Question: 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?
(Rita in MO)
Answer: No one likes feeling like an object. 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 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 to 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? Biblical love isn’t necessarily feelings of affection or warmth, but actions that are directed toward another person’s long term best interests. Is it in your husband’s long term best interests to be sexually available to him so that his sexual needs are met? Perhaps. But, that is not a solution to your relationship problem. It is just a solution to his sexual frustration.
It may be in your husband’s best interests to let him experience the felt consequences of broken intimacy. You may need to tell him that his disrespectful behavior makes you feel too angry to offer warmth and affection towards him. When he’s not sorry that he treats you that way, then 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 think 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. Men find the touch channel easier than the talk channel. 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.