Topic: Do I have to have sex with my husband?

Hi Friends,

I’m heading off to Nashville, TN, tomorrow to attend the American Association of Christian Counselor conference. I am speaking on The Emotionally Destructive Relationship as well as Domestic Violence: An Abuse of Power. I’d really appreciate your prayers if you think of me.

I’ll post some pictures on my Facebook page and put a few on next week’s blog.

Q. I’ve been married for 25 years to an emotionally and verbally abusive man. I feel angry and bitter toward him for the way he treats me, yet he still expects me to be loving and affectionate with him, especially in bed. I can’t do it. What does God expect me to do? Can I withhold sex as a consequence for his abusive behavior?

A. This is an extremely important question that many women face. In last weeks’ answer I spoke about being treated as an object instead of a human being. An emotionally destructive marriage is where the personhood, dignity and personal choice of the spouse is regularly diminished, degraded, disregarded or crushed.

No one likes feeling like an object, especially if you are in a committed relationship with the person who treats you as such. Husbands sometimes complain to me that they feel that their wives treat them like a paycheck. Wives complain that they don’t feel like a loved person but merely a sexual object or a slave. Marriage is the most sacred and intimate relationship we have apart from our relationship with God. When one person (or both people) continually disrespects, mistreats, or lies to the other, intimacy is broken. It can be rebuilt but not without genuine repentance and a lot of hard work.

From what you say, it sounds as if your husband believes he’s entitled to the benefits of married life, (sexual intimacy, your affection and love, not to mention normal care), without having to do his part. He doesn’t seem to understand that having a good and loving relationship requires two people who interact with one another with kindness and respect. His emotionally abusive behavior is driving you further away from him. Does he just want sex from you? Or true intimacy?

The Bible calls us to love, not hate. That command includes our enemies. But what does Biblical love look like towards your husband in this instance? Biblical love isn’t necessarily feelings of affection or warmth, but actions that are directed toward another person’s long term best interests.

So ask yourself the question, Is it in my husband’s long term best interests to be sexually available to him so that his sexual needs are met? If you answer “yes”, understand that meeting his sexual needs is not a solution to your relationship problem it is just a solution to his sexual frustration.

Another way to look at this situation is that it is in your husband’s best interests to let him experience the felt consequences of broken intimacy and tell him that when he treats you disrespectfully, you’re too angry to feel warmth and affection towards him. When he’s not sorry he treats you that way, it makes it impossible for you to feel affectionate toward him. You need to have a calm conversation with him regarding your feelings. Here’s a sample of something you might say.

I know you get very frustrated when I’m not responsive to your sexual needs. You want me to be sexual with you and enjoy our physical relationship, but the way you treat me much of the time makes me feel angry and hurt. When you call me names or degrade me in front of the children, the last thing I feel like doing is being warm and affectionate towards you. If you want genuine intimacy and affection, you will need to work on changing the way you treat me. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who wants to get close and affectionate with you rather than someone who is just doing her duty?

Most men I talk with want closeness with their wives. Try expressing your feeling about being just an object versus a person. This may help him see the impact of his behavior, not only on you, but on him. But if your husband won’t hear you and doesn’t care about what your feelings are, then what?

Hear me. I don’t believe in using sex as a weapon anymore than someone should use the silent treatment as a weapon. It isn’t good for the marriage. It is controlling and manipulative.

However, I do think sometimes we have to say, “I can’t talk right now because I’m too angry to do it constructively” or “I can’t talk with you because you won’t hear me or listen to me”. That’s not using talking as a weapon, but stating a problem either with you or in the relationship.

In the same way, if someone says, “I can’t have sexual closeness with you right now because I’m too angry to do it lovingly.” I think that is stating a truth. Or “having sex with you feels like I’m just being used as an object but you don’t really care for me when you treat me so disrespectfully other times” helps the one who is doing the hurting to know what needs to change in order to repair the relationship.

Friends, you who are in this type of marriage, share your thoughts and what you have done here.


  1. Lilly Grace Brown on September 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm

    This is a tough one. I've not been sexually intimate with my husband for at least the last 2 years (it might be longer). We have never discussed it. He has allowed our daughter to sleep in our bed which pretty much closed off any chance for sex. (I tried to fight this but he sabotaged me so many times and I think my daughter now needs the security of a parent near her because of the distance emotionally between my husband and I.). Now he has taken to sleeping in another room entirely. He is emotionally, financially and at times verbally abusive. We will have been married 21 years. There has never been any repentance on his part and when I use the word "abuse" to describe his behavior all I get is "I have no other choice." Initially he would make crass sexual remarks when the kids were around and I refused to rise to the bait. Now nothing is said at all. I have to admit that it is hard for me to not be able to have sexual intimacy and I long for that with a man who will cherish me – but not with my husband as he is now. I often have to cry and grieve what I do not have in my marriage, then lean again on Jesus who is my husband and friend and Savior. I have to repent of my own resentment and bitterness and try to pray for God's mercy on my husband who I doubt is even a Christian (in spite of his profession of such – there is no fruit). I have a good support system of safe people I can go to when I'm frustrated and hurting but because this is such a chronic thing – I feel guilty because so many have said "Divorce" is the best option. I am praying about legal separation but would rather do that from a position of strength and with no job and no money – I'm in a vulnerable spot for now. And maybe that's where God needs me to be so I can depend on Him who has ALWAYS been faithful to meet my needs – and even sometimes my wants. I know that leaning on HIM has forced me to grow in ways I wouldn't otherwise and given ma a softer heart for the hurting women around me. I've discovered that this is a far more common problem (abusive marriages even in the church) than most women will let on to because we don't want to slander our spouse. I'll give my nom de plume even to protect my identity here as I am in ministry as well (and my pastors are VERY aware of my circumstances as I take placing myself under their headship as a protection for me).

    One more thing – I make sure I am never alone with another male. While I'm not looking for an affair to meet my sexual and emotional needs – it is not something most women seek – but slip into. Keep strong boundaries on any relationship with other men. There are some great guys out there that will be sympathetic – but friendship with someone like that can easily cross a line into adultery. Even emotional affairs are still wrong. So keep your deeper confidences for female friends only.

  2. Anonymous on September 28, 2011 at 6:44 pm

    These words are just what a lot of women need to hear. Thank you for your wisdom. You are in my prayers this week as you are at the conference.

    I really hurt for you. I am in a similar situation. My spouse of almost 5 years and I have never slept in the same room. This is partly because of the demeaning and abusive way I've been treated since we got back from our honeymoon. I know how you feel about wanting that intimacy with one who cherishes you. It's an awful feeling, but, it's worse to feel used. I pray that the Lord will show you (as He has me) what His plans are for you. Keep believing that He is the God of miracles. I am standing on that and I believe my husband and I are going to have the best marriage ever once we both get rid of our pride and are willing to do the things God is calling us to do. God bless you and I will keep you in my prayers.

  3. Anonymous on October 16, 2011 at 11:23 pm

    Lilly, And Anon, I feel your hurt and pain. I'm 30 years into my marriage…most of which was controlled by my husband. It took almost 20 years to realize what was going on – I was so easy-going and compliant, it sickens me to think of it now… how I wasted my life with a man who I later found out was having an affair… no sex on his part could be a sign of that, anon… I thought he finally was respecting me… with 2 small children I was very tired. He used me as his "stress relief" – he also had porn addiction and in retrospect, sex addiction.
    I, had not put myself in a good position financially to finally leave him for good. We had separated when I found out about the affair. But he seemed to have changed and repented and set goals at becoming a better husband, etc. He was supposed to go to a men's group – but once he got home he decided he didn't need to.
    I played the scenario all wrong and I feel so stuck. I wished I had set and kept firm boundaries and expectations for recovery a long time ago. I'm now completing school so I can hopefully get a job to support myself.

    My biggest hurt is the affect on me spiritually. The second biggest hurt is the affect on my kids. They have no clue what an affectionate and respectful and loving marriage looks like. (another reason I should have left when they were younger). I wanted to reflect God's glory in my marriage and had faith it could be fixed… I wanted to believe my husband when he said he did too. He does, but on his terms as usual. He still manipulates finances, and parenting issues.
    It is hard to stay in it this long (16 years of critical issues)… I should have left when I still had energy…

  4. Wendy on July 16, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Anonymous, thank you so much for your honesty~ I could TOTALLY relate to you on so may issues. 24 yrs. of deceit, lies, control, immaturity with parenting skills and attachment issues…the list goes on. As a Christian I thought I had to “suffer for Jesus” and that a great miracle would happen and I would write a book to tell it all! LOL. I couldn’t stomach the thought of having sex anymore after years of crying out for God’s grace every Sat. nite while showering because I knew I had to go upstairs and “do my duty”. I finally told him no more! I’m on antidepressants and wonder if I would be quicker to get out of this if I weren’t. What’s really hard is the fact that we know a lot of people in our city in the Christian circles and no one would understand…I feel I would carry the stigma of being the bad one who couldn’t stick it out like most couples have to do. (my very judgmental opinion of others I’ve seen go thru divorce before)My daughters are suffering from his immature attitudes and want him out. I hate to be “manipulated” by their strong feelings, but at the same time, we are all suffering. I have gotten so much stronger from reading Leslie’s book ” The Emotionally Destructive Relationship”. I’m at a point where I just need to find the right timing to end this relationship and walk in a new path.

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