Living With a Refuser

The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5

A healthy sexual relationship with your spouse is one of the keys to a healthy marriage. If someone is the perfect spouse in every way except that they hold back sexually from their husband or wife, then it is my conviction that they are living in sin. God told us that our bodies belong to our spouse. If they have a sexual need, we ought to freely give ourselves to meet that need. I take the position that I am the only lover my husband gets and he deserves the best one I can possibly be.

The only reason God has given allowance for us to abstain from sex in marriage is so that we can be devoted to prayer and then, only for a time. It is holy for us to be passionate in the bedroom and on the contrast it is sin for us to hold back and resist God’s plan for the marriage bed to be a place of freedom and joy. Often in the church, women especially, are lead to believe that the opposite is true. That to be godly it requires that we keep all things sexual at arms length, including our own relationship with our husband. Having said that, women are not always the ones acting as refusers in a marriage. Sometimes the wife is the one who is left with a sex life that isn’t meeting her needs.

Understand that the refusal I am talking about goes beyond having to work out frequency where both the husband and wife enjoy sex, but have different drives. They are two very different problems. A refuser believes lies about their sexuality and the importance of emotional and physical intimacy through sex in marriage. This causes great pain to their spouse as year after year one of the most basic needs in marriage is either withheld or given reluctantly.

To say that living with a refuser is difficult is a severe understatement. There are many contributors that make the problem a complicated one. One is that someone is sinning against you perpetually and does not acknowledge it. This is hard because you essentially need to live in a constant state of forgiveness in order to have peace about someone who doesn’t even believe or see that they are doing anything wrong. Another contributor to the problem is that God created you with physical and emotional needs and gave you someone to meet them, but when your spouse doesn’t see their role in meeting those needs you are left with a feeling of discontent. Masturbation isn’t the cure all either because, to begin with, some people feel guilt about it and then even if they don’t it only serves to met the physical need. Since what we all really desire is a sexual relationship, masturbation is not meant to be our main outlet for sexual release and does nothing to satisfy a husband or wife’s desire for closeness.

So how does someone handle living with a refuser? My suggestions will not solve the problem, only manage it. In order for the problem to be solved, your spouse needs to be set free which is something that only God can do. So my first suggestion is to pray for your spouse. This will influence a change in them like nothing else. If there are issues of mental illness, pray for those too and seek out help. Pray also for yourself, that God would change you in the ways that you need to change. Develop a strong relationship in prayer with Jesus. Be sure that you are well aware of what He thinks of you. Your identity should never be influence by your spouse’s sin of refusal. And the closer you walk with Jesus the easier it will be to forgive your husband or wife when necessary.

My other suggestion is to be willing to commit to communicating with them about it even if it is uncomfortable. Be non-accusatory and share your heart with them. There is a fine line between stating what you want and need in a way that causes your spouse to feel forced into a sexual relationship with you, and inviting them into your heart so you can show them why you want and need intimacy with them on every level. While the latter will be uncomfortable for them and may hurt them as you show them honestly how their behavior affects you, the former may very well cause them to dig their heels in even more. I believe that a lot of the time when a person is showing anger, what they really are feeling is either fear or pain. That isn’t the case all the time, but expressing anger feels less vulnerable that fear and pain so I can see why people often default to that. If you or your spouse are expressing anger, consider whether the actual feelings might be rooted in fear or pain.

Also, continue to love your spouse and treat them with kindness despite their sin. While you are clear that you feel that they are sinning against you by holding this part of themselves away from you, keep speaking words of love to them and let them know that you care for them no matter what. I have seen couples where one of them was living as a refuser and then got free from their lies, but the other spouse was too hurt to receive them at that point and actually became a refuser themselves.

I want to touch on one other thing and that is that I do believe that there are circumstances where it is legitimate to withhold sex in marriage. Namely, when your spouse is living in sexual sin. If they are having an extramarital sexual relationship, I think it is wise to abstain until things are resolved both for health reasons to protect yourself against STIs and for purposes of prayer. The same holds if they have a porn addiction that they do not take responsibility for. This again fits with the admonishment to abstain for purposes of prayer. I believe that the husband or wife is consenting to abstinence if he or she is having an affair or is involved in pornography that has not been confessed. If on the other hand they have confessed their sin and are taking steps to live with sexual integrity, then this is the time to step up and ask God to restore what was stolen from your intimacy.

My heart goes out to all the wives and husbands who read our blog and are living with a refuser. To receive better support than we can offer you on our blog, we would encourage you to visit The Marriage Bed Discussion Forums, which have an entire section devoted to helping people who are living with refusers. Please know that you are not alone and know also that many marriages have been saved and restored after such a situation. God is a God of restoration and redemption.

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