When all is well in a marriage and both husband and wife are healthy physically and emotionally and life’s stressors aren’t bearing down, sex is wonderful and reciprocal and hopefully desired by both partners.
But this question is not being asked by a woman in this kind of scenario; it is being asked by a woman in a difficult marriage whose husband does not treat her well on a regular basis.
(Let me press pause to say that though 97% of my audience is comprised of women, I do realize that I do have a few men readers and that the man can just as easily be a victim in these scenarios.)
I’ve had wives tell me that their husbands have quoted Scripture to induce guilt; lovely things like, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:4) (There’s a name for this, by the way – for using Scripture to attempt to control or manipulate someone – it’s called spiritual abuse.)
I know of a situation where the husband asked the couples’ counselor, in front of the wife, mid-separation, if they should be having sex. The counselor said that, yes, the Bible talked about withholding sex only for times of prayer and that ideally a married couple should be having sex. So the wife went home that night, in an effort to do everything she was told by her counselors, and offered herself to her husband, only for him to make her feel small and disrespected and whore-ish in his icy and demoralizing response.
Yes, as a married couple, we are to give ourselves over to our spouses. Yes, our bodies are no longer our own. And yet…
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. –Ephesians 5:25
…there are situations and seasons and entire marriages when the husband is being abusive towards his wife, doing the opposite of what Paul commanded here, and yet still expects sex from his wife.
This is one of those times when life just isn’t as it’s supposed to be. And yet the wife in this marriage wants to follow God, wants to be obedient, and perhaps even wants to have sex for sex’s sake, and yet, feels this inner struggle because odds are she may not love her husband, she may have no respect for him, she may feel no desire for him, she abhors – rightly so – feeling used or like a prostitute (without the money left on the nightstand).
And so she’s torn. If this is you…and this has been me…here is what I would do:
- Pray. Tell God exactly what you’re feeling. Admit your lack of desire. Admit your anger or resentment. Admit you don’t know what to do and ask for wisdom.
- Sift through your circumstances with brutal self-honesty. I ask this with all the gentleness I can muster up: are you truly being abused and mistreated, or are you being stubborn and selfish? I believe that if you ask God to reveal your true motives, he will.
- Seek out counsel from someone you trust. Find either a woman who has been in a difficult Christian marriage or a Christian counselor who understands abusive marriages, and share your situation.
- Try talking to your husband. Try explaining to him that sex, for you as a woman, is an emotional act, and it is tied into all the other parts of your marriage (from what I understand, that is not the case for the man, so he may not fully understand where you’re coming from). Explain to him that when he is unkind to you, it makes it very difficult for you to want to be intimate with him.
- Have sex, but only IF you can do so without it adding resentment onto the pile of issues already stacking up and IF you can do so with a pure motive to serve the man who is your husband.
- OR Don’t have sex, but only IF you cannot do so without being in fear or feeling violated or even more broken.
- Be aware that in the cycle of abuse, sex can be the act that ends the honeymoon phase. I am not saying this so that you may use it to manipulate him to keep him on his best behavior; I am saying this so that you are not thrown off guard if things do go back to being bad after you acquiesce.
This is so very hard, sweet ones. There are no easy answers. Yes, the Bible says have sex if married, but the Bible also talks about treating each other the way we wish to be treated and laying our lives down for each other.
My personal belief is that, either way, if your heart is in the right place and if you are prayerful, you will not be considered disobedient. And remember that regardless of what you choose to do, you are still loved and there is still grace.
If this post resonated with you, then you’d benefit from Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage, found here.