5 Strategies If You’re Married to an Entitled Spouse

by | Jan 30, 2023 | Marriage, Resolving Conflict | 50 comments

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What do you practically do about entitlement in marriage?

We’re at the end of our entitlement series, and all month we’ve been looking at how entitlement can impact a marriage. We’ve looked at the difference between realistic expectations and entitlement. We’ve looked at entitlement with sex. We’ve tackled weaponized incompetence.

But as we end this series, I want to answer a question I keep getting again and again:

But what do I actually do when my husband acts entitled (or when my wife acts entitled)? 

As we tackle that today, let’s deal with a basic truth:

Entitled spouses usually only change because they have to.

Very rarely do people change simply because they have a change of heart, or because they realize it’s the right thing to do. They change when it becomes worth it to change.

A lot of us have talked until we’re blue in the face, trying to get our spouse to realize that the marriage is really unbalanced. And nothing has changed. 

That’s because talking about something changes nothing. At some point people tune out your words.
If you want things to change, you may need to change up the balance in your relationship so that failing to share the load is no longer rewarded. 

1. Hold other members of your family accountable

After Rebecca’s post on weaponized incompetence, one Facebook follower said this:

Currently I’m working to shed the job of Keeper of the Family Schedule. I have done the work to publish the necessary calendars for all to see, but somehow it’s still easier to “just ask Mom”. My boundary has become I won’t answer a question about the schedule until they’ve checked the calendar first. I get a lot of eyerolls about it, but I think they’re beginning to learn.

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2. Do Less So They Can Do More

It’s very hard for someone to pick up the slack if you don’t leave them any slack to pick up!

If you are carrying the vast majority of the mental load, and you want them to start picking it up, then you will have to do less.

It may mean focusing on doing things for yourself and your kids, but not your husband (or your wife). It may mean not running his errands for him. It may mean not doing the laundry he leaves by the side of the bed, and simply kicking it in a pile for him. 

But sometimes that doesn’t work. You can’t exactly make food for yourself and the kids and not let him eat!

Another strategy is to remove yourself from the equation. If you want him to take care of bathtime with the kids and put the kids in bed, because he needs to spend more time with the kids and build relationship with them, then you could make a plan to be out of the house two nights a week so that he has to do it. If he has agreed theoretically to make dinner twice a week, but he never seems to do it, then you can start a gym class two nights a week that takes you out of the house.

Now, I’m not saying to do this in a passive-aggressive way. Actually have the conversations about this first. Let your spouse know what is going to change, and why. But then, when you’ve said what you are going to change, follwing through isn’t petty, passive-aggressive, any of that–it’s simply following through on a boundary.

3. Do what works for you–even if your spouse doesn’t like it.

If these strategies don’t work, then rearranging your life and how you do tasks so that it works for you may be the easiest and least frustrating course of action. 

Here’s how another commenter explained what she does now:

I quit doing his laundry the day he piled a mountain of it in the kitchen. He insisted that he was “helping me” by bringing it to the kitchen so that I didn’t have to go pull it all out of the hampers in his closet.

He had often fussed at me for not wiping the tops of the backs of the dining room chairs, which bothered him if he thought they felt sticky. I had never noticed that issue, so I let him take care of it (he didn’t). I quit packaging leftovers in portions that were easy to take for work lunches and did what was quickest and most convenient for me when I was cleaning up after dinner alone.

I cooked what was simplest and quickest for me and the kids, instead of working around his ever-changing (manipulative) likes and dislikes. And I was perfectly frank with him, that if I was carrying the entire load, I had to do what worked for me and I wasn’t going to burn myself out trying to keep up with his stuff when he refused to contribute.

If it was really that important to him, he could take care of it.

And that’s how I survived for the last two years before I got out.

4. Don’t hold yourself back

If a spouse isn’t comfortable around people, we may stop getting together with friends because it’s uncomfortable for him (or her). If your spouse doesn’t like deep theological conversations, we may stop reading theological books. If your spouse finds church boring, we may feel like we should stop going, or stop trying to find a small group.

But you do not have to hold yourself back if your spouse doesn’t want to grow in an area, or if your spouse has different interests. As one commenter said:

My husband last night admitted “I have so much emotional growing to do…” He was wanting me to reassure him that it was okay for him to be immature. I didn’t. I haven’t been joining in. And it’s really getting to him.

I have shifted the nightly task of dinner over to my husband, as I was picking up the emotional slack of several teenagers, each with high intensity needs (including some with autism). Ever since I started working again, I realized I was working and still doing everything else too and I’ve been overwhelmed for the last year.

Working on some of the realizations that we have had recently:

My husband’s immaturity…

His refusal to ever be corrected about anything…

His sense of entitlement…

And my anxiety due to stress and overload…

I’ve decided whether or not my husband joins me, I’m going to give myself permission to grow, to learn, to change.

I am the spouse with chronic illness, so it makes it difficult to just “pick up and do” physically. But I’m no longer going to hold myself back mentally and emotionally because I’m concerned I’m leaving my husband behind.

I just signed up for school… Starts in a week…

I’m planning my freedom. Whether he decides to mature and join me in that, well, that’s on him.

5. Allow how you function within your relationship to reflect the quality of that relationship

This is a hard one–and a controversial one.

But here, I think, is the root of many marriage problems. 

We don’t think that we are allowed to change how we act even if we’re unhappy. 

We think that loving someone unconditionally means that we must always act towards them exactly the same way, even if they are treating us badly.

Your husband may expect sex and pout when he doesn’t get sex, and even coerce you into sex, but you feel like you must still smile and fulfil his love language of words of affirmation and make him good food and host dinner parties and show up at church as the loving wife. 

Your wife may be refusing to get a job but also refusing to curb her spending habits while you live on just your income, but you feel like you still need to figure out lovey-dovey date nights and make the checkbook balance because that’s what you have been taught a Christian husband does.

You may be feeling exhausted. Taken for granted. Used. Objectified. And you may have spoken up about this for years to no avail.

But you feel like you have no other options, because as Christians we’re supposed to serve one another no matter what.

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So let me ask a question: Is it serving your spouse well to pretend that there’s nothing wrong and that the relationship is fine, when you feel distant and you’re starting to feel like you really dislike the person you married?

Is it serving your spouse to encourage them to act more and more selfishly and to be lazier and lazier, because you will always be there to pick up the pieces?

Or would it better serve your spouse to have the outside of the relationship–the way that you relate to one another–better reflect what is going on in your heart?

There is a time to serve one another and not to sweat the small stuff.

But there’s also a time to say, “This is the truth about our relationship, and it needs to be acknowledged.”

If your spouse is not acting as your partner, then they do not have to get the benefits of having a partner. You don’t have to pretend to get along at church. You don’t have to keep hosting small group or extended family get-togethers. You don’t have to have date nights. You don’t have to go to work parties together. You may even need to take a break from sex until this is taken seriously and dealt with. (Much research has shown that men especially don’t believe that any problems in the marriage are that serious if they are still having regular sex.)

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Obviously this have caveats, and in Rebecca’s post on weaponized incompetence she showed how saying something like “I don’t appreciate you correcting my parenting in front of the kids” means one thing if the parent is just nitpicking how the other is playing with a child and another thing if the parent is encouraging a baby to play with a choking hazard. We need to be realistic and ask if this is a huge issue, or if we do have unrealistic standards.

But if something is killing your spirit and your love for your spouse, it is far better to bring it out in the open and make an issue out of it now then to let it continue for years until it’s killed your libido, killed your relationship, and ruined your joy for life. 

What are your thoughts? Any other suggestions for dealing with an entitled spouse? Let’s discuss in the comments!

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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. Amy

    The one glaring thing that’s missing from the article is any mention of domestic abuse. If you are married to someone who is good-willed and just being immature, these might be good strategies. However, if you implemented some of these strategies with an abusive husband that would be scary. For example, he may say you can go to exercise class, but he may change his story when the time actually comes. if you do go to class, you may come home to something worse. Being locked out of the house. Hungry, unsupervised kids. Retaliation of who knows what nature. Accusations of you cheating on him. Etc. With this topic, distinction between immaturity and abuse is important.

    • Sequoia

      Wow Amy, that sounds so scary. I’m sorry you went through that situation. And I’m glad you noted that difference. There’s a giant gulf between ignorance and intentional malice.

      That’s currently the one redeeming factor in my relationship with my dad. He was definitely the entitled spouse in my parents’ marriage, but mostly out of ignorance and unwillingness to listen. I saw and experienced the hurtful effects of that entitlement & ignorance, but it never crossed the line into malice.

  2. Mary

    Well, I didn’t have sex with him until he would go to counseling. Took him 9 months. I was blamed by the counselor for encouraging him to look at porn. He still didn’t change, but I did :)!!!

    • Lisa Johns

      Good for you! 💪

  3. Suzanne

    Number 4 is missing, just FYI

    • Cynthia Edwards

      As has been mentioned above, these strategies are helpful when dealing with an immature spouse, perhaps one who has a good heart but has been taught bad messages. However, implementing just such strategies in my own marriage exposed the truth about my spouse: he wasn’t just immature or ignorant. He was abusive. I’ll never forget the time I went to see my mother by myself over a weekend and left my dog at home. When I came home, my husband casually mentioned how the dog had “let him sleep in” until 10 in the morning. That meant this poor animal had been locked in his crate for 10-12 hours with no water! It was his reprimand to me for going out of town without him. After several such responses, I made my exit strategy.

  4. M

    “If a spouse isn’t comfortable around people, we may stop getting together with friends altogether because it’s uncomfortable for him (or her).” This one is a big issue. And it’s not just friends. My husband has to remove himself from the room when we visit my family, who lives close enough that we only spend a couple hours at a time with them. Meanwhile we spend a week at a time with his family, who isn’t always as kind to me as mine is to him. He doesn’t tell me I can’t do things without him, but it often feels like I don’t matter, since there are things that are somewhat meant for couples, that I can’t do. The extrovert is still expected to be alone sometimes, and my kids do not count as company. What can we expect of the spouse who is such an introvert that even church gets difficult for them?

    • Learning to be beloved

      This dynamic sounds familiar. I’m also the more social person, and my husband even hides from his own family when they visit. I quit restricting myself from some “couples” activities as I needed the social support. Granted I had a convenient excuse while he was deployed, then no spouse was expected. I’ve also been the one-makes-things-happen in groups so my uninvolved/absent husband has not held me back while simultaneously securing him a free pass since I was doing so much. I participate in married small groups in churches without my spouse.

      It is a hard path, but hard is better than isolation. Isolation is an abuse tactic. Resist.

      If he is uncomfortable, he can make a plan to deal with his feelings and needs. If one or both of you is/are ashamed because he’s not showing up where you want to be, expectations may need to be changed. Other people’s opinions of what you should or shouldn’t be doing together/alone are attempts to shame. Decline the invitation.

  5. Sequoia

    Quick typo:

    Towards the end, “Obviously, this have caveats.”

    Should be “obviously, this HAS caveats.”

    Awesome post as usual, Bare Marriage team. It’s really encouraging to see you not only flagging poor messaging and behavior, but also pointing your readers towards the rebuilding process.
    Tbh, I read this post and kinda groaned, “man, this is gonna take so much work.” But it’s a way of thinking that still retains hope. I can get stuck in futility, so I need that hope.

  6. Jen

    #5 is perfect, and, honestly, negative feelings for your spouse because of their bad behavior usually come out, even if you try to suppress them. I had growing negative feelings for almost three decades, and I spent so much of my energy trying to get him to see me, hear my needs (which I verbalized to him), and invest in our marriage WHILE burying the growing resentment and bitterness toward him.

    He would say things like, “Sometimes you don’t seem happy to see me.” “Why don’t you want to kiss me when we’re being intimate?” Or I’d say, “If something happened to you, why in the world would I want to remarry?” And he still couldn’t see that his behavior was killing our marriage, my love for him, and my spirit.

    So #5 is just a reality. If you neglect your emotional, physical, spiritual, or covenantal commitments, you’re dead weight, not a partner.

    It took my therapist saying, “Of course your don’t respect/love the person disrespect/failing to love you. Those are the consequences of his behavior” for me to begin to stop blaming myself for disliking my husband. And of course the Church weaponizes resentment and bitterness. They are usually talked about as the fault of the person experiencing the emotion. And sometimes, I suppose that’s the case (if we harbor jealousy, etc.). But if you’re disliking someone because they are behaving in unlikable ways, well, those feelings of dislike are red flags we should pay attention to.

    • Anonymous305

      I don’t know how you made it 3 decades. I couldn’t even fake it for 1, and I still feel resentment!! It was extra confusing when the same counselor who acknowledged my trauma symptoms also thought that it was my job to forgive and reconcile before he stopped his addiction. That was more confusing than hearing it from someone who never heard of trauma. Wha??!!

      • Jen

        Yes, being told to forgive before there is safety or repentance is really weird. Jesus offers us forgiveness, but we have to repent first. Why should wives be required do more than Jesus does?

    • Anonymous305

      I also relate to feeling like a failure when I didn’t feel desire because that was “unloving”, and failing at love was failing at the most important thing, ever. But now, I’m contemplating the role of honesty in love.

      • Jen

        Ohh, good topic for thought. I’m going to ponder that. If someone is not living in reality and showing you who they really are, then who are we really loving? I realize that I was married to a cardboard cut out. I saw who he wanted me to see, not the real, struggling man.

  7. Jess

    Thank you for this needed message. The internet is very black and white refusing to believe there can be entitled spouses who are not dangerous. These people need more encouragement than just being screamed at to divorce. I will be using these to support my friends.

  8. Learning to be beloved

    Amy, thank you for pointing out this potential danger! I could not take these steps for many years because of the repercussions that would have fallen on my children. Now that they are old enough to care for themselves, I can let my man-child feel some consequences of his choices.
    #5 was especially necessary and profound for me. I called it “no longer pretending” and “telling the truth”. I had been treating my spouse with the same loving kindness I expected in return, despite that treatment not being returned. Many, many sermons on forgiveness, love, self- sacrificial service and turning the other cheek reinforced my attitude of undeserved love and maintained an image of martial bliss while I desperately prayed for rescue and death. Then I finally realized I could no longer lie to myself. The rest of the suggestions were easy after truth. Each of these is an element of my in-house separation as I prepare for divorce. But none has had a restorative impact on the relationship with my spouse; he’s still pretending everything is fine.

    I would add getting educated about what a healthy relationship looks and feels like. This has strengthened me and equipped my children with better knowledge to avoid repeating my example.

  9. Nessie

    Supplementing this paragraph: “If your spouse is not acting as your partner, then they do not have to get the benefits of having a partner….”

    If you cannot go on a date with you spouse, cannot behave like a happy, healthy couple in church, etc., I’d say intercourse needs to stop altogether first, not *after* those other behaviors are noticed. Sex should be so much more intimate than walking in with a person, etc. so it makes sense for that to be the first thing to go.

    That said, be ready for the onslaught of “well-meaning” people who “noticed things seem to be off between you two.” Sadly, they often offer unhealthy advice. Pastors may try to involve themselves, and their advice may likely be have more sex. Depending on your spouse, s/he may say how *you* are being the bad spouse.

    This is likely a long haul situation. None of us change behaviors overnight, so try not to get discouraged with slip-ups- but also don’t tolerate them.

    • Mara R

      Nessie: “Pastors may try to involve themselves, and their advice may likely be have more sex. Depending on your spouse, s/he may say how *you* are being the bad spouse.”

      Pastors, family members, unenlightened bystanders who think they have it all figured out but don’t

      They look at the situation, see you being withdrawn (or whatever survival skill one develops with difficult spouses), come to the conclusion that you being withdrawn from the spouse is the cause of everything, not realizing that being withdrawn is the result of the spouse’s bad behavior and treatment of you.

      If you are female, besides suggesting having more sex, you’ve got people encouraging you to be sweet, winsome, more respectful (EE and co.), more submissive etc. ad nauseum. They believe in cause and effect when it comes to you changing your spouses behavior by all these things. But they can’t see/believe that what they are seeing in you is the effect, not the cause.

      So, yeah, this one is hard because women (and maybe some men) are constantly being given messages about what they can do to change the situation. But they are the wrong things.

      It’s really nice to have a list like this to point to concerning what might really work.
      It’s also nice to have the various comments reminding us that this won’t work in certain/most abusive situations.

      • Cecilia B.

        Mara R., YES! That is exactly how I feel. Pastors, friends, counselors calling my withdrawal the problem and expecting me to fix that when no one ever asked me WHY I was withdrawn. Everyone telling me that if I couldn’t fix my withdrawn behavior that I was dooming the relationship. Now that I have started putting boundaries in place and stopped glazing over the root of the problem, (his angry outbursts), I think there is actually a chance God can heal this marriage.

  10. Sedge by the Lakeshore

    There’s been talk on this blog about how in some sexless marriages, the spouse who wants sex is being wronged. It depends on the dynamics. But for some people, their spouse is unwilling to work towards a wholesome sex life.

    Their spouse might feel entitled to the benefits of marriage while being the one who is making it so that there won’t be a wholesome sex life.

    It matters whose issues are causing the problem. If someone uses porn, sex can’t be wholesome and it’s the porn users fault. But if the relationship is good, and one spouse refuses to address their libido killing issues, then wholesome sex is impossible until those issues are addressed.

    Is it entitlement for someone to consider their spouse a platonic friend when it comes to sex, but expect this person to act like a spouse in other matters?

    What about wanting them to constantly switch hats between “roommate” and “spouse”? When it comes to sex, to act like the relationship is not a marriage but five minutes later be doing life together like a married couple?

    And if that is entitlement, what sort of boundaries would protect the wronged spouse? Assuming boundaries don’t result in retaliation, could any of the 5 Strategies be applied here?

    • Phil

      Sedge. – I reread this post a bit this morning and then I read your comment. This is what I saw. What is interesting is that we – meaning me included are focused on as you write a wholesome sex life. That is what I wanted too. That was the focus. Or so I thought. Really what I wanted was a repaired relationship with my wife so that we could enjoy sex together. Now maybe thats just my story but it seems to be coming all together here for me now. It seems we strive for the pleasure instead of actually strive to see what the real problems are. Not only will number 1 work in a sexless marriage so will numbers 2,3,4, 5. The goal is the repaired relationship not sex. Sex will follow if the relationship is right. I want to use a particular famous American football player as an example. Many of us know him as the GOAT. I am not so much a fan but you can’t argue with the guys successful career. This year however, his playing was not like the rest if his career has been. So what is the problem? Is it his age? Is it his lack of understanding of the game? Did he just loose his skills? Nah, not really none of those. His relationship with his wife is in the toilet. Well, so how does that have anything to do with football? He is angry? He is scared, he is unsure. It is a tough time for him. Poor guy even has the entire public informed about his personal life. His personal problems are reflecting on the field. Now maybe you think thats a stretch. I don’t. I cant pull any specific comments here from the past 6 years – not even my own to reference off the too of my head. What I do know is that there has been a common theme amongst us. We want better sex and we are looking for it in the wrong places. Now I could be off the wall here but it doesn’t FEEL that way. Maybe in the near future as he picks up the pieces from the fall out and recognizes his stuff that has been impacting his game, he will clear his mind and throw for 400 yards!

    • Boone

      I’ve never really seen the “There’s a new sheriff in town” approach work with a wife. Most likely it’ll be added to whatever real or imagined offenses you’ve already committed and make the situation worse.
      I hate to be a downer but bearing a life changing event (illness, serious injury, death) or a Damascus Road conversion the odds of a change in your favor are not good. You’ve ultimately got to decide what you’re willing to live with. Are you content to live with a buddy or do you need a wife? Weigh the options carefully. Either direction is a one way street.

      • Suzanne Wagner

        You are right Boone the “there’s a new sheriff in town” approach won’t work if the goal is to force a unwilling partner to have more sex because duty sex is never okay and punishing your spouse for not fixing their own libido issues is not okay, which is what I see with the comment “new sheriff in town”. Setting healthy boundaries and working on your own self is different and what is being said with the 5 Strategies.

        I don’t buy that a marriage is healthy if one person is not willing to do the work to fix their own stuff, if it truly is their own stuff and not really caused by their partners behavior currently or in the past, and without a healthy marriage, a true partnership with love and intimacy, a wholesome sex life is unlikely.

        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          I want to emphasize your sentence, ” if it truly is their own stuff and not really caused by their partners behavior currently or in the past,” because that’s the key.

          The majority of women who stop having sex do so for good reason. And it’s typically a natural consequence of the marriage the husband has created–often through broken trust or taking advantage of his wife for years and years (housework, one-sided sex, etc). So it’s a very important caveat that first, we should be telling men (and I’m speaking in gendered terms here because of the data we have) to make sure that they haven’t, in essence, made the bed their wife doesn’t want to lie in.

          But if both people aren’t willing to do their part, you’re right. things won’t change. But sometimes if you’re the one who did the wrong first, you have to step up first and repair understanding that it may take your spouse a long time to want to do their part–if they ever do.

      • Lisa

        If it doesn’t work, then you’re not actually doing it. The point isn’t to magically make someone do what you want them to do. The point is to take care of yourself and any children you might have, allowing your spouse to fully feel the natural & logical consequences of their choices. You don’t bail them out (unless it would impact the children).

        So, if you know your spouse will just not get gifts for your child’s birthday & not make the cake, you don’t ask them to do that. But, you also can choose to say, “happy birthday” and not do anything else on their birthday if they have shown you they will do nothing to celebrate your birthday.

        If you are doing all the household chores and they refuse to do their share, you cannot stop cleaning and let the bathrooms & kitchen become unsanitary, but you can stop doing your spouse’s laundry and putting their things away. You can put all of the things they don’t put away into a bag and set it on their dresser or desk. You can let their dirty laundry sit there and they will eventually have to do their laundry.

        If you are doing all the cooking, you make the meals that are efficient and appealing to you. Cold sandwiches and carrot sticks are a fine dinner if you’re tired and short on time. If they don’t like it, they can prepare the next meal to be something they enjoy.

        If your spouse promises something to the children and regularly fails to follow through, you listen compassionately to your children’s hurt and disappointment. You let them express their feelings and come to their own decisions about how to interact with that parent in the future. You let them know it is okay to tell that parent they feel hurt and let down. You do not secretly work extra hard to make it up to them.

        If you have been doing all the work to buy gifts & cards for their extended family, you stop, and when their family feels hurt or offended, you direct them to ask your spouse why nothing was done. You don’t accept the consequences of your spouse’s choices. You make your choices and let them live with theirs. And you ask yourself how much you’re willing to put up with.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Very well put!

    • Sequoia


      You might be interested in some of Shiela’s other posts about frequency of sex or “what to do when your wife doesn’t want sex” https://baremarriage.com/2020/09/libido-differences-podcast/
      I’m sorry if you feel frustrated and hurt by your situation. I wanted to validate the tension of a great/decent/good-enough relationship outside of sex, but wanting a good sex life to be lay of your marriage as well.

      I would hesitantly put forth that I’m not sure if entitlement is “the problem.”
      I would recommend looking at one of the recent series on digging yourself out of the pit, especially rebuilding trust and safety. Sheila’s said a number of times that of sex is so good, women would want it. So maybe there’s something blocking your spouse from wanting it, and you’re in the perfect position to gently search that out and help raise that block.

      I forget all the elements, I’ll see if I can find the post that talks about it—but essentially, Shiela said that frequency/libido generally take care of themself when there’s
      1. High marital satisfaction (incl. feeling safe and heard!)
      2. No porn use/sexual addiction
      3. Wife orgasms regularly
      4. – 6. I don’t remember 😬

      Give me a minute and I’ll try to pull up that post.

      Regardless, I’d really encourage you to look at the trust and safety in your relationship and see if anything is sabotaging that. They’re really the cornerstone of vulnerability, and real intimacy can’t happen without them.
      I wish you the best, Sedge.

        • Sedge by the Lakeshore

          Thanks. This is good for singles to read, so I appreciate you finding these links. Sorry for the misunderstanding, I should have clarified that I was just asking hypothetically for me while also trying to empathize with people in that boat.

      • Sedge by the Lakeshore

        To clarify: I am not in that situation! Just trying to figure out how to set appropriate boundaries in case I meet the right man one day.

        Hopefully that didn’t sound like I’m being pessimistic and expecting problems.

        Best case scenario would be knowing how to draw lines but not needing to. Worst case would be to marry without understanding healthy boundaries and then needing them. That’s why I’m asking for wisdom from you all.

    • Rebecca Lindenbach

      It’s a good question. To illustrate, here’s a scenario we hear a lot.

      A man and a woman get married. They begin their sex life and he orgasms, but she doesn’t. It’s OK, they think, she’ll figure it out. But they don’t change anything, she doesn’t ever “get there,” and sex becomes very much about meeting his needs. She’s quite happy to do this for a while–she loves him after all, but it starts to feel a bit like a chore.

      She starts to notice that he’s watching a lot of TV or goofing off with friends/videogames while she takes care of the washing up in the evening. “It’s OK,” she thinks, “I don’t mind taking care of him. He’s a wonderful husband, I can handle this small thing.” But over the months, she starts to notice more and more dishes left around for her to pick up. She starts to feel tired, but knows that if she sits down the washing isn’t going to get done. She asks him to help and he grumbles about it, making her feel guilty for asking for a bit of reprieve. No matter how many times she brings this up, he never changes for more than 5 days so she just gives up. He’s a good guy, after all–she thinks. I shouldn’t get mad about a little bit of extra housework, I should just learn to be less selfish.

      Then they get pregnant and have kids. Now she’s carrying the mental load, her body is tired and sore, she still doesn’t enjoy sex, and she’s supposed to do it with a newborn? She looks around the house and just sees mess to clean up, a baby who needs her 24/7, and a husband who is frustrated he’s not getting enough sex even though she has zero sex drive because sex has never felt good for her.

      From the outside they have a great relationship. They love their hang-out time together. They have great talks. They enjoy each other’s company. But she feels like his mom, she feels overwhelmed, she feels like she has no one to support and, frankly, she feels like everything she does is to take care of his needs–ESPECIALLY sex.

      Eleven years in she has 3 kids 6 and under and she is absolutely burnt out and exhausted from having to take care of 3 children and a grown man her entire adult life. She is fed up, burnt out, and angry that her marriage has turned into something that takes her energy rather than gives her a safe haven. She’s mad every time he uses her body to ejaculate and she feels guilty about her anger because she’s been told she’s supposed to enjoy this. But after a decade of this, she’s done.

      Her libido is dead because (a) she doesn’t consistently orgasm, (b) her energy is entirely spent on picking up after her husband and kids, (c) breastfeeding hormones, and (d) relational bitterness after being used for so long as a sexual outlet and a housekeeper, even if she also believes that’s her role and he was not meaning to treat her that way consciously.

      So yeah. She might want a roommate for a while and not a sexual partner. Because at least a roommate cleans up after themselves and can be relied upon, and frankly he hasn’t been a sexual partner to her the entire time they’ve been together. Rather, they’ve “had sex,” but it’s always been her meeting his needs because her needs have not ever been consistently met. And she’s done. It’s death by a thousand cuts.


      Our study found that if women are in a marriage where:
      1: she orgasms
      2: There is no porn use
      3: There is no sexual dysfunction
      4: there is high marital satisfaction and
      5: she feels emotionally connected during sex,

      it is very, VERY unlikely she stops having sex. So when we hear that a woman has zero interest in sex, the numbers say, “ask why”. It’s likely not entitlement, it’s likely a natural consequence of something happening in the relationship.

      If a man wants to have sex and his wife doesn’t, rather than focusing on how he’s not getting what he is “owed” he needs to step back and ask, “What kind of relationship have I created? What kind of sex life have I contributed to? Why is sex something that my wife doesn’t want?” Because sometimes it may genuinely be a “her” problem. But the majority of the time it is not that simple. And it’s likely going to require rebuilding trust on his part.

      Because I can tell you–women who have orgasmic sex with attentive, loving husbands with whom they feel very connected are very, very unlikely to stop having sex. Yes, sex is a healthy and normal expectation for a marriage. But if a husband doesn’t create the right environment for sex to flourish, but instead (even unwittingly) acts in a way that objectifies and takes advantage of his wife, whether in the bedroom or out of it, he is not “the wronged party” if she stops wanting to sleep with him. She is. We are not victimized by the consequences of our actions.

      I don’t know the specifics of the situation that you are talking about, and in the case you’re discussing it may very well be one of the exceptions where the marriage is literally perfect, sex has always been perfect and orgasmic for her, and she just doesn’t want to do the work to enjoy it. But that really does seem to be the exception, rather than the rule, and even if it is the exception, it is still beneficial for the couple to go through and take inventory of where their relationship is at, and make sure that there isn’t anything that is sabotaging their marriage that they may be simply unaware of. If they do that and there’s still problems, then they can talk about how she needs to do her own work. But when you hear hoofbeats, think horses. Multiple studies (not just ours) have found that for women, sexual satisfaction and relational satisfaction are very closely related. So when she doesn’t want sex, the evidence-based answer is look at the relationship. See if something is “off” before you get mad at her for not having sex.

      • Sequoia

        Thank you Rebecca! Everything I was trying to remember, all in one spot and from the source. Much appreciated.

        • Suzanne

          Thank you Rebecca! Every time one of these “but she doesn’t want to have sex with me but everything is fine in our marriage” comments comes up, which is often, I truly have a hard time believing everything really is fine healthy and good for the wife.

          • Sedge by the Lakeshore

            Ok, I did a really bad job communicating.

            I am an unmarried woman who was asking a hypothetical. I’ve seen what happens when people get married without understanding what marriage really is. Better to figure this all out before hand.

            And second, it’s clear that I should have explained better. I was not talking about a sexless marriage. Abstinence can happen for good reasons. I meant a situation where one spouse isn’t addressing his or her issues.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            I love that you’re working through this stuff! But again, we have to ask–WHY is she not dealing with her issues? We hear from many men who are frustrated their wife isn’t dealing with her issues but when you look at the marriage, the reason she doesn’t want to deal with the issues is that she has no reason to believe it will be better if she does. She doesn’t have the motivation to do it because she’s burnt out from being used for so long. Maybe, frankly, sex has been so bad for her that she doesn’t WANT good sex–she just wants to be allowed to have no sex.

            Often if she’s not addressing her issues, there’s still a larger issue at play simply because of how often women are used in even what people often consider “good” marriages. So honestly, if you’re worried about being a good husband down the road, my advice would be to just be KIND. Be selfless. Be a good partner. When it comes to sex, go entirely at her pace because nine times out of ten, you create the sex life you have. Be compassionate, considerate, reliable, truthful–and all of this stuff really does sort itself out the vast, vast majority of the time.

            But if you see men and women as opposing forces in a marriage–which is what I do hear a little bit in these worries that a woman might just not deal with her issues and cut a man off from sex–you’re actually likely to start off marriage with a stance that is antithetical to the very relationship you want! So my suggestion is to stop worrying about sex frequency or stubborn women and more focus on how to nurture a marriage and relationship that is safe, warm, inviting, and compassionate. Then if there is an issue that needs dealing with, that person can feel safe and accepted and loved enough to WANT to do the work.

          • Sedge by the Lakeshore

            All good points, Rebecca. But since I am a woman, being a good husband is the last thing on my mind.

          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            Haha my bad for assuming! 🙂

      • Jo R

        “We are not victimized by the consequences of our actions.”

        Louder, and on big poster boards, for the people in the FRONT row.

        🤬 🤬 🤬

      • Jane Eyre

        “Yes, sex is a healthy and normal expectation for a marriage.”

        Is sec a healthy and normal expectation of marriage, or is orgasmic sex a healthy and normal expectation?

        I ask because I have never had an orgasm and probably won’t unless I get divorced and remarry. For me, sex and orgasm are a Venn diagram with no overlap.

        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          What I mean is that when you get married, yes there’s a realistic expectation that you can have sex now. Whether or not that sex continues is often a result of the sex that was had.

      • Tim

        Can you elaborate on point 3? Do you mean medical issues (ED, etc) or something else?

        • Tim

          (that was to Rebecca)

        • Rebecca Lindenbach

          Yup! Erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, vaginismus–anything physical that makes sex painful, non-pleasurable, or impossible.

          • Tim

            Thanks for confirming. And when you say “it is very, VERY unlikely she stops having sex” if the relationship is healthy in the 5 ways you mention, do you have the specific stats on hand? I.e. what % of sexless marriages in your survey had a problem in one or more of those areas?

    • Lisa

      Sedge, I’m not sure if I’m understanding your question, what do you mean by “doing life like a married couple?” Social events?

    • Luke

      I think you’ve been living in my house for the last two decades! My wife asked if I knew anything about “sedge by the lakeshore”. Because she assumed this was me writing!

  11. Em

    Could you write about how to handle number five if it is your friend’s marriage you are hearing about? If they are or decide to be honest, is there a right approach to handling that? Directing them to this blog maybe, or suggesting therapy? In my experience people don’t generally take the therapy recommendation.

    • Learning to be beloved

      The most helpful friends to me have offered several things in response to my honesty:
      1) they believed me
      2) they gave examples they witnessed of me being mistreated (and how it made them feel)
      3) they agreed that the wrong behavior was wrong
      4) they could demonstrate an appropriate model
      5) encouraging resources like this when they knew they couldn’t offer helpful info

      Counseling has generally been more pain rather than healing. I guess I haven’t found the right therapist yet, though I’ve tried a few.

      • Em

        I really appreciate you sharing this.


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