If there were ever an issue that isn’t really the issue, it is sex. But boy can it become an issue, can’t it? And yet, it’s rarely, if ever, the issue. Allow me to explain.
Sex is a shared act, between husband and wife, as an expression of love to each other. God created sex not only as the means for multiplication but as a gift of pleasure to enjoy within the boundaries of marriage. Sex was meant to be a wonderful experience for both husband and wife.
And yet, as I explain in Love & Respect, sexuality does not show up in C.O.U.P.L.E., the six ways a husband shows love to his wife: Closeness, Openness, Understanding, Peacemaking, Loyalty, and Esteem. All of those expressions of love certainly can result in sexual intimacy, but for her they do not have to. She most desires from her husband his emotional closeness, his honest openness, his willingness to simply listen and understand her . . . and so forth. But sex isn’t on the list of her deepest needs from her husband. Having said this, when a husband acts on C.O.U.P.L.E. in an authentic way, a wife desires sex with him! To arouse her sexually, his focus must not be sexual, if you get what I mean.
But when it comes to the husband, sex certainly makes the cut for him. The six ways a husband desires his wife to respect him is represented by the acronym C.H.A.I.R.S.—Conquest, Hierarchy, Authority, Insight, Relationship, and . . . Sexuality.
And a wife should not be fooled. Last does not mean least here. Oftentimes, it actually comes first, and motivates him to C.O.U.P.L.E. But is sex the issue? Often no. To him, the deprival of sex represents the rejection of him as a man, and feels dishonored. You see, he has a need for sex that only she can meet. There is no other way he can meet that need and remain pleasing to God.
Of course, most wives recognize this need but honestly she wants him to want sex when she wants sex and not want sex when she doesn’t want sex. She subconsciously wishes for him to be like a woman. But upon reflection, we need to see just how vulnerable he is, not just to sexual deprivation but to dishonor.
Truth be told, this is more about respect than sex. A wife can shame her husband for wanting sex more than she does. She sends the message that not only is there something wrong with him, he is unloving toward her. Oh, yes, she has a desire for sexual intimacy when ovulating and when wanting a baby. Her hunger for sex then is all-pervasive. Of course, he doesn’t reject her but if he did, what might she feel? Even so, why can’t he wait until she is in the mood for sex? If he were a loving man, he should know (and her son should know when he gets married, right?) that a woman prefers sex less than a man does, and he has a responsibility to serve her and align himself with her emotional and sexual interests, and be in rhythm with her, and never request sex more than she wants sex.
Over the years, I have heard from many wives with a similar story as this one:
Our marriage has been in serious trouble for several years. We attended your conference in November and found many helpful answers. However, there is one problem that seems to be a constant. My husband wants sex three or more times a week. For me, that is more than I can handle.
I have tried to meet his needs at least once a week and many times twice a week. There are times when I am just not in the mood. When this happens, I have tried to be respectful and say that I know he needs sex more than I do but this time I need to not do it.
My husband says this is frustrating to him and that he is not getting what he wants. He says I’m disrespectful. I’m trying to blend our differences, but he comes across to me as saying that if he doesn’t get sex when he asks for it that I am not being a good wife and I am disrespecting him.
My question is “Am I disrespectful if I cannot always meet his sexual needs at the time he requests?” How can we get through this wall we have built for ourselves?
I appreciate her effort to understand the respect dimension. Even though sex is “the issue that isn’t really the issue,” it is still important to address. For this wife and the countless others who can relate to having a husband wanting sex from her far more often than she is willing to provide it for him (though I receive many emails from wives wanting sex and their husbands do not), there are two important aspects about your husband that is absolutely vital to understand—and not ignore or vehemently state as “wrong.”
First, realize that his sexuality is much different than yours. And this is part of God’s wonderful, unique designs for man and woman. Proverbs 5:19 says, “As a loving hind and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; be exhilarated always with her love.” You will find no Bible verse elsewhere commanding a woman to be satisfied with her husband’s breasts. Because Proverbs 5:19 and other scriptures like it are speaking to the fact that a man is visually oriented when it comes to sexual desire. A beautiful woman stimulates him as she walks through the bedroom naked on her way to the shower. (The reverse is rarely true!) You, his wife, stimulate him! And that is a wonderful thing! What wife would not agree? However, this is not how she was uniquely designed to be stimulated by him. Not wrong, just different.
Second, a wife should recognize that her husband needs sexual release just as she needs emotional release (intimacy). In 1 Corinthians 7:5, Paul wrote, “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” When it comes to sexuality, both husband and wife are to meet each other’s needs. Though wives can be attacked by Satan when sexually deprived, most of us would agree that most men are tempted sexually, and most women are tempted romantically (which is part of the sexual continuum). I take the position that most husbands can come under attack from Satan if his wife deprives him of sexual release, whereas a wife is vulnerable to Satanic attack when her husband deprives her of the emotional intimacy that she was designed to receive.
In fact, what if a husband said:
My wife wants to talk three or more times a week. For me, that is more than I can handle. I have tried to meet her needs at least once a week and many times twice a week. There are times when I am just not in the mood.
When this happens, I have tried to be loving and say that I know she needs to talk more than I do but this time I need to not do it. My wife says this is frustrating to her and that she is not getting what she wants. She says I’m unloving.
I’m trying to blend our differences, but she comes across to me as saying that if she doesn’t get to talk to me when she asks to talk that I am not being a good husband and I am not loving her.
My question is “Am I unloving if I cannot always meet her emotional needs through talking at the time she requests?” How can we get through this wall we have built for ourselves?
Clearly, any wife would be justifiably hurt, frustrated, and vulnerable to satanic attack if her husband only chose to talk with her once a week, or not at all (like some wives have refused sex with their husbands for months at a time). He would be depriving her of her regular need for emotional release. But what many wives need to understand is that their husband’s need for sexual release is at the same level as her need for emotional release. Again, not wrong, just different. Sadly, a husband’s need for sexual release is labeled as self-serving and less than virtuous, whereas a wife’s need for emotional release is interpreted as the key to connecting with her husband and is virtuous.
Of course, all husbands need to be considerate of factors that may be in play here when it comes to his wife not wanting to have sex at any given moment. Long days at work, tough days with the kids, not feeling well… any number of things that could be going on. This is where his need to love her by understanding her—the U in C.O.U.P.L.E.—becomes extremely important to staying off the Crazy Cycle and not letting sex become the issue that isn’t really the issue.
Which brings us back to the email above, and addressing the actual issue. The wife began by writing, “Our marriage has been in serious trouble for several years.” So admittedly, the real issue is not her husband wanting to have sex more often. But could it be part of the solution?
I’m reminded of a story I heard long ago from a wife in an unhappy marriage. She wanted emotional release and wasn’t getting it, so she decided that until he met her emotional needs, she wouldn’t respond to him sexually.
After coming under heavy conviction from the Lord, she decided that she needed to be the mature one and minister to him sexually, not because she particularly wanted to, but she knew that sex was a need of her husband’s. He had a greater need for sex than she did, just as she had a greater need for emotional connection than he did.
And guess what happened? Did filling her husband’s need for sexual intimacy have an effect on their emotional intimacy? I’ll let her answer that. She reported back to me, “When we lay there in bed afterward, I couldn’t get him to shut up!”
- Why do you think that sexual intimacy is listed as one of the days that husbands need their wives to show respect to them but isn’t one of the ways a wife desires her husband to show love to her? What is the connection between sexual intimacy and respect?
- Do you agree that his need for sexual release is equivalent to her need for emotional release? Why or why not? Why do you think this is a view not held by many?
- What have you seen result from a marriage—yours or other—where sexual intimacy has been deprived?
- How can intentionally deciding to meet your husband’s need for sexual intimacy despite there being deeper-rooted issues to deal with actually help treat those issues?