When we’re trying to get out of the pit our sex life is in–sometimes we’re the one who needs to grab the ladder.
We’re near the end of our series on getting our sex life out of the pit that one–or both–of us have dug for ourselves.
Often the issues are multi-faceted, too. He may have acted inappropriately. You also have difficulty with sex because of the messages you internalized growing up. Then you’ve built emotional distance, and it’s all been a big mess.
We’ve looked at a 4-point plan for recovery, and I’ve focused a lot on what to do when your spouse is the one who has dug the pit.
But today I want to shine the light in a different direction.
A healthy sex life is the culmination and expression of a healthy marriage.
We talked earlier in the series about redefining sex so it’s not a commodity one gives and one takes, but rather it’s the culmination of what you feel about each other.
A sex life can’t create a good marriage, but it is the expression of one.
A healthy sex life depends on a healthy marriage. But a marriage can be unhealthy in three ways (and often these overlap):
- The marriage dynamics are unhealthy
- You are unhealthy
- Your spouse is unhealthy
Today I really want to concentrate on the problem when you are the one who is unhealthy. And by “unhealthy”, I just mean anything that’s preventing you from living in passion and wholeness in your marriage, and feeling and expressing the love and intimacy with your spouse.
So it could be childhood trauma; it could be internalized messages you’ve believed about sex (that’s what The Great Sex Rescue is for!); it could be physical issues with sex, like vaginismus or erectile dysfunction; it could be other medical conditions that need treatment and attention.
That’s not an exhaustive list, but you get the picture.
I don’t just mean being too exhausted for sex because of too much mental load or emotional labor, which is still actually a marriage issue. I mean when you’re honestly married to a wonderful person who is trying, but you prefer to leave sex totally off the table. Maybe sex isn’t pleasurable, but your spouse would love to try to figure out the orgasm piece for you, and is more than willing to do the work. But you’d rather do nothing at all.
Sometimes the problem is not with our spouse. Sometimes the problem is with us.
And this may still pose a lot of pain. But when you marry, you do promise to do your utmost to work towards being healthy and whole. That’s part of what marriage is. You need to work on your own stuff, because your spouse can’t do that for you. And your spouse married you because they love you and they want to be able to express that in every way.
Sex is a part of that.
I want to say this carefully, because I know this can get very confusing and messed up. But your spouse wanting sex does not necessarily mean your spouse is coercing you. Coercion means your spouse is punishing you for not having sex, or is pressuring you in some other way. Someone merely being disappointed, but still doing what they can to show you they love you and to be good to you is not coercion.
A comment was left on the blog in the middle of the marital rape series that said:
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 [ed. note: I believe he’s implying that her lack of sex drive may be caused by anti-depressants], 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…
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.
Now, obviously this is just one side of the story. But let’s assume everything he’s saying is an accurate reflection of the story, because I have heard and seen stories like this repeatedly. Sex is happening only a few times a year, and it’s been like that their entire marriage. He is trying his best to show love to his wife and be gentle.
He is not in the wrong for wanting a sex life. He is not in the wrong for being sad. This isn’t coercive towards his wife.
It is very easy to fill your life with other things and ignore sex.
And when I say “ignore”, I’m not talking merely about libido differences. If one spouse wants sex once a week and one spouse wants sex five times a week, that is merely a libido difference and something you can talk about and work on.
No, I’m talking about when sex has basically disappeared from your life. That may feel very comfortable and good, and it may seem like the biggest problem in your life is that your spouse isn’t satisfied with that. And so your spouse’s sex drive becomes the main obstacle to your happiness.
But it is healthy and normal to have a sex drive, and it is healthy and normal to want to experience intimacy at every level with the person that you love and committed your life to. When you marry, you do promise that you will do your part to create a healthy marriage, and sex is part of a healthy marriage.
Now, please hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that you need to have sex, even if it hurts you emotionally or physically. I’m not saying you have to have sex as often as your spouse would like.
I am saying that you are responsible for working on whatever it is about you that makes you not want to have sex at all.
I am not even saying that you are responsible for your healing, because you’re not. Sometimes you do everything you can and you still have lichen sclerosus which makes sex physically painful. You still have erectile dysfunction or vaginismus. You still have major depression. You still have a lot of trauma from earlier sexual assaults.
Your healing is not your responsibility. Seeking help is. Doing what you can to work towards wholeness is.
I don’t know what seeking help may look like for you.
It could be:
- Seeing a physician
- Seeing a pelvic floor physiotherapist
- Seeing a licensed counselor
- Seeing a licensed counselor trained in trauma therapies
- Addressing some addiction issues with licensed counselors and groups
- Addressing other lifestyle issues that are holding you back from sex
I talk a lot about how obligation shouldn’t be a part of our sex life.
At the same time, though, when you marry, you promise to act married. To share a life together. To be a team. And to connect sexually. If you are completely running away from that–not just having a libido difference, but honestly rejecting sex–that does become a problem.
As I have repeatedly stated in this series, usually the reason this happens is actually rooted in marriage issues, and isn’t just your problem. But there are exceptions.
Sex was meant to be something life-giving to both of you. If you don’t see how it could possibly be that, please get help. Get help for your spouse’s sake. But also get help for your sake. Even if you’re content with the way things are now, you are still missing out on God’s best for your life, and you’re keeping the person you love most from experiencing the fullness of the marriage relationship, too.
This is a hard one to say well. What would you add? How can we talk about this in a healthy way? Let’s discuss in the comments!
The Sexual Recovery Series--Digging Yourself out of the Pit
- A 4 -Point Plan to Sexual Recovery
- Redefining Sex: Seeing Sex as an Expression of your Relationship, Not an Individual Need
- What Sexual Recovery Looks Like
- Safety and Intimacy: You'll Never Have an Intimate Sex Life without Feeling Safe First
- When Sex Has Become One-Sided, Leaving Her Feeling Used
- 8 Step Plan to Regain Sexual Autonomy
- Why You Need to Deal with Your Own Sexual Stuff
- When Your Spouse Won't Change
Marital Rape Posts:
- 2 Kinds of Marital Rape
- How to Recover from Marital Rape (if it's possible)
- Why Christians Often Don't Understand Consent
- 5 Next Steps if You Realize You've Coerced Your Wife into Sex
- Does 1 Corinthians 7 Mean that She Has No Sexual Autonomy?
- How Do I Get My Husband to Understand He's Been Coercing Me into Sex?
- PODCAST: A Path forward Addressing Sexual Shame (with Jay Stringer)
- PODCAST: The Myth of the Magic Penis (and a call for integrated sex)
- PODCAST: Learned Helplessness and Sex