Thanks for your participation on the blog. That’s what makes the community. Can you believe I’ve been doing a weekly blog for over 10 years? We’ve made some progress in educating Christians and the church regarding the reality of abuse in marriage. But even on this blog, we still hear from people who believe that it’s more important to God to stay married no matter what. Even if that marriage is toxic and dangerous, some believe it’s better to silently suffer than, to be honest, speak up and invite the abuser to repentance and change.
Many of you here have been with me since the beginning and are quite wise. Don’t be dismayed by those who continue to think differently than we do. This is our opportunity to ask questions, to respectfully dialogue, and to help them consider that there might be more important things to God than just staying married at all costs.
Question: Do I have a Biblical right to say no to sexual practices I don’t want to do? My husband uses the Bible to make me feel guilty when I don’t want to have sex every day or do certain things that I find painful or disgusting. What is my wifely role here?
Answer: This is a very common question that I receive from women who have been told or taught that when you get married, “Your body is not your own but your husband’s” which comes from 1 Corinthians 7. However, despite what he and others may tell you, the Bible never says or even implies that marriage is all for your husband and his needs, sexual, or otherwise.
A healthy marriage requires safety and trust on both sides in order to flourish. When one person in the marriage is not allowed to voice what she likes or doesn’t like, what she wants or doesn’t want, or the freedom to say no to things, the relationship is not safe. Click To Tweet
Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 7 and other places such as Ephesians and Colossians were meant to clarify misunderstandings about marriage, not make women slaves or object to be used. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul was writing to clear up an error that was circulating among the new Christians that abstinence was the best practice for a believer, even if you were married. Paul is refuting this and reinforcing that a good sex life is a part of a good marriage. But Paul was careful to insert a little word that made a huge impact on his patriarchal culture. The word is likewise. Paul said to wives, your body is not yours, and likewise husbands, the same applies. Speaking into that culture, that instruction was radical. It wasn’t about a husband having power over his wife, because Paul emphasized, the same rules apply to husbands as to wives. In Paul’s other writings regarding submission and headship, he never gives husbands Biblical permission to order their wives around or to ignore their input or feelings. Husbands are told to love their wives and treat them as they would care for their own selves (Ephesians 5:28,29).
Therefore, understand that you have every right to your own feelings and convictions about your sexual likes and dislikes. Your sexual relationship with your husband is one part of your marriage. If you have no choice or voice in that area of marriage, I suspect you don’t have much voice or choice in other areas as well. You’re being treated like an object whose sole purpose is to do what your husband wants with no consideration or respect for what you want or don’t want or what you find appealing or disgusting.
It is NOT a healthy or safe relationship, sexually or otherwise. You are being disrespected and not cared about. This is painful when you are married to such a person and presents quite a dilemma for a Christian wife who wants to honor God. You asked, what is your wifely role here?
First, you’ve said you already have told him you don’t like certain things, yet he still pressures you. You’ve told him having sex every day is too much for your body, but he ignores you and guilt trips you, treating you as a person who doesn’t matter, your body being available to him for sexual pleasure is all that matters.
It’s time for you to execute your wifely role. For you to be a biblical helpmate to him. That doesn’t mean complying with his selfish demands but rather to stand up against his abuse of you in your sexual relationship. Yes, a married person can be sexually abused. Biblically, it is not a spouse’s right to force you to do things that you don’t want to do just because he is your husband. Disrespecting your right to say no to certain practices that you find hurtful, sinful, or unappealing is unloving and disrespectful. It’s time to stop protesting, caving in, and resenting him, and to start confronting his disrespectful and unloving behavior and implementing consequences if he refuses.
Here is a sample of what you might say and do. Prepare it ahead of time and say it in a firm but neutral voice tone. Don’t wait until you’re having sexual relations to say this first part, but you may need to say it again if he continues his disrespect, followed by a specific consequence.
Here is an example of what you might say:
“I need to talk about something important, when is a good time?” When he agrees to have a conversation, start with this:
“I want to have a good marriage. I desire to have a healthy sexual relationship with you but I feel hurt and angry that you continue to disrespect me in the bedroom, pressuring me to say and do things that I do not want to do. Our sexual relationship is not just about your feelings and needs but it’s about a loving and safe interaction. I don’t feel that way. I feel used and abused.”
Then stop talking and wait for him to respond. If he minimizes you or makes fun of you, say “you’re doing it again right now. You’re disrespecting me and I won’t continue to let myself be treated that way.”
Then stop and wait for him to respond. If he gets mad and walks away, let him. But next time he pressures you to do any of the sexual things you don’t want to do, get up out of the bed and tell him firmly, “I told you I don’t want to do those things and I feel disrespected when you pressure me. I’m sleeping on the couch tonight.”
If and when he apologizes, thank him for showing concern for your feelings but if he reverts to the pressure tactics during sex, reinforce your boundaries by getting up and leaving the bedroom. Hopefully, he will soon learn that pressuring you doesn’t work anymore and it only makes things worse. As you respect yourself and refused to be treated that way, he might grow to do so too.
But if your sexual relationship mirrors the other areas of your relationship where selfish demands rule and you have no voice or choice, a much bigger conversation is in order.
As I’ve said repeatedly, you can’t change your spouse, but you can change how you respond and what you do. You do not have to allow yourself to be treated like this just because you are married to someone. God does not care more about your husband’s sexual needs or the sanctity of your marriage than he does about your needs for safety and sanity. And if the marriage is abusive and cruel, there is no sanctity; it dishonors you, it dishonors him, and it dishonors God.
Friends, share how you began to stand up against abuse in your marriage. What was your first step? What changed as you changed?