(This is the second of a six-part series; here are the links to part 1, part 3, part 4, part 5, and part 6. As well, after some feedback, I did a follow-up post to this, entitled The Shot Across The Bow, Reloaded, which has more information.)
(For the purpose of pronoun simplicity, I am writing the posts in this series to refused husbands. Wives, if you are the one who desires more sexual intimacy, please keep reading, because I believe that pretty much everything I am going to say will apply to your situation, as well.)
In my last post, I finished by saying that I would start discussing The Talk™, the sit-down, face-to-face, cards-on-the-table discussion in which the spouse who is dissatisfied with the intimacy in the marriage lays it all out.
The first question to answer is if The Talk™ is needed or not. In approaching The Talk™, history and circumstances come into play. If your marriage is only a few years old, and much of the ‘blame’ can be attributed to a new-born or two, and if the wife is good-hearted and generous, then The Talk™ could be nothing more than a “Hon, we need to look at our marriage and see where we can improve.” If, however, refusal is deeply entrenched, then The Talk™ may be the only way out of it.
In discussing sexless marriages, there are two terms commonly used, (both of which upset the spouse to whom they apply, btw): Refuser and Gatekeeper.
The Refuser – This is just what you would expect, given the name. The Refuser basically has shut down most, if not all, sex in the marriage, with no input from or care for the other. Celibacy is the watchword of this marriage. It’s not uncommon to read of a husband or wife saying that they haven’t had sex in years. The spouse with the libido in the family may want sex 2-5 times a week, but be lucky to get a grudging toss in the hay once every month or three. Or once every year or three.
The Gatekeeper – This person isn’t a Refuser, per se, but has so many rules and regulations, stipulations, whys and wherefores and requirements, that sex, if it occurs at all, seems to be due to some ineffable quality that, seemingly, can’t be duplicated ever again. The results is that the ‘Kept isn’t sure, when sex does manage to occur, how it even came about. Quite often, Gatekeepers have requirements that limit sex. “No lights, no noise, missionary only, not until the children are asleep, never in the morning, not on nights Seinfeld and Friends reruns are on, etc.” The spouse of a Gatekeeper begins to wonder maybe if he held his mouth just the right way, or if he said, “Pretty please, with sugar on top” with just the right wheedle or quaver in his voice, it might improve his chances of ‘getting lucky tonight’.
(Speaking of Seinfeld, as I’m proofreading this post and going over this section, unbidden came the image of the Soup Nazi, and I think this is a fitting image for The Gatekeeper: “No sex for you!”
Two Key Attitudes
As well, there are two attitudes that might indicate the necessity for having The Talk™. The first is the Refuser/Gatekeeper’s perception of sex. Is sex a reward and/or a punishment? Is sexual intimacy something that the other spouse has to earn, or be deemed worthy enough to be indulged? Is sexual intimacy (indeed, any intimacy) something to be doled out only when noblesse oblige dictates? For that matter, does the Refuser/Gatekeeper view sex as “disgusting, vile and filthy, and why do you want to have sex anyway, you perv?” You get my drift; the desire for sex with his/her spouse is somewhat akin to the desire to muck out the stables or sanitize the bathroom with her tongue.
The second attitude or mindset occurs in the Refused/’Kept spouse. That is, “Am I going to get lucky tonight?” When a husband or wife feels like their chances for sex are about on par with teenagers looking to score, something’s wrong. Remember last year’s two-day kerfuffle in the internet over the spreadsheet email? The one where the husband kept a spreadsheet of his wife’s excuses for not having sex? The wife was a Gatekeeper, as was ably demonstrated by the guy’s catalog of his wife’s excuses for not having sex with him. Yeah, the general consensus was that the guy was a jerk for emailing the spreadsheet to his wife just as she was leaving for a business trip. But reading his spreadsheet? Again, yeah, a lot of husbands recognized Gatekeeping, in data format.
I believe that it comes down to this: if you feel that the default mode for your spouse is “No”, be it through refusal or gatekeeping, then it’s time to look at intimacy in the marriage and figure out “What’s wrong and how do we fix it?”, and start planning for The Talk™.
“Shot Across the Bow”
This is a post from The Marriage Bed** forum website, and was written by a poster named Job29Man, and he has given me permission to share this on my blog. This was written five years ago, so the events and discussion between Job and his wife Sarah (not their real names) occurred nearly a decade ago. This is one man’s ‘sit-down’ with his wife to address the fact that the default in their marriage bed was set at “No.”
It was about 3 years ago. Communication and intimacy were breaking down in our marriage. My dear Sarah and I had always had a policy of “no refusal” unless for a seriously good reason. Sarah had recently begun redefining “seriously good reason” to include “I’m tired.” or “It’s late.” or “The bills aren’t paid yet” or “You looked busy with your book over there and now I need to make tomorrow’s shopping list.” [In real life], these were bogus claims. So I made a real attempt to come to terms with her and help her out more, etc, but she had fallen prey to the “sex is too much bother” idea. I worked on this for about two years I think (time starts to blur here). I had many talks with her… to no effect.
Finally I took her aside for a meeting one day. No romance was on the agenda. I sat her down and told her. “My dear wife. I’m going to expose all my cards here and put myself at a place of vulnerability, but also I have a serious message to deliver to you.” Her eyes got big. “Honey. I am unhappy in our marriage.” Her [reaction?] “Gulp”. “Now… here’s where I show you my cards…I’m going to tell you my negotiating position. I am totally committed to this marriage. I will never, ever leave you. That’s not the man I am. I am not threatening you with anything because I have no intention of following through on any kind of ultimatum that involves me leaving you. Just not gonna happen. If you and I come to NO agreement today you will still have me as your committed husband until the day one of us dies.” (Big sigh of relief from her. Tension level goes down.) “But honey, I am not a happy husband. You have my body and support until I die, but you are losing my heart.”
“This is not the marriage we both committed to. If you have rebuke for me. I am all ears. I want to be the best husband for you that I can be. You can lay it on me and I will not resist, but will redouble my efforts. I will withhold NOTHING from you. I will give up ANYTHING that you feel is needed. You just say the word. But if you will permit me now to state my own complaint to you in the same spirit… I am a sexually miserable man. I go out into the world of … temptation… every day. Women like me. I ignore them. But you are not making it easy to resist temptation. For the first time in our marriage, it is difficult to turn my face the other way. I DO it! But it used to be a no brainer. It was easy. For the first time in our marriage if a man were to ask me “Isn’t marriage great?” I wouldn’t know how to answer him. Now … I’m a sexually frustrated man who is not happy in his marriage bed. You are a wonderful mother and a great person. You are better than this. I respect you too much not to give you notice of my feelings. I thought you deserved a WARNING SHOT ACROSS YOUR BOW.”
“Now Sarah. I give you no ultimatum. I’m just telling you that you are losing my heart, my passion, even my affection. You do with that information whatever you choose. You will not lose me either way. But think how much you will gain if you change your heart and regain mine.”
At that point Sarah had a clear choice… live with a committed but unhappy husband, or live in joy with a committed and happy husband. She chose the happy husband and has never regretted it. Nor have I.
(On TMB, Job’s post is considered de rigueur reading for refused spouses and is known as The Shot Across The Bow post.)
You have seen how one man approached his wife to address the sexless nature of his marriage. He made a direct appeal to his wife, and in his case, he told her that the choice was hers, that while he would not divorce, that it was possible that she would live with the knowledge that she would lose the love of her husband. And, as you read, this talk changed the marriage.
I have recounted in one of my past posts how Wife and I had The Talk™ on New Year’s Eve 2010, and how it cleared up a massive misunderstanding. The Talk™ absolutely can have an impact on a marriage. But there is no guarantee that every instance of The Talk™ will bring about a change so efficaciously.
There is more to discuss, and in my next post, I want to present another version of The Talk™, known as the End of Normal Life. I also want to present and discuss boundaries and possible courses of action that may be used in connection with The Talk.
Resources for Today’s Post:
• Keeper of the Gate – By Chris Taylor at Forgiven Wife, an explication and analogy from Song of Solomon on the consequences of gatekeeping
• Be Your Husband’s Sure Thing – By J. Parker at Hot, Holy and Humorous. Yes, I know that this isn’t addressed to refused spouses, but it gives voice and shape to the anxiety that the refused feel.
** TheMarriage Bed – Another ministry of Paul and Lori Byerly (Generous Husband/Wife, in my sidebar), this is an anonymous forum for Christians to discuss marriage and intimacy. TMB is a Christian forum, and those who post there must be Christians and must register to be allowed to join. The board is severely monitored, with very strict guidelines. Be that as it may, it is an excellent resource for discovery, counsel, support and direction.
More to come… CSL