PODCAST: Are Sex for Men and Talking for Women REALLY Equivalent?

by | Sep 10, 2020 | Libido, Uncategorized | 83 comments

Are sex and talking the same level of intimacy?
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“How would you feel if your husband only talked to you once a week?”

In today’s podcast I’m dealing with three kind of controversial issues:

  • Can we be content with sex if we’re the higher drive spouse?
  • Are sex and emotional intimacy truly equivalents?
  • Should we be treating all divorce like it’s a scandal?

I had a lot to say in this one, and so I recorded it alone (also because Rebecca’s on vacation!). And this week’s not on YouTube; it’s just audio! But we talked about some pretty important stuff.

Before we begin, let me reiterate something. Often issues exist on a spectrum. When we say “Z isn’t true”, people assume we’re arguing “A”. But really, we’re usually arguing “M”. Let’s allow some nuance! (And I hope I did this in the podcast!)

The Issue Spectrum

Okay, now listen in to the podcast!

Want to find things in the podcast quickly? Here’s the timeline!

1:18 The Argument Spectrum: “Not Z” does not necessarily equal “A”
5:11 Reader’s Experiences of Criticism About Sex
11:40 The Idea of Being ‘Content’ with Your Sex Life 
14:50 Are Sex and Talking Really Equivalent? 
19:35 Emotional Availability is not Optional
28:00 Hearing about a Big Name Christian’s Divorce–Seriously not cool 
29:45 A Call for Christians to Change How we Discuss Divorce 

We talked about three things today:

Can high drive spouses learn to be content if they’re getting regularly frequent sex?

If you’re making love once a week or more, then can we focus on contentment rather than criticism?

Criticism will cause your spouse’s libido to plummet.

Can we think about contentment in our relationships, rather than yearning to have every sexual urge satisfied? We allow contentment in other parts of our lives, but for some reason, when it comes to sex, people often think we can’t be satisfied unless we’re totally fulfilled.

I think that’s a misunderstanding of what sex is supposed to be about.

I talked about this more on Tuesday’s post about higher drive spouses and contentment, but I wanted to reiterate it here, too!

Is talking and emotional connection really the same as sex?

Many of the best-selling Christian books and resources we looked at for our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue said to women, “You can’t expect him to talk to you if you don’t have sex with him. For men, sex is just like intimacy is for you. How would you feel if he didn’t talk with you for a week?”

And in the comments here, one man said that for many men, talking was just as hard as sex was for women.

So I addressed it in this podcast, with these points:

  1. Just because something is a need does not mean it’s an equal or equivalent need. People do not die from lack of sex; they have died from lack of emotional connection.

  2. You can be in healthy sexually, emotionally, and relationally and still not want sex for several reasons (headaches; exhaustion; stress; grief; a lot on your mind). But you cannot be healthy relationally or emotionally if you don’t want to talk or emotionally connect. Sex requires much more effort than talking does. They are not equivalent.
  3. Jesus was emotionally vulnerable with others and emotionally intimate with others. If some people have difficulty with emotional intimacy or emotional vulnerability, that is not an excuse to avoid it. That is a sign of emotional unhealth.

Just as I tell women we need to see sex in a positive way and change the way we see sex (and take my FREE sex pep talk course if you need help with that!), so we need to tell those who have trouble opening up emotionally that they need to address this, because it isn’t healthy.

We have this idea that being comfortable with emotion is feminine and not being intimate is masculine. But Jesus is our example for BOTH genders, and Jesus was comfortable with emotion and with intimacy. We cannot use sex as an intimacy substitute.

Yes, sex is important in marriage, but it does not replace intimacy, nor is it the equivalent of emotional intimacy, and we need to talk about this differently. (and please listen to the podcast for more!)

Can we please stop treating all divorce like it’s a scandal?

This week Jen Hatmaker announced she was divorcing, and many on the internet treated this like it was a scandal and like she had something to be ashamed of, even though it looks like the divorce blindsided her.

When we treat all divorces like they are scandals, then we make all those who are divorced feel shame.

it does not always take two to tango; sometimes divorce is due to one person’s problems. Heaping shame must stop.

(And by the way, I only mentioned Jen by name because she talked about it on her own social media platform, and because it’s been so widely talked about. But the issue here goes far beyond her. The church needs to handle divorce better).

Divorce is not a scandal. Divorce is not shameful. Divorce in many, many cases is not even sinful!

Divorce is often the result of something that was scandalous, and shameful, and even sinful.

But that does not mean that the scandal, or shame, or sin is equally shared, or even shared at all.

It does not always take two to tango.

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Things I mentioned in this podcast

And you may also be interested in this post about why God allows us to divorce for abuse–and how awful it is that prominent Christian teachers have kept abused spouses in terrible, dangerous marriages for so long because of bad teaching.

What do you think? Anything stand out to you today? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of 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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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. Laurel B

    Haven’t listened to the podcast yet but planning to, ASAP. I cheered when I saw you were addressing the idea of emotional intimacy equalling sexual intimacy. Someone just brought that up in a conversation the other week, and it rankled in me again. Not because I don’t absolutely love having sex with my honey… Just because it didn’t seem equal. The equation has always seemed off to me, but I didn’t have words to explain why. Or rather, I had always been told it’s the same and didn’t feel that I was allowed to disagree with that because I’m not a man & “can’t understand.” (Even though I lived for years as a single Christian virgin with a healthy sex drive & the struggles that brought.) You’re right – emotional intimacy is a mark of an emotionally healthy person, and sex isn’t. Good point! Keep the truths coming!

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Another point I didn’t make in the podcast, but I did want to add, is that one reason that I think God wants us to wait for sex for marriage is that then we grow emotional intimacy and connection, which is the bedrock. Sex can make us feel connected when we actually aren’t, because of the hormone rushes. Real connection is not based on sex but true intimacy. Sex is a part of that, yes, and a very important part in marriage. But it is not the foundational part. That’s why we get to know someone before we marry. That’s the connection that has you choose to marry. They’re both important; but they are not equivalent.

        • Chris

          Once upon a time over at J. Parkers blog she made the observation that sex IS NOT the icing on the cake of marriage, sex is the cake. And I agree with that. But Sheila, as you said, sex is not foundational, i agree with that too. Because sex is beneath the foundation. Sex is the bedrock. One can share deep, emotional conversations, with many people. But sex is reserved only for your spouse. Also, for most of human history and church history the church didn’t require that two people even know each other prior to marriage. It was not seen as being essential for marriage. But the church and other faiths did require that you have two people of different sexes. Why? Because sex.
          Now, i have not listened to the podcast yet (and i will later) but if you have enough men telling you that to them conversation is the same as sex is to women then we must listen to that. Its not “emotionally unhealthy “ that’s absurd. It would be unhealthy if they did not know what their emotions were. But just not sharing them, ya thats not unhealthy.Men are biologically wired differently and may not feel the urge to talk about everything they are feeling. Women also don’t make it easy on us or a safe place for us to share those things. And using the phrase “they are not comparable “ is like saying “that’s different “ or “it depends “ which is just code for situational ethics. I understand that they are not comparable to YOU. Because if you acknowledged the validity of my comparison, you would be forced to confront the hypocrisy of your position. Not trying to be harsh there Sheila, just saying.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Chris, can you address the actual arguments I made, because I did go into detail in this. I think that would be more helpful.
            I agree that sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage, absolutely.
            But let me address one of your arguments, about it being the bedrock and foundation.
            Actually, it’s not, because emotional connection is. We choose who to marry by becoming emotionally close with someone. That’s one of the reasons that God wants us to wait for marriage for sex; because sex makes two people feel close without necessarily being a real connection there. Great sex does not necessarily equal emotional connection at all, and it is emotional connection, or sharing of our hearts, minds, and souls, that brings us together, not only our bodies. Now, in sex, hopefully all kinds of intimacy are present (and should be), but sex alone cannot create emotional connection.
            I do think it’s used as a substitute in marriages where that emotional connection isn’t present, and that’s likely why sex is desired with an unhealthy desperation in too many cases (because you’re trying to patch over something that is missing). But emotional connection, where you share your feelings, fears, dreams, desires, thoughts with someone is separate, and is foundational, because without it we don’t really know each other. And that’s why we work on emotional connection BEFORE sex.
            I also address three other big arguments in the podcast.

          • AJ

            Chris I believe you are right that the bedrock below the foundation in marriage is sex. Any romantic relationship between a man and a woman begin with sexual attraction. This is the attraction that causes us to want to form an emotional connection with each other. I remember the first time I saw my then future wife. It was nothing but pure attraction which is deeply rooted in sexuality that made me say to myself, “wow who’s that girl? I want to meet her!” If there was no sexual attraction I would have never met her and formed an emotional connection with her. By sexual attraction, I’m not referring to lust nor am I only referring to physical features. Sexual attraction always involves some level of attraction to physical features but it goes much deeper than that. For first time I met my wife it was my attraction to her physical features that led me to her but it was her response to my approaching her that kept the attraction going. My point is sex is definitely deeper than foundational because sexual attraction is the initiating force in all romantic relationships between a man and woman.

  2. Laura

    Sarah McDugal said well, “It DOES take two to tango. A tango is a sexy dance. So a sexy dance take two. But it only takes ONE person to totally destroy it.”

  3. AJ

    “People do not die from lack of sex”. No but a marriage relationship CAN and WILL die if there is no sex. Sex and physical intimacy are the only things that distinguishes a marriage relationship between man a woman as unique and different from any other relationship. Our culture has tried to turn sex into something that is cheap or seen as dirty rather than it being the sacred union it was intended to be. For me as a man, having great sex with my wife (great sex is defined as sex where there is mutual desire and pleasure) causes me to be able to be more emotionally vulnerable with my wife and feel an emotional connection that I don’t have with anyone else. It “softens” my relationship with my wife in every way (it’s difficult to stay mad at someone you had great sex with the night before). I don’t necessarily think that talking and sex are like for like equivalents. They are very different. I do think that connecting with my wife through conversation is very important and I also believe that in order to be fully emotionally connected with my wife sex is just as important as talking. I have heard it said before that woman need to feel emotional connection in order to want sex but for men sex IS the connection. This is so true. True deep emotional, physical and spiritual connection between a husband and wife cannot exist to there fullest potential without both talking and sex. This doesn’t mean they have to occur in equal amounts but it does mean that both spouses should be considerate of each other’s momentary desires, needs and wants. If I want sex at a particular moment but my wife needs to talk I need to listen to her. Knowing that she has never used my desire for sex in a manipulative way, allows me to be fully present and want to engage when she needs to talk (or cry). Although sex might have been on my mind, I can shift to whatever she needs to talk about because I know we’ll have sex again sometime in the near future. If everytime I wanted sex my wife she always deflected to talking resentment would begin to build. She also sees sex as important (and fun!) and so she is very considerate if I approach her wanting sex. One the most important things for my wife and i is to stay as connected as possible throughout our day (text and a short phone call are great). When I stay connected with her, I won’t even approach her for sex if I don’t think she’s emotionally and physically in a place to desire and enjoy it. Keep in mind I’m speaking from the stand point of a middle aged married couple where there are no physical ailments hindering sex. I’m not saying that couples who physically can’t have sex are doomed to failure. If something ever where to happen to my wife or I where sex was no longer physically possible I believe we would grieve the situation together and be okay. It would be a sad day for both of us but we would get through it together.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think you understand what it means to be a higher drive spouse. For us, it’s not about the physical. It’s about a deep emotional connection that I share with one person. The pain of being emotionally rejected is so very real. It’s hard because we are effectively told to “shut up and be content” simply because our meaningful connection includes something physical. No amount of talking will ever truly take the place of sex. In fact, talking and then ending the night without sex, is one of the hardest things to face. My husband gets his emotional needs met and considers it good, while I have to figure out how to walk away from my emotional needs because it includes sex. I have had to literally teach myself to shut down any sexual drive, and the emotional connection it brings, and walk away from it entirely. Sex is on his terms. I’ve never felt so distant from my husband, despite the hours of conversations we’ve had (we are both big talkers).

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        I’m so sorry, Anonymous. Can I ask how frequent sex is for you? Is it that you have to wait a few days, or is it more like a few weeks?

      • AJ

        Anonymous, I’m a man who is also a higher drive spouse. I to also find sex to be deeply emotional. Sex and/or physical touch makes me feel very loved, needed and wanted and sexual rejection is very deep emotional rejection.

      • Anonymous

        Why does frequency matter if emotional needs are not being met? Some people are great at four times a month, others need more. The point is that both are emotional connections to be considerate of. What good is a long heartfelt talk if you leave your spouse emotionally needing sex to feel connected? What good is it to have sex if you leave your spouse needing a heartfelt talk to feel emotionally connected? It’s not about “how much sex do you have?” anymore than “how many words did you speak?” The question is, did you walk away leaving your spouse feeling emotionally connected? It’s about mutual satisfaction. I don’t believe its right to just demand sex of your spouse. But what makes you think that just because some people don’t connect emotionally through sex, but through conversation, that it’s okay to declare those who connect emotionally through sex less than? I can’t fathom separating those two!

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I totally agree with you here. I’d also add that a marriage relationship will also die with a lack of emotional connection. They’re both necessary in the long run (absent health issues, of course). They’re both important needs. Absolutely.
      But IN GENERAL, it is a fact that people can have died from lack of emotional connection, and haven’t from sex. That’s all. In marriage, however, both are necessary. Yes.

      • Anonymous

        That’s just not how this post came across at all. It’s your job, as you have stated about Focus on the Family and others, to provide a balanced view of sex and marriage. Saying that talking is MORE important is simply not true. A marriage needs both talking and sex to be truly healthy and balanced. Too much and not enough of one or the other will result in a poor marriage. The point to be made is that spouses should not hold their needs over each other’s heads to get what they want, but to peovide mutual satisfaction. Taking time to engage through talking as well as taking time to engage sexually are equal!

        Most of those dying without emotional connections are the elderly and they often die shortly after their spouses. Makes me wonder if that emotional bond included years of good sex…?

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Anonymous. as I said in the post, I’m arguing M, not A. I have spent so much time trying to help women have a positive view of sex. This is vitally important.
          But at the same time, it is also true that not being able to emotionally connect except through sex is not healthy, either.
          We need to talk about what’s healthy. We need both emotional connection and sex in marriage. But, as I said to other commenters and I will say again, there are times when you have to forego sex to work on your marriage, because sex without connection is crushing. But there is never a time to forego emotional connection.
          In Christian terms, it’s a lot like the baptism debate to me. Baptism does not save you; belief and giving your life to Christ does. That is the foundation. But once you have done that, you need to get baptized. Both are necessary, but one is the gateway. That’s the thing.
          It is simply not healthy to not be able to emotionally connect outside of sex. It isn’t. And it’s also not healthy to have a negative view of sex. So let’s work on both, and then we’ll likely find that the sexual relationship is far richer, frequent, and life giving.

  4. Active Mom

    I am a woman and I don’t think emotional intimacy is more important than sex in a marriage. I can get emotional intimacy elsewhere. From a good friend, a sister etc. I can’t get sex or at least I’m not supposed to. I get your point Sheila about how we choose to marry because we become emotionally close to someone. But, that is a relatively new concept. For the majority of human history marriages weren’t chosen based on an emotional connection. They were transactions. Yet, God still called us to love our spouses. In more recent history my grandparents knew each other 3 weeks before they got married. They married before he shipped off to ww2. There was not an intimate emotional connection. There was physical chemistry (grandmas words) they were married more than 50 years. For many people not just men sex is easier and more important than emotional intimacy. For others it’s flipped. I don’t think it’s fair to say one is easier or more important. It depends on the person. However, the reality is God didn’t order emotional intimacy in marriage he did sex. I will not fully understand why, but I feel like if we are going to dictate a list of what’s necessary and important his list wins. I am a huge advocate for women and sex. I believe that since almost the beginning of time women have gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to sex. From polygamy in ancient times to books like love and respect now. The orgasm gap is real and it’s not right. But, saying that I don’t think we do anyone any favors when we start to decide for ourselves what’s easier or more important.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear what you’re saying. I do.
      But when God made sex a vital part of marriage, again, we have to come back to what sex means. In the Bible, sex is a deep “knowing”. It’s not just physical; it’s a deep and abiding longing for greater intimacy at all levels. Thus, sex is both predicated upon intimacy and grows intimacy.
      The issue is that sex can’t be a deep knowing when there is not an emotional connection. If there is no emotional connection, then sex isn’t knowing. It’s a using of another.
      That’s why the equivalency doesn’t work. I completely agree that we need both in marriage (hence I’m arguing M, not A, in the spectrum example). But the emotional connection is a prerequisite for a healthy marriage.
      Just one example: there are plenty of times in marriage counseling that a counselor will tell a couple to stop having sex so that they can disentangle some issues and work on emotional connection. There is never a time that a counselor would tell a couple to stop growing emotionally, because without that connection, everything falls apart.
      That’s all. You have to like each other, feel heard, feel understood, for sex to work.
      And when authors tell women: You can’t expect your husband to like you/hear you/understand you/confide in you unless you have sex, it is a false equivalency.
      Even the grandparents when they married 50 years ago did grow the emotional side of the marriage, if they wanted a healthy one. True knowing is not only physical; it needs the emotional as well. And without the emotional, the physical becomes debase and cheap.

      • Nichole

        Shiela you are spot on with this. This is exactly what happened in my marriage. Sex felt empty for me with my husband because of lack of emotional connection, and add to that emotional abuse. And I had a healthy libido before marriage, but the lack of emotional intimacy led to me having zero desire.
        For the first 15 years, I read so many books on marriage and sex and tried everything, and eventually became extremely depressed.
        But now because of teachers like you, I feel heard. Active Mom up above had grandparents that simply got lucky because I’m sure even though of course we marry someone we are attracted to, if we don’t know them that well there’s a chance they could be a decent person capable of love, but there’s also a chance they could make your life miserable. I’m sure the sex life naturally suffers in those cases just as it has in mine.
        The thing I ever see mentioned specifically in any articles or books I read is that it isn’t just the talking alone that builds that love/emotional connection. It’s the way you talk to each other and the content. My husband loves to talk but it isn’t normally anything that would create that connection. And a lot of what he says even pushes me away.
        I really appreciate you and your work. I didn’t realize any other teachers besides Gary Thomas were bringing some of this to light!

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Yes, exactly, Nichole. It’s not just talking–it’s emotional connection overall. I have some other things that may help. I wrote a follow-up post on 10 questions to emotionally connect with your spouse, and I have a free download where you can uncover your emotional needs. I hope those help, too. And I’m sorry you’ve been so lonely in your marriage. I’m sorry that desire has waned, especially when you could have had a great sex life. I’m sorry.

          • Nichole

            Thank you Sheila 💙

  5. Doug Hoyle

    I don’t know. It feels like you are painting emotional intimacy with a rather broad brush, when it fact it comes in a wide range of areas that have a much smaller focus. There are things that are easier to be vulnerable, and there are those that are downright terrifying. I would say that the closer you get to true intimacy, the more difficult it is.
    I think you are telling the truth as you see it, but you see it from your perspective. Most men have an innate fear of vulnerability. I am sure that some of that is learned behavior, but I also believe there is a real biological difference between men and women where that is concerned. In any case, it is a special kind of courage, that generally speaking, women poses and men lack.
    I will offer up an example here. My wife and I were watching a movie last weekend. The movie is titled “The Last Full Measure”, which I highly recommend to anyone who is interested. For my wife, it was just a good movie. On the other hand, it affected me deeply thruout, as it dealt with combat, both in the scenes which were flashbacks to the action in Viet Nam, but also the emotional burdens that those men carried 30 later. As much as it moved me, over and over, and as much as my own emotions were churning inside, as much as they were trying to break outside my shell, I kept them bottled up. It is a simple thing, and honestly, I believe that I should let my wife in, if just a little bit, but I COULDN’T. I can’t tell you why I couldn’t, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t make myself do it.
    That is one example out of a thousand. Many, many men kill themselves because of the junk they carry around that nobody knows about. Put that into perspective. Does that sound easy to you.
    I am not saying that men shouldn’t try to do better. I’m not saying that it is healthy to live that way. I also don’t know how to change other than in very small steps, building that trust and that courage.
    Those things that most define me and my outlook, those are the things that are locked away the tightest. I absolutely know that my wife doesn’t “know” me. She know the me that I present to her. Frankly, the thought of her truly seeing inside is terrifying.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Doug, you’re actually so insightful on what’s going on inside you. That’s really good, and thank you for sharing, because I know that so many will relate to what you’ve said.
      I do agree that intimacy and vulnerability are deeply scary for so many, and that sex is much easier.
      I’m not arguing that at all.
      I’m simply saying that we should aim for what is healthy, rather than basing what a “healthy” sex life should look like on top of unhealthy modes of relating.
      So, for instance, it’s obviously not healthy to have a negative view of sex. It’s not healthy to think that sex is a chore, that you don’t really need it or want it, and that your spouse is selfish for wanting it.
      However, a large minority of (especially) women do feel this way.
      But we shouldn’t be basing sex advice as if this is NORMAL and right. We should instead say, “okay, people, let’s figure out what to do so that you can enjoy sex and look forward to sex and have a healthy view of sex! Let’s not put up with a negative view of sex as being the norm!”
      And that’s what I’ve tried to do on this blog, especially with the Boost Your Libido course. And I’ve encouraged women (and men) with trauma to get licensed, trauma-based therapies. I’ve shared my own story of how I had to think differently about sex.
      That’s what I’m trying to get at here. It isn’t healthy to assume that emotional connection is difficult for men, if not impossible if they aren’t getting sex, because not being able to connect emotionally and not being able to be vulnerable is not healthy.
      That doesn’t mean that there aren’t a lot of men (and some women) who would fit that criteria, as you have noted, in the same way that there are a lot of women who fit the criteria for having a negative view of sex.
      But just because large numbers fit that criteria does not mean that it is healthy. And so I’d rather than we point to what is healthy.
      I know you’ve seen therapists before for PTSD, and I know how much you’ve gone through (and sincerely, thank you for your service. Now that my daughter has married someone in the military, I’m ever more cognizant of these issues. And many who work on this blog have military spouses). I pray that you may one day be able to express some of those deep thoughts. You seem like such a deep thinker, and such an honestly caring person. I hope that you can share that with your wife sometime. I hope she may be a safe enough place for you.
      And honestly–don’t despair if it’s just small progress. Small things add up. “Do not despise the day of small things.” (Zech. 4:10)

    • E

      My husband sees deep things in every part of life. He equates any movie to deeper matter of the heart or church or people. It often seems like he over shares and I’m like “it was a good movie. I don’t have anything deep to add.” He always asks questions like what did that make you think about? I do think I need to appreciate his thoughts more, just less of him trying to squeeze depth out of me. Just interesting to learn how deep men are whether they express it or not!

      • Doug Hoyle

        I never understood why it was so hard to get any “war stories” from my dad. I fully understand it now, and it is a quiet, unspoken bond that I think we share. There are no words for it, and none needed.
        I imagine everyone has a depth to them that you can’t readily see unless you can relate to their experiences.

  6. Misty S.

    Oh Sheila… I LOVE you!!!!! Thank you for all you do, and for me personally thank you for speaking up on Christian divorce. You and I have talked about my situation before but every time I see or hear you speak about divorce it refreshes my soul. I carried so much shame for being the wife who “couldn’t keep her man.” I would get nauseous at the thought of carrying the title divorcee. For me personally, his affair and our separation made me feel like such a failure. I was determined that we were going to reconcile, even though he made it clear he wanted to divorce every time we talked. Things just kept deteriorating between us and I realized I was turning into a person I didn’t want to be because I was staying in communication with someone who had and continued to hurt me so much. So I initiated the divorce legally…. which made me feel like even more of a failure. I didn’t have what it would take to battle through and save my marriage. I thought I was weak.
    It took a while for me to realize that his affair was SOLELY his fault and that the responsibility to “fix us” was squarely on his shoulders. I didn’t fail. I had no reason for shame. I just let go of something that wasn’t going to get better, that was only going to hurt me more the longer it went on. I protected myself, and eventually got back my dignity. There’s nothing in the world wrong with that.
    I needed your stance on divorce, I know others do too. I needed someone to say what I knew in my heart but battled in my head. That divorce was the right thing, the Godly thing for me. I pray others in a similar situation hear your words, maybe hear my story and find freedom from shame and healing for all the hurt. Again, thank you for all you do.

    • B

      Sheila’s blog opened my eyes through a post about red flags featuring some of Leslie Vernick’s work. I consider Sheila part of my rescue team, as I have since filed for divorce and gotten separation from the man who was abusing me. I know without a doubt that God released me to divorce and my older kids can tell it was the right thing to do, even if it’s still very hard for them.

  7. k

    First, I want to say thank you for everything you do, Sheila. Your blog was so helpful to me before and after I discovered my husband’s porn addiction. I knew just what to do because of you, so thanks for that.
    I really appreciated this podcast. The topic (emotional intimacy and sex not being equal) is a really painful one in my marriage. After 22 years of marriage to a husband who has never really been emotionally available to me I just don’t even care about sex anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I like sex and would love to feel sufficiently emotionally connected that it felt safe, but I’ve had so many years of unconnected sex that I just can’t do it anymore. I just cried listening to you talk about how people will die without emotional connection, because I feel like that’s what’s happening to my marriage. I’ve been working with God over the last few months on contentment and giving up my selfish desires to have things a certain way, and I’m praying for healing and development of emotional maturity for my husband. I’ve even asked God to take away my desire for that connection and help me be satisfied without it, but that just feels wrong. So I’m waiting here in limbo with no physical or emotional connection letting God heal and soften my heart (since only healthy people can have healthy relationships) and teach me how to love my husband selflessly and unconditionally. I’m asking Him to speak and act through me because I just don’t know how anything will ever change if left up to my husband and me. Praying and surrendering are the only tools I have left, which maybe isn’t such a bad place to be. God can change what feels impossible to us. He’s already done a lot of work in my heart over the last six months and I know he can do the same for my husband.
    Thanks for clarifying how vital emotional connection is and for the book recommendation. I can’t wait to read Marc Alan Schelske’s book. I’m praying my husband will read it, too.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, K, I’m sorry for what you’re going through! I hope your husband will read Marc’s book. It’s from a guy, and it’s very raw, and very good.

  8. Boone

    I’m dealing with someone at the moment that has tried three times to share his heart with his wife. Every time he managed to boost up his courage and open his mouth just to get kicked in the teeth. She came unglued on him. I hear of this happening quite frequently. A man might take the chance once or twice or even three times if he’s particularly dense but if this is the reaction he’ll never do it again. A lot of times women only want you to share your innermost feelings with them if they agree with those feelings. Most men don’t have to sit on the stove very many times to figure out that it’s hot.

  9. Sarah O

    “Men have a biological need for sex that women just don’t understand”
    The problem with this thought and it’s many derivatives is that in order to say women can’t understand men, men MUST be able to understand women to know the limits of their empathy/intellect/sexuality. That’s before we even get into any of the possible sex issues this outlook feeds.
    Taking this to the next level by saying “sex is the foundation/bedrock of marriage” is so discouraging. So women are unable to understand sex, but sex is the entire basis of their marriage. This takes us right back to a place where men alone define, interpret and set the rules for the marriage relationship. Because women just lack the core competency to even understand marriage, which is ultimately sex with icing . And so, of course, any criticisms or hurts she might experience from HIS definition of the relationship is just a result of her feeble mind, not evidence that something is wrong.
    It’s deflating seeing so many men staunchly dig in over and over on these points. It’s not enough for sex to be INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. It must be MOST important. Anything less is the result of a feeble mind, a feeble perspective, a feeble biology, obviously. What is lost if you move from “most important” to merely “incredibly important”?
    I know a couple where the husband underwent surgery for prostate cancer 10 years ago. They are both very likely to live at least another 10 years. Complications meant that he can no longer attain an erection. He continues to praise his wife, both privately and publicly. He continues to be passionate about her, both privately and in public. He kisses her and hugs her and holds her hands. They still argue and fight and figure out how to deal with problems together. They still care for and enjoy their children and grandchildren. I have seen this with my own eyes. When his wife had spine surgery, he cared for her tenderly and selflessly. How is this possible with the “bedrock” removed?
    This won’t apply to secular followers, but for those of us who are believers, Christ is supposed to be our bedrock; individually and in marriage. Is our marriage partnership serving Christ?
    I hope I never have a sexless marriage, but if I had to choose between a relationship with sex as the bedrock or a sexless marriage with Christ as the bedrock, like the one I see my friends sharing, I’ll take the latter. Every time.

    • AJ

      Sarah O,
      For the example you gave about the couple where the man can no longer have an erection and how they do so well with there bedrock removed: My answer would be that they probably enjoyed a great sexual relationship for many years together. This allowed them to grow emotionally together so they can get through tough times. It also important to note that although intercourse is impossible without an erection “sex” is still very possible. A man can very much experience sexual pleasure and orgasm without an erection. The beauty of orgasm without a prostate is no ejaculation or mess! And they can definitely still experience oral sex or use other types of sex toys and likely still have a satisfying sexual relationship with each other.

      • Sarah O

        Your response here was to overlook the entire premise and nitpick my example. My example is based on a years long friendship and confidence with real living people, and you criticized my summary based on…what exactly? Obviously you know this couple far better than I ever could because…?
        You are wrong, and I find it vulgar to suggest the sexual habits of real people you don’t know to their real friends. I could tell you more about their story, but I suspect it would fall on deaf ears because it seems simply impossible to you to accept their happiness based on “not sex”. Let me ask again, what is lost if you move sex from “most important” to merely “incredibly important”?

        • AJ

          How is a relationship between a husband and wife where there is NO sex any different than a relationship between a man and a female roommate who are close friends? It’s not!!! Sex is what make marriage different!!

          • Sarah O

            I disagree. And I enjoy frequent sex with my husband.
            Sex is incredibly important, it is a blessing. However, taking it to “most important” extreme is turning it into an idol.
            Moreover, sex is not the only act of special intimacy I reserve for my husband. If sex is the only differentiator you can think of between friends and marriage, I’d say you are definitely missing some opportunities to be vulnerable and to bless each other.

          • Wild Honey

            Uhm… sorry, couldn’t pass this one by. I had a number of male roommates in college, one of whom I still consider a BFF (he’s married, she’s also a BFF, not that it matters). I’ve had a number of other male friends since then. But those relationships are NOTHING like my marriage, even periods where we’ve gone for extended times without physical intimacy, precisely because I share a different level of emotional intimacy with my husband.
            You’re comparing apples to oranges. It’s kinda like saying the only difference between my husband and my close female friends is that I have sex with my husband. Is that how you want your wife to view your relationship?
            Did I mention I’m also usually the higher drive spouse?

      • This is a Pseudonym

        AJ, so you’re saying that if a man went through that surgery in the first year of their marriage, it wouldn’t be possible for them grow emotionally together? Because without sex, you can’t expect a man to treat his wife with such adoration?

        • AJ

          This is a Pseudonym, it depends. For a young couple I believe it would be difficult. For an older couple maybe not so much. I can only speak from own experience. I have now been happily married for 20 years. I married my wife when she was 19. If there had been no sex involved I believe it would have been very difficult to develop the attachment that has kept us together.

    • Anna

      Sarah O., thank you for articulating your take on the conversation so well. It’s my take as well. But I still feel like it’s a perspective that is unheard by many people.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Sarah. That was well put.
      And this is really what I was trying to say: “It’s deflating seeing so many men staunchly dig in over and over on these points. It’s not enough for sex to be INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. It must be MOST important. Anything less is the result of a feeble mind, a feeble perspective, a feeble biology, obviously. What is lost if you move from “most important” to merely “incredibly important”?”
      Although, it’s not just men who are saying this. I think it’s a high drive thing (though not all high drive spouses would agree with it, either). Sex is incredibly important. But it does not come before emotional connection, that’s all.

    • Meredith

      Bravo Sarah O!! You spelled that out so clearly! This whole “sex is the bedrock of marriage” falls so pathetically short. And it utterly ignores all the marriages where sex is impossible for long or even indefinite periods of time. if a spouse is deployed for an extended period of time, or very sick, or becomes mentally or physically incapacitated, apparently they don’t have a marriage any longer?! Give me a break.

    • Andrea

      “Men have a biological need for sex that women just don’t understand.” — I am so sick of this too. Any man who says this has clearly never learned how to work a clitoris correctly. Men go flaccid after just one orgasm, but somehow it is we, women, clitoris-possessors with no refractory period who don’t understand the need for sex???

  10. AJ

    You previously stated “We choose who to marry by becoming emotionally close with someone”. But how do we choose who to become emotionally close with? For most men, I believe the answer would be sexual attraction. No man is going to approach a woman to become “emotionally close” unless there is some (sexual) attraction.
    I firmly believe if sex did not exist there could be no marriage. I can experience emotional closeness with any human being. I can only experience sex with my wife. Therefore sex is bedrock to marriage.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’ll say it again, AJ. Sex is supposed to be a deep “knowing”, meaning that it’s intimate in multiple ways, not just physical.
      That means that if there is no emotional connection, then it’s only intercourse. It’s not really making love.
      We need all levels of connection, and it is emotional connection between the couple that stops sex from being only physical. That’s when you’re truly joining together–when it encompasses everything.
      Sex alone cannot make a marriage. And, as I said, there are times when you need to stop having sex to fix a marriage (because sex without emotional connection leads to trauma and wounds), but there are never times to stop emotional connection to work on the marriage.
      Again, not saying that sex is not vitally important. But our need is for intimacy; not sex. And without emotional intimacy, sex is only physical. With emotional intimacy, sex transcends and becomes everything it was meant to be.

      • AJ

        Sheila, I agree with you totally. My intent was only to say that it is actually sexual attraction that precludes all emotional intimacy in a romantic relationship between a man and woman. No man is going to pursue a woman for emotional closeness that he has no sexual attraction to. If there were no sex there could be no marriage.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          That’s true, AJ–but, we can also be sexually attracted to far more people than we are emotionally fit with. Like, the guy I dated before my husband I was very attracted to. Would have married him even if he had asked me because the attraction made me think it was love (thankfully he never asked)! But then I got the whole package with my husband, not just the sexual attraction part, and it’s so, so much better.
          Yes, sexual attraction is the initial spark, but we have that with many people. When we choose someone we’re actually also emotionally intimate with, then the marriage works.

  11. Jane Eyre

    I think men equate sex and talking because it takes a huge load off their shoulders – even though it doesn’t solve their problem.
    If something is important to you, you need to act like it’s important to you. “Sex is important to me for emotional connection, ergo, give it to me even if you don’t like it” is a contradiction in terms. It’s either not that important to you or is completely disconnected from love.
    A lot of people use “something is important to me” as a bludgeon instead of understanding the obligation on them.
    If sex is actually important to you, then assume the burdens of ensuring that it’s not a sucky, soul-crushing experience for your wife. Assume the burden of taking bad news (what she does not like or if sex is consistently not good) with grace and work to change what is not working. Be willing to accept that it’s not automatically an emotionally close experience for her – there’s not much intimate about a man using your body for pleasure he is unable or unwilling to give you.
    And if you don’t want to do those things? Don’t be surprised when your spouse concludes that sex isn’t important to you.
    Don’t start off by bludgeoning your wife (or husband) with “but I do things that are important to you!”
    If you are doing those things and still have problems, please find a counselor. If you feel the need to make analogies to things that are important to her (or him), don’t go down the trite path of “talking makes women feel closer;” really think about every aspect of your lives: what you eat, where you live, raising children, visiting family and friends, what hobbies you both have, what jobs you do, and draw on that.

  12. Bethany

    First off, I agree with your perspective, Sheila, and I really appreciate you bringing this up because it’s advice that gets tossed around a lot and is honestly super creepy.
    I wonder if it would help to further this conversation by breaking down “sex” and “talking” a little bit more. The advice as given seems like “if you don’t have intercourse on demand it is reasonable for me to give you the silent treatment” which … is blatantly awful and abusive.
    If we tried to reverse this advice it might be something like “if you refuse to have deep emotionally vulnerable conversations with me on demand, I will never give you any physical affection” which would also be terrible.
    A really intimate, share your feelings conversation doesn’t actually happen on demand, it is fully reasonable and appropriate to say “not today, I am not feeling up to it,” but it would also be damage the relationship to never, ever have the conversation. Similarly, a full-blown sexual encounter must not happen without mutual consent, but if it is never happening, it will damage the marriage.
    At the same time, there is a broad spectrum of verbal and physical relating that happens in a marriage. There’s holding hands, a quick “how was your day,” a hug, flirtation, having a fun chat about something you both enjoy, kissing, planning, making out, sharing your hearts and sharing your bodies. These things should all be happening in marriage, and should never be something we hold over the other person’s head, but all should be something both parties are working towards.

      • Tory

        I think asking the question “are sex and talking the same? What is more important?” is setting up a false dichotomy. I think the original illustration wasn’t that men only talked to their wives to get sex. Rather, it is the overarching point that one spouse should not automatically opt out of something that is important to the other spouse, just because they “don’t feel like it”. Case in point: like many women, I tell long stories that have no beginning and no end, with lots of tangents in the middle; my husband patiently listens, and that makes me feel loved. But it is not necessarily a need for him the same way. Similarly, we make it a point to (almost) never turn each other down for sex, even if one of us isn’t in the mood; we try to be open to “getting in the mood” but still say yes to each other. I’m a woman and I’m the higher drive spouse, and to me, there is no “sexual need” vs “emotional need”; the sexual need IS emotional!

        • This is a Pseudonym

          That’s great that you have a high libido and feel like you never need to say no to your spouse, Tory. But can you imagine for a second what it would be like to feel like you reeeaaaalllly should say yes every time, even if the thought of it exhausts you? Have you ever had sex when your body was crying out against it? It’s so damaging. But this teaching that you’re depriving your husband of something he desperately NEEDS every time you turn down sex makes women feel like they’re bad Christians if they say no. Do you see how that takes away their consent?
          Patiently listening to someone’s story even if it doesn’t interest you isn’t damaging like having sex when you really don’t want to is.
          Like someone said on Sheila’s Facebook post recently, we don’t choose our libidos. We can do things to rev them up, but sometimes there’s just going to be a difference between spouses. You aren’t witholding sex from your spouse if you don’t have anything to give!

          • Tory

            @pseudonym, I get it, I really do. Sex is more difficult for some. I think a loving spouse should never push for sex if it’s obvious that his wife is in pain or exhausted. What I’m saying is that it should be mutual. Asking for sex makes you vulnerable. If your husband really wants to be intimate with you, and you are just not in the mood, rather than say “no”, can you offer a rain check (and then follow through)? Or can you offer an alternative? I think that goes a lot farther than just saying no.

  13. Doug Hoyle

    I had reason to think more about this post last night because of some issues at work I was faced with, and the way I was handling them. The short version is that there was no small amount of anger on my part at first, but rather than just let that steamroll me, I was quite deliberate in trying to get at the root emotions, and deal with what I was really feeling. In the past, I would have just let the anger steamroll me.
    The reason I bring that up now, is that I did discuss the issues that arose, and my feelings with my wife. Sometimes it was a little difficult to communicate what I was feeling, but overall I think I did a good job. I think this thread sort of encouraged me to dig a little deeper and share maybe a little bit more than just the facts.
    You mentioned in your earlier reply to me that you knew that I had been seeing a counselor, which is true, of course. One of the things that came up very early in my counseling was that I was essentially emotionally illiterate. It had come up in the past in a series of one on one anger management sessions that a former employer mandated. The real difference is that in the first sessions, it was pointed out, and in the counseling sessions, I was given real tools to help me learn identify and address what I was really feeling, rather than just covering everything with anger.
    I guess the point I am trying to make, and hoping that you will comment on, is that I was not capable of the emotional intimacy that you are prescribing here. It isn’t that it was difficult, or that I didn’t want to do it. I literally was incapable because I had neither the awareness, nor the vocabulary.
    I am sure that some of that is how I was raised, and the examples I had when I was young. Some of it was peer pressure as a boy, and as an adolescent. Then there were the various traumas I went thru. Ultimately, I had two visible emotions. I was either angry, or not angry. That pretty much describes the depth of the emotion I could describe.
    Do you believe the person I described, the “Old Doug” as a couple of friends have come to refer to, was capable of an emotional connection? I would say that I craved one, but because of my own limitations it wasn’t possible.
    Next question, and I am going to put you on the spot here. You have repeatedly said what men should be doing, and for the most part you get no argument from me. On the other hand, this forum is largely addressed to women. What do you tell women who were married to a man like Old Doug to both encourage them, but also to help them truly understand that it isn’t personal. What advice do you give them to help them help their husbands grow in that area. It can’t be a bunch of psychobabble. I heard all that in the anger management sessions, and it didn’t even scratch the surface. In fact, the only reason I got to where I am is because finally came to understand how messed up I really was. I guess you could say that learning to be an emotional being was a side effect of me dealing with my trauma. It wasn’t my goal, but just happened in the process.
    What do you tell a wife who finds that they married an emotionally illiterate man, or worse, one like Old Doug.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Doug, that’s a great question at the end! Let me ponder that. What would I tell women to do whose husbands are incapable of connecting emotionally? Great question. I am hoping to do a series on emotional health in the next few months, so I’ll look into some resources for that and pray about it.
      And I totally agree that it’s that some men aren’t capable of it, because of attachment issues, or trauma, etc. But I still think that this is something that needs to be worked on. I can’t do a chin up. In fact, I jumped up on the chin up bar wrong two weeks ago and it fell down and split my forehead open and I had to get stitches.
      But I’m still trying. I’ve been told the way to learn to do a chin up is to jump up on the bar and then lower yourself. Before you can pull yourself up, you have to be able to lower yourself down.
      So I’m trying. But I can’t even do that. Basically I let myself fall.
      My point is that I’m totally incapable of doing a chin up. I couldn’t do it if my life depended on it. But I am trying small things everyday that put me in the direction of one day being capable of it.
      When we find ourselves incapable of doing something that is necessary for healthy living, whether it’s getting in the mood for sex or emotionally connecting, then it’s up to us to do what we can to become capable. I know you know this; I know you’re trying little things everyday and you’re making progress, so I’m not really saying this to you. I’m just trying to further the conversation.
      But, yes, I know people (and predominantly men, but not entirely) can be incapable of some emotional connection. But then, if they want to grow, be whole people, and have good marriages, it’s incumbent on them to learn.
      And I will ponder your question! It’s a good one.

      • Doug Hoyle

        “And I totally agree that it’s that some men aren’t capable of it, because of attachment issues, or trauma, etc. But I still think that this is something that needs to be worked on.”
        This goes back to the root of my question. Had you told Old Doug he was incapable of real emotional intercourse, and that he needed to work on it, he wouldn’t have had any idea what you were talking about.
        You know what a chin-up is and what it is supposed to look like, so you have a goal to work toward. Even if you had never seen one performed, someone could describe it to you, and you would pretty much understand. “Stand under the bar. Grasp the bar overhead, with your hands facing either inward or outward(facing out is way harder), and pull your body off the ground using only your arm muscles, until your chin is above the bar”.
        OK, now, even if you can’t do one, you have enough information to understand not only the process, but what it looks like when it is achieved.
        Now, describe that process to someone else, but this time, you have to tell them how to do it in a language that you understand perfectly, but is totally foreign to them,
        I realize that is an oversimplification but it starts to touch on the difficulty. How do you communicate the need to connect emotionally to someone who doesn’t even know what that means

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Very interesting question, Doug. Do you have an answer? I’d love your take on it.

          • Doug Hoyle

            Honestly, I don’t have one. I have tried to put myself into Old Doug’s shoes, and picture just what would have reached me. I can’t imagine what might have.
            I think I had to hit bottom and hit it hard, but that only showed me the need for change. It was my trauma counselor who took me from that place to where I am now. I don’t think I could have done it on my own, and more to the point, I probably wouldn’t have even tried. Either way, it wasn’t my intent to be a more emotionally complete person. I just wanted to quit hurting. I didn’t know they were both on the same path.

    • Anonymous

      This hits home for me, because my dad is incapable of emotional intimacy and I’ve seen the damage it has wreaked on my mom and their marriage. In his case, he has a fairly decent range of emotion that he is disconnected from even as he experiences it while also thinking of himself as a non-emotional person. But as far as I can tell he is completely unaware of his inability to connect emotionally. He’s not a whole person, and never has been, because there’s an entire part of himself that he’s unable to reach. I love him, but I’m not close to him, because he can’t be truly emotionally close to anyone.
      It’s really sad, and he has no idea what he’s missing. And it enrages me, because of what that emotional illiteracy (among other things) has done to my mom. His childhood was full of dysfunction and emotional neglect, and he needs professional help to crack open everything that he’s been through and buried emotionally, but I don’t think he’ll ever do it.
      I think this is somewhat common among men in his generation (he’s 62) for various reasons, and it’s so sad for them and for their families.

  14. Joy

    I am so sad this is even a conversation we need to have. I just can’t imagine being in that type of marriage – I don’t mean to be judgemental if that’s what your relationship is like and you’re happy then I’m genuinely happy for you!
    To me, being emotionally close with my spouse is everything. And he’s the same. We’ve had long-ish stretches of no sex (a few months) for medical reasons and we just found other ways to be close. I know you can get that emotional contact “elsewhere” (a close friend, a family member) but if you are in a healthy marriage with a healthy man you shouldn’t have to go anywhere else!
    On an unrelated note, I think men use the “but this is how I feel close to you” line as an excuse to do whatever they want. Men are perfectly capable of finding closeness without sex (otherwise they would have no friends! And no close sibling relationships! And no close relationships with their parents! They could have no true prayer or accountability partners! Come on people, men do emotional talk all the time). The man in the podcast who was complaining he couldn’t have sex while his wife was in pain (and bleeding!) was not after emotional closeness. In my world, being emotionally close to someone means their pain feels like your pain. Their burden is your burden. When we couldn’t have sex because I was too sick, my husband wasn’t annoyed! He was distraught I was suffering and he couldn’t do much to help me. I don’t think the thought of sex even occurred to him. (Edit: I have asked him. He’s given me a real weird look and said that no, sex was not on his mind because he’s a normal human being. His words not mine!).
    That’s all. If you are in a marriage like that and you’re unhappy, please talk about it. It doesn’t have to be that way!!

    • Doug Hoyle

      “I don’t mean to be judgemental if that’s what your relationship is like and you’re happy then I’m genuinely happy for you!”
      No, I wasn’t happy. I never said I was happy. I was probably one of the most miserable people you can imagine, but I didn’t know anything different. I certainly didn’t know I could be different.
      “Men are perfectly capable of finding closeness without sex (otherwise they would have no friends! And no close sibling relationships! And no close relationships with their parents! They could have no true prayer or accountability partners! ”
      Actually, I didn’t have any of those things. I didn’t have a single close friend, I didn’t associate with my siblings other than the “required” appearances at funerals and weddings, and I was largely estranged from my parents.
      “In my world, being emotionally close to someone means their pain feels like your pain. Their burden is your burden.”
      In my world, I denied all my own pain and burdens. What makes you think I would have been capable of carrying yours?
      I never said I was right to be the way I was, but it isn’t something I consciously chose either. I can’t defend it, and I won’t make excuses for it either. I am simply acknowledging what was true of me in the past, and to a much lesser degree would remain true of me today if I wasn’t deliberate in being different.
      I know you said you weren’t being judgmental, and I am trying not to be overly offended or overly defensive. I could say that I was what the world molded me into, and that would partly be true, but I also bear some responsibility. In my own insecurity, in my own pain, in my own fear, I walled off anything that could hurt me. I didn’t know I was walling off all the good stuff too.
      Oh, and I am sincerely sorry about your dog. I faced a similar situation a few weeks ago, where I was terrified that I would have to put my dog down. Her name is Serenity, and she was a big part me getting thru some of my darkest days. She is my therapy critter.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Doug, to respond to your earlier question, at the time when you didn’t have a single close friends and you weren’t close to your siblings, did you know you were missing something? Did you feel empty, frustrated, angry? Was there an emotion you felt that you would have wanted to be rid of? Like even if you couldn’t understand what closeness is, could you have understood, “But I want to stop feeling X”?

        • Doug Hoyle

          You are sort of putting me on the spot here, but I will answer honestly. Yes, I recognized that something was lacking, but probably only on a subconscious level. I would not have described myself as lonely, but looking back on my actions in that season, which included a couple of emotional affairs and one physical affair, there was clearly something missing. I suppose it is ironic to confess to an emotional affair, in this post, since I was not capable of a real emotional connection. In retrospect tho, yeah, I was lonely. I was desperately lonely.
          I am in a difficult position here, because I don’t want to speak out negatively against my wife, or to make it seem I am blaming her for my actions. Those days are long behind us. But I did say I would answer honestly. Following the abortion, we were both very broken people but I don’t think either of us knew how badly. In her case, one of the ways that was manifest was that she withdrew from me. I worked a lot on the road, and much of the time she wouldn’t take my calls or respond to texts for days or sometimes weeks on end. When she did call, it was always about some problem at home that needed my attention. It was never about us. I would call just to hear her voice, and almost every call ended on a sour note. I would end with an “I love you” and her response would be “uh huh”. This was not a short season. It lasted in one form or another for the better part of 20 years.
          So yes, I did seek out an emotional connection then, but honestly, only on the shallowest levels. To be more honest, they were connections I could and did sever when they became threatening in some way.
          Doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of me, does it?

      • Joy

        Doug – I am so sorry if what I said came out in any way as a direct response to your comments. I was speaking generally, but I can totally see your point of view. I certainly didn’t mean to attack your point of view or make you feel badly about your experience.
        Honestly, I think this is one of those situations when actually the “I was taught to be this way” defense is completely legitimate. Of course everyone is responsible for their own actions, but the way society portrays men
        as incapable of emotions is so constant and pervasive that I don’t think any individual young man can escape unless he happens to have different role models in his life.
        With that, I just want to say you seem like you have an amazing capacity for self reflection and analysis. Whatever you are up against in life, I am sure it is serving you well!

      • This is a Pseudonym

        Doug, what you’ve gone through sounds so painful. You sound like a strong person for doing the work to get to the other side.
        To relate what you’re saying to the sex vs talking subject:
        Yes, I definitely think that someone can be incapable of opening up emotionally without outside help (therapy, etc.). But let’s think about this from the spouse’s perspective. And this is where I disagree with Sheila a bit.
        If the spouse is told that they must continue having sex with someone that’s incapable of being healthy emotionally, that can be very damaging. Just because you say some vows doesn’t mean that it’s magically sunshine and roses to have sex with someone that isn’t healthy (or maybe toxic). I think it’s perfectly okay for the spouse to say, “I love you, and I’d love to be sexually intimate with you. But until you can get help and work on these issues, I’ll be needing to stop having sex in order to keep myself safe.” It’s not from a place of manipulating by withholding sex. It’s just that they know that it’s not safe to have sex with this person at this time.
        Let me put it another way by using some hyperbole: It’s perfectly reasonable and emotionally healthy to say, “I’d love to have sex with you, but right now I’m dehydrated and about to pass out because I didn’t drink any water today. Could you go get me a drink of water first?” But it’s NEVER healthy to say, “I don’t care if you’re dehydrated. My need for sex comes first. I won’t give you any water until you have sex with me.”
        So I think it’s okay to say, “I need you to be able to be emotionally healthy before I have sex with you.” But it’s not okay to say, “I won’t talk to you until you have sex with me.”

        • Doug Hoyle

          “So I think it’s okay to say, “I need you to be able to be emotionally healthy before I have sex with you.” But it’s not okay to say, “I won’t talk to you until you have sex with me.””
          In principle, I agree with what you are saying, but I would say that things are not always as simple as they seem.
          This is hard to explain without sharing a lot more details than I am generally comfortable with, so I will just leave you with this question.
          What if the person requiring you to be emotionally whole and healthy is the one who inflicted a major portion of the trauma that you are trying to heal from?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            That’s a really hard question. In that case, I think the situation is different, but I’d also say that a lot of marriage counseling was in order!

          • Doug H

            Shelia, it was really a rhetorical question, and there isn’t a “right” answer. I don’t know why, but I was not yet able to even address my own hurts when God laid it onto my heart to confess and repent of the damage I brought into the relationship. In doing so, the door to reconcilliation opened little by little and many of the old hurts were put behind us. I can’t say for sure, but I believe it was only thru the recovery process that all my own hurts were brought to the surface. I thought when I actually saw them for what they were, and how they were behund some of my behaviors, that I was done. Turns out that for me, that was just the beginning if actually getting healthy.
            It isn’t going to look like that for everyone, obviously. I think the one common thread that I have seen in other peoples testimonies as well as my own, is that one person generally has to take the first step. I don’t know that it matters which one, but I do believe that if you are waiting on the other to be the one, your heart is probably a big part of the problem.

  15. Chemist

    Sex is used as a generic term here – it doesn’t mention the actual execution of the sex act in its many variations. One person’s idea of ‘adventure’ is another individuals definition of debasement and degradation. ‘Variety’ to one is bodily defilement to another. And it begs the question – why is so necessary to poke around another individual’s body in multiple ways in order to feel loved? Can a man or woman really say he has real ‘needs’ of anal sex, BDSM and porn based scenarios, ludicrous lingerie, fantasy fulfillment and humiliating role plays with costumes. Really? Can’t feel loved unless you pee on someone or befoul their body in other ways?

  16. Ben

    Part 1: (Please forgive me for the length) Thank you for sharing Mrs. Sheila, I wish I had commented sooner. I could so feel/hear your heart and know it was very, very emotional for you, both parts to the podcast for sure and so appreciate you. Thank you for being there for all of us, the body of Christ and I, I’m sure all of us, well, lol, most of us could certainly feel the struggle, your heart almost breaking especially on the first, main section and thank you. It is so true, even after almost 8 years now without sex I’ll tell you as I know you know, there have been many, many emotional, I’m at a loss for the word but maybe levels, feelings, plateaus for a while that one finds themselves on and then it changes to another and yes, they’ve been all over the gamut but lol, maybe after 7-8 years now I’m starting to “accept” where we are and what it is. We have a great relationship and I feel pains as I even say that because it’s certainly not by any means what I ever imagined life after 39 years of marriage to look like and it’s been basically for the most part the same, little to no sex the whole time, with a little something here or there but as you know, that would be a whole other chapter but back to the great podcast. Even like you said Mrs. Sheila, everything in a Christian’s life is to be Gods and spiritual and there isn’t, shouldn’t be a disqualifier in the bedroom. Finding trust, contentment in God and knowing he is on the throne and even knows and has reasons we may not be able to quite fathom while here below we know he does have reasons that are eternal, even in the bedroom, eternal for us and others that may be in our sphere of influence or who may come into our sphere before we leave this earth.

    • Ben

      Prt 2: Believe me and maybe this is just another fleeting plateau and to be honest it still is very painful yet maybe the understanding that this is such a momentary life in light of eternity and that God is even using my pain for his glory. Maybe it’s given me time to focus on other, eternal things I wouldn’t have been able to do which are even more important in light of eternity than romping in the bedroom. For some reason we don’t consider sexual suffering as a form of suffering…like we so easily do everything else in our lives, how Paul said that he knew God would use it for the furtherance of the Gospel. You made a comment in the podcast that it seems like folks view sex differently and your right and I thought about it and I guess and it’s sadly because we think that because we’re supposed to be “one” with this one we gave our lives to and that we at least deserve that we think but somehow we forget that our sinful nature, even the effects of trauma etc in each of our lives won’t or shouldn’t enter the bedroom, a place where we’re supposed to have all our desires met by this other individual. We are still two people involved and yes the idea we picture doesn’t usually involve conflicts or separate desires, yet that’s the reality of it. Hopefully we’ll finally accept the fact that this other person due to all their scars from the past or whatever the reason probably isn’t going to be that fantasy, intimate one we dreamed of yet we can be the light of Christ and yes sometimes it seems like that can be the hardest place to be when we think it shouldn’t be that way and yes it shouldn’t be.

      • Ben

        Prt 3 But God even calls us and maybe has called you (me) to be the love and light of Christ even in the bedroom no matter if anything ever goes on under or on top of the sheets. Believe me, even saying this is scary and I think why it’s not very often said because it almost seems to give the other spouse the “out”…believe me and especially since I’ve been told by mine several years ago that because I’m a Christian I shouldn’t need sex, that I should be stronger while they totally don’t get it and as it feels, don’t care, that hurts. Probably the most hurtful thing was once being told that God made the right and the left (hand) so basically use them, you can take care of yourself. Sooo believe me when I say it’s hard but have to know that God wants us to be and live like Christ no matter what goes on or more than likely doesn’t in the bedroom. Yes it hurts, it’s a feeling of not being loved and rejected and when I have mentioned that it feels like they don’t want anything to do with me they are what seems to be seriously confounded since we otherwise have an amazing “friendship” as I’m just asked if I’d like to help her make the mornings sausage gravy and of course I will. So, yes, I do think that God may even call some of us to suffer if I can use that word in the bedroom for his sake in ways we could never imagine as we keep our hearts open to be used in his many marvelous ways. God is good, God is good and will bless us in ways we could never imagine even if for reasons we may never know doesn’t allow us to be blessed in bed. I do feel that there could be a thing as suffering for Christ in the bedroom and of course we don’t air our dirty laundry but that God can use it to give us a heart we never could have had otherwise for the lost and his people. Thank you again so much for faithfully proclaiming God’s love and design but also that if it’s not quite like he designed in our life that God is still God and we can still feel blessed and used for his glory, amen, amen and thank you again, Ben.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        That’s really very profound, Ben. Thank you for that.
        I may use that comment in an upcoming post, maybe next week. You’re right; we don’t accept this as a form of suffering. We fight against it so much. I do think it’s good to fight for passion in marriage, but at some point, our spouse may be so scarred that it just isn’t going to happen.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Ben, that’s so tough! Is there a reason that you haven’t been having sex? Was it ever something that she enjoyed (or allow herself to enjoy)? Or is it a health issue?
      I never meant to say that sex wasn’t important; I definitely believe it is! Only that the two aren’t equivalent.
      It sounds like you’ve really wrestled with God to find contentment, which is wonderful, but I hope you can still find passion, too!

      • Ben

        Prt1: Thank you Mrs Sheila and first I just want to tell you how much your messages mean, you truly have no idea as tears fill my eye’s and your husband and daughter, it’s so refreshing and almost seems like listening to just friends. I can’t tell you how much I smile listening to you and Rebecca at times 🙂 Lol, I know sometime, you probabaly want to reign in Rebecca but even her youthful zeal and honest reality keeps it fresh, you all are a great team and certainly God has guided you guys to where you are and again, thank you. I actually share many of the podcasts on my FB page, we’ve just never had any teaching at the 2 churches we’ve attended over the past 40 years. Basically the only time we ever have heard about it is in light of the “sins” of David or another Biblical character or in the sins of the flesh so, I just have a special place in my heart that the church and even possibly so many of my unchurched friends need to hear sound, Biblical teaching on intimacy and yes, sex in marriage. Of course those are usually posts I don’t get many if any comments on but almost at times a hundred or so views. As for my dear wife and I, she was molested at a very young age by her brother which she tells me by Gods grace she basically “blacked” out and really doesn’t know much of what happened. There were other inappropriate attempts from others, family members etc. and unfortunately and I say this with all respect but her mother was a sad, backwards almost uneducated hillbilly from West Virginia and the only preparation she gave to my wife as a young girl were crude, brash off the wall comments which my wife had know idea what she was talking about. We did have a little intimacy early on, we married at 19 and she’s since told me she only married me to get away from her home life, oh well, I like to not completely believe that but and you don’t know how much your message on “Pain with intercourse” meant because early on she seemed to suffer from I believe you, or it’s called, vaginismus.

        • Ben

          Prt 2: She never had an orgasm, again tears here, she would basically never want “foreplay”, it breaks my heart and would say, just stick it in and get it over with and end up in tears.. I couldn’t do that and wouldn’t, that’s not love and certainly not intimacy. Like I said, with some of her backwards influences and seeing aunts and uncles being beat by drunkards during one what she must have thought was an argument, I only thought it was a conversation, question she came at me with a butchers knife, she later told me that she thought that I was just like all the other adult situations she had seen and thought that I would end up hitting her and of course she had told herself as a teen that she’d never let that happen For whatever reason, she also developed a “bladder” issue and would be in constant pain. In order to help somewhat alleviate the pain she decided on advice from the leading doctor in the field to have a “urostomy”, a bag for the urine. Of course she’s had that for maybe 25 years now and means nothing to me yet I know she’s told me she’s very conscious of it. She has bowel issues, told me today that she was on the toilet almost every 5 minutes but of course won’t see anyone or for the vaginismus, just won’t. The last time I did finally talk her into a gyn visit it was a disaster and she ended up reporting the doctor She won’t see anyone or talk with anyone, she tried once and it was another disaster, she had the therapist sitting on the floor showing her how she should imagine her physical pain was a grape and eat it, smh and she told her how ridiculous she looked and said never again. She doesn’t “believe” in anything other than intercourse and that’s not happening, no oral for her or myself.

          • Ben

            Prt 3: Won’t use her hand for me, just doesn’t care. I hold her almost all night long but almost can’t bring myself to hold her breasts, what’s the point, it just makes my heart worse. Brushing my hand across her soft leg almost kills me, knowing what I can’t enjoy. Yes, it’s been a struggle with many different stages of emotions over the last 7 or 8 years since. I remember Dr. Jessica McCleese discussing a person who decides to stay in a sexless marriage as almost similar to a death and after thinking on it, living it, I agree and with probably many of the same stages of grief. Then a year or so ago and thinking about this it almost occurred to me that yes, it may be similar to death yet the person, persons are “still living”. Yes, you may finally at some point accept it, yet especially early on it comes and goes, especially with those brushes I mentioned etc. I’ve almost thought of it even more like, “sexual suicide” “death”, the continual decision to accept it while your still alive. Morbid I know Mrs Sheila, I know. I told a dear friend recently that it’s almost like a relative left you a “million dollars” but with the stipulations that you could never enjoy it, ever spend one penny. You could of course see it in your account but at some point the madness of having it yet knowing you can never enjoy it, you know you must not even consider it, for what’s the point. Yes, we have amicable friendship and I hate to say it but I guess I’ve gotten pretty good at pretending or maybe it’s just the acceptance.

  17. Doug Hoyle

    I have really enjoyed this post. It is true that sex and emotional intimacy are not the same thing. I think a large part of the reason that they are put on the same platform is that they are equally important parts of the marriage, and the one that is perceived as lacking gets elevated to the higher position.
    I think that it is also true that the difficulty some men(and women) have in connecting intimately with their spouse is just as hurtful and or damaging to the one who is incapable as it is to the other spouse, tho they may not recognize it or understand it themselves.
    This post in particular, out of many, has spurred me into stepping out of my comfort zone, and honestly into some areas that terrify me. I have been taking baby steps till now, but to be truthful, I have not really ventured into the scary places, but have just sort of skirted them.
    I really hope this discussion continues in some form.

    • Ben

      Awesome Doug, yes sir, we can do all things through Christ which gives us strength. Yes sir, he is so good and I know he’s got you, thumbs up!!

  18. Ben

    Prt 4:She saw that I told someone once that we’re basically just good tv buddies and she didn’t understand it. I’ve told her that it feels like she doesn’t want anything to do with me and it baffles her mind as we cook and laugh and joke and yes I hold her all night yet, yet. I have to wonder, maybe this is what “is normal”, maybe all of this sex in marriage really only is among those listening to these dear podcasts and such, almost like a self-fulfilling prophecy and isn’t even real but I know I still have those feelings for deep intimacy so I can only assume it is real, head down. No, she doesn’t believe in foreplay and I’ve told her well of course it will hurt. She doesn’t believe in any type of lubrication, it’s somehow evil. She’s not been to church with me in years and just stays home, blaming the toilet issues. There’s many times and a few friends who question why she won’t see someone, to me I almost have to wonder if it’s almost a convenient excuse, I hate to say. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to live like this but maybe it’s somehow easier, I just don’t know. Ok, she’s started our “Murder She Wrote” annual bedtime routine that we love and I’m gonna go running on back and call it a night. Thank you Mrs. Sheila, thank you for your heart for us, for marriages and especially for God, for God. I do apologize for some ramblings. I hope some of it made sense as I better get going. Thank you again and God keep his hand and guide all of you with his peace and wisdom, amen, amen. Trying to live contented, it can be a struggle but I’m getting there, amen with God’s grace, amen. So sorry for the length and thank you again.

  19. Doug Hoyle

    “How would you feel if your husband only talked to you once a week?”
    I copied that from the top of the post because it really jumped out at me. Like many other areas in marriage, it is an area where I have been both the offended party at one time, and the offender at others.
    I have already shared in rather uncomfortable detail the difficulties I face now in real intimate connection. I still carry a lot of fear around, not only that what I might say would make me appear weak, but also that some of what I carry around might add to my wife’s burdens. I’m working on myself in that area, and I believe that I am better. If I haven’t really learned to lay my own feelings out very well, I can at least say that I have become a very empathetic ear when she needs one from me.
    I want to recount a different time in our marriage tho, One that was especially painful in a lot of ways. Shelia asked me earlier how I felt, or if something was missing, and I think my answer covers that pretty well. I was desperately lonely.
    A large part of that falls directly at my own feet. Maybe the larger part. But there was more to the story than that. One of the reasons I was desperately lonely was that I didn’t reach out to those I should have been able to, friends and family. Those didn’t really exist for me at the time, tho it would take an entire chapter to really explain that. There was something else happening at the same time tho. I don’t want to place blame, but I would literally go weeks without that same contact with my wife. I was working on the road trying to keep the bills paid, and there were long stretches where she wouldn’t even take my calls, or that every contact ended up leaving me more drained than before. Maybe she really was just sharing her heart at the time, and there wasn’t anything good in it
    The point is, looking back I can see how starved I was for an emotional connection, and I am not talking about sex. Much of the time we were separated by several states, so sex wasn’t an option, but that phone was always there, and yet, that connection never happened. In all of our struggles to put things on the right path over the last few years, that was the one thing that stands out that she has really come to regret, and the one thing she was able to bring herself to actually apologize for, and it has changed everything. I am sitting in a Motel room right now typing this, so clearly, some things haven’t changed. I can still get triggered if she cuts a call short or something along those lines, but I can turn that around with the knowledge that we will connect later, and in fact, we do so 3 or 4 times a day in phone calls, and more often with random texts, etc.
    For those who would make light of the importance of that emotional connection, I would just say it is more important than you think. It is every bit as important as the physical connection. As I said earlier, we tend to focus on the one we perceive as lacking as the most important, but I endured the lack of both, and I will tell you that while they are both horrible, it was the lack of connection that I missed most, and ultimately led to some actions that I deeply regret.

  20. James

    Indeed, emotional connection is key. You can have awesome sex, but still feel emotionally disconnected when it’s over. However, when you’re emotionally connected, you can have less than awesome sex and still be satiated.


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