this, we really do need help in real life. But I’m sorry that he’s choosing distance. So sad.

    • Ashley

      If I may add a little to what Shiela said, be careful who you go to for counsel. Some people can’t comprehend the idea that he doesn’t want to be present in the relationship, and will put all the burden on you to talk more, text him more, things like that. Make sure you talk to someone with some discernment.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, I would agree. And in the case of abuse, marriage counselling is NOT the answer. That’s when you need a community to help you find strength to do the right thing, but not to try to repair the relationship. Often in counselling situations the abuser can manipulate to get the upper hand, and make things worse.

  3. Nick

    Same here. It’s the reverse.
    This is the second piece of yours I’ve read in the last month that has addressed how to have hard conversations and they are both on point and well written. The problem is real life never really plays out this cleanly. (Not mine at least)
    My wife is an amazing woman. The impact she has on people lives through her profession is amazing and she is by and large a great mom and wife. But none of us are perfect. I have tried these conversation tactics and have made no headway…at all. Period. My wife is VERY smart and very good at nuancing conversations so they “go her way”. Somehow things always spin around to where I am apologizing for something. I’ve expressed my desire to connect more with her and to not only work on our physical intimacy but to just grow together as a couple. In healthy and Godly ways. But these conversations fade and she will never circle back to them on her own.
    One of the major issues is that she sufferd sexually trauma as a young adult. And she simply refuses to address it. No matter how gently and loving I talk about…the answer is no. I’d love some tips on some questions I can ask about her trauma that may help start to soften her heart.
    Your example of one spouse really living a comfortable life with all of their needs getting met while another continues to become more withdrawn, resentful and angry is so so true in my life. I’m dying just to hold hands or kiss my wife and it’s been a decades long yearning for me. She is perfectly happy going through life as is. I don’t know what will cause a break through short of the Holy Spiritmoving in her heart. I know her lack of intimacy with me reflects her lack of intimacy with God…but wow is THAT a hard conversation to have.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Nick,
      That’s so tough. Just awful. And you’re right–she’s probably running away from intimacy on all levels, and part of the way she’s likely doing that is by excelling in other areas of her life. That’s very common.
      So here is the issue as I see it from your letter: Your wife wants the appearance of a marriage without a real marriage. And you are participating in the “charade” by continuing as she wants it. (Examples would be: sharing a bedroom, doing family vacations, going places as a couple, attending church/small group as a couple). You can refuse to participate in the charade by letting others know that your marriage is in trouble and you will no longer be attending places together; doing separate vacations, bedrooms, etc.
      HOWEVER, this is all very problematic when children are involved, and sometimes it is worth staying together for the kids’ well-being. Studies do show that kids do better with unhappily married parents than with divorced parents, unless the marriage is a high conflict one.
      Nevertheless, if you decide “I am here because of the kids”, in some ways that can be freeing because you no longer expect anything from her.
      I honestly don’t know what you should do. I agree that it will take the Holy Spirit prompting her, but I think that you also need some help, and some people to talk to, and permission not to continue the charade. To live a life without intimacy is not a marriage. It just isn’t. And she can reason that away, but it’s true.
      I don’t know what to tell you, except that she’s hurting herself too, and by continuing the charade, you allow her to continue hurting herself. By dealing with the issue and calling it what it is–a non-marriage–then she no longer has this cover of being a great person.
      As for questions about trauma, I’d say something like this: “It breaks my heart that someone stole your childhood from you like that. But can I ask you to think about a question: Are you allowing that person to steal your adulthood from you, too?” Or what about, “when you were younger, someone had the power to severely hurt you in ways that God never wanted and that wounded your heart. But do you want to continue to give them power to hurt you today, or do you want to take that power back?” Or even “God made you an amazing woman, and He made you to feel great passion in all areas of your life. But one area of your life has been damaged. And you’re allowing that damage to affect other areas. You’re missing out on God’s best for you. I can see how much you flourish in so many areas of your life, and I know that God wants that for you in your marriage, too. But you’re turning away from God. Is this what you want for your life? In twenty years, will you be happy that you didn’t deal with your pain, but that you just put your energy into other things?”
      I’d try those questions. And pray hard! I’ll pray with you, Nick.

  4. Carrie

    We’ve had this problem before, mostly about money. Eventually we learned that if someone doesn’t want to talk about something, they need to say when they will talk about it.
    For example: I understand that you want me to discuss the budget with you right now, but in in the middle of about 5 things. Can we talk in a half hour?
    This rule has made a huge difference in my marriage.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I like that! Great idea.

  5. Phil

    Hey Sheila – Others – What do you think of this? There are so many people around here who struggle with sexless marriage – How are they supposed to “cut the spouse off”? ( My summary of the letter to spouse in this post which works quite well btw – from my own personal experience from my past of being “cut off” so I will talk) in the posts case we are talking about sex but in the sexless marriage case – no sex -so what about boundaries and cut them off from X that they do for them all the time until they are willing to talk about in their case sexless marriage? Could this same concept not apply to them as well? Just thoughts….

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s a great question, Phil. You’re saying when a sexless marriage is the problem, what do people do? I think the key is that a sexless marriage is not a real marriage (when it’s sexless by choice, rather than by physical issues or emotional trauma that is currently being dealt with). It’s only the charade of a marriage. So what you can do is to refuse to participate in the charade anymore. You can stop doing things that married couples do (and people can think of their own here). That doesn’t mean separation or divorce necessarily; just letting friends and family know that you’re having issues so that the spouse can’t hide behind a perfect facade; or other things like that.
      The problem occurs when children enter the picture. Kids really need two parents, and studies consistently show that kids do better with two married but unhappy parents than with separated or divorced parents. And you may not be willing to enforce some real boundaries if that may endanger the marriage and put the kids in an impossible situation. Our greater responsibility here is to the children. But again–all the more reason to deal with things early and not let them fester!

      • Phil

        Yeah Shiela that’s it – I couldn’t put the language to it – maybe thats been said in so many ways around here or other places – I just never saw it written/said like that. I hope that helps some folks.

      • Nick

        So a quick follow up to your response to me and your response to Phil. In your response to Phil you say a real reason would be emotional issues…which my wife’s would certainly qualify. Is it a charade of a marriage if the refusing spouse HAS emotional reasons, like in my wife’s case abuse? Or is abuse a legit reason to struggle with intimacy? Is my wife really making a “choice” to not engage in intimacy or is the trauma a real reason for her struggle? See what I’m asking? Just getting confused here. She says I have nothing to give because she is so broken.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Hi Nick,
          Thanks for asking that question, because it’s an important one and I’m sorry if I wasn’t clear.
          I think emotional issues are certainly valid to make sex stop for a time. Absolutely. But the key thing here is that the issues must be being dealt with. Let’s say someone is experiencing trauma for sexual abuse, and they’re going to a counsellor to work it out. For a few weeks or months that they’re dredging it all up with the counsellor, they need to be given space to process that. It’s an important part of healing.
          But if they’re simply refusing to work on it, then that’s not valid. I think what you need to aim for isn’t sex per se, but instead working on her issues and a commitment to being whole. When someone runs from it, then that’s a real problem.
          There’s nothing wrong with having issues, and sometimes issues will stop us from engaging in intimacy. But there’s something very wrong with not working on our issues. Does that make sense? I think the problem here is that your wife is not working on them, and you likely both need to see a counsellor to talk it through.

  6. Sarah O

    I think you really struck a chord with this article. I have a really hard time voicing criticism to my husband. I feel shame even imagining saying something like “I hate it when you do X.” Thankfully my husband is a good guy and most of our problems are mundane, but I drive myself nuts trying to soften and sweeten the message and then even if he hears it, he has no idea how much whatever issue has affected me.
    You really put words to this in saying “you don’t matter as much as he does”. I’m going to have to mull this one over and try to see where that message is coming from! Thanks for the great read!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m so glad it spoke to you, Sarah! And you do matter!

  7. Officiant

    I got married 26 years ago. My wife and I agreed that honesty and being open in our marriage is the glue. We both feel like we can talk to each other, confide in each other and no topic is off limits. And because of that we laugh a lot.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      YES! I love that. I find that when you can talk about anything, you’re far more likely to laugh together. It’s because the tension level in your marriage comes down so much. People miss out on just the fun of life when so much is off limits. It’s really sad, because when things are off limits, then we’re walling off a part of ourselves. And when you do that, you can’t be vulnerable, which means you can’t let your guard down, which in turn means you can’t laugh. It all goes together!

  8. Kay

    It’s cliche but I think there is some truth that some people will not change until you make staying the same more “painful” than making changes. In this instance, that may mean an insistence that you talk about all of these thing to the point where it is harder to NOT talk about them.
    Why are we so afraid of hurting our spouses? Some conversations are *going* to be painful. There is no way around it. But does that mean we shouldn’t have them?? Especially if it to address sin or just a general falling short? Pain is not the worst thing; a lack of growth is far worse. But growth does not happen in comfort, and there is nothing comforting in change. God hasn’t called us to comfort (or peacekeeping) but growth (peacemaking).
    (Preaching to myself.)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is wonderful, Kay! Absolutely. I love it. And I love this bit: “Pain is not the worst thing; a lack of growth is far worse.”. Yep.
      (By the way–did you have your baby? I seem to remember you were pregnant a while ago!)

      • Kay

        I was thinking more about this issue today and I realized that in my desire to be a blessing to my husband, I’ve been constrasting “blessing” with “burden” (instead of “curse”). I feel like a good wife does not burden her husband, meaning she doesn’t bother him with silly things like her own needs and desires, and she certainly doesn’t burden him with his own sin. But that is such a BACKWARD way to look at it! And it’s not even healthy, let alone holy. To some extent marriage is a burden, aka there is some responsibility there. To be a true blessing, I need to fight against the curse, including how it impacts us personally and in our marriage. That will absolutely mean “burdening” him with the task of following Christ and working together to build a healthy, God-honoring marriage. That is going to mean discomfort. It just is. And that is OKAY. I can still be a blessing even if I have needs or insist on having hard conversations.
        Anyway! Yes, I did have another kiddo; then I blinked and he just had his first birthday. 😳

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, my goodness, your baby is 1? 🙂 Ha! I guess I’ve missed out on some time!
          And I absolutely love your comment. I’m going to save it and maybe use it some time (quoting you of course!). It’s brilliant.

  9. Mary

    Thanks Sheila! This has been helpful to me today! Not because of my marriage- my husband is a great communicator – but because of some issues I’ve been having with a man at church. There are ongoing tensions between us (to do with the kids ministry we are both involved in) and I have been at a loss to know how to fix it. This has helped! I’ve been absorbing and putting up with some pretty nasty behavior in an effort to keep the peace. Unsurprisingly, this solves nothing and only allows him to keep his ego intact, and for the kids to see a woman (their group leader or mum!) being walked all over. It’s not healthy and is a bad representation of the church.
    My husband and I will make a plan together and insist on making him talk through some hard stuff with us. Thanks!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, that’s such a neat “by-product” of this post! Not what I was thinking when I wrote it, but I love it. And it’s absolutely true–it applies in other situations as well. Just because someone else refuses to talk about it does not mean that they get the final say on that. We can refuse to back down when it’s of God and when it’s important. That’s great!

  10. Erin

    Hi! I’m new to your blog and found this post equally helpful and disheartening. I have been married for 4 years and have a 3 1/2 year old, a 2 year old and a 6 month old. My husband is working full time and in school full time. Needless to say, our time to talk is limited. I am heartbroken over the state of our sex life. I feel lost and confused and ashamed. When I try to talk about it he gets uncomfortable and angry. I could push through and force the conversation, but it feels like when I do he always ends up saying something that cuts so deeply that it leaves me worse off than I was before. So now I am in a place where I am numb and dread sex, but I am afraid to say no and make him angry so I pretend and go along. I know he loves me and would never want this but I have no idea how to fix it! Is there a way to fix my own issues without involving him? Is that possible?

  11. Erin

    I enabled way to much in the beginning and we definitely got into bad communication patterns. But what if your spouse goes beyond depression and threatens suicide. It makes mostly discussions very hard to have. Not that he always threatens it. But now his depression makes me even more nervous knowing that thought it in his head. (And yes he’s on medication and seeing a counselor)

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That’s so difficult! And I have no easy answers. I will say this, though. No matter what your husband chooses, it is not your fault. You cannot shoulder the blame for his choices, or feel that you are responsible for whether he lives or dies. You just can’t. I’ve seen that dynamic in other families close to me, and it’s toxic. People never deal with things, and the depressed person gets all the power they need to stay in their stuck place. You just can’t do that. I think what’s important is for both of you to be in counselling together, and then pray hard! But you aren’t responsible for what he chooses to do. So ask Jesus, “what is the loving thing to do for my husband right now?” Sometimes the loving thing is to stop enabling; sometimes Jesus asks us to wait. We really need to hear the Holy Spirit. But regardless, you aren’t responsible for that.

  12. Lacey

    I am not a Christian, but I believe there is truth in all paths. I stumbled upon this article on Pinterest while looking for ways to deal with my fiancee who becomes cold and distant anytime I bring up an important issue. I have to say, I usually click away immediately from anything remotely Christian when looking at relationship advice but your post is spot on. I grew up in the church before leaving the faith just over a decade ago. I have a much more animalistic viewpoint and usually Christian teachings are hard to swallow because they stray so far from what Jesus himself (whom I greatly respect the teachings of) taught. Thank you for your words here. I don’t think it’s fair that I get the silent treatment whenever I bring up an issue and your sample conversation is extremely helpful. I’ve been divorced and single for a long time and it’s sometimes very difficult for me to switch back into viewing life through the eyes of a relationship. My first instinct is just to walk away but I want to work on this relationship, I want it to last. So thank you.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m so glad that you found this helpful! Thank you for your encouragement. You brightened my morning. And I do pray that one day you will find real Christian community. Check out today’s post–it may resonate with you, too.

  13. Laurie Richards

    I so appreciated this post and the comments. I’ve been married for 23 years. My husband’s porn addiction began at age 17. I knew about it when we married. I didn’t know what I was in for. And that was before the internet. Trust has been a major issue from day one.
    My pain goes beyond his refusal to talk about things. This may sound very strange. The worst thing is that he is SO NICE ALL THE TIME. He lives in a pretend world. He knows it’s not good but he won’t stop doing it. We’ve talked ad nauseam over the years but I have given up because he does not follow through on his promises for more than a few weeks. As soon as it feels to him like we’re through the ‘crisis’ it goes back to the same.
    If I were reading this about someone else, I would be thinking, ‘why are you still there??” But I love him, he is a good Christian man who loves to serve people. I believe he truly WANTS a healthy marriage. But he doesn’t know what to do, so he does nothing. He goes about whistling a happy tune.
    I readily acknowledge that I am not perfect and have contributed some to his discomfort with ‘discussions’. But I also tell him out loud that I WANT him to feel ok talking to me, that I have really tried hard to not sound preachy or judgmental, and he agrees I have come a long way. But I am a ‘say it like it is’ person who is comfortable in my own skin, and he is a people pleaser who is deathly afraid of confrontation and always has been.
    I feel I know what I need to do, which is to separate and get us both some breathing room. But we can’t afford it, and I have such a hard time imagining my life without him. Outside of all the crap, we are fun loving goofy people who want to enjoy a simple life.
    Anyway thank you for giving me a place to vent. Lots of support out there for porn addicts, not so much for us wives left in the dust.

  14. Sarah

    My husband always avoids big discussions with me. It’s never a “good time” or he is “too tired”. When I finally make him talk, it never goes well. He gets very grumpy and will not talk long. These topics don’t need to turn into arguments. They are just topics that need to be discussed like big financial decisions and having more kids. They always do turn into arguments though, and the same issue comes up every time: he is miserable in his job (which he has refused to quit for years) and he basically resents me for not making enough money (I take care of the kids during his work week and work part time on weekends. We can’t afford childcare). He makes me feel like all of our problems stem from me not pulling my weight, and I feel like everything I do is never enough. Every time, I don’t know where to take the conversations after he takes it to the money problems and me not making enough. I don’t know how to even bring up issues anymore cause I know he will go back to that every time. I try to come up with suggestions and resolutions, but he shoots them all down. He never has any except telling me I need to make more money. Any advice??


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