I received this question a couple of weeks ago from our Have A Question page:
How can my wife say that she loves me but then withhold sex; say she loves me but not want to have sex with me?
If I did or said something to hurt her feelings (whether I know about it or not) that day or even a week earlier, how can she honestly love me if whatever she’s holding on to is more powerful than her love for me and blocking sexual intimacy?
That’s a difficult question, and I think it’s one that everyone married to a refuser or a gatekeeper eventually asks: “Does my spouse really love me?” It’s a very uncomfortable question to have rattling around in your mind.
And the fact is, the answer is yes they love you. Just not as much as they love themselves. And that goes for most humans: Thanks to our sinful nature, we’re not good at loving other people as much as ourselves. This failure to love others plays out in every aspect of our life, and our married sex life is no different. It takes a continuous dying to self and letting Christ live through us to really engage in a truly loving relationship. While this gets preached often in church, it’s not something that many Christians actively work towards, unfortunately. We tend to accept this teaching on a broad, generic, doctrinal level, but the day to day actions are where it really counts.
When you get cut off in traffic, is it you who responds, or Christ?
When you get a nasty email from a coworker, is it you who responds, or Christ?
When your kids act up and misbehave, is it you who responds, or Christ?
When your spouse refuses to have sex, is it you who responds, or Christ?
And yeah, we point fingers are your spouse and say “well, they aren’t living like Christ would”, and that’s true, but I can’t speak to your spouse. I can speak to you. So, how do you respond? How would Christ respond (you know, if He was married to a sinful spouse)?
I think He’d look at this beautiful creation of God that has been so hurt by sin and won’t let God in enough yet to help heal them, so that they can have the relationship He wants them to have with their spouse. I think He’d be sad for them. I think He’d want to console them. I think He’d want to heal them, and depending on where their heart is, I think He’d confront them.
I don’t know your spouse. I don’t know where their heart is. I don’t know if now is the time to hug them and cry with them because you aren’t having the intimate relationship God wants for you both. I don’t know if it’s the time to show them their sin and ask them to change. But, I know that Christ wouldn’t sit back and ask “I wonder if they love me” because He knows that none of us really love Christ. We try…but we fail. And our spouses don’t really love us….they try, but they fail. Just as we don’t really love our spouses. We try…but we fail. Constantly. We love ourselves…and even that we don’t do well. Because we tend to treat ourselves pretty badly as well.
But I think Christ would love them, in a very active way and show them that life can be better. The wisdom is in knowing what that looks like for your spouse in each moment. Sometimes that means accepting that they’re not ready, and loving them while they’re still sinners, as God does with us. Sometimes it means showing them their sinful state and inviting them to die to self and let Christ live through them, again, as God does with us. But, it takes knowing their heart to know when is the right time for each, and knowing their heart means talking about it.
So, my advice: communicate about it. Share how it makes you feel. Share that you want to help. Ask for their thoughts, their views and opinions on it. Do a Bible Study like Intimacy Ignited together, if they’re ready, to see what the Bible says about married sexuality. But most of all: pray for them, and pray for yourself, so that you will know how to be Christ to them.