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Are you thinking of leaving your sexless marriage?
You are not alone, even among Christians.
Some of you won't do it, but the thought still hangs out there.
Should have… could have… would have...
… echoes of regret over years invested in a relationship that is starved of the very sexual intimacy that is a hallmark exclusive to marriage.
The one place sex should happen often is commonly the place it happens least -- or not at all.
I hear from men and women in sexless marriages, and many of them are hungry for a way out.
Their pleas generally look like this...
"I am going to leave after our youngest graduates from high school."
"There is someone at work who actually wants me, and I can't even get that kind of attention from the person I married."
"I'm so done."
"My wife thinks there is nothing wrong with our marriage, but she has no idea."
"My husband never wants to make love to me, even though I constantly show him I want to be with him sexually."
"Our friends and family think we have a great marriage. If they only knew."
"I stopped sleeping in our bed because it was too difficult to be that close to the one person who could give me sex but won't."
"I can count on one hand the number of times we've had sex in the last decade."
"I figure I'll just get a divorce and ask for forgiveness later."
This is a searingly painful topic to address, and no matter what I say, there are no real winners.
Are you thinking of leaving your sexless marriage?
Before you do that, I encourage you to look at your situation and ask yourself these 10 questions:
1. Is your marriage truly "sexless"?
I imagine this question stings a bit, because you wouldn't even be entertaining a post like this if you didn't feel discouraged -- maybe even desperate -- about sex and your marriage.
If you and your spouse are struggling with whether once a week or once a month is enough sex, then I think you may have a frequency battle -- rather than a sexless marriage battle.
Many marriages face disagreements about sexual frequency. Many.
I'm not minimizing the frustrations with frequency battles. They are real and mighty and present in countless marriages. But having sex once a month when you really want it 2 times a week can hardly be considered a "sexless" marriage.
When I say "sexless," I mean outright refusal for months and years on end, with no willingness from the refusing spouse to address the matter or make healthy changes. One person has arbitrarily taken sex out of the marriage and even gone so far as to try to make the refused spouse feel guilty or selfish for even wanting sex in the first place.
I couldn't put a number on what counts as sexless, but I implore you to discern if what is going on in your marriage is a frequency disagreement or a barren wasteland of no sex at all.
2. Is the refusing spouse struggling with depression or other mental health issues?
Depression (and a host of other mental health struggles) are real. When they take a toll on a person's ability to function and interact in healthy ways in their relationships, then the person needs help.
There is no shame in mental illness or in getting help for it (sadly, our society and the church have not always acknowledged mental health struggles as authentic or as serious as they actually are).
If a refusing spouse is mentally sick, you as their spouse owe it to them to do a courageous thing -- strongly advise them to see someone (a doctor, a counselor, etc.) who can help equip them to better function in life. If they are hesitant about that, offer to go with them or to help make the appointment. Emphasize that you love them and want to support them in not just coping, but in thriving.
A married couple committed to working closely with doctors and counselors can nurture intimacy amidst such struggles, so that the relationship is not irretrievably damaged.
3. Is the refusing spouse physically unable to do anything sexual?
I know this should go without saying, but if your spouse is permanently injured or suffering from chronic illness that makes sexual activity impossible or extremely limited, then I really don't think you can classify your marriage as "sexless" in the truest sense.
I'm not saying your road isn't excruciatingly challenging. But the words "in sickness and in health" have got to stand for something.
I remember a man I knew whose wife was dying of cancer. He shared with me that she had admitted to him that it grieved her greatly that she couldn't be available to him sexually. You know what he did? He reassured her and loved her and lived his vows until the day she died.
Though challenging, it also can be extremely rewarding and edifying to stand by a spouse who would have sex if they could. But they can't. Sometimes couples in such situations demonstrate a better understanding of authentic intimacy than couples who have not faced such challenges.
4. Have you really exhausted every attempt to make your frustrations and pain known?
A sexless marriage usually doesn't happen over a short period of time. It is the result of an unhealthy pattern perpetuated long enough that it has become the "normal" in the marriage.
If the lack of sexual intimacy in your marriage has persisted, don't assume that "hinting" or being passive aggressive or yelling is going to enlighten your spouse to make different choices. If anything, that approach will likely just get you more of what you have been getting -- no sex.
You have to make your concerns and needs and pain and frustration known. One way to think of it is this: "What do I need to say to my spouse so that there is absolutely no doubt that they know I am hurt and our marriage is suffering from the lack of sexual intimacy?"
Answering that question probably means you're going to have to be brutally honest. Speak in the I. Speak your pain verbally and write it all down as well. Do it with firmness, but not harshness. Let your pain show.
Risky? Hell yes.
BUT it's also risky to try to sustain a facade of marital harmony. At some point, you have to lay all your cards on the table and let the pieces fall where they may.
After making your pain known, express that you want things to get better and you want the two of you to work on that together, no matter what it takes. Counseling (individual and as a couple). Marriage seminars. Exploring physical reasons (such as hormonal imbalances) for diminished sex drive. Reading marriage books together. Making changes in your schedule so you can spend more time together.
Whatever it takes.
If your spouse won't go with you to counseling, go on your own. Not only will you gain valuable insights from someone trained in helping marriages, you also will demonstrate to your spouse that you are committed to exhausting all possible avenues to make the marriage stronger.
5. Is the marriage trying to heal from a deep betrayal?
If one or both people in a marriage are actively in the process of healing from a past pain, particularly past sexual abuse and/or adultery or porn addiction, then I personally think it's understandable that sexual intimacy may be slowed or delayed in the midst of such journey.
Key is that both people are committed to the marriage being healed.
Hopefully, if you find yourself in this situation, you and your spouse see the value in resuming sexual intimacy within a reasonable amount of time. This is a realistic expectation, because sex is part of marriage. If the betrayed spouse has decided sex will never happen again, I question whether that person is genuinely committed to the marriage being healed.
6. Have you looked closely at your own heart and asked the Lord to reveal where you have been careless with the marriage?
Do I think it is okay for a spouse to indefinitely withhold sex? No. In the same regard, though, I think we each individually carry a responsibility for the relationship. God even goes so far as to outline the responsibilities of a wife and a husband in His Word.
Are you at peace with God that you truly are doing what He has called you to do in your role in the marriage? If not, I urge you to humble yourself before the Lord and seek first His commands instead of pouring so much energy into what you hate about your marriage.
7. Have you sought the counsel of other mature Christians?
Bailing on a marriage, for any reason, is a big deal. Our society makes it out to seem like it really isn't, but practical experience and a boatload of research and buckets of tears tell us otherwise.
When two people are knit together in what they thought was a "forever" commitment, especially a covenant commitment of marriage, and then the bond is dissolved, the fallout is often tragic.
Before you leave, take your pain and frustration to 2-3 mature Christians you trust. Men should confide in men, and women in women. Choose mature Christians who will listen non-judgmentally, pray with you and for your marriage, not bash your spouse, study God's Word with you and keep all conversations in confidence.
Be specific and transparent with these mature Christians about what is happening in your marriage. "We haven't had sex in three years and this is the pain it has caused me. I'm not sure I want to be married anymore."
Ask those Christians to pray for you, with you and for your marriage.
These kind of relationships are priceless when you are contemplating the state of your marriage, especially if you are thinking of ending it. They can often offer a more objective view and suggestions that you had not considered because of your deep pain.
8. Have you prayed?
Here's the thing. I can't answer the question for you of whether you should leave your sexless marriage. That is something you and God have to wrestle about.
Ending a marriage is not a light decision at all. As such, I would encourage you to spend tremendous time and vulnerability pressing into the heart of God and His Word. I'm talking about your personal time with the Lord, not the time you spend at church or in your group Bible study.
9. Have you followed biblical teaching and confronted your spouse about his or her sin of sexual refusal?
1 Corinthians 7 is clear. God tells husbands and wives: Do not withhold your body from your spouse. If your spouse is withholding their body from you sexually and you have tried to address this with them privately to no avail, I do think you are biblically supported in going to your spouse with at least a couple other mature Christians and shedding light on the sin.
Is this easy? Well, of course not. Rarely are accountability issues easy. They are wrought with our human nature to defend and justify, rather than walk in humility and welcome the opportunity for repentance. But if you are at a point of ending your marriage, then first follow the biblical model of accountability.
10. Have you made it clear to your spouse that you are thinking about divorce?
If you have made repeated attempts to address the issue in a variety of ways and your spouse has not responded, and you are thinking divorce is where you are headed, you should tell your spouse this.
Don't dance around it. Don't say it in a tone that is threatening, but rather in a humble tone that expresses your deep pain. Clearly express and outline your repeated attempts for the two of you to address and heal this area of sexual intimacy in your marriage.
And if you are feeling things are at a breaking point, don't rule out first legally separating. Sometimes this distance can be a catalyst toward incredible healing and restoration within the relationship.
Are you thinking of leaving your sexless marriage?
It's abundantly clear in God's Word that He fully intended and designed marriage to include sex. It is a "given" in His commands and Word that husbands and wives, as long as they are able, should not only have sex, but have it often.
Any believing Christian who would try to argue otherwise is clearly walking outside of God's will. While each marriage is unique, I do think that a refusing spouse who has consistently withheld sexual intimacy from their spouse for no justifiable reason has in a sense already left the marriage. Is divorce always the right choice in those circumstances?
Honestly, I'm not sure.
What I do know is the above questions will help you dig deeper. And I do know that God is a faithful God, well aware of your pain and heartache and deep need for reliance upon Him.
Are you thinking of leaving your sexless marriage?
What are you going to do with those thoughts?
Copyright 2015, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog.
Marriage isn't exactly a fairytale, is it? Sure, before we are married, the fairytale scenarios dance happily through our minds, almost to the point that we think our marriage will be completely immune to the challenges that plague other marriages.
But after we are married? Well, we soon discover that marriage and fairytale shouldn't even hang out in the same sentence, let alone served up as a likely possibility. (Wedding and fairytale, maybe. But marriage and fairytale? No way).
Having had a failed marriage and now living within a second marriage, I certainly am not naive about the sometimes tedious and treacherous journey of marriage. And I appreciate others who aren't afraid to speak out of their own experience as to how downright hard marriage can be.
This is probably why Alisa Bowman's new book "Project: Happily Ever After -- Saving Your Marriage When the Fairytale Falters" resonates with me. She speaks her story, in her words, shedding light on a feeling that is probably more common than any married person cares to admit -- "I just want out."
Bowman looked closely at that feeling in her own heart, but instead of bailing on her marriage, she took an even more radical approach -- she set out on a path to make her marriage better. "Project: Happily Ever After" details that experience, what it taught her and how what she learned may be helpful to others.
If you are looking for a book that just scratches the surface of the emotions and thoughts that crop up in a marriage on the brink of imploding, then this is not the book for you. Bowman doesn't shy away from the raw pain, horrible thoughts and real experiences that almost ended their marriage.
Because most of you reading this blog are Christians, I should add that this book isn't marketed primarily for the Christian market (there are plenty of books out there targeted specifically at that niche, but this book is written for a broader married market). Bowman describes her target audience as women who are unhappily married, "age 30-55 and the parents of children who are still at home."
I know many of you have heard my mantra so often that you probably grow weary of it -- Glean. Glean. Glean. Not every thing in every marriage book is going to apply to your situation or resonate with your beliefs. (There are a few things in this book that don't jive with my beliefs). But this book certainly holds some insights that could benefit anyone who has ever entertained the "I just want out" feeling.
Wouldn't it be nice if marriage began on the fairytale note and never wavered? Possibly. But I think there is greater hope and encouragement in a more plausible trek -- instead of getting stuck at a place of dreaming of a difficult marriage ending (either through death or divorce), a person chooses instead to imagine marriage in a healthier light.
What if each of us -- as far as we are concerned -- did what we could, not only to sustain our marriage, but also to strengthen it? That is the message I took away from Bowman's personal story. I have no doubt this book will compel its readers to take stock of their marriages -- and to walk in the direction of hope, instead of stay paralyzed in a place of despair.