It’s Not Idolatry to Expect Connection with Your Spouse

by | Jan 13, 2023 | Connecting | 15 comments

Reasonable Expectations in Marriage are not the same as Entitlement
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When we marry, it’s because we want to be with someone for the rest of our lives.

We enjoy being with them. We love them. We want that relationship.

And God said that was a good thing! “It is not good for man to be alone.”

This month on the blog we’re looking at the difference between entitlement in marriage (which is wrong) and reasonable expectations in marriage (which is good).

This week, on social media and on the blog and on the podcast, we’ve been talking about all kinds of different things, from coercing women to send nude photos to what emotions tell us to whether women are in sin if they’re sad. But I acutally think all of these things go together, so in this wrap-up Friday post I’d like to take us on a journey to try to amalgamate many of the things we’ve talked about in the last few days!

First, I decided to “fix” this quote from Martha Peace’s book The Excellent Wife:

 

Martha Peace The Excellent Wife expectations in marriage

Interestingly, on Facebook one woman pushed back, saying that I wasn’t treating Peace fairly, since elsewhere in this chapter she said that it was normal to want intimacy with your husband, and that was okay.

But here’s the difference (which I explained near the end of an Instagram Live yesterday): She says it’s not a sin, but as soon as women feel lonely or sad, THEN it becomes a sin. She does this throughout her book–as soon as women actually expect something and feel disconnected or sad when they don’t get it, then it’s a sign they’re unsubmissive and idolatrous. Women’s emotions, and women’s reasonable expectations in marriage, are labelled sins. And this isn’t just Martha Peace–you’ve likely heard similar things too.

  • “You can’t expect your husband to fill your emotional needs. That’s what Jesus is for. If you’re unhappy in marriage, you’re not leaning on Jesus enough.”
  • “Your husband is a man, not a woman. God made Him differently. He’s going to see the world differently. If you feel disconnected, it’s because you’re expecting him to be a woman, and God never made him that way.”

But what if, as Becky Castle Miller suggested in our podcast yesterday, our emotions are healthy signs of what is happening in our environment? And our emotions spur us to act, to get help for our marriage, to fix things?

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Women aren’t allowed to expect anything; but men are entitled to much.

What many were pointing out with regards to Peace’s quotation was that she was upset at women who were expecting an intimate connection with her spouse.

And yet the same people who berate women for expecting intimacy in marriage often also tell women they must meet their husbands’ sexual desires–even, as I was talking about last week, to the point of coercing women into sending nude photos (I talked about this in that Instagram Live this week too).

Mara, one of my frequent and wonderful comments on this blog, summed up the situation perfectly with this statement:

 

It is disgusting how hard this dysfunctional system and those who uphold it work. They work so hard to make sure no man ever has to go without anything whatsoever, sexually.

Mara

Another commenter, Mindy, followed up with this:

It’s sexual gluttony. Why in the world would we ever think this is ok? It’s like saying a “man really can’t go without pie. So you need to be prepared to make him pie whenever he wants or he’ll go to Perkins and we KNOW how sinful and unhealthy THAT pie is. You don’t want him to get heart disease from bad pie, do you? Only your pie can keep him from sinning. And make sure it’s often so the temptation isn’t so hard to bear”. It’s insane.

***

Sheila, I would love to see you do a post addressing this obsession with making sure men have access at all times to sex with their wives (gluttony) and how that intersects with porn use, almost just replaces it in a “holy” form. The idea that the man doesn’t need to be prepared to have self-control in regards to sex (in fact requires the opposite) is actually keeping him from spiritual maturity. In all things we are asked to be self controlled, and that has to include sex, too.

Yet we are told to give men a pass on that. It really is like any other appetite, like food or spending money. Both of those we see as unhealthy if we insist we require access to them whenever we feel the “urge”, but sex is somehow elevated beyond that to a separate category. And the female “counterpart”, as they teach, emotional connection, is not even treated that way, which really is telling. At least they would be consistent if they said men need to be emotionally available anytime a woman requires it of them! Can you imagine the outrage if woman insisted our immediate need for emotional connection outweighed their desires? I have yet to encounter a book that preaches that.

We simply must eliminate entitlement, while teaching reasonable expectations in marriage.

And those expectations must be mutual. Both men and women should expect connection, teamwork, partnership, care, and faithfulness when you marry. That’s reasonable. That’s what marriage is.

We should not be labelling it a sin if someone is sad because that expectation is not met.

And we should not be telling people they’re entitled to more than this.

If we could start using the reasonable expectations in marriage/entitlement distinction, maybe we could actually get somewhere!

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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15 Comments

  1. Nathan

    She says that desiring intimacy from your spouse is idolatry? Wow. There is no response here.

    I do believe that people can get true fulfillment only in a relationship with God. That doesn’t mean that we can’t have other relationships, though.

    My pastor likes to say that we have two (spiritual) holes in our hearts. A God shaped one and a people shaped one. Yes, we need God in our lives, but we need other people, too. We need families, friends, communities, etc.

    Being married is also a relationship, and a stronger one than that between other people in your life. Wanting that isn’t idolatry, neither is having reasonable expectations in that relationship. Without that, a “marriage” is just two people living in the same house with the only “expectation” being that the wife is supposed to have sex with the husband whenever he wants, no matter what. Which, apparently, is what some people think should be the case (add in maid, housekeeper, etc.).

    As my pastor also says, we aren’t “Lone Rangers”. We need relationships with other people in addition to a relationship to God.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Exactly, Nathan!

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’ve seen that graphic go around this week! It’s very good.

      Reply
      • Anonymous305

        Either unchanged or his life is made easier!!

        Reply
  2. Jennifer

    Thank you for correcting a quote from Martha Peace’s book! This was the book presented as the womanly ideal at one church I was a member of and assigned for me to read at a different church when I was in premarital counseling with a pastor. There is so much problematic with that book! She basically turns women into doormats.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth

      Yes, this is the very quote essentially destroyed my life. I read this book about 14 years ago, and it gave me the distinct sense that there is no hope, there is no help when things are bad.

      It led me down a very erroneous path of believing that the only way to be happy was to have no desire at all, and began what I call a “witch-hunt of the soul” hunting down all the idols in my heart…until there was nothing left. This almost led to the loss of my faith entirely, and the belief that the only way out was suicide.

      It was Sheila’s blog post maybe 4 years or so ago about valuing an institution above an individual that made me realize how badly I had been deceived.

      Thank you for fixing that quote, and for unpacking what she does in that book. Just because I knew what destroyed me didn’t mean I could understand what was wrong with it or how to fix it.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        Oh, Elizabeth, I’m so glad I could help you! And I’m so sorry this toxic garbage was ever spewed in the first place, especially in the name of Christ.

        Reply
  3. Natasha

    Never read that book, but I am still trying to wrap my head around why she even thought that wanting intimacy is idolatry when I was always given the impression when reading the Bible that God wants us to regularly connect with our spouse. Where did she get this idea from? I can’t seem to find it in scripture, must be taken widely out of context. That is quite absurd, like, why be married if you are just going to ignore your wife? If you are just married because you want a sexual outlet yet continue to live life as if you are single, then it is really no different than having a casual hook up partner that you only see when you are in the mood.

    Reply
  4. Erik H.

    Thank you for sharing this. As well as the “How not to be an entitled husband or entitled wife” post. I get the feeling a lot of this goes back to disparate gender roles and how women are so often limited to being the caretakers of the children and the household and little else, too often reduced to being a means to an end toward producing children and so often being treated as disposable after they’ve done so.

    If that person thinks that women who are unhappy are not “leaning on Jesus enough” (what does that even mean? Pray and wait and do nothing else?, does that person also think that women who are being abused are not “leaning on Jesus enough?” Or that men who are unhappy are not leaning on Jesus enough? Or are their/our desires the ones that matter most, since so much of culture and so much of theology seems to circle back to, “Do this and this, or he won’t love you anymore” (and sometimes people outside the church get the impression that that’s how God’s love works as well, possibly because that’s how too many Christ-claimers act) ?

    I have a theory. This may be a long shot, but I’m speculating that a lot of this goes back to cultural amplification of the notion that a man should spread his seed to as many women as possible—and sometimes this gets implicitly magnified in the church even as most preachers generally can’t just overtly glamorize promiscuity for men. My friends and I play a historical strategy called Crusader Kings, whose overarching goal consists less of you extending your own life, and more of you promoting your bloodline and elevating it against others’ through the centuries. Hence, if you play as a man (not mandatory) and in such a garish manner, you can grow your influence across multiple branching bloodlines. However, if your wife is unfaithful, it calls paternity and lineage into question. If this sort of double standard is what is still being taught and amplified and elevated in our churches today (as well as nationalists yelling about blood and soil), it’s no wonder that men are being implicitly taught to all but worship sex and that women are being implicitly taught to hate it or at least to not enjoy it (for fear, even if it’s a stereotype, that they become promiscuous—and I’ve heard of awful things being done to and against women in other cultures out of this same fear-motivation).

    I loved Mindy’s comment that you shared. Especially this part: “Sheila, I would love to see you do a post addressing this obsession with making sure men have access at all times to sex with their wives (gluttony) and how that intersects with porn use, almost just replaces it in a “holy” form.” I absolutely think this is what is too often being taught in some church circles today. It’s a matter of reducing a woman to her sexuality, and in everyday practice “what are you wearing,” and either labeling that as good [porn] or bad [church culture] but nonetheless making the same minimalistic determination. And I would have no idea how to do this, but I would love to see a study to see how much those two things—porn culture and church culture—feed into and altogether influence one another. The studies I’ve seen focus on more commonly heard-of subject matter (how religious is the viewer, what are their politics) and less on, “Are patriarchal/misogynistic teachings creating this industry that exists to capitalize on it and turn it into a sort of infinite loop?” (And with how pragmatically dangerous some of the “men’s advice” I’ve read has been, I’m not convinced some parts of church culture aren’t trying to the same, effectively making a man’s sexual desires something he effectively obsesses with, because an unhealthy obsession over “fighting temptation” is still an unhealthy obsession, and I learned that the hard way when I was younger.)

    Blessings to you and to the others sharing wisdom in this post.

    Reply
    • Angela

      Bravo Bravo Bravo!!!! Well spoken and I do believe quite true. We need to get RID of patriarchy and patriarchal societies. It’s getting worse and worse here in the US, supposedly land of the free. Well, if you’re a man anyway.

      Reply
  5. Anonymous305

    The topic of a withdrawn and withholding spouse is complicated when the withholding is reactive. When I started withholding as a reaction to the past, it felt justified and right, but now I’m wondering if I did so for too long and if I’ve become the bad guy and if I deserve for him to leave me. Even if my withholding was fair doesn’t mean it was functional. Even if he deserved it doesn’t mean he won’t be hurt enough to leave me.

    At the same time, I’d hesitate to place the same blame on another person in the same situation, so it’s complicated. I’d also like to complain about some related articles.

    If there is ever a time that it is correct to withhold, this article https://firstthings.org/what-is-intimacy-anorexia-and-how-to-handle-it-in-marriage/ is subtly victim-blaming in the following ways.
    -“Without regard to how it affects the other”, how do you know the person doesn’t care? Does a trauma response count as not caring about the other?
    -“Avoiding sex, sabotaging sexual encounters, or not connecting emotionally during sex”, so if you don’t have desire you’re bad if you have sex anyway (not connecting emotionally), while also bad if you don’t have it? If your desire is gone, you’re the bad guy no matter what you do. I’m afraid to ask how he defines “sabotaging sex”.

    This article https://conquerseries.com/the-silent-marriage-killer is less subtle. It has similar ideas to the above with the additional accusations that the withholding person is causing temptation, objectification, and trauma to the other. I can see how that could be true in cases where the withholding person actually doesn’t care, but when withholding is a safety-seeking behavior, does it still count as tempting, objectifying, and traumatizing the other?

    Also, I read part of the “Stronger Together” study referenced in the 2nd article and found the most CRINGY part (that I read) to be the CONTRACT. It says that after working through their issues in only 5 weeks, each couple should mutually agree on a contract about how they will handle their sex life in the future (like how often, who initiates, and possibly other details). I mildly appreciate that it emphasizes that the contract must be mutual, but I still cringe for 2 huge reasons.
    -In the context of conservative evangelicalism, women don’t feel free to insist on mutuality.
    -Even if it is genuinely mutual at the start, the implication that they can’t change their minds feels coercive and oppressive.

    Reply
    • Jo R

      So if a woman starts withholding because her husband has been objectifying her for years or decades, then all of a sudden SHE’S the one doing the objectifying?

      Um, WHAT???? 😱

      Reply
  6. Anonymous305

    On the topic of pressuring wives, I can’t decide if it’s worse to say “be his methadone so he doesn’t watch porn” or “be his prayer warrior so he doesn’t get devoured by the DEVIL”. I just found a new twist on victim-blaming!! https://conquerseries.com/how-wives-are-helping-their-husbands-quit-porn and the most disturbing parts are.
    -Feeling like you can’t handle it anymore is implied to be a sin rather than a God-given self-defense response, or a God-given message that you need help.
    -If you leave him, you’ll be putting him in “the firing range of Satan”, but it’s ok to leave if your safety is threatened. So, seeking safety does or doesn’t make you responsible for “the firing range of Satan”?

    Oddly, the same site has another article https://conquerseries.com/the-fallout-of-porn-how-the-church-can-help-hurting-wives that says NOT to blame the wife, and it was written later than the wife-blaming article, but both were updated at the same time and still remain. Maybe they think the church shouldn’t blame the wife, but she should blame herself?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I think there’s just such bad teaching that they don’t realize they’re being contradictory and hypocritical. I think many people have never thought this through properly!

      Reply

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