Expectations in Marriage: 4 Things You Should Expect from Your Spouse

by | Jan 11, 2023 | Connecting | 83 comments

4 Things you Should Expect in Marriage
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Is it wrong to have expectations in marriage?

We’ve been talking about entitlement in marriage, and on Monday I wrote about the difference between feeling entitled and having realistic expectations in marriage. I want to expand on that today.

So often we’re told that to expect anything from our spouse is a sin, but I’m afraid that’s just enabling emotional immaturity in one spouse while trying to convince the other to live in a miserable marriage without any tools for it to get better. 

I wrote about this a few years ago, but I think it’s time to revisit it. So today I’m going to climb up on my soapbox for this post and just give a little bit of a rant. I hope you’ll excuse me.

I see a problem with the way that a lot of Christian teaching addresses emotional needs in marriage by downplaying those needs and saying that we shouldn’t expect anything better. It sounds something like this:

You can’t expect your spouse to meet your emotional needs. Only God can. If you’re expecting your spouse to meet your needs, you’re putting your spouse in God’s place.

And there’s a corollary to this:

The only way to be happy in marriage is not to have expectations on your spouse.

So having expectations in marriage is thus seen as sinful.

If your spouse is treating you badly and you’re sad, then the problem is not with your spouse for treating you badly. The problem is with you for expecting your spouse to be kind, since the only person we can change is ourselves.

Now, there is an element of truth here. I do believe that the only person you can change is yourself, and so we need to be focused on changing our own behaviour to better the marriage. The contention that I would have is that the change that is required is not that we let go of our expectations; it’s that we learn to handle them appropriately and we learn to express what we need better.

Having trouble with this? Here are three posts that can help!

Why does Christian teaching often focus on how expectations in marriage are wrong?

I think that we’re so scared of couples getting divorced that when a couple has a problem that is difficult to solve, the better course of action seems to be to deny the problem is real. If solving the problem involves one spouse changing their behaviour, and that spouse truly doesn’t seem interested, then we’re stuck. So the only solution is to take the miserable spouse and tell them they’re wrong for being miserable.

Ironically I think that philosophy actually harms marriages far more than it helps. When people are miserable because of how they are being treated, you can certainly tell them, “You’re wrong for wanting to be treated well.” And they may push down their misery for a time. They may be able to throw themselves into The Word and grow closer to Jesus (which is definitely a good thing!). They may be able to find other outlets for their needs, for a time.

But ultimately when we are living a lie, that lie catches up with us, even if we’re growing closer to God at the same time (and I would say that growing closer to God often makes that lie harder to live with). And I have personally witnessed several friends leave marriages after decades of pushing their own needs below the surface, and finally not being able to take it anymore.

Expectations in marriage are not sinful.

I have read so many variations of “our marriage was only happy when I let go of my expectations.” And some of that may very well be true, because many of us have unreasonable expectations of what daily life will look like regarding how we split the chores, how much we have sex, how often we talk, what we do for hobbies, etc.

Expecting that your spouse will meet your needs in a specific way, or do specific things, is often counterproductive. But it doesn’t follow that ALL expectations are therefore bad. Here, for instance, are four realistic expectations you should have of your spouse:

1. It is reasonable to expect that your spouse will fulfill their marriage vows.

When you married, you vowed certain things. And a vow is serious! It is reasonable to expect that your spouse will:

  • Forsake all others (including pornographic images of others)
  • Share your worldly wealth
  • Stay with you in sickness and in health
  • Love and cherish you
  • Remain committed until death

Unfortunately, that’s not always what we’re taught. John D. Street, the head of biblical counseling at John MacArthur’s Master’s University and Seminary, wrote that we shouldn’t expect our spouses to be faithful, and if they’re unfaithful and we’re hurt, the problem is with us for expecting anything else in the first place! I did a Fixed it For You of that:


Expectations in Marriage are not sinful

What is the purpose of John Street saying the original quote? It’s to convince people to stay in a marriage where there has been pain. It’s to convince someone they have no right to be upset, so that we can push it all back under the rug and keep the marriage together at all costs. It’s not to heal; it’s to make people stay.

When we fail to assert that it is perfectly reasonable to expect faithfulness, then we show that we’re not interested in healthy marriages. We’re merely interested in intact marriages.

(and by the way–I have a Fixed It book coming out in February with 30 of my favourite Fixed It For Yous and discussion questions that you can use with your friends–or your spouse! Keep your eye out for the announcement!)

2. It is reasonable to expect marriage to meet some of your emotional needs.

Let’s break down what “love and cherish” in those marriage vows mean. No, obviously marriage can’t meet all your needs. First and foremost, our peace, security, and sense of self have to be rooted and grounded in Jesus.

But remember that it was God Himself who said, “It’s not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) It was God who created marriage because we do need each other’s help! Thus, it’s okay to expect that when you get married, you will meet some of your spouse’s needs and they will meet some of yours. Why else would people marry?

And we do have responsibilities towards those around us. The concept of boundaries even teaches us this. When we talk about boundaries, we often focus on the “negative” aspect–how to say no to things that aren’t your responsibility. But there’s another aspect to boundaries. If you think of boundaries like a fence, not only do they keep bad things out; they also keep good things in. They show us what’s supposed to be inside our fence. And some things we are responsible for–including loving and cherishing our spouse.

do you know your favourite book's healthy sexuality score?


3. It is reasonable to expect that your spouse will be an equal partner in the relationship.

You are partners in this marriage. When you marry, you are promising to go through life together. And as we talked about Monday when we looked at the difference between entitlement and expectation, no one is entitled to someone else working harder than they do.

You can expect that when you marry, you both will be working towards the same goal of the well-being of your family. You may not work in the same way–one may earn more income while one does more housework or childcare–but you both will work, and you both should enjoy roughly equal rest and downtime.

It’s okay to expect that your spouse will be your partner and will help you. It’s okay to expect that your spouse will not be significantly less exhausted that you are. It’s okay to expect a partner.

4. If I were to break this down even further, I would say this: It is reasonable to expect that your spouse will care about your well-being.

To love and cherish someone means that, at heart, they care about what happens to you. Therefore, if something is seriously bothering you, then it should seriously bother your spouse, too.

Sometimes we may tell our spouse that we’re really hurting, and our spouse doesn’t seem to care. I’ve talked before about I why your spouse may not understand how much something is bothering you, and how to present it in such a way that they will understand. I truly believe that for most couples having issues, your marriage would fall into one or more of these reasons. It isn’t that the spouse doesn’t care (because most people, after all, are not cruel); it is just that they don’t understand.

Nevertheless, there are some spouses who truly don’t seem to care about a spouse’s misery. How could this possibly be?

1. Their view of Christianity may be that her needs truly don’t matter

In some of the couple friends I know who have split, the husband had such a hierarchical view of marriage that he truly believed that how he saw the marriage was the only valid position. If he believed the marriage should look like X, and she didn’t like X, then she was wrong and had to get into line because he was the leader.

It wasn’t honestly that he was a bad person or that he didn’t care; he actually cared quite a bit about other people’s feelings in other aspects of his life. He just honestly believed that in order to follow God, they needed to pursue his vision for the marriage rather than hers. And if they started talking about her perspective, they would be stepping outside of God’s will.

2. They may be very immature

All human beings go through different stages of moral development. But not all human beings progress through all stages.

Some people learn to do what’s right because it benefits them and they want to follow the rules. But there is a higher stage of moral development, when we do what’s right simply because it’s the right thing to do. That’s the Christian ideal. It’s when we hand over the lordship of our life to the Holy Spirit, and we allow Him to guide us into all righteousness.

But if you’ve never really done this, and if you’re living at an immature level, only doing what benefits you, then you may honestly ignore what your spouse needs. People who come from very dysfunctional families, or families that were super authoritarian or based on fear, often do not progress through different moral stages, and aren’t able to give lordship of their lives over to God.

3. They may be neurodivergent 

(I’m updating this because a wonderful commenter pointed this out!)

Sometimes (but not always) neurodivergent people can have difficulty connecting emotionally in a way that a spouse understands. They may need to be given very direct instructions on what a spouse needs to feel emotionally connected, and this may be an ongoing challenge. 

4. They may have mental illness

(again, thanks for the commenter for pointing this out)

Some with mental illness may not have the emotional bandwidth or space to connect emotionally or invest emotionally. If your spouse is in this category, please seek both medical help and licensed counseling.

5. They may honestly be narcissistic

Finally, you may have a spouse who truly doesn’t care about anyone but himself or herself. I think this is often the conclusion that we jump to when we’re expressing our needs and our spouse doesn’t seem to care, but I also think it’s the least likely. Usually there is another explanation. But if you are dealing with a narcissistic individual, there is very little that you can do.

So what do you do if your spouse doesn’t care? Be honest about your needs.

Fight for your marriage! And ironically that means rocking the boat. It’s okay to insist that your needs matter. If your spouse doesn’t listen, it’s okay to demand that they see a counsellor. It’s okay to call in a mentor couple, even if your spouse resists. It’s okay to say, “You may think this isn’t important and that you don’t want to talk about it, but we are going to talk about it. This isn’t going away, because this is important to me and I matter in this marriage.”

By not backing down like you usually do, it’s going to look like you’re trying to destroy your marriage, but you’re not. The only way to make your marriage better is to not accept the status quo anymore. Healthy marriages are built on realistic expectations of marriage.

Let’s stop this rhetoric that it’s wrong to have expectations in marriage.

Being married means you do have a claim on some things from your spouse. Let’s admit that. And then, if a person is living in a marriage where the spouse honestly doesn’t care, we can at least come alongside them and support them, rather than shaming them for having needs in the first place.

And, please, everybody, ask yourself this question:

Am I ignoring my spouse’s concerns? Am I repeatedly telling my spouse that he or she is wrong for having certain needs?

If you are, then you may be the one with the problem. And I urge you, please, care about your spouse!

4 Things We Should Expect in Marriage

What do you think? Were you taught that having expectations in marriage was bad? What expectations do you think are legitimate? 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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  1. Bill

    Thanks for this, Sheila. I especially liked the final points about why a spouse doesn’t seem to care and/or doesn’t live up to reasonable expectations – skewed teachings, immaturity, or narcissism. Some of those reflect explicit choices by the spouse but they can also reflect their background and how they were raised and taught, and they find it very challenging to break out of those patterns.

    I think immaturity is particularly important because it’s not always by choice – as you say, they may “come from very dysfunctional families, or families that were super authoritarian or based on fear” and they’re not well-equipped to grow emotionally and morally to reflect God’s spirit and generosity. That doesn’t absolve them of responsibility to change, but it sheds light on why they are they way they are. My wife came from a dysfunctional family where everyone looked out for themselves first and didn’t trust others to take care of their needs, and she still struggles against that automatic instinct.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Bill! Sometimes it’s our wounds. We still have to grow, but we’re not deliberately treating our spouse badly.

      • Ati

        Great article!! Ive heard serious hurt being pushed down as having the wrong expectations….
        What do you think of the book ‘what did you expect’ by Paul Tripp? Its all about expectations in marriage, just curious;)

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I haven’t read that one yet! I have a huge problem with Ted Tripp (Isn’t he Paul’s brother?) so I’m immediately wary of it, though.

          • Sarah K.

            They are brothers. Paul was,however, called in to consult with Mars Hill when that whole train wreak was happening with Driscoll, and he called it out. He was also a pastor at my church for a while (not that that means anything to you, necessarily). Its been a while since ive dug into his opinion, but I think he’s at least should be judged apparently from Ted.

            (I’m also alarmed by Ted’s teachings, and it makes me uncomfortable, as I really like Paul when he was ministering at my church)

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I’m glad to hear he can’t be put in the same box. I am really, really alarmed by Ted!

          • Sarah K.

            Apart! Not apparently! Sorry

          • Rae

            My (former) church did the video series of “What Did You Expect” a few years ago, and my husband had objections very similar to what you list out in this article, and we actually ended up leaving that church over how the leaders tried to beat him down about it and flat out told him that we must be having this issue in our marriage because he was objecting. They didn’t know us well enough to know that, and the issue was actually that we had recovered FROM some problems in our marriage related to trying to sacrifice expectations. Please do be wary of Paul David Tripp. He may not have the same issue as Tedd Tripp, but his teachings on expectations in marriage are basically that it is idolatry to have them.

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            Thanks for letting me know, Rae! That’s what I was afraid of.

    • Sedge by the Lakeshore

      Something single folk need to consider is whether they are ready for marriage in the first place. A little bit of immaturity is OK. But if it’s bad enough to destroy a relationship then he or she needs to deal with their issues first.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, definitely! There’s a difference between immaturity and bad character. People can become more mature when they have good character; but bad character and immaturity together are a terrible combination.

  2. Nessie

    “Nevertheless, there are some spouses who truly don’t seem to care about a spouse’s misery. How could this possibly be?”

    Perhaps a fourth: Mental health issues. Some people care but have difficulty expressing that care appropriately. Autism, ADHD, etc. Maybe you’d nest this under point 2 of immaturity (or it may appear to nest under point 3 of narcissism), but I think some people just never experienced another way and, if not expressly taught HOW to show care, may not appear to care.

    My son on the autism spectrum appeared to not care. He did care but needed to be exhaustively taught how emotions show in others, and had to have it explicitly spelled out how to respond to those emotions. As we encounter various emotional upsets, I have to teach him specifically for each situation (and practice it). A friend’s kid on spectrum had no clue how much some actions hurt his family. When they finally explained their pain with direct links (as logically as possible), he was devastated! He truly had no clue how he came across to them because his brain saw things in such a different way.

    Just another avenue to consider.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, this is a really good one! I’m on an interview in a second but when I get back I’ll go make an update to the post.

      • Bill

        I agree as well. I put it under ‘immature’ but I agree it deserves its own category. And it’s even more something that the person can struggle to change, even if it’s repeatedly brought to their attention.

        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Made those changes now! Great catch.

          • Nessie

            Awesome, glad you didn’t think I was being nit-picky. And thank you for correcting my lapse of not using neuro-divergent, and for having that and mental health in different categories.

      • Naomi

        This is a huge important point to make! There are a few couples out there now with podcasts and things specializing in neurodiverse marriages and they are sooooo helpful.

    • Neurodivergent and proud

      Nessie have you considered that maybe you have it backwards about neurodiverse people? For example, perhaps the son you mention that “appeared not to care” and “needed to be exhaustively taught how emotions show in others” was actually already showing he cared. Perhaps the “others” you refer to aren’t “others” generally but are actually just neurotypical others? Perhaps neurodiverse others would have immediately recognised the emotions he was showing including caring, and he also was immediately recognising emotion in neurodiverse others?
      You seem like a genuinely caring parent but far too many neurotypical parents don’t understand neurodiversity and have a bias in seeing neurodiversity as a disability rather than a difference. Please look up the “double empathy problem”. Research has shown that autistic people are actually more understanding of the emotions of neurotypical people than neurotypical people are of the emotions of autistic people. Neurodiverse people, being a minority, have just been seen as the ones with the problem because neurotypical people, as the majority, have always assumed their way of expressing emotions is the “right” way rather than just one of many equally valid ways of expressing emotions. Try to thing of autistic people as being a different cultural group. Different cultural groups often express things in different ways, and it’s far better that different cultural groups learn each other’s ways of expressing feelings and emotions rather than forcing one group to comply with the other’s way of expressing these things.
      Too many autistic people don’t get their basic emotional needs in relationships met because the neurotypical partner assumes their neurotypical way of expressing things is “correct” and their neurodiverse partner just needs to be “educated” on how to express things “correctly” with the neurotypical person never considering that perhaps the neurodiverse person feels their way is the “correct” way and would just like to meet somewhere in the middle rather than be forced to do everything the neurotypical partner’s way.
      Sheila perhaps I think it might be important to recognise this in your post too. I didn’t see your post before the changes but even reading the version you have now, I feel very unfairly implies that the Neurodivergent way of expressing feelings and emotions is “wrong” and that they should be the one changing to accommodate their neurotypical spouse rather than vice versa, or what the real ideal would be such is to meet somewhere in the middle.
      This is why so many neurodiverse women will only date neurodiverse men or not date at all, precisely so they don’t get shamed into having to act neurotypical or be labelled as uncaring or defective.

      • Jo Co

        can you explain more about what the neurodivergent way of expressing emotions is? Doesn’t it vary a great deal from person to person just as it does for neurotypicals?

      • Bill

        I think that’s an important point that ‘neurotypical’ doesn’t mean the ‘correct’ way of doing anything. It does mean it is the ‘typical’ or ‘most common’ way in the general population – but that’s an empirical observation, not a value judgment.

        I think that what Sheila and Nessie are trying to do is explain to neurotypicals why their ND spouses (or others) are not acting the way that the NT spouse expects or considers ‘normal.’ But I agree a big problem with a lot of resources out there, and perhaps especially Christian resources, is that they do exactly that; assume that there is a ‘normal’ set of behaviors and expectations in marriage that excludes and shames ND people and doesn’t equip their NT spouses.

      • Nessie

        Neurodivergent and proud-
        I actually HAVE considered a lot of angles on this including those which you mention, which is certainly not something I’m going to use the bandwidth here to express each time I comment. I already have had many convos with my son about how cultures vary and that his way of thinking/feeling is how God designed him but that sometimes we have to adjust to the oddness we see in our society that is considered “normal,” and he has to decide for himself if he wants to appear that way in this society or not, but that his choices have consequences for better or worse (e.g. if he picks his nose openly in a job interview, he may well be passed over for that job in our society.) I addressed things in my comments above such as “appropriately” etc. because we ARE living in this society and the majority of people DO read things that way.

        We’ve talked about how if he ever chooses to marry then he will need to have very real communication with his potential spouse to make sure they can understand one another well enough to meet one another’s needs, to know it will take empathy, intentionality, and compromise for them both regardless of if one or both of them are neuro-divergent, or if both people are neuro-typical. (FWIW, I really don’t like the term neuro-“Typical” because it implies anything else is not typical, like something is wrong with any other way… Neuro-majority? I don’t have a better solution though.)

        Have I failed to figure out every angle to relate to him? Yes, I absolutely have failed to do that as I am only human and cannot see every angle! But I have tried. I’ve also had a lot of people come to me for gained empathy, understanding, and advice on how to view/relate to their kids on spectrum in a different way because they see that I have put in a lot more work than many moms to better relate to my kid, help him relate to others, and make life work in the part of the world we live. The thing is- it DOES take more work for both sides (divergent and typical).

        I am a mom with a husband who has not had my back for many years and have had to raise my son essentially solo. I have family that will not listen to the struggles we have gone through in recognizing/diagnosing/raising/being a neurodiverse kiddo much less put forth much effort to meet him where he is at. I have known almost nothing but judgment and shaming as a parent because I “failed” by birthing a neurodiverse kiddo (he is AMAZING, btw!) and they only want the joyful, pleasing, “typical” parts of him and run away from the “non-typical” parts. I have the ache of knowing that few people including family will ever fully appreciate my son because they don’t take the time to understand him and his needs/wants, either. But I have a kid that now shows his love for me in a way I can understand because he has learned that about me as an individual- just as I learned that about him and did/do the same for him.

        I am doing the best I can, just as my son does the best that he can. Neither one of us, nor anyone else, can live up to all the expectations that others have placed on them. So please consider being gentle with us. We sure could use the break. I was merely trying to point out-based on the original article- that there are people who are neuro-divergent and I hoped that could be recognized as well, hoping some neuro-divergent people might be helped in that they wouldn’t be lumped under the category of immature because I know from experience it can be far from the truth.

  3. Kay

    Worm theology (doctrine of Total depravity) played a part in it for me too. That it was unreasonable for me to expect good things from my spouse because I didn’t deserve good things in the first place since God sees us as such worthless worms, worthy only of punishment. So any good thing at all was grace. Asking for **any** good thing was seen as selfish and forgetting of your true nature and what you actually deserve. It was pride to want more. Especially as a woman.

    So I didn’t deserve to have my needs met, and any desire for my husband to meet my needs was seen as idolatry.

    What a recipe for misery! I have no idea if husbands were taught it this way or just wives. I suspect it was women more than men.

    • Bekah

      I have a question. Feel free to ignore if it is too personal. Are you Kayla from “My Demon”?

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        She is not, no. 🙂

        • Bekah

          Thanks for getting back to me!

          • Kay

            I’m not. 🙂 I do use a pseudonym here, but only because I work in the publishing industry, and there are some things my colleagues don’t need to know about me. Ha!

    • Lynne

      I think it was women more then men that were taught this, but for those men who really took to heart the idea of loving their wives like Jesus loves us and really about GIVING UP ones life for the other it can turn quite unhealthy for the men as well. So the sort of guy who wants to be a good husband (not selfish) and is being told to give up everything (like Jesus) and that they are responsible for the wives and kids before God (like Jesus)… well, it is basically the spirit of the antichrist because they are NOT Jesus of course! But as far as giving up what they might want and be miserable, it can be a huge issue for some guys too if they don’t have a healthy understanding of self care. We should love others *as ourselves* not to the sacrifice/detriment of our selves. Women likely read more books, but for the guys who also read books like “Sacred Marriage” (I think is one?) that talks about marriage being for our holiness rather than our happiness.. it really is taught like marriage is this self-flagellation of denying ones self for another. Not a mutual loving and supporting team, but really like how to survive the drudge. It is such a sad way to view marriage that spiritualizes misery.

  4. Jenn

    “I’ve talked before about I why your spouse may not understand how much something is bothering you, and how to present it in such a way that they will understand.”

    I’d love to read that! Could you give a link, please?

  5. Anon

    That teaching by Mr. straight from John MacArthur’s university series, is one of the most pathetic immature teachings I’ve ever heard on the subject. What if we told God that he was wrong or he was throwing a temper tantrum for expecting complete obedience. God will not tolerate disobedience from anyone, although he helps us overcome our disobedience, he will not tolerate it forever. Eventually, his judgment comes. That’s how we need to treat our spouses. If they don’t meet our expectations, we need to set some boundaries and give some ultimatums or some timelines for change, just like God does all throughout scripture.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Absolutely! Exactly.

  6. Stefanie

    So I’m actually really confused. Especially with that last part: “Am I ignoring my spouse’s concerns? Am I repeatedly telling my spouse that he or she is wrong for having certain needs?”

    What if spouses needs are in conflict? My husband and I had a tense conversation the other night. I feel like he’s not being sensitive to my religious and sexual trauma. What I need from him is to respect my boundaries around physical touch and also it would help me feel connected emotionally if he would listen to some of my deconstruction podcasts with me. However these “needs” trigger him. He feels insecure and small because I don’t want to kiss him on the mouth. It was also a hard no to listening to my deconstruction podcasts. He said they make him angry. His needs from me are to kiss him on the mouth so he doesn’t feel insecure and to not talk about my religious trauma and deconstruction. Basically, if I pretend everything is fine, we’ll be okay.

    • Åshild

      Stefanie. I’m so sorry he is meeting you like that. Let me just affirm that your needs and his needs here are way different. I cannot fathom “feeling insecure because no kisses on the mouth” is in any way put up against real sexual trauma. Sorry those are even further apart than raisins and watermelons. (We recently have had (pretty much) no kissing, because first trimester 🙄 and there is no pouting)

      About the religious trauma – I don’t know why he reacts that way. He may have his own baggage I suppose. But seen together with the other part he comes across as rather immature.

      I hope you have someone else to help you, and, please hold on to the boundaries you need to put in place for your sexual healing. I wish you all the best.

      • Anon

        I’m wary of using Autism/ADHD as an excuse to be immature. As an adult, it is your responsibility to figure that stuff out.

        My husband claims to be normal, even if I strongly suspect otherwise. But I have directly communicated problems and he refuses to do anything about it. He claims to be happy with the current arrangement, and seems baffled that I am not. I’ve pointed out the problems, sometimes he even agrees with the problem. I’ve offered potential solutions, sometimes he even likes the solutions. But he doesn’t do the work, and refuses to put any effort into fixing the problem(of not being able to follow through) on his own. He figures it’s hopeless and I’m pretty much ready to give up.

        I have physical disabilities. I don’t expect my husband to “fix” them or fully compensate for them at the expense of his or our family’s needs. I appreciate when he can help and find other accommodations when he can’t. I thought that was a normal expectation, apparently it isn’t.

    • Sedge by the Lakeshore

      It sounds like you need to be allowed to have legitimate boundaries and he thinks he needs for you not to have them.

      I’m sorry if his brain interprets not kissing on the mouth as a reason for feeling insecure. But he needs to correct his misperception instead of insisting that you go along with it.

    • Nessie

      I’m pretty sure this blog had a post a while back about how certain needs have greater weight at times than other needs, but I’m not sure where it is.

      I think sexual and religious trauma both outweigh what he says he needs at present (mouth-kissing and not listening to things because he gets angry.) It sounds like you are trying to do the work to heal but he is not giving you a safe space that you should be able to expect from him as someone that should love you and want to help you. If he could just understand that giving you that safe space might enable you one day to meet him with what he wants… He sounds quite selfish and immature, and he might benefit from some anger-management efforts as well as some self-esteem work. I don’t think your expectations/boundaries are unrealistic.

      Did he voice his needs before or after you set your boundaries? If he didn’t voice them specifically until after you set those, I would guess he is power-grabbing.

  7. Jo R

    A woman is required to meet all of her husband’s sexual needs because “do not deprive,” but a man gets a complete pass on meeting even 1 percent of his wife’s needs because “only God can fully meet someone’s needs.”

    So a husband, because he can’t meet 100 percent of his wife’s needs, gets a complete pass on meeting, or even attempting to meet, his wife’s needs AT ALL? Zero is acceptable, “because God”? 🤔

    What, pray tell, was this man doing in the wooing stage of the relationship? Was he completely ignoring her, “because God,” or did he simply put on an act until he trapped her in marriage and, conveniently for him, “God hates divorce”? Am I misremembering a thing about false witness? 🤔

  8. Connie

    I remember Bill Gothard teaching that, and I just didn’t buy it. I was young, the other women in the church were middle aged and thought it was fabulous. Looking back, they probably had unhappy marriages and this gave them some comfort? Now they had some control, and were allowed to feel like martyrs.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think feeling like a martyr can give someone meaning when they’re in a very untenable situation. I think that is a big draw for many women.

  9. Boone

    I would say that you have a right to expect hounourable and respectful treatment from your spouse. You also have the right to expect that your spouse is going to be there for you in a crisis and do everything they can to support you. Both of you need to know that the other spouse has your back. The two of you will have your disagreements, and they will be heated at times, but the rest of the world best take warning. Don’t mess with my spouse.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well said!

  10. Mara R

    Back in the day, my car broke down while I was at the Doctor’s office. I called my spouse to help me. He said that he couldn’t.

    I learned from that and many other instances that I could not depend on him.

    Later on, I was hit by a semi that ran a stop sign. I was okay. But my car was totaled and I was taken to the hospital by ambulance in to make sure everything was fine. I didn’t call my then husband. I called my grown son to come pick me up from the hospital instead.

    My husband was upset with me for not calling him. He even mentioned that he might not have done a good job being available in the past but when it was serious like this, I needed to call him first.

    But again, here was the problem. It was still about meeting his need, not mine. Because he wanted to help so he could feel like a hero. It wasn’t for the sake of my well-being. At least that was not the most important reason.

    Reasonable expectations concerning help from him were not met. I learned to live without it. But it still came back and bit me. Because I was supposed to somehow guess when I should call on him so he could feel like a hero verses when not to because he couldn’t be bothered.

    Narcissism sucks. Even though my ex doesn’t have full blown NPD, his low-level Narcissism still made it impossible to have reasonable expectations or any kind of partnership.

  11. Mara R

    Off topic, but no too far off.

    I’m sure most of you are aware of the rumblings that Driscoll is starting a new series on sex and The Song of Solomon.

    Though he may tone down his vulgarity, I doubt that he will tone down his obligation sex message for women.
    It was nice to have a break from him and his warped sex teachings.
    And it will be interesting to see how his message is received, now that the tide is turning and Christians are starting to see that the obligation message and marital coercion are wrong and not from God.

    • Laura

      Mara R.

      Last I heard about Driscoll, he teaches at XO Marriage conferences. Very cringe-y.

      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Yes, I believe his new book is published by XO Marriage. I keep asking Dave and Ashley Willis why they are enabling Mark Driscoll, but they won’t comment on it.

        • Mara R

          Do Dave and Ashley Willis support the obligation sex message?

          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            I think in their own way they’re trying to be as healthy as you can in a framework where he has authority over her. But they have platformed Mark Driscoll. And they speak with Jimmy Evans, and Jimmy has taught pretty much all the harmful messages we measured.

          • Mara R

            Oh, such treacherous waters they traverse, pulling in abusive teachers like that.
            I feel bad for them that they feel like they have to navigate their boat like that. I do not envy their position.

  12. Marian

    Whew, yes. This needs to change.
    In the Church/ among typically acculturated Christians, however, the belief that standing up and saying that some expectations are right (aka “rocking the boat”) is sin is SO strong, that it nearly always results in spiritual abuse. Our popularized theologies of the self have become so twisted, unbalanced, and biblically unsound– particularly applications based on “dying to self” or the ever popular “a Christian has no rights/ I only deserve death, so anything I get is better than I deserve.” Even when the basic expectation is not totally spiritualized away, the concept of grace is quickly leveraged to crush it, as every instance of sin or neglect is treated *singly*, even when part of an *ongoing pattern*, and therefore sin-leveled and to be forgiven as one normal instance of human fallenness. (It is almost always pattern that distinguishes unhealthiness/ coercive control/abuse vs. “normal.”)
    When it comes to normal emotional connection, support, and care for well-being, that fact that there IS a balance of human relationship, fallenness, and reliance upon God makes it even easier to throw humans and healthy relationship under the bus rather than the messy work of healing or amputating disease! Even just within human behavior, there is nuance and balance to mind (e.g. “carry one another’s burden” and “each should carry his own burden”), but it’s so much easier to take the blind & blunt path toward numb acceptance and {unhealthy} Intact Marriage.
    I personally experienced (as someone who, it turns out, was in a verified #5 situation), lack of emotional support, connection, or resonance from the very beginnings of a marriage, with requests for even the most normal modicum of support met condescendingly with—literally, I can still hear it– “you’re supposed to get THAT from God, that’s not my job.” This, when brought up to fellow Christians (of course, isolated to a single incident rather than whole reality) was repeatedly upheld as obviously spiritually correct.

    If this is ever to have the space to get healthy * within* the Church (vs. people needing to leave to be able to work toward spiritual and emotional health– how sad!), we have to purge the idolatry of Intact Marriage (regardless of the health of this “picture of Christ and His church) and teach from the wholeness of Scripture regarding our identity and relationships.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Well said! I’m so sorry that the church made your situation in marriage worse. Instead of being somewhere you could find rest and help, I’m sorry it just added guilt and shame. That’s so wrong.

    • Estelle

      This teaching that we don’t deserve good things is in direct opposition to Jesus’ teaching that God is a Father who delights to give good things (something about not giving a scorpion if we ask for an egg).

      I think some people have a skewed idea of God so their teaching is warped as a result.

  13. Lynne

    It is difficult when you expect your spouse to do what they say they will do.. and then they don’t. And maybe it isn’t that they don’t want to, but they just have a very unrealistic understanding of their capabilities and capacity. –“not having expectations” in that case is helpful but also sad.. because trust is continually chipped away. It is always better for people to promise less rather than promise more and then keep being unable to meet that.
    Are certain expectations wrong if the other person is who sets that expectation? What is reasonable in that case? I don’t think so it would be unreasonable, but that is also a painful place to be in.

    There is also a neuro divergent type of person that is MORE sensitive to other peoples feelings and emotions and reads stuff INTO the others face that isn’t necessarily there. On the autism side of it they often don’t see the expressions, but some people are on the other end and read more in than is there.. it is a different side of difficult, but important to be aware of. That sort of person/perspective might be bringing suffering to themselves if they don’t communicate and just ask what the other person is thinking or feeling (they might assume a lot of negativity that isn’t there and the other side doesn’t mean at all).. just to say, it might be that the sensitive person is being hurt, not by anything the other person can control or change. A neutral facial expression, for instance, is often interpreted as a negative expression by someone who is depressed. But the person with the neutral expression cannot constantly be monitoring their expression when they are just quietly resting in their own home.

    That scenario might be less common, I don’t know, but just something to be aware of. We need to be considerate, but there is a point where one feels like they are walking on egg shells (trying to avoid hurting the other) and can’t seem to get anything right enough for a highly sensitive spouse. But the highly sensitive one might still blame the other for being “mean” when it is simply how they interpreted something neutral.

    Not sure if this will make sense to anyone else.. Maybe some of what I am describing is the ask vs guess culture.. where the guess culture style kf communication seems to assume a lot rather than simply asking and expecting an honest answer.. if we all tip toe around each other we just truly will never know for sure — none of us are mind readers! So trying to mind read another can be quite unhealthy.

    • Natalie

      This is my exact situation as well: before marriage, he said all these great things and gave me all these ideas of what I could expect our lives together to look like, and what his goals were as we started off into adulthood together. It’s been 8 years now, and he never accomplished any of them. It’s incredibly frustrations, and yes like you said, very trust-eroding… not to mention respect-eroding as well.

      The longer I’m with him, the more I realize he’s a very optimistic person, but also is severely lacking in the personal accountability and perseverance categories. Idk how you teach those things to an adult male, if you can at all. Instead, I’m focusing on nurturing those traits in my sons so they grow up with self-confidence, tenacity, and drive in life.

      • Lynne'

        Yeah it really isn’t something you can teach to adult.. at least not without them wanting to learn. I don’t know about you, but I was so conditioned to submit and follow my husband and men in general (befote getting married) that the idea or dynamic of ME being the leader just isn’t tenable. It is however possible for me to carve out a life for myself that isn’t so reliant on my husband. But yeah, I was so set up and ready to be (and was) the support role that trusting my husband with the income and living within our means while he struggled just to adult was actually quite traumatic (finance wise) and since I got a part time job I have noticed part of my stress going down. It isn’t great yet.. more like having more money to waste instead of getting us into a better financial place, but going to keep at it. I want my girls to have a good launching position as they grow up.

    • Meadow

      Supposedly I’m the highly sensitive one and he never meant anything bad. 2 things can happen, he could be more careful or I could try to ask more questions to get a better picture of what he means.

      The thing is, I would expect BOTH to happen in a good partnership. Why? Because that’s what I do with my kids. If I’m doing something I think my kids like, I check in with them. If it turns out they don’t like it, I stop. Some of my kids are extremely sensitive without the maturity of being an adult. Some of them are completely clueless. But the LISTEN to each other and ASK if they don’t understand, and SPEAK UP if something is bothering them. They aren’t perfect at it, but they try.

      My husband can’t do what my kids can do. He doesn’t see a reason to. I spent years trying to explain (while successfully teaching this to my kids) and he just won’t get it. I’m tired of being hurt. I’m tired of having to fight to be heard and seen. And I’m tired of watching my kids have the same fight with him. He listens to his boss just fine, but for some reason, we don’t get the same consideration.

      • Lynne'

        That is really difficult ❤ Yes there is a point where people can tell someone that they shouldn’t be so sensitive, but that just seens to be a lazy excuse for not growing and becoming mature.
        You wouldn’t say that to someone with a broken leg.. or to a kitten. Their wound needs time to heal and being poked over and over is cruel to do.. it isn’t the problem of the person with the broken leg to just grin and bear it but rather for the person doing the poking. Also, intent may be important, true. We can acknowledge, “I know you didn’t mean to hurt me when you poked my broken leg, but it hurt. Please stop.” Intent is great to know but outcome matters! If someone truly does not have the intent to cause pain then they would WANT to know if they hurt someone so that they could stop! In the case of a kitten being hurt, God created some beings to be more delecate! (Just like some of us are more sensitive personalities! Which is a good and beautiful quality!) Is that the responsibility of the delicate creature to just understand the intent of a clumsy child? Or should it be the responsibility of the clumsy child to learn to be gentle with the kitten?
        I just don’t see the solution to a powerful vs weaker person to put all the responsibility on the one who is more delicate (in whatever way) — In the kingdom of God the weaker is the blessed one and the seen one and the one placed first rather than last — In the kingdom of God the intent of our heart effects our outward actions. At some point it doesn’t matter what someones intent was. It is great to know that someone didn’t TRY to be harmful, but if they were and didn’t (truly) want to be hurtful, then they would modify their actions once they learn that what they didn’t intend to happen, happened.

        But, none of this is helpful if someone isn’t humble enough to learn. Some people feel personally attacked when you truly simply just believe the best of them and want to offer information that they couldn’t have (about you) in order to make the relationship better. How can we learn to love our neighbors well if we can’t hear what they say about their own perspective and how our behavior effects them?

        I think it is helpful to acknowledge intent though. Holding that tension of admitting aloud that someone isn’t trying to be hurtful and isn’t an evil person for hurting you, while still communicating the hurt that actually happened. Their good intentions do not negate the harm that is caused in reality. Someone can do or say something racist (for instance) without that being their identity! But of course if they truly are not racisit wouldn’t they WANT to know what they might have said that was inappropriate? Wouldn’t they want to change so as to not cause hurt and pain to others? People can easily get caught up defending themselves from being identified as “bad” because they struggle to seperate their actions from WHO they are. So when their actions are hurtful they respond with defenses about what they intend and who they are. We can be careful to speak about them differently. You can be a good person with good intentions who doesn’t know better and does or says something harmful. Ignorance may be bliss for them, but it isn’t to the rest of us!

        It really goes with shame vs. guilt. Shame says “I am bad” and guilt says, “I did something bad” the people with overactive shame cannot acknowledge or do anything about the bad things they do because if they acknowledge the bad they are saying THEY are bad.. and if you are truly identifying as bad, what hope is there?
        Guilt though has somewhere to go! Guilt is saying, I am a good person who intended this good thing, but I did something bad that hurt someone else, I can admit my mistake and repair with them while still maintaining my core identity.
        God never shames us! It is his kindness that leads us to repentance ❤ If you have a healthy view of guilt and don’t carry shame it can be helpful to see this difference because other people just live their lives fighting their own internal voice of shame and so often (because these dynamics are invisible from the outside) we can get stuck trying to repair with someone who just doesn’t know how to acknowledge the hurt they have cause without shaming themselves in super unhealthy ways –so they avoid acknowledging how they hurt someone! It isn’t their fault, it is yours for being sensitive!– Anyway, it is a tangle.. I hope some of this is helpful for you. Just know that being sensitive is not sinful or wrong. God designed both flowers and rocks and the flower is not responsible for being crushed by the rock.

  14. Nathan

    > > wrote that we shouldn’t expect our spouses to be faithful

    Never mind that this one of the original 10 commandments!

    • Lynne

      You are saying you don’t think spouses should expect the person they are married to and who made vows to them to be faithful and keep those vows?

      If that is what you are saying and that isn’t a reasonable expectation for you, then why make vows? People have open relationships and then the expectation is that they both do what they want.

      Unless you expect one partner to keep their vows yet not expect the other to….?

      • Nessie

        Hi Lynne,
        If you are replying to Nathan, no, he isn’t saying that. He briefly recapped what the FIFY’ed author was saying (he tends to denote a recap using >>), then pointed out that God made one of the Ten Commandments to be exactly opposite of what that author was arguing, hence it is very wrong. Nathan’s one of the good guys. 🙂

  15. RA

    I’m a TMU alumna and former longtime Grace Community church member. This teaching set me up to accept my husband’s emotional immaturity and neglect for over twenty year, because “submit to him in everything as unto the Lord”. My submission to his protracted emotional and spiritual neglect, and that of my kids, to the detriment of my emotional and physical health, nearly destroyed me and them. Emotional starvation and dehumanization is every bit as damaging to the soul, as physical starvation and mistreatment is to the body. Thank you for writing about this -it’s so important.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, RA, I’m so sorry! I’m sorry that it took so long to realize how bad it was. I’m glad you’re safer now.

  16. Natalie

    I’ll add a 6th point:
    They may have an addiction or past trauma they need to deal with and work through.

    I guess that would go along with your “They may be immature” point.

    I know in my marriage, that’d the boulder neither of us can seem to move: his food addiction, seemingly inability to form new healthy habits, and the bad habits/lessons he learned in his childhood. It often comes off as selfishness to me and is very hurtful. It’s a constant struggle – filled with lots of prayer – for me to remind myself that his struggles are now my struggles, and my greatest tool is praying for him. Resentment and deep-seated bitterness rise up when I think about all the things I wanted our marriage to be, and how I feel gypped and robbed on my youth thanks to the choices he’s made. But that does neither of us any good.

    I’ve come to the place in my marriage where I genuinely believe expectations are planned disappointments. In the end, people let you down. God doesn’t. I’m learning to rely a lot more on Him than I did on my husband, which in the end is probably for the best anyway.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Natalie! Good to hear from you again. Yes, that is really disappointing. I’m sorry that your husband hasn’t worked through his trauma yet. That’s really hard.

    • Bill

      Natalie, I agree with you and my opening comment at the top was somewhat along the same lines. Whatever the underlying cause, it comes across as immaturity and insufficient emotional growth.

      My wife came from a traumatic background but neither of us fully realized it until years into our marriage, and she (and we) are still working through so many things from it, including sexually. So I’ve had to adjust my expectations a lot. It did feel for years and years that she was just being selfish, like your husband, and that she was, to use your word, robbing both of us of opportunities to enjoy marriage and each other. It felt very unfair to me.

      Over time she has been able to understand and articulate her struggles much more, and in turn I’ve realized it’s not by her choice. So we’ve come a long way, and I hope the same can be true for you and your husband in time. But it is still difficult because I always seem to have to adjust my ‘normal’ expectations to her reality and what she is capable of.

  17. Lisa

    This very much needs to be taught when it comes to dating relationships as well. I once dated a guy in Bible school, felt unhappy and unfulfilled in the relationship, and was SO confused about which needs I just had to surrender to God and which were okay to bring up with my then boyfriend. These “confusing” needs were pretty much:
    – that my boyfriend would acknowledge me when I walked into a room where he was
    – that he would occasionally talk to me and take initiative to spend time together
    – that he would show up on time when we had decided to hang out.

    I mean, Christians are supposed to be content in Christ so I just had to stop having needs, pray and surrender to God and then I would feel okay, right?!

    …nope. And being in that situation, and on top of it all feeling like a failure of a Christian, was awful. In a dating situation it’s much better to know you’re allowed to have needs, be upfront and genuine about them, and then see what happens with the relationship. Maybe it brings you closer together. Maybe you realize you don’t work together. Maybe the other person realizes it. Maybe you realize you actually do need to rely more on God, and you decide to work on that together. Or separately.

    There’s no way to know the outcome of being authentic, but trying to push away parts of yourself or ignore your needs just so a relationship will work out, is always destructive in one way or another.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It absolutely is destructive! I’m glad you didn’t marry him.

  18. Jo Co

    so the big question here is, since the obligation message is harmful, what are we entitled to expect sexually?

    I would say we are entitled to have our spouse listen to and try to understand our sexual desires, needs, traumas, and boundaries, and make effort to work towards a more fulfilling sexual relationship for both spouses, in a way that is respectful to both.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      That sounds great!

  19. LF

    This is a great topic. I think it applies in other ways besides just marriage, the whole “entitlement” issue.

    I did not grow up Christian, and I came from a very fractured family, alot of trauma. When I became a believer, I brought some profound unmet needs into my church relationships. I know what it’s like to try to develop an unhealthy dependence on other people to bear my burdens and carry my load. I brought all of these childlike needs and expectations into adult relationships, and got deeply hurt as a result.

    I still remember in church, hearing all sorts of teachings about grace being “undeserved” and that none of us deserve God’s love and grace. I even remember being taught that things like “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs was unbiblical,” etc. There came a point where I was in such denial of my basic needs for love and belonging, I was so repressed, that I had a mental breakdown. I realized that some core human relationships that were supposed to model love for me were not there. It’s like a mixed message. Sometimes Christians say, “every child deserves a family,” other times, they say that the world doesn’t owe you anything. and that “you don’t deserve Love”.

  20. BB

    I may just have to buy a couple copies of the “fixed it for you” book and leave them lying around my moms’ group at church…will it be available on Amazon?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      It will!

  21. Sal

    I’ve been reading your blog off and on for awhile–I lost it and then recently found it again–and I am just SO RELIEVED by your views! I have been a “good Christian girl” who married a “good Christian man” and hoped for a good marriage, but it has been the most difficult, painful thing in my life. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know it would be harmful. I’ve experienced emotionally destructive behaviors from my husband from the beginning and have been reactive myself to the point where I don’t know how we are going to heal (we are going to counseling and in a Pure Desire group). He also struggles with pornography and didn’t get help for it until a year ago; we’ve been married 11 years. Way back when we were engaged, I watched an Andy Stanley video (that I loved at the time!) about expectations and how we shouldn’t have them in marriage. I think he was making the point that we can’t demand things from our spouse or make an idol of them. Which I agree with–to a degree. I remember being excited about this but also a little sad and confused–since I believed I really should have some good expectations of marriage–otherwise why would I be getting married?! Shouldn’t I expect my husband to cherish me? Be faithful to me? Care about me? Respect me? I now know that my gut hesitation in believing that we shouldn’t have expectations was valid. There ARE some things we are to expect and when we don’t get them, we are naturally hurt, sad, and will need to grieve and feel some regret. And we will need to seek change in ourselves by setting boundaries so we can heal and grow and not enable the bad behavior. I can’t believe how many other places I’ve heard similar half-truths and falsities: books, podcasts, mentors, good Christian friends. Things like: “It takes two to tango” (meaning, YOU are just as emotionally abusive as your husband!); “You shouldn’t base your happiness on how your husband treats you” (this is true, but it’s equally true that if he’s hurting you, and not being emotionally available, or is stuck in addiction and won’t get help, you are still right to feel hurt and seek help!); and the idea that if we are expecting our husbands to meet an emotional need or love us well, we are committing idolatry automatically. Thank you, thank you for addressing things like this! The church needs to clean up and get educated.

    Oh, and another one while I’m thinking of it: Because of teachings from very respected Christian sources (some of which I still benefit from and trust), I believed that sex would be wonderful for me and I would have an awesome Christian marriage because I was pure and saved sex for marriage. But I had painful or uncomfortable sex for 5 years before I had my first child. We struggled emotionally. We argued most of the time. His porn addiction didn’t go away with our marriage–even when sex finally felt good for both of us. Even when I dressed sexy and we were “getting along” and I was doing everything “right.” I just want to point out that, just because you do everything by the Book (which we should!) doesn’t guarantee you’ll have a great marriage, a great sex life, etc. I am thankful I didn’t have sex outside of marriage, but I still suffered as a human because of human sins and the fallenness of life and my own emotions and decisions.

    Thanks again! I can’t wait to read more by you!

  22. Zeek

    My wife and I have read GSR and have been blessed by it and it has been helpful.  In fact your book made our marriage better in so many ways, but we are still working. Our new definition of sex if the same as yours, mutual, consensual and pleasurable.  We have worked through many issues and we both want to have both of us wanting sex.  We both hate duty sex.

    However, as we try to move forward we are confused and frustrated.  Lately most sex conversations end with her saying, “I don’t know what the answer is, but I can’t fake it or muster it up.” We now believe she should not agree to sex unless she is on board, interested or whatever you want to call it.  Now the pressure is on her to “want it”, something she can’t just do, and that leads to her feeling like something is wrong with her or our relationship because y’all seem to say that sex problems are the result of a poor relationship. The take away is if she doesn’t want sex then our relationship needs work. Just fix your connection and sex will just happen, that’s what I hear.

    It’s like this in her mind:  Ok my husband desires sex, I don’t, but I can say no…so I say no.  Then he asks again a few days days later and I still say no….and now it’s my fault because I’m not supposed to say yes unless I am “interested” but I’m rarely interested and now I have a new kind of pressure to “want to say yes”.  It was easier just give him 2 minutes and be done.  Can someone speak to this?

    Forget horny, she is 55 done with menopause, ain’t ever happing again.  By the way could you talk about the impact of menopause and hormones (male and female) on sex, can you and Keith please discuss this reality? 

    I am supposed to be sacrificial and loving towards my wife and I think with sex it means to exercise self control, wisely choose when to ask for sex and not make her feel like she owes me sex. I am supposed to curb my desire in deference to her but what does the opposite look like? How does that play out for the wife? Can she say yes when she really doesn’t want to?  Her only saying yes when she wants sex puts pressure on her to want it and the decision is all on her and now there is more pressure on her and more pressure mean less desire for her, and then we are both waiting for that magic moment when she is ready.

    Is there a place for “honey I love you” sex?  Is it wrong, or duty-ish, for a wife to say “honey I love you and I know you have been desiring sex this week but I am not up to putting the effort in, but I want to please you, what can I do for you?”  Is that okay in the GSR world?  Is that the kind of mutuality 1 Corinthians 7 is getting at?

    Finally, the reality is that sex is only for marriage and that my spouse is the only person who I should have sex with. We all know that going into marriage, but what I hear from GSR and your writings/podcasts is that I should not have any sexual expectations in my marriage. But I expect my wife to have sex with me because that is part of marriage and she knew that going in and I think most wives do. I have told my adult children that the wedding ring does not equal consent and that there must be mutuality and agreement. We tell them sex is for marriage only, but in the same breath we are supposed to them (especially the boys) not to have a sense that their future wives are obligated to have sex with them. So it is not an obligation she owes, but rather an expectation that goes with marriage, can you sort that out? Maybe we need another word, maybe “expecting” my wife to have sex with me is not the way to say it. We would never tell a young bride “oh, that whole sex thing, yeah you don’t have to do that, it’s not expected in a marriage.” What should be expected about sex in marriage?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Hi Zeek! That’s a great question.

      Here’s what I tell people repeatedly in my books: Sex is a vital part of a healthy marriage. Sex is the culmination of everything you feel about each other. When you marry, you are vowing to prioritize a healthy marriage, in every way, and that includes sex.

      It’s just important that people realize that sex flows from emotional connection, and cannot form that connection on its own. That’s where we get into trouble.

      And so we should each work on our own sexual stuff. And we should each work to make the marriage as connected as possible.

      As for giving a gift, that’s absolutely great and okay and wonderful–as long as it flows from a context of a relationship where sex is mutual, pleasurable, and intimate. When there’s give and take in every area of your relationship, and when your relationship is marked by love and care and generosity, this will naturally flow. But where there is not that generosity in other areas, then sex can easily become an obligation. So the important part is for each of you to dedicate yourselves to creating an intimate partnership in every way, and then sex will naturally flow.

      • Zeek

        Sheila, thanks for your comment. Old habits die hard and it took a few years for us to get in the rut we are in. For various reasons we drifted apart emotionally and now we are trying to reconnect. Naturally it will take a long time to get out of it. It’s just hard to find the line between wanting sex with my wife and not feeling guilty for wanting something she doesn’t. At times I feel shameful for even asking. Sometimes I feel like if sex were just absent maybe we would be better off.

    • Nessie

      Reading Zeek’s comment, I had the thought that the post(s?) about responsive libido might be good, too. Sometimes the responsive-libido spouse may not be feeling it at a given moment but if you both agree to start with just kissing (making out, whatever you want to call it), knowing it might not lead to sex and being respectful of that, then the responsiveness might kick in. Just a thought.

      • Zeek

        Nessie, thank you for your comments you make a good point and it’s nice to be reminded. This is all such a strange place to be and I struggle to put it into words. There is more going on that I simply can’t explain in a comment thread. But we are both working on ourselves and trying to get back to being connected. I have read just about every post about libido and I listen to the podcast.

        • Nessie

          Hi Zeek,
          I figured it was more complicated than that but thought I’d toss it out there just in case. I’m sorry this is so difficult.
          My husband hurt me greatly for a couple decades and I can’t say that we are in a good place now. Sex is currently off the table indefinitely because I kept feeling pressure to and… each encounter made it far worse (think ptsd) and has led to it being not an option for the foreseeable future. What is helping me now is knowing it is off the table completely until I heal a lot more. As you say, it took a few years to get in this rut, and it’s gonna take a long while to get out of it I’m afraid.

          Some days I feel like a skittish horse… the more he approached me too intensely/too often, the more skittish I became. Once that skittishness gets ahold, it takes a long time to settle back down, and any approach after that needs to be really slow and steady. The slightest sign of agitation/fear needs to be taken seriously and immediately back off. I’m slowly settling down but it wouldn’t take much for me to wind up 3 counties over, and then having to restart the process- but with even more damage to undo.

          Trust comes easiest the first time through. Once damage has been done though, it isn’t just about building trust- it means first undoing the damage done to get back to ground zero THEN re-building can begin. But we kind of expect it to be as easy as it was the first time. Thing is, we are both different people by that point. I’ve been conditioned to expect certain things and that doesn’t go away easily or quickly.

          I’m really sorry for your situation- we are both going through it, just from different ends. Will say a prayer for you and your wife.

          • Zeek

            Thank you Nessie for sharing.

  23. Will

    Why, on a website that is focused on sex in marriage, does your list of things a spouse has a right to expect not include sex?

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Because sex is a by-product of a healthy relationship. You cannot expect sex in and of itself. You need to work on the other things first. If there is not a true partership; if your spouse is abusive; if there is neglect, if there is infidelity, then you cannot expect sex. Sex is supposed to be something mutual, intimate, and pleasurable for both. Without that foundation, intercourse is no longer about intimacy but about taking and entitlement. You can listen to the podcast on the myth of the magic penis to better understand.

  24. Zeek

    Will I think the phrase “right to expect” is a bit loaded around here. When we talk about sex as a “right” it is reduced to a “thing” we take. In effect that makes sex something we can take because it’s our right. I do think that Sheila and those who help her would agree that expecting sex to happen in a marriage is a biblical expectation. We should expect sex from our spouse but that doesn’t mean we can take it when we want it. That wedding ring does mean consent. It means that she has authority over your body and you over her body. Therefore if she says that she doesn’t want you to use your body in a sexual way with her then you can’t. Drive by sex or salad bar sex where she is just a receptacle for your penis or a tool for your orgasm is a great way to kill her libido. There are moments in a mature marriage where love and emotional connection are so strong that drive by and salad bar sex can be enjoyed as an act of love. However, it seems that to get to that level takes years of forging a bond of love and trust, a bond that is only possible by going through years of smiles and tribulations.


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