When You Realize You’ve Coerced Your Wife Into Sex: 5 Next Steps

by | Nov 22, 2022 | Abuse, Men's Corner | 59 comments

5 Steps to Rebuild after You've Committed Marital Rape
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What do you do if your wife tells you that she feels as if she has been raped?

Or, if she doesn’t use those exact words, if she tells you that she feels as if she’s been coerced into sex?

We’ve been talking this month about digging out of the pit that you may have created for yourselves in your sex life. When sex has become fraught and full of tension, how do you recover and build a relationship that’s focused on mutuality and passion?

During that conversation we turned to the topic of marital rape, because it affects almost 1/5 evangelical couples, and it absolutely is devastating.

Before we get started, let’s go over what constitutes marital rape.

Sexual assault is any sexual contact that occurs without consent. Marital rape is sexual assault that involves penetration.  It could mean physically forcing your wife or overpowering her, but that is not the only way rape can happen.

If she feels as if she has to have sex with you to prevent something bad from happening–to lessen verbal, emotional, or physical abuse; to get access to money; to be able to sleep; to stop you from having an affair or watching porn; to keep the kids safe–then she cannot consent. If you constantly berate her and throw Bible verses at her about how her body belongs to you, then that is spiritual coercion.

If she feels as if she can’t say no, then she can’t really say yes.

Not all forms of coercion would be prosecutable, but that does not mean they are okay. Marital rape is illegal, and it is wrong.

Because of evangelical teachings and culture, many men may be raping their wives without realizing it.

You may have been taught that your wife exists to satisfy your needs, and that she is your sexual outlet so that you do not sin. You may feel that it is “righteous” to use your wife, because then you aren’t doing something really bad, like watching porn or lusting after a co-worker. I looked in a previous post about how our culture can actually make men think that marital rape is a righteous and good option.

But raping someone is never righteous and good. Using someone as a sexual object dehumanizes and objectifies her and makes her feel like nothing. That isn’t of Christ. That isn’t of God. That isn’t biblical, whatever you’ve been taught.

If you think it is, then you don’t have a clear picture of who Jesus is. Can you picture God telling you that it is good to use your wife, even if she is crying (either inside or visibly?) Can you picture God being pleased with that? If so, then please know: You are not following the God of the Bible.

Passion 4 Dancing

2. Let’s look at 5 steps to take now if your wife says she’s been coerced into sex.

Sometimes this will be a chronic dynamic in your marriage; other times it may have been once or twice in the past and she’s had trauma from it. How should you address this?

1. Own your sin.

When she says that she feels as if she’s been coerced into sex, or that she feels as if she’s been raped, it’s natural to become defensive. Rape is awful. No one wants to see themselves as a rapist!

But remember: for many women it takes years of feeling used to get up the courage to actually voice out loud what they’ve been feeling. Even if you’re just hearing about this now, she’s been suffering with this for a long time. How you react right now will largely determine the trajectory of the rest of your marriage.

Will you show her that she matters? Or will you concentrate only on what you’re feeling?

Please understand this: if you want to have an intimate marriage, and a lifelong one with this woman that you love, her safety matters. You can try to prove yourself right and try to say that she is wrong and that she is crazy and that she is mean. You can cry and say, “How could you ever accuse me of something like this?” You can become angry and say that she is bitter.

But you will never, ever heal your marriage unless you own up to the fact that you have done something which has made her feel unsafe.

You have done something which has made her feel objectified and used.

You have not loved her as Christ loved the church. You have not loved her as your own body. You have used her body to satisfy yourself at the expense of herself. You have considered your momentary pleasure more important than her emotional and physical safety.

She was in distress, and you should have realized that–or, if you did realize it, her distress should have mattered to you.

2. Don’t fight over definitions of marital rape.

You may think, “okay, maybe I wasn’t as nice as I could have been, but that doesn’t mean that I raped her!”

What’s the point of this conversation, though? What are you trying to prove?

Are you trying to wear her down so that she gives in and says, “okay, I guess it wasn’t rape”? What will this get you? Will she feel safe? Will passion return? Will she feel loved by you?

Here’s what it comes down to:

Whether you think what you did constitutes actual marital rape or not, your wife feels that you used her without her consent and without regards to what she was feeling. That has left scars. The goal now is to heal those scars, not prove to her that she shouldn’t have them in the first place.

3. Learn what real sex is.

Sexual dynamics where she feels used and victimized often happen because there’s a profound misunderstanding of what sex really is. Sex is not just intercourse, and sex is not something that your wife owes you. Sex is something which is supposed to be mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both.

You may be focusing on how much she was denying you by saying no, but if you used her, you were denying her doubly. You made sexual activity the absolute opposite of intimate, and chances are it was not pleasurable for her either (although even if it was, that does not mean that it wasn’t rape).

Please read our posts on what real sex actually is, or, better still, read The Great Sex Rescue to understand how you could have come to the wrong assumptions about sex, and see how you can get out of it.

"A groundbreaking look into what true, sacred biblical sexuality is intended to be. A must-read." - Rachael Denhollander

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

Great Sex Rescue

4. Understand who is the actual victim–and understand what you have stolen from her.

It’s easy to get into a tit-for-tat when you’re accused of something big. But doesn’t she understand how much her accusations are hurting you? Does she really want to hurt you like that?

Or, “but she wasn’t caring about my sexual needs! She was depriving me!”

You may think that you are actually the victim, because she is not being a good wife. She is not giving you what she is supposed to be giving you.

If you go to your church to talk about your wife’s accusations, it is very likely that your church may take your side. You may be able to bully her into believing that you are actually the victim. But it will not work out well for you in the end. Listen to this woman’s story:

My ex-husband was wanting sex 2wks post-partum and the day I had to have surgery because of a miscarriage that left pieces of the lining. It didn’t matter if I had a UTI, yeast infection, no sleep from multiple babies in just as many years with miscarriages mixed in. He would refuse to let me sleep if I laid down. Of ALL the different forms of abuse I endured this one here is the one that still haunts me more then the rest. Feeling like I was only a piece of meat and that I had no rights to my own body because according to him it was his now that I was married. He went from respecting my body or so I thought before marriage not so much as kissing me to unwanted touching groping and so much more. I was told I was wrong for ever saying no and that it was unbiblical to deny him and worse that church backed him up. I don’t think I will ever be the same as a result.

He went to the church; the church supported him. But was the marriage saved? No, because it didn’t change the fact that he had been raping his wife.

Your church may care more about whether your wife is giving sex regularly than it does about whether or not you have been assaulting her. Unfortunately, many evangelical churches do not understand about marital coercion, but they do understand about the necessity (as they see it) of having sex every few days.

If you want to be the victim, it is very likely you will find churches, counselors, friends and family members to back you up.

But you need to ask yourself: Do I want to be seen as the one in the right, or do I want to save my marriage? Because at the point that a woman is sure that she has been raped, it is very, very unlikely you can save that marriage unless you own your stuff and remember that you are the one that has hurt her.

If you paint yourself as the victim, she may become even more desperate. Most women in these situations have other health issues pop up, like mental health issues, inflammatory conditions, chronic pain, and more, because the body keeps the score. When trauma is denied, it will come out in some other way. That will make her even more helpless, and even less able to support herself independently, which may mean she stays in the marriage. But she will be a shell of herself.

Instead of focusing on what you think you deserve, can you please think about what she deserved? You may be focusing on how you have been robbed of getting your sexual needs met. But do you understand what has been stolen from her?

Women are actually very capable of enjoying and wanting sex. God gave women a body part where the only purpose is pleasure. God made women capable of multiple orgasms. God made women very sexual, and most women get married excited about the sex they are going to have.

If you have raped her, you have stolen sex from her. You have made what should have been an intimate, amazing experience into something which is threatening to her.

Many women never recover from that.

So understand: you have taken her sexuality from her.

With the right work, women can reclaim their sexuality, though not always.

But let’s remember that the frequency of your own ejaculations are not more important than her sexuality.

She is the one who was harmed the most because of the way you treated her. That needs to matter, and if it doesn’t matter to you, then your marriage will never recover. She may not leave you–but you will never have a real wife who wants to be there.

5. Rebuild trust–And Accept if That Cannot Happen

Give her space. Take all sexual expectations off the table. Tell her that you are willing to live without sex until she feels safe–even if that takes a long time. And understand that she may never be able to recover from this, even if you do all the right things. 

Some women are just not able to stay in an intimate relationship with someone who hurt them that badly, even if the person totally repents. This is part of reaping the consequences of your actions, and it can be very, very hard. 

That does not mean things won’t recover, though. But recovery needs to be focused on what is best for her, not what is best for you or best for the marriage. 

Make sure that she has safe counseling, because most women will need to process the trauma that they feel. It is very likely that she will be safer with licensed counselors outside the church than with counseling inside the church (unless your church is an exception).

If she is getting counseling where she is being blamed for the dynamic, or where she is being asked, “but what did you also do wrong?”, please know that this is not safe counseling, even if it makes you look good. Encourage her to seek a different counselor who will treat her trauma seriously.

You need to show her that her safety matters more to you than gratifying your sexual desires. You need to show her that she matters more to you as a person than as an object to use.

That means opening up emotionally to her. It means starting to share the parts of yourself that you kept walled off, because you preferred to connect sexually to her than you did to connect emotionally. Tell her everyday what made you feel exhilirated and what made you feel defeated. Let her know what’s going on emotionally in your heart, and ask her about her own heart. Spend time with her. Get to know her as a person, not just as a body, or as someone who cooks your meals, looks after your kids, and washes your clothes.

And one final thought about rebuilding trust: Making her feel safe means making her feel like she is not responsible for your emotions or for placating you. Often the dynamics that lead to marital coercion are the same dynamics where women feel as if they are responsible for keeping husbands on an even emotional keel.

She is not. You are responsible for your own emotions.

That means that you need to work on your own feelings of insecurity and shame that arise from this, rather than putting these back on your wife. Yes, you did something wrong and treated her badly, but there is redemption in Christ, and there is forgiveness. 

I have seen couples where there has been marital coercion, and where she is trying to heal, but he then feels like he is such a bad person that he can barely function because of the shame. So instead of her emotional energy going into healing herself, she has to reassure him that he’s not that bad; that God still loves him; that he still has a future.

This is a form of making yourself a victim and once again making yourself the center of the story. If you are feeling great shame and remorse, then part of rebuilding trust is working that through in a recovery group or with a counselor. But it is not your wife’s job to do that, and the more you put that on her, the more you show her that she can never actually be safe in this relationship.

If you’ve sexually coerced your wife, here’s what it boils down to:

You face a choice. You can dispute her interpretation of things. You can tell her she is in sin for denying you. You can paint yourself as the victim.

Or you can own what you did and take the only route to actually rebuild. If you know God, you will admit what you did was wrong, and you will walk the route of repentance, focusing not on your own rights, but on what is best for your wife. It is not that you are a hopeless sinner, irredeemable. Jesus redeems! But the path of redemption always goes through repentance, not proving yourself right. 

And sometimes, even if you do repent, she has experienced too much trauma to rebuild. That is also part of true repentance–being willing to let her go if that is what she chooses. 

You can focus on her pain, or you can make yourself the center of the story.

If you focus on yourself, you may temporarily “win”. You may get her to be quiet about this. You may make her feel defeated, like she has no options, and she may stay in the marriage.

But it is very, very likely that this is only temporary, and she will eventually leave. Once a woman has enough courage to announce that she feels raped, it is very, very unlikely that she can stay in that relationship long-term unless there are major changes. She will likely develop health conditions. She will feel deflated and hopeless. And eventually, as the only way to save herself, she will likely leave.

You may prefer that to having to admit you did anything wrong. Then you can triumphantly paint her as the bad person who denied her marriage vows. But that will only show your true character.

So you need to decide: will you care about her and potentially save the marriage, or will you focus on yourself and destroy it? Only you can decide. And your choice reveals your heart.

5 Steps to Rebuild After Marital rape

What do you think? Is there something I’ve left out? What would you want to say to men in this situation? How can we point people towards healing? Let’s talk in the comments!

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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59 Comments

  1. Lucas P.

    “the path of redemption always goes through repentance, not proving yourself right.” So true! Your ministry is so vital! It’s changed my heart and life and brought life and healing to my wife and our marriage! Keep screaming from the rooftops!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Thank you, Lucas! I’m so glad!

      Reply
  2. Amanda

    Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I feel seen and cared for by your words. I feel not broken, but the ability to be healed and whole. Praying for the courage and wisdom to try this conversation again. I don’t want to heap blame, shame, and discouragement on my husband. I love him! I want to be able to need, cherish, and adore him for the generous, helpful person that he is. And for him to feel the same toward me. Thank you for putting language to what I feel, and for making me not feel crazy! Again, may I respectfully request your next course be about healing from this very issue?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I honestly will try to do make it soon! I have so many things on my plate. We’re trying to hire some help so I’ll have more time to create some of these courses!

      Reply
    • Saved ByGrace

      I second her request, how do we heal and move forward ❤ thank you for addressing these issues and letting those of us who have been living under them finally feel validated and heard and not invisible and alone.

      Reply
  3. Jo R

    The wife also needs to stop “re-infecting” herself with the typical “Christian” teachings, whether through books, websites, or CHURCH, including, maybe especially, women’s Bible studies. Be prepared to leave your church and find a healthy one!

    Husbands need to realize just how much their wives have been programmed to be acquiescent sex dolls by threats of sinning against not just their husbands but against GOD HIMSELF. Undoing that kind of teaching is going to be a major uphill battle, and it’s really not stating too strongly that such women need trauma counseling.

    Rape does not require a gun or knife, and that’s a large part of how we got to the point where we have widespread marital rape and, worse, normalized it in God’s name.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, I agree. Many of our resources have been the source of our coercion.

      Reply
  4. Jen

    I think this is spot on. If my now ex-husband had followed this wise advice we probably would still be married – instead he faked following this advice every time there was a discovery (it might be good to direct women to an article about how to tell if he is really repententant, because I fell for it every time, until this last time). After the last discovery I realized that even if he changed completely I would never trust him or feel safe with him again, so we separated with the window of reconciliation just barely cracked open as a possibility and he filed for divorce to protect himself. I am finally at peace in my home though – you don’t realize how bad it really is until you are out and all that mental fog clears. I would suggest adding to the article that the husband needs to seek counseling on his own no matter what (and absolutely NOT marriage counseling together) – not just if he’s struggling with the shame. There are just some things you need to hear from a neutral source, but as I learned in my case he can still lie and fool a counselor too. I also think what you shared about not being responsible for his feelings is so key – it took me a long time to learn that – it is another form of manipulation. Thank you for all the work you are doing in this area.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Jen, I’m so glad you’re safe now! I’m glad the fog has cleared, but I’m so sorry you went through that.

      Reply
  5. Jen

    Thanks for talking about the physical aspects. Spouses have the most power to bring life and those who choose to bring death create so much damage. As women, we are taught that the world isn’t safe (“keep those keys between your fingers when you walk at night”, etc.). When we give ourselves to a man, it’s because we really believe that he will be safe. What horror to realize he can hurt me in ways that no one else ever could.

    I was dying emotionally and I had developed digestive issues, migraines, weight gain, huge hormonal imbalances, insomnia, nightmares, hair loss, anxiety, severe depression, etc. I’m new to the idea of body work, but I’m trusting Jesus to resurrect what was killed.

    How sad, too, that my husband promised to lay down his life for me but then only stole life from me.

    My husband has come clean with his death-bringing behaviors and is working for his own healing and supporting me in mine. It is an excruciating journey of grief and loss. But I have hope, for now.

    I appreciate your frank discussions and guidance. Thank you again for all you do.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I keep hearing these stories from women of the physical toll that abuse takes on our bodies that we wouldn’t even expect, and often don’t even realize is connected. It’s so widespread.

      I’m so glad you’re getting to the other side, but I know it’s such a hard road. I’m glad I could help.

      Reply
  6. Christine

    I feel like I was coerced into sex in the early years of marriage. My husband was saved at 18, and unfortunately was mentored by all the wrong books. He read I Kissed Dating Goodbye; Every Mans Battle; and others that are on your black list. In the second year of marriage, we hosted an in depth “Love and Respect” couples study complete with work books and DVDs of lectures. My fried hated the study. We all should have listened to her.

    The years went by and we had 4 babies, job changes, large moves across the country, and our sex and intimacy was ok. Not great, but present and with the usual ups and downs of life.

    Recently, as the kids got older, I decided I wanted to deeper our intimacy and explore my sexuality like I haven’t done before. As a victim of child molestation, I was hesitant but thought I could trust my husband. I downloaded an intimacy app, and we started to have fun together. It turns out, my husband isn’t very safe. While I was willing many times, some nights I’m spent with daily living. I was meant with a demanding and threatening partner. I never gave in, and called his bluff. His threats are empty. These demands completely killed my sex drive.

    My husband needs to read this article, but he couldn’t accept it. I think we need need to go to a counselor to unpack it all. He has a hard time admitting his faults. His mom and siblings are the sane way. Nobody in that family has much self awareness.

    I am faced at a crossroad, and I don’t know where to go. Can my marriage be restored? Can the 20 years of lies be replaced with truth? I feel like the “gift off sex” from God has been stolen from me.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Christine, I’m so sorry. It should never have been stolen from you! Something meant to be so beautiful should never have been made to be ugly.

      Yes, it’s likely a good idea to seek some counseling, and he likely needs counseling on his own. I also don’t think that intimacy can be restored in your marriage until he does hear how much he hurt you. I’m so sorry.

      Reply
  7. Laura

    I never knew it was possible for marriages to overcome marital rape. I didn’t stick around long enough after experiencing sexual assault within the last year of my 2.5 year marriage. I just could not take any more. I confronted him about his behavior by taking advantage of me while I was asleep (At that time, I could not call it rape because he did not penetrate me but was close). I tried to be more submissive by letting him make decisions that did not involve our finances (that was my area 100%), tried being nicer to him, and give him sex when we were both awake. None of that worked. He told me he was taking advantage of me sexually because he was not getting enough sex from me and said if we had it more often (in his mind, at least 1-2 per day was what he aimed for), then we would not have problems.

    I felt like I was a piece of meat, a sex object, and no longer a person to him. I prayed for God to show me what to do and He did. He told me to leave my husband because he was not safe and not at all willing to change his behavior. It’s been over 20 years since the divorce. I have been through lots of counseling (not through church), been super picky when it comes to dating, fell into purity culture by reading those books that have been talked about on here, plugged myself into church, etc. I have had only one serious relationship since the divorce and almost got married, but we decided to stay friends. As much as I’d like to marry someday, yet I’m happy being single, I am still afraid of sex. I’m afraid to open myself up to that possible hurt. Sex in my marriage hurt me, not physically, but emotionally and spiritually. I felt like a lot of was taken from me. My humanity, my dignity, my voice, autonomy over my body…

    Husbands: No means no. Consent is not a marriage license or a wedding ring. Consent is when both people freely say yes and can freely say no.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you got out! It sounds like your husband would never have worked through even the first of these steps–own it–and so there really was nothing you could do except leave. Your safety comes first. I’m glad you’re flourishing without him, Laura. You mean a lot to this community!

      Reply
      • Laura

        Thank you Sheila!

        I have been greatly and abundantly blessed after finding your blog. I also realize that there are more things I need to work through that I thought I had overcome. Today was the first time I could admit how the sex that my ex forced upon me made me feel like my humanity and dignity were stolen. I had never said that before.

        Reply
    • Saved ByGrace

      It really does steal one’s dignity and harm our spirits doesn’t it? I’m facing the reality of that right now. My husband and I are working in things, he seems repentant. I’m unsure what the future holds.

      So glad we have a safe place here to process this.

      🤗 to you.

      Reply
  8. Andrea

    I see this as a big problem for women raised in extreme purity culture where you don’t even kiss before the wedding day. First of all, i can’t imagine going from just kissing from the first time to vaginal penetration in less than 24 hours, I just cannot think of it as anything else but rape. But also, kissing is what my girlfriends and I used to call the rape test. Kissing allows you to see how gentle he is, if he conflates passion with aggression (a very common conflation in our pornified culture), if he respects boundaries, does he mirror your body language and pull back when you do or does he pull you closer when you’re trying to pull back and even act offended… Kissing is so predictive of sex, I just think it’s downright unsafe to marry a man without kissing him first, all the more so in the evangelical culture where he hasn’t had a proper sex education or learned explicitly about consent.

    Reply
    • Laura

      Andrea,

      Very good points about kissing to tell if a man is safe. I also think kissing before marriage is good because then you’ll know if there’s chemistry.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is a really interesting thought! Wow. I’m going to sit with that for a while.

      Reply
    • EOF

      Wow, if I’d have known about this test (and followed it), I’d have never gotten married. Once while we were dating he forced his tongue in my mouth when we’d agreed on only quick pecks at the end of our dates. He said it was an accident, but really? I was young and naive, so I believed him. If only I’d known what a red flag that was…

      Reply
    • Angharad

      Yes, I think that’s a very good point. If there is never any opportunity for him to push boundaries before the marriage, you have no way of knowing how respectful he will be after. When my husband and I were dating, we hugged and also kissed a little coming up to our wedding, and one of the things that made me feel 100% confident marrying him was the way he was always so respectful of boundaries and so quick to notice if I were feeling uncomfortable. I felt that someone who acted like that before marriage would be a safe person to have sex with after marriage. Sure enough, that behaviour has carried over into our marriage.

      I think it’s especially an issue bearing in mind some of the teaching that actually encourages guys to ignore how their spouse is feeling. When I was hunting for advice immediately before our marriage, I was recommended to check out a Christian website that had some ‘good’ wedding night advice. To be fair, the article did talk about how sex was for both partners and should be mutually enjoyable, but it was very much advising the wife just to lie still and let stuff be ‘done’ to her while the new husband was given a step by step guide on what to ‘do’ to his new wife. It was full of advice to be gentle and loving and encouraging to ‘your nervous new bride’, but there were several parts where the guy was told that she will be ‘naturally reluctant’ so he must override her wishes. And most troubling of all, when it came to penetration, he was told that if there were any resistance or pain, he should ‘thrust quickly’ as that would make the experience ‘the least painful’ for her… Like pain is inevitably part of first-time sex for her. (It isn’t. If he takes his time, it shouldn’t be)

      So basically, a clueless guy who has saved sex for marriage and who looks around for advice on what to do on his wedding night is being given advice that the ‘loving’ thing to do is to override his bride’s concerns, fears and even physical pain and consummate the marriage regardless. I.e. he’s being told to rape her. No wonder Christian marriages are in a mess.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, that’s so horrifying! Wow. Yes, the advice really is abysmal.

        Reply
      • Laura

        Sounds like that wedding night advice came from The Act of Marriage by the LaHayes.

        Reply
        • Angharad

          Unfortunately not (I mean unfortunately, because having one source of that kind of advice out there is bad enough – two is far worse!) But I agree it comes from the same ‘stable’.

          Reply
    • CM

      Ahh, I’ve never talked about kissing being a “rape test” with anyone before but it’s absolutely something I actively do. (Dating, never married or had sex.) I suspect there is so much you can learn about how a man would be as lover just in a kosher make-out session. If he asks if it’s okay to turn the lights down, asks to be sure I’m not still feeling the effects of the drink I had at dinner, if he moves slowly and is sensitive to your reactions, leans into things that get a positive response, and respects every line laid down without debate…it’s so hot. Feeling that safe makes it hard to not take your own clothes off.

      And then there have been guys who just immediately get on top of you on the couch, grind on you, have no progression—it’s just supposed to be hot and heavy immediately? Their hands wander even though you repeatedly tell them no. Those are the guys you don’t keep dating. Even once had a pastor’s kid tell me it was my fault for tempting him.

      Reply
    • Laura2

      After leaving an abusive man (whom I never kissed before marriage), I absolutely don’t want to marry a man I haven’t kissed. For those very reasons: I want to see how he behaves when we kiss. Does he respect my boundaries, spoken and unspoken? Does he make sure that I’m comfortable or does it just try to get what he wants? It matters.

      Reply
    • Sedge by the Lakeshore

      Another test is going to the beach. Can he see you in normal, culturally appropriate beach wear and not ogle?

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Great one! I’ve heard this from many women about how hard going to the beach is once they’re married.

        Reply
  9. EOF

    I can’t tell you how much I hope the church starts listening to you and PREACHING this message. My church used to preach ALL the harmful messages in these “Christian” marriage books. I haven’t heard anything like that in years, but I also haven’t heard any correct teachings make their way out. (To be fair, I’ve refused to attend the marriage retreats for many years, so I may have missed anything said, but the denomination still stands behind Complementarianism. I’m sticking around my church family because of relationships and the fact that many are standing up against Complementarianism. We can make a difference!)

    I’ve been reading about false teachings in the Bible lately, and I keep thinking about how so many modern “Christian” teachings are nothing more than false teachings. Why else would I feel spiritually abused and shamed, when Jesus taught freedom and love??

    Thank you for all you do.

    Reply
    • TJ

      Hi Sheila,

      I found your blog ages ago while seeking answers for my (now decade long), effectively-sexless-from-day-one marriage to my lovely wife. It’s been fascinating seeing the growth and change in the messages of the blog posts over that time. These last few series have been especially impactful and challenging, and something we rarely get to hear in a Christian setting.

      It’s certainly a challenge for men like me to look inward. While just blaming SSRI’s might be the easy cop out, it’s a good (but hard!) challenge to think out where my own selfishness, entitlement or broken nature may be contributing.

      I’d always tried to initiate as gently as possible and back off at the slightest hesitation or lack of enthusiastic reciprocation, with great assurance that she never needed to do anything she didn’t want, and that I loved her no matter what…but I’ve learned more in recent years that’s it’s possible she was experiencing even just being aware that a sex life was something I desired as a form of coercion, even if it was never intended on my part.

      I think about times when I may have failed to correctly identify and reject her attempts at initiation if they were (as I’m fairly confident at least a couple times were in deep retrospect) coming from a feeling of cultural socialized obligation. Did I (completely ignorantly) rape her in those times?

      That’s “probably” a bit hyperbolic (I hope), but it is a strong, sobering warning to think about as I look at how I approach navigating our marriage these days. How much caution I need to take if I ever try to bring up the topic of sex in our marriage, and how careful and hyper-aware of her feelings I need to continue to be in those few times each year when her desire does show up.

      So thanks again for your work here. It’s a sobering challenge, but one I know is long overdue in a church culture that has for too long preached such damaging messages for healthy marriages.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Hi TJ! That’s so hard. “it’s possible she was experiencing even just being aware that a sex life was something I desired as a form of coercion.”

        I honestly think many women do internalize this and feel it, but it is not their husbands coercing them. It is the materials they’ve consumed, especially evangelical resources.

        That’s not really coercion on his part (unless he honestly does punish her for not giving sex). That’s spiritual coercion from these authors. We found that this was so widespread, and we hope that The Great Sex Rescue could start to undo some of that for sure.

        It sounds like if you’ve had a sexless marriage from day one, that’s likely due not to how you’ve acted but rather to what she believed, and perhaps to trauma in her past. It is up to all of us to work on our own stuff which is keeping us and our spouses from wholeness, and so she may very well need to work on her stuff. Can you encourage her to see a counselor, even just to talk about what she thinks sex is?

        Or could you explicitly take sex off the table, say for 2 months, and during that time you pursue non-sexual touch, real intimacy, and even helping her feel sexual just to awaken her desire with no pressure that she has to perform for you?

        The thing is that when a woman totally cuts off her sexuality it may be for a good and logical reason, but it still isn’t good for her or the marriage. I wonder if you could have any of those conversations in a kind way? It’s wonderful that you don’t want to coerce your wife, and you really sound like you’re not. But even just raising the conversation as working towards her wholeness? I don’t know, I’m just thinking out loud here!

        Reply
        • TJ

          I’ve learned that it’s very hard to start those conversations without triggering a guilt spiral. Same with even gently suggesting taking sex off the table (officially that is; 2 months is a pretty standard time in between, unofficially).

          Anxiety, ADHD and depression are a rough combination.

          Thankfully we do share other forms of non-sexually touch frequently that she does desire and enjoy. Mostly-daily cuddling, non-sexual, caressing, embraces, etc. So that’s good!

          Like I hinted in my first message, I often wonder how much is due to medications obliterating the ability to feel desire and arousal. I don’t want to use that as a crutch to avoid having to look at myself, but it could certainly be a factor.

          Anyway, thanks for your kind words, advice and your ongoing work to support healthy messages on marriage! I appreciate all that you do.

          Reply
        • just being real

          I think TJ’s experience is more common than some would like to admit. TJ, yours sounds extreme, but even at lesser levels (as in my relationship) it is difficult to navigate, especially for one that wouldn’t want to be coercive at all, but it’s received that way. Sheila, there is real truth in your statement, “You are responsible for your own emotions.” I think that cuts both ways. Assuming there is good will and honest respect, certain childhood upbringings will present almost anything as coercive. Then the wrong person gets blamed for the problem. I understand you are addressing a different issue. However, sometimes it presents one way, but the underlying facts are the opposite – like they are for TJ.

          Reply
          • Stefanie

            I’ve said before, and I’ll repeat here, that my husband never coerced me. It was the church and “Christian” marriage books, and married, female Christian friends. But my trauma symptoms are the same as if it had been my husband. Which I will admit is unfortunate for my husband because he is suffering for something that he didn’t cause. But this article still hits the nail on the head about what I need from him to recover. I need him to not be consumed with insecurity and be more concerned with my healing.

            And the most infuriating part of this whole situation to me is that we had done everything “right.” I signed the purity pledge. I married my first boyfriend. Our first kiss was at our wedding. That was also my first kiss ever. And the messaging from church, and all the Christian spaces I was in, told us that when we did it “God’s way” we would experience the best that God has to offer. The narrow road was supposed to lead to life, and instead it’s just been really disappointing and painful.

            Jo R above said “Husbands need to realize just how much their wives have been programmed to be acquiescent sex dolls by threats of sinning against not just their husbands but against GOD HIMSELF.” And I think it would be a good idea to educate more men about this dynamic. Because my husband didn’t realize it was playing out in our marriage until after all the damage had been done. And actually, I was also oblivious to the dynamic because church had taught me that it was normal, good, godly and righteous.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Yes, exactly. So often it’s the messages that we heard in our formative years that are the things doing the coercing!

      • Chris

        “it’s possible she was experiencing even just being aware that a sex life was something I desired as a form of coercion, even if it was never intended on my part.“

        This. This. A thousand times this. I have to admit I didn’t think TJs comment would be warmly received. I’m glad he wasn’t shamed or derided.

        TJ, we are in the same boat. You are NOT alone. Praying for you.

        Reply
  10. M

    My wife of 14 years had a year+ adulterous affair, never communicated that she was unsatisfied, and only stopped when she was caught (including a month after the reveal). She showed up sexually in the affair in ways she has NEVER showed up in our relationship or marriage (with someone who was legitimately using her & other women). She blames me entirely and runs from any discussion about our sexual relationship. She has refused any kind of sexual intimacy for a year & a half now, despite being in various counseling (doing your course & consuming your material religiously). She goes about her daily responsibilities like everything is fine, but never approaches the VERY deep betrayal. I have been completely faithful, sought communication, and sought understanding as best I can. When I see these types of articles, the only thing I ever see is how the man is to blame, but never see anything about the responsibility of the woman (eg . . . to communicate, to build, to not run away, to understand & love her husband). Articles like these seem to heap shame (not grace) on men and abdicate any mention of a woman’s role in the relationship.

    Would you please consider some articles focused on a woman’s role in building the sexual relationship with a faithful husband (instead of assuming abusiveness) and how a woman should make such a betrayal right? How do men deal with toxic, abusive women?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so, so sorry for what you’re walking through, M. That’s just awful.

      I will certainly try to do some work on affair recovery soon, but I’m not sure when. We’ve got our schedule planned out until June and we’re pivoting to parenting and stopping the toxic stuff in its tracks in the spring. I will try, though. There’s so much to cover and I can never do everything justice! I’m sorry for how much she’s hurt you.

      Reply
  11. Jo R

    Would it be weird for a woman to think she in essence raped herself, because she did not want to have sex but she went along anyway? If so, that’s just one more layer of guilt, shame, and trauma that has to be healed.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think this plays out HUGE among evangelical women who are taught they cannot say no. In our focus groups for The Great Sex Rescue, we talked to so many women who did just that, and when they finally told their husbands, their husbands were horrified because their husbands would never want their wives to have sex when they didn’t really want to.

      Reply
  12. Stefanie

    Thanks for all of your work. This was a hard hitting blog post, but really appreciated. It speaks directly into my marriage.

    Reply
  13. Barb

    Some of you may not believe my story. And I’m only giving highlights. Sometimes I wish I could find someone who has endured what I have, because now it seems so bizarre. I got counseling 3 years ago because I was at the breaking point. The counselor told me that no one would believe my story, but she knew it was true because no one could make this up. Or why would they?!
    I was young, innocent, naive, soft hearted when I married at 18. I really enjoyed sex and it wasn’t a problem to have it every night. But after a year, it was still every night. I was never allowed to say no, even with illness, work, kids, tired. He would not leave me alone until I gave in. That kept up until I was maybe 50, then I was finally able to get a couple of nights off between. He was relentless with guilt, manipulation, and anger. If I stayed up late to avoid sex, he’d come and get me and make me come to bed, or if he’d fallen asleep he’d wake up when I came to bed. He’d be mad and the only way to end the fight was to give in and have sex, after a fight, no less. His favorite line was “a man has needs”. He always made me feel as if something was wrong with me. And the worst part of the sex was that it lasted 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes every time, unless I begged for it to be done sooner. I cried sometimes during sex because I was so tired of being used; and he never even noticed the tears on my cheeks. I now know that I experienced an abundance of martial rape.
    I might add that he is very much a narcissist. I had no one to turn to and I didn’t have any knowledge of how wrong all of this was until about 4 years ago. I’m now late 70’s. I’m still with him and it’s been over 60 years. After the counseling, I knew I needed to leave, but I was afraid. Last year I got some courage and began to look for a place; but shortly after, he was diagnosed with early dementia. He is not ready for a facility, but can’t live on his own. I feel stuck. This man took everything from me, I feel like a shell of who God created me to be. My physical health has gotten worse from the stress. He has no other relationships. I’m it, and it’s overwhelming. Although sex stopped at 70 yrs old, he still finds all kinds of ways to bully and harass me every single day. I’m living with someone that I feel contempt for; and I don’t know if I can ever heal if I do get out. There’s not much hope at my age.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Barb, I’m so sorry! That’s just awful.

      Seventy can still be pretty young! You can have a good decade or two in front of you, just to pursue things that you enjoy. I don’t think you need to feel responsible for your abuser. Does he have siblings? Nieces and nephews? Or even the government. I’m so sorry you’re in this predicament.

      Reply
      • Barb

        Thank you, Sheila. I’m much closer to 80. That doesn’t feel like a lot of time. Spouse has 7 living siblings, but basically no relationship with any of them unless they unite for a funeral or something. We have 3 children and none want to be involved in decisions; or in his care. He seriously has no relationships, no friends, no outside activities anymore. The abuse issues now get intertwined with the dementia; which is more forgetfulness, with a moderate diagnosis. He does things that he knows upset me, and he openly admits that he knows, and then he says he doesn’t know why he does it. I have told him that I can’t continue to tolerate his behavior and that I will have to leave to save myself. Then the guilt and manipulation goes into full force with various comments that he will just die then. Such comments no longer work, but they still bother me because of all of the years of blame and guilt trips.

        Reply
        • Sedge by the Lakeshore

          Barb, the decision is yours. The blame is not. The just consequences of his actions are that you have the right to protect yourself from current abuse and the right to heal from past abuse, even if that means leaving an abuser who depends on you.

          In an attempt to not put my foot in my mouth, I’d like to talk about how most civil societies view it when someone is literally attacked with a knife. The victim has the right to use as much force as needed, even if that causes the death of their assailant.

          Simultaneously, the victim is expected to protect herself or himself with the least amount of force they can use and still be safe.

          It sounds like your husband has hurt you so much that healing is a dire need. If walking out the door right now is what it takes for you to start healing, then I think it’s justified.

          If you have to choose between your healing and helping him, you have the right to choose healing.

          It sounds like you want to do both at the same time, though? You want him to be OK and for you to be OK, too? Again, I think you can prioritize yourself. But when you said he wasn’t ready for a facility, did you mean they won’t take him until he’s further along? Or does he just not want to go?

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Great thoughts, Sedge. Really good. I agree entirely.

    • Saved ByGrace

      Oh I’m so sorry 🤗 I grieve with you for the pain you suffered. Jesus is faithful, even in old age we will be fruitful. Can you husband move to assisted living or somewhere they can deal with his dementia stuff and you can have some freedom. You are not too old, you are strong enough through Christ, to do this.

      Reply
      • Barb

        Thank you, Saved By Grace. I appreciate your grieve comment. I don’t think I’ve ever allowed myself to grieve because I’m still in it. His dementia is moderate, mostly forgetfulness. He isn’t ready for total memory care, but he absolutely refuses to go to assisted living. He says he wouldn’t stay and I’m sure that is true. I know that my strength to endure has come through Christ or I never would have survived. I need His clarity as I attempt to move forward.

        Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      Barb, you and your healing are so important. I know it’s hard to think of leaving someone who “needs” you, but sometimes that is the natural consequence for a man of what he has sown. I am a caregiver, and I had to leave a toxic work situation a year ago, working for someone who “needed” me but was very disrespectful and manipulative, and I honestly just had to trust God to provide caregivers for her. He did, and I have a far better situation for myself, and this has confirmed to me that He really DOES CARE. He will care and provide for you, and he will care and provide for the man. Please feel free to get to a safe and peaceful place away from this person. Much love to you. (And there is ALWAYS hope, even in old age!)

      Reply
    • Christina

      Barb, please ask your local government’s domestic violence agency for help. They should be able to work with whatever agencies are responsible for making sure that senior citizens are properly taken care of, so that a plan for your husband can be put in place. In the US, the local Agency on Aging will be who your domestic violence agency will need to work with. He is siphoning off your life and energy to be less disabled by dementia and whatever disease is causing the dementia. If you move out, he will very quickly need a nursing home or full-time professional care because he will no longer be vampiring his narcissistic supply. Until he gets to that point, you can get him signed up for meal delivery and home health and and anything else necessary to make your escape. It is not your responsibility to be his organ donor. My professional experience is that men with dementia frequently get violent and *you* have a right to life. If he chooses to refuse medical care (inpatient care, taking medicine, going to adult daycare, getting a home health aide), he can and should live with the consequences of his choices.

      Reply
  14. R

    Wow, Sheila, I wish I could go back in time and read this article (and series, really) a year ago! The “wrong response” that you described for husbands is exactly what happened when I raised the coercion issue a year ago with my husband, and honestly it has torn me apart. You wrote, “That will make her even more helpless, and even less able to support herself independently, which may mean she stays in the marriage. But she will be a shell of herself.” That describes exactly how I feel right now, a shell of myself. Honestly, I’m finding comfort knowing that I’m not alone or unique in this feelings based on your experience with other wives.

    I’m studying all you are publishing in this series and using it to equip me for one more attempt at discussion when we start marriage counseling again. Finding a counselor has been hard, but I’m praying that God makes the timing right because I know that right now my husband’s heart isn’t soft to the “good response” you described in your article. Living in an unsafe marriage has been doubly traumatizing though, and if his heart doesn’t soften I know things can’t continue this way forever. It’s horrible.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, R, I’m so glad this series could be helpful to you! But I’m also so sorry that you feel like you’ve become a shell of yourself.

      I just want to say that you don’t have to give an abuser endless chances. You really don’t. If you are suffering, you matter. I can’t tell you what you should do because I don’t know your situation, but just always remember that your well-being is important and that you are precious.

      Reply
  15. Jane

    Thank you Sheila. I cried through the entire article because it was so exactly where I’ve lived for the past 25 years.
    I started counseling 5 years ago with an excellent counselor who understands all the dynamics- I thought my husband understood- things were better for a while but have escalated in the last year.
    The victim section made me feel like someone understands.
    My husband started reading this series and says that now he really understands- only time will tell- but after 25 years?

    I saw that someone has asked for a series on how to heal. It is so needed. NONE of the counseling we have done has been helpful in that area.
    Thank- you again for being the voice for so much hurt.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so sorry that none of the counseling has helped! That’s such an indictment. I’m glad your husband is reading this series, though! I hope that it helps you get through to the other side. I’m so sorry you’ve walked this journey. That’s so tough.

      Reply
  16. Sarah O

    Thank you for tackling the problem of shame-centered response. It is so frustrating to have to comfort someone for their shame over hurting you, especially when there is no comfort offered for having hurt you in the first place. I think this dynamic is common for both big and small hurts in marriage and can come from either gender, but was very validating to have it spelled out specifically here.

    I would add, saying “I feel so bad! I feel terrible about that!” is NOT comforting to the person you harmed. I think sometimes well-meaning spouses think that declaring their remorse will be comforting and it isn’t. Ask questions and make comments about how THEY feel, not how YOU feel. “That must have been so painful for you. How are you feeling about it now? What would be helpful to your healing?”

    Reply
  17. MELINDA

    This is such a powerful message. I’m currently working through this with a therapist. I have bookmarked it to send to my husband but not quite yet. We’ve both made great strides (me toward healing, him toward changing and understanding), but still a work in progress. Thank you for your clarity and speaking up for thousands of women in the same situation.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m glad you’ve got a therapist to talk to! And I’m glad you found this helpful. I’ll pray your husband can open his heart to hear.

      Reply
  18. David Shirley

    I read the painful stories of these women.
    I am one of those men who caused pain to my wife, yes she said during counselling that I raped her all the time.
    Yes I wanted to die… the feeling of dirty, ugly and cheap was immense for me.
    But I believe that was nothing to what I caused my wife.
    I don’t believe I caused her physical pain…. I never entered her without permission…. But nevertheless I now believe that she did not feel safe enough to say no!

    I used to ask her if she wanted sex, to which she would reply
    “I want to want to have sex”

    I never recognised the signs.

    Sexless is not a bad word…. In fact I highly recommend it.
    After about 15 years now of sexless marriage, I am sorry of ever having sex.
    The harmony we now have is brilliant.

    I believe now we have excellent marriage.
    There is nothing that we can’t talk about.

    What about porn?
    I came home one day to confess that I had done something bad, but before I got to tell her, she interrupted me and said that if I had done something bad then so had she, because we are one.
    I still told her anyway (porn related)
    She only wanted a hug.
    Because of her attitude I was able to come to her every time that I was tempted until it lost its grip on me…. What immense grace, she reminds so much of Father.

    One more thing we say our marriage vows everyday, I don’t know anyone else who does that

    The huge mistake that I made from the beginning was to expect from my wife what I can only get from Father.
    When I go to Him with any frustration or dissatisfaction I come away totally satisfied and totally frustration free.

    I have only two aims now, to make my wife safe, secure and honoured
    To love her as Christ loves the Church. (I don’t want her to submit to me…. I need her imput)

    To become more like Jesus in every action and reaction…. Not to have too much cultural shock when I meet Him.

    I let my wife read this so as to see if it fair and accurate

    I don’t know anyone who teaches it this way

    Reply

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