“A Wife’s Heart: Colloquy”: #5


This is the fifth in a series of posts in which Chris Taylor (of Forgiven Wife) and I dialogue about ideas and issues brought up in her post, A Wife’s Heart. (Here are the links to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 6, part 7 and part 8.) Chris and I have chosen colors to help with reading clarity in trying to incorporate our comments into her original text; my comments are in blue and Chris’s in purple.

In her original post, A Wife’s Heart, Chris shared eight recommendations for helping a wife in the process of healing her heart. In our last colloquy, we discussed the first four of her suggestions, and it was our intention to discuss the second set of four suggestions. However, as we got into them, we realized we has too much to say for one post, and so we’re dividing our discussions into smaller, more ‘bite-sized’ posts. (Chris’s recommendations are  highlighted with bold text.)

Do not withhold affection. (This directly contradicts what CSL has said in one of his posts.) I realize that it is deeply painful to give your wife a non-sexual hug when you are sexually starving. However, the withholding of affection sends a message that the only time you care for her is when you are having sex. If your wife’s heart already hurts, this will make it worse, not better.

To be honest, Chris, this one scares me. 🙂

I’m torn over whether to discuss this with you or to skip it and write five blog posts addressing all manner of implications. But I’ll jump in with an opening ante: 

All this while, we are discussing the pain and hurt of the wife. As you know well, having written about so eloquently and have read from your emails, wives aren’t the only ones in pain.

I’m not willing to fault hurting Hubs for needing to protect themselves, nor distancing themselves from pain-filled behaviors.

Here is a part that I left out of the original post: 

At the same time, I think it is fair for you to say to her, “Sweetheart, I want so much to be connected with you. It is hard for me to hold you without thinking about how much I want to make love.” Don’t withhold affection—but also, don’t withhold the challenges you face in being affectionate with her. Subtract points for saying something like, “If you had sex with me more often, it would be easier for me to give you a foot rub every night.” While it may be true, the wording makes it sound like you are placing all the blame on her shoulders—and if she is deeply hurting from something that has happened between the two of you, she may feel dismissed or valued only for sex.

I left it out because I was trying to stay focused on what wives need when they’ve experienced relational hurt in their marriages. When both spouses are hurting and withhold what the other needs (usually as a result of the fact that the experience of giving brings more pain, but sometimes as a punishment), a marriage can escalate from bad to worse. I don’t fault a husband for withholding affection, either.  But husbands should be aware that the withholding has consequences—just as I try to make wives aware that withholding sex has consequences.

But there is more than enough anecdotal support for a climb-down. We both know of a couple stories in which backing off of contact worked. In both cases, husbands lived with their wives as roommates, and in both cases, change resulted. One was counselor-imposed and the other was a husband’s decision.

I think that the inclusion of the excised paragraph makes this suggestion more even-handed, and therefore palatable. While trying to stay focused on “what wives need” is laudable, not acknowledging the realities of the other’s suffering invites an “Aw, come on, be real!” reaction.

I don’t recall that relational hurt was at the root of the sexual refusal in these marriages. If it is, then I think withholding affection adds even more relational injury.

There’s a flip side of this that comes to mind, too. Sometimes a relational hurt stems from something where the husband committed a big-time sin against his wife; physical or emotional infidelity, seeking porn for sexual release rather than his wife, or lying about finances comes to mind. Some men withhold affection because they think they themselves don’t deserve it. They know they messed up, and withholding affection is a self-inflicted punishment. In many cases, though, affection may be the very thing that is needed to help restore and heal their breach.

“But husbands should be aware that the withholding has consequences” I think, throughout my posts, I have tried to make that abundantly clear; after all, I believe I’ve mentioned WWIII and Armageddon as probably reactions. 🙂

All my suggestions come with the warning of angry reactions. But as I see it, WWIII is preferable to meekly accepting subjugation.

Accepting subjugation is not okay in marriage. (Neither is expecting it, for that matter.) Sometimes, allowing a war to unfold may be the only thing left to try. It just shouldn’t be the first thing to try.

Stay calm in the face of her emotional storm. If your wife is an emotional person, there may probably will be times when she reacts emotionally or overreacts. Be a stable and calming presence to show her that you can be trusted with her strong emotions—even if those emotions are directed at you. I once was able to tell my husband, “A hug is never the wrong response.” So he learned that silence with an embrace usually was the thing that helped me settle down the most.

This is true. In one of my Addressing the Sexless Marriage posts, I cite Shannon Etheridge, who, on a Sexy Marriage Radio podcast, told the listeners that the tone of any discussion at its beginning will likely be the tone with which it ends. Begin with accusations and vituperation, end with bitterness, anger and entrenched positions. 

Chris, I do have one question that I wish you would elaborate on. You say that the guy is to be “stable and calm”. But what about truly stinkin’ stuff? One of the most common pieces of advice that we will receive is to “establish boundaries”, and not participate in discussions/arguments in which these boundaries are crossed. It might be recommended that when facing a boundary violation, that the ‘wronged’ spouse leave, go to the park or the gym; in essence, remove him/herself from the argument. If the boundary recommendations are valid, how do we reconcile that image with staying there and being “stable and calm”, despite the vituperation?

In the face of really awful stuff, being stable and calm might mean leaving the house without yelling. I am a (mostly) reformed over-reactor. I don’t handle surprises well, and when something happens that I’m not prepared for, I have a tendency to freak out for a few minutes. After my initial panic, I settle down and can deal with whatever is going on. This even includes my husband’s sexual advances.

[Rabbit-trail warning] – how often, would you estimate, is ‘over-reacting’ an intentional tactic? 

I don’t know. For some women, it may be the case most of the time. For other women, it may never be intentional even though it appears that way. I suspect that even women who do it on purpose aren’t always aware of it. They know that they want to push their husbands away so they can avoid having to deal with sex for a while and maintain some control in their marriages. Neither of these things is okay.

For me, what appeared as over-reacting was primarily during the last year of my refusal. God was working on my heart and I was starting to feel my emotional walls weaken. I didn’t see what I was doing as over-reacting. My intention was to let out all my rage and hurt and stop pretending to be nice. In some ways, it was the most authentic I’d ever been with my husband. I intentionally removed all my filters and unleashed all of my internal chaos loose in his direction. I feel horrible that he had to suffer through all that—yet that fact that he did—and stayed with me—is part of how I’ve come to realize how much he truly loves me.

[Chris continues from above]This was immature on my part. I have learned to take deep breaths and try to think before saying anything—but it takes lots of intention and force of will. When my husband responds to my initial over-reaction with an emotional reaction of his own (such as arguing, yelling, or telling me I’m overreacting), my panic tends to escalate rather than subside. I’m already dealing with one thing, and then he’s giving me something else to deal with.

When my husband can control his response to me, it helps me calm down. Five years after I began to grow up in my marriage, I am now able to see him as a source of support in dealing with something. When I face something unexpected, I immediately want to feel his arms around me because I know that will help me calm down more quickly. When he reacts with negative emotion, I see him as my enemy. When he is calm, he is my hero.

If there is a history of horrible over-reactions (such as when the reaction is filled with name-calling or accusations), I think it makes sense for a husband to find a way to bring up the subject either in conversation or in a letter and say, “I love you. When you start to call me a jerk or tell me I’m good for nothing, it hurts me. I think it also hurts you and our marriage. From now on, my response to those kinds of words will be to leave the room or the house and be away from you for at least an hour. If you want to cry and scream about your feelings without attacking me, I am here for you.”

Thank you for clearing that up. We agree that calm discussion is what is needed, but you don’t have to take abuse.

That’s our fifth discussion on Chris’s original article, A Wife’s Heart, and truth be told, it went far better than I feared it might. After all, the first suggestion above, as Chris correctly pointed out, “directly contradicts” one of my suggestions on dealing with a sexless marriage. But the paragraph that Chris added, that did not appear in her first post, while not completely mitigating her comment, acknowledges the pain that continued “required” affection inflicts, and more importantly, communicates that to the wife.

In our next installment, Chris and I will discuss her seventh suggestion, “Acknowledge progress and effort”. I was surprised by how much we had to say about this seemingly innocuous concept.



Filed under Marriage & Sexuality

17 responses to ““A Wife’s Heart: Colloquy”: #5

  1. Ted

    I’m finding this discussion to be very interesting.In my own marriage, I don’t remember when it happened, but when we had not been together for awhile, and it seemed like everything else was more important, I would retreat into myself, speaking only when spoken to. My wife still reads this as a sign, that I’m angry that she doesn’t want to be intimate. I only recently learned (from For Men Only) that as long as I reassure her that we are OK, it makes it much easier for her to take my telling her I’m unhappy about our sex life.


  2. Object of Contempt

    The last statement of that paragraph that had been previously left out said the husband should be careful because “she may feel dismissed or valued only for sex.”

    The thing is, the husband can hardly win here.
    *There is no “only sex”, it is a major spiritual need that overwhelms a husband’s thoughts when he is neglected. For a man to act as though it isn’t a top focus (and biggest source of pain) is not honest, nor is it a reasonable expectation.
    * The wife has not only decided that she wants to avoid sexual intimacy (maybe because of some legitimate hurt), but has redefined it falsely as “only” an unimportant physical thing for him.

    Using that frame of reference, the husband often gets stuck in a cycle of 1)trying to convince his wife that there are a lot of /other/ things she is valued for, then 2)trying to convince her that sex really is all that important. Unfortunately, the first task undermines the second one, it seems to me. Additionally, both tasks leave the concept of “only sex” uncorrected. It is incredibly difficult to accomplish the first task while feeling unloved, having your confidence take a beating, fighting increased temptation, and still feeling incredibly aroused by her.

    When you combine how impossible these tasks seem to a man, along with the idea that somehow he has to cater to a misperception that degrades his need and him, you begin to see why many men don’t want to continue giving affection generously. They don’t want to feed that cycle. Wouldn’t it be better to renew our minds, not let feelings trump truth, and work from that direction? I don’t want to ignore what wives feel any more than I want them to ignore what I feel. I just think gaining truth and wisdom allows our feelings to follow in the direction that we have our minds to go. This is one reason I think we are told to renew our minds.

    Of course, if this isn’t a long-term problem between them, then there’s no cycle to speak of. In that case, withholding affection wouldn’t be a matter of protection, it would just be “getting back at her.”


  3. IntimacySeeker

    I’m thinking when a wife accuses her husband of wanting her for “only sex” , she is indicating exclusivity, not insignificance. She means to accuse him of NOT wanting relationship, conversation, companionship, connection, etc. She feels he wants to “do” her but doesn’t care to “know” her. Having sex makes her feel degraded just as no sex makes him feel degraded. Vicious cycle.


    • That’s just one possible interpretation. Other interpretations might be “you’re a pervert”, “you’re a sex addict”, “I’m not in the mood,” “you haven’t earned it”, or a myriad of other meanings. I think it not best to assume a “one interpretation fits all” approach.


  4. tjcox53

    Chris I read your post on your site relating, to this discussion today. Rather than comment there, I thought it better to post my thoughts on the whole subject here, since you asked only for the ladies thoughts over there.
    I remember having the same reaction you described, when my wife would say I was only interested in sex. I think a lot of this is because of the huge difference that men and women view sex. To me as a man, there is no greater compliment to me, than for my wife to want to drag me to the bedroom at every opportunity possible. Sexual desire is the most sincere expression of respect I can receive. So when I express a urgent desire to be intimate with my wife, regardless of the practicality of it at that particular moment, it is indeed intended as a profound compliment.
    The other thought I have is that perhaps this is related to the curse Adam and Eve received when cast from the garden. Most of what I’ve read points to when God said,”your desire shall be for your husband”, it is not a good thing. It is very similar to when God told Cain, Sin is couching at the door. It’s desire is for you, but you must master it.” Conversely when God said, “but he shall rule over you”, that was not a good thing either. So perhaps the arena of sex, which is act that is special to the bonding of husband and wife into one flesh, would naturally also be the area, in which our sinful flesh, finds opportunity to rear it’s ugly head in marriage. Perhaps this is the area in marriage where we have to “put to death the deeds of the body”.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Phil

    Thank you CSL & Chris for your efforts in trying to unfold the complexities of a sexless christian marriage.

    Speaking from my own experience I have tried both the withdrawal of affection and the ‘shot across the bow’ warning as mentioned elsewhere by CSL. On the lead up to both occaisions I felt very down about the complete lack of sexual intimacy in my marriage and felt motivated to take some serious action. On both occaisions it made things much worse and made my wife more stubborn than ever in her refusal of any form of sexual intimacy.

    Just as an aside, my wife’s refusal of sex stems from events in her life before she even met me and seeing that we have been married for over 25-years just goes to show how complex & deep-rooted sexual issues can be.

    My wife appears to react to surprises in a similar way to Chris in so much as her immediate response is to freak out for a while before calming down and dealing with the situation. This meant that any form of confrontation just ended up as a fight of emotions. Over the last 12-months I have made a huge effort to stay calm which has helped our marriage become much more stable and this together with some gentle, non-confontational but firm conversations has meant that she is now prepared to seek professional help.

    Still no sexual intimacy though!


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