You thought you were getting sex tonight. You swear you even caught your wife giving you the look she usually gives when she’s nonverbally letting you know it’s going to happen when you get home, kids go to bed, or whatever the normal context is for you two to get lucky. But once again, you got denied…
Whether you’re the husband or wife – it can be frustrating, lonely, and stressful when you’re in a season of sexless marriage. In marriage, we possess this awesome gift of guilt-free sex through intimacy with our spouse. But despite what you may have thought before “I do”, that doesn’t mean all your sexual problems just magically go away.
A few things to consider before I share some practical advise:
- The frequency of sex for a couple is often very different for each couple, and through different seasons also. The newly weds in their early 20’s are probably far more frequent in their sex life than the couple 18 years in, with teenagers in the house. And that’s ok!
- One spouse may have a much higher libido than the other. Generally, we know men tend to want sex more often than their wife, but that’s not always the case. Once a week may be enough for him, but she may long for intimacy multiple times a week.
- There are often legitimate reasons where intimacy is less possible. Your wife is 9 months pregnant and on bedrest… a little grace and understanding may be in order! Maybe there’s a particularly stressful season at work that’s killing the mood, or sapping your energy when you get home. Maybe there’s stress in your extended family that has you distracted. It’s ok…
But what do you do when things seemed to have just stopped, or significantly dropped in the frequency that you use to have sex? I want to offer some some practical application to help you get past a dry season, and more importantly, deal with the root issues behind the issue.
Sexual health in marriage = healthy intimacy. This is why masturbating alone in the bathroom doesn’t fix the problem. It’s not just hormones needing to be released, it’s harmony being missed. What your marriage really, really needs is deeper intimacy. True intimacy is based on vulnerability and trust. And you can not demand either.
Often husbands are not seen as being the “vulnerable” ones, but it is very emotionally risky to attempt to initiate sex after feeling rejected over and over again, whether you’re the husband or the wife. Trust for the man is often built when his wife sees his longing to be intimate, and reciprocates – if not this time than the next time, on her initiative. Wives may feel like their husbands have withdrawn, so maybe he just doesn’t want sex as much. But often, he feels rejected and is acting out in hurt, unwilling to risk rejection again. And the longer the time it takes for her to initiate, the longer and greater the feeling of rejection may last on his part.
Healthy intimacy requires consistent communication. I’m still amazed at how few couples actually talk to each other about their sex lives. But when an emotional wound exists, it can be very difficult to even try to bring up the subject. Married couples should routinely talk to each other about sex! What do you talk about? Well you’re married! So nothing is really off limits here! There is nothing dirty about talking to your spouse, about sex with your spouse! So here a few ideas: express your needs/desire for sex, ask questions about their desires, what they like, what they don’t like. It could be, that your spouse isn’t enjoying sex – and it’s your job to learn how! More than your job, you should see it as your privilege. So you have to speak up, ask good questions, and always demonstrate care and compassion towards them in the process.
Sex is more of a thermometer than a thermostat. In other words, while a healthy sex life does sometimes improve the overall health of your marriage, it is always an indication of the health of your marriage. Sex definitely helps set the mood for marital happiness, but in my personal and pastoral experience, it is always a reliable indication of the happiness that already exists between husband and wife.
When there is a lack of sexual intimacy and fulfillment in a marriage, it is almost always a sign of deeper issues. Maybe for one spouse, it feels like their partner has more of a desire for sex itself, rather than for actual intimacy with them. In these cases, one spouse often feels like nothing more than a means to an end – a sexual object – rather than a true lover. Perhaps there is an underlying issue that has caused your spouse to not feel very “intimate” toward you. Maybe they are simply going through a personal struggle and need you to reach out to them lovingly. Maybe they just don’t realize it, and need you to say something! Maybe they feel alone in the finances or household responsibilities, and hold some resentment toward you that is manifesting in not feeling very “sexual” towards you.
Sex in marriage, the Christian marriage specifically, is an act of consistent, mutual humbling of one’s self toward their spouse. In 1 Corinthians 7, the apostle Paul corrects the church in Corinth for this strange, aberrant view they had on marital sex. They had (incorrectly) come to the conclusion that all things of the “flesh” were evil, including sex – within marriage! Paul gives them a better word; “Stop depriving one another…” He teaches us that a husband’s body doesn’t belong to himself, but to his wife, and conversely that she belongs to him. Either of these two thoughts on their own would sound possessive, sexist, and potentially abusive. But together we learn to see that our body, our desires, our needs – belong to our spouse. It is their job to think of us, as it is our job to think of them.
Sometimes, the most loving, intimate thing you can do for your spouse is not try to figure out how to get them to “put out” tonight, but to lay aside your desires to see that she’s exhausted, stressed, or scared. So instead of making a sexual advance, you put the kids to bed, read them a book, and rub her feet. And the irony to it all, is that as you show true love for your spouse – not by demanding sex, but by modeling humility and intimacy towards them – your chances just got much better.
Sex is easy. Intimacy is rare, and precious. Marriage requires us to value the intimacy over intercourse. Instead of thinking, “how can I get my spouse to have sex tonight?” a better thought is, “what does my spouse need from me tonight?” Maybe he needs you to communicate your needs. Maybe she needs to talk to her husband about her day. Maybe they need you to risk making the move again. Maybe they need your arms around them, with no sexual outcome intended. Maybe you both need to get out and have a date together – no kids.
May your marriage be filled with deep, meaningful intimacy.
May you put your spouse ahead of yourself, and model sincere love.
May you communicate the real heart issues behind the issues.
And may you have a loving, strong, enviable sex life as a result.
Here’s a quick run through of date night ideas. My wife and I actually use these. And with it being close to Christmas, maybe there’s a few good ideas you can turn into a gift…
- Netflix and Chill. Come on it had to be here! My wife and I like to watch a favorite series and eat ice cream in bed.
- Interview Questions. This is fun, and can be done in combination with almost any other date ideas. We ask each other questions, specifically intended to find out more about each other – and we still do this after 15+ years of marriage! We’re still discovering more and more about each other, and loving very step along the way. Some of our responses have changed over the years also. Don’t know what to ask? Start here.
- 2-player video games. We’ve been playing Overcooked on Nintendo Switch lately and it’s a blast!
- Nice Dinner at home. I love to cook, so I’ll occasionally grab a couple steaks, or scallops, or mussels, and cook up a simple, quick, elegant meal for just the two of us. There’s something intimate about cooking together.
- Cleaning Party. Ok, no lie, this is nowhere near my first choice. I’d much rather “Netflix and Chill”! But we get some needed things done around the house, and that makes both of us feel more romantic.
- Run errands together. We hear couples complain about never having enough time together. So turn ordinary things into a date! Buying groceries? Get a coffee together and make it a date!
- Coffee and Prayer. I’m trying to do better at this. With 4 kids and a constantly busy house, there’s plenty to interrupt us. But we try to consistently have some regular morning time to pray for each other… over a cup of home made coffee.
- Board/Card Games. These are so fun together, but also a great idea for family nights. We like Sushi Go, Game of Life, Ultimate Werewolf, and, yes… Exploding Kittens.
- Overnight date at Home. This one’s for all the married with kids folks! We have a few other trusted families who we swap off watching our children overnight with about once a month to every other month. Our kids get to have sleepovers, and so do we with each other.
- Dance Lessons. Contrary to my Baptist roots, dancing is fun, romantic, and not inherently evil. There’s a great little affordable class you can do together in-home here!
- New restaurant. We love to eat out, and we’re very adventurous with trying new foods/cuisines. We’ve got a favorite ramen joint, Ethiopian spots, plenty of Indian, Korean, phò, and of course Mexican options all around us. More importantly, we love experiencing them together.
- Night at a nearby hotel. Occasionally, we’ll take a night out – in or near our own town! It’s like getting away but with far less travel time. And for the cost of a single hotel night, it’s pretty fun.
- Art Gallery. We’ve only gone to a few art galleries, but have had a lot of fun each time! These are reasonably affordable trips, and this is another good family “date” for kids in many cases.
- Comedy Show. These can be tough to find decently clean shows, but we recently went to Gabriel Iglesias and LOVED him. Hilarious, and decent.
- Nearby travels. We have the good fortune of living in the SF Bay Area, and we’re surrounded by lots of great date day options that amount to a day trip. We’ve toured San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz, Paso Robles, Downtown San Jose, Willow Glen, Fremont, and several other parts of our greater Bay Area just to discover people and places together.
- Fire pit. We have a enough yard space to enjoy a fire pit. It’s perfect for cuddling, talking, and enjoy a drink or meal, and just unplugging from all the other distractions for a bit. This is the one we use. We paid less, and we’ve had it for years.
- Michelin Star Chef. As a big food nerd, I found out there was a 3-star chef nearby that I was dying to visit. We saved a considerable amount of money for this trip, but enjoyed what is certainly a once-in-a-lifetime meal. We’ll share the memories of that meal for the rest of our lives. WORTH IT.
- Hawaii. We went here for our 13th Anniversary a few years ago. As an Army brat growing up, I lived on Oahu for 3 years, and already knew several “must do” stops. But we spent half the trip on Kauai and just relaxed. Maui and the “Big Island” are also great. Lanai is tiny!
- Missions Trip. We recently went to Kenya together and got to serve some missionaries and Kenyan pastors. It was a joy to serve together, and reminded both of us of what our marriage is centered around.
- Family Reunion. My extended family is literally spread coast-to-coast. We had a big family reunion a year ago and reconvened with most of them in Oklahoma where my parents live. The trip there and back was as rewarding as the time with our relatives.
- Conference/Retreat. We’ve both spoke at different conferences, and have attended dozens more. Some were focused on ministry, our marriage, or just a getaway with other couples. They are all rewarding and great to experience together.
- Special Experience. We have loved some of the wine tours around us. We’ve gone fishing together on charter boats,
- Visit another part of the world. We’ve got more travel plans. I promised my wife when I married her that I’d take her to Ireland. So Ive got plan that out soon! We’ve been to Germany, and hope to also go to A few tropical places sooner rather than later.
This is just a simple kick-starter list – the point obviously is to spend time together, enjoying each other’s company and building intimacy. What are some other favorite married date ideas you’ve enjoyed with your spouse? Anything I should have added?
“He cheated on me. He finally admitted it. I never thought this would happen to us.”
I’ve heard some version of this sickening story enough to make me want to puke just thinking about it. And I’ve heard it from the men almost as often as I have the wife. Sadder still, several of the couples broken by sexual deviance were pastoral homes – men and women who at some point were serving as a ministry leader in a church. People who were suppose to be examples in their community of what a healthy marriage should look like.
Truth is, none of are any better – we’re capable, as we are, of doing the same thing. The only thing that will make any of our lives turn out differently is if we choose to set ourselves above temptation and opportunity. But those things require commitment, discipline, and hard work. But the payoff is worth it by far. Here are a few things that my wife and I try to live out, and what we teach other couples to do if they want an affair-proof marriage:
- No opposite sex besties. When it comes to women, I only have one best friend, and she married me over 11 years ago. That kind of emotional intimacy to a different person other than your spouse will always cause tension. It’s inevitable. Yes, I know of a small few exceptions, but I know overwhelmingly far more broken marriages.
- Never alone with another man/woman. We have rules about who’s at our house when the other is not here. If I’m home alone, no other woman comes into the house with me. And kids don’t count. The opposite is true with Tiffany. Yes, I know that being alone doesn’t lead to sex. But it does lead to stray thoughts, temptation, and suspicion. I’d prefer to keep a clear conscience. I don’t even ride alone in a car with another woman. Sound weird? Fine by me. My wife trusts me. And her opinion matters more to me. Maybe we should all be called weird for the sake of affair-proofing our marriages.
- Open tech. Tiffany and I have unlimited, open access to each others’ phones, tablets, Netflix, emails, social media, private messages, web browsers, etc. And since I know she can see any of my stuff at any point in time, I’m never tempted to look at something, or communicate with someone in any way that I would be ashamed to show her.
- Work on our problems. We don’t get to sleep until we work through our arguments. That has led to some very exhausting, tear-filled late nights. It’s been 3am before problems finally found resolution. It’s not over until there are sincere apologies (on both sides), forgiveness, and a plan to work forward from that point. What does that have to do with affairs? Many of them begin because the grass looks greener on the other side. Usually, that just means you need to pull some weeds and water your own lawn.
- Date each other. Not having time and money are excuses. You make time for what’s important, and you can be cheap – just spend time together, and focus on each other. You don’t even have to go out every time. Staying in the habit of investing time and effort into your marriage pays dividends in multiple areas. It reinforces your connection, builds trusts, and fulfills emotional intimacy that often leads to keeping good sexual intimacy between each other.
May your marriage and family never be scarred by the wound of an affair. And to those of you who have endured it and made it with your marriage intact, I find you phenomenally gracious, committed people. To those who didn’t make it, my heart breaks for you. Healing and hope are still yours to be had. I pray you find both in due time.
Our church is starting a new series this weekend (in a new place!) before Valentine’s Day called Mr. & Mrs. Betterhalf in which we are focusing on building lasting marriages. I was out with my wife this week walking downtown San Jose on a date – call it research. We’re celebrating our 10th anniversary this June and I got to thinking about why we’re beating the statistics; according to divorce rates, we should have ended it at least 5 years ago. Yet, we’re better and stronger than ever. Here’s why I believe our marriage works…
- My wife is my best friend. This sounds cliche, but I genuinely mean this. I would rather spend time with my wife than any other person. While we do have our separate interests, we enjoy most things together; ministry, sports, family time, mutual friendships, etc. She knows me. And I know her. Like best friends should.
- We solve problems. Every couple fights. Or at least they should. Too often, to avoid conflict, many couples just bottle up their frustrations until it eventually explodes, resulting in an even uglier conflict. While Tiffany and I don’t like to fight, we would rather the air be clear between us than fake our way through a single day.
- Nothing is more important to us. My marriage takes second place to nothing. Really. Nothing. “What about your kids?” The best gift I can give my children is a good example of a strong marriage. Where do you think kids get their strongest impressions of what a family should/shouldn’t be like? That’s right, the one they come out of. “What about your relationship with God?” This may come as a shock, but God is not the first priority of my life. He’s bigger than that to me. He’s the center of every priority in my life. So it isn’t “God and then my marriage,” it’s “God in my marriage.” According to the Bible, my marriage is a reflection of my relationship with God. That only makes my commitment to Tiffany that much stronger.
- Two words: Date. Night. Tiff and I have some form of a date every week. With four kids, we don’t have the time or money to get out as often as we like, so “date night” means a tub of ice cream and Netflix some weeks. But about every other week, we do get out, and go do something together. After 10 years, I’m still dating my wife and pursuing her heart. I plan on continuing to date her for the rest of my life.
- Our marriage has a vision. We talk about growing old together. About watching our grand kids grow up, and seeing their marriages last. We are trying to have the kind of marriage now that we want them to have one day. We hope to be the beginnings of a godly legacy of men and women who beat the cultural trends and make it work.
It’s important for me to point out that my marriage doesn’t work because I’m better than anyone else. What I do know, is that if others had the same self-sacrificing love that I have for Tiffany, and she has for me, than more marriages would last. We want everyone to have as good (or better!) of a marriage as us. And that is what this new series is about. Strengthening marriages God’s way. Whether you’re married, single, or single-again, we believe God wants to work powerfully through your relationships. So if you’re in the area, we hope to see you!
This is for every man out there who needs a reminder of who they were created to be. No two men are the same, but we do have a common birthright as brothers. Some of these things are lost or forgotten on some level. I say it’s time we got took them back. Here are six things I think are true of every real man I’ve ever known.
1. Men don’t face each day – we attack it. No more lazy entitlement for what we’ve done in the past. Each day is a new opportunity to make an impact. There’s work to do and real men don’t play the “victim” card for having to do it.
2. Respect women. I want to punch a dude every time I see/hear him putting a women down. Especially his own wife. Man up, bro! And God help you if you hit a woman in my presence. I’m just saying… you’ve been warned, hombre. “Oh my! That’s violent!” No… that’s a man.
3. Take responsibility. It’s easy to wait for someone else to take initiative. Real men don’t stand around waiting for “someone” to do “something.” We see what needs to be done and become part of the solution. Anyone can be a critic on the sideline – it requires no honor. It takes guts to to make a difference, however.
4. Apologize. Yeah, that’s right. A real man can admit when he’s wrong. And he can verbalized it. And then do better.
5. Makes other men better. I love seeing men call other men into their God-given potential. Especially when it’s an older man to a younger man. But even between peers, it’s a powerful experience to see and be part of “iron sharpening iron.”
6. Keep their word. As best as they know how, real men do what they say they’re going to do. If they say they’ll do it, you can take that promise to the bank. They know that you can’t make excuses and progress at they same time.
This is not an exhaustive list by any means. But you have to start with these things, in my observations. And yes, eating meat, fixing things, and knowing how to throw a football help prove your manliness. But make you a man, they do not.
(That last line sounded kinda like Yoda, didn’t it? Hmm… Perhaps mentioning something about knowing Star Wars trivia, I should have…)