Over the last three posts, I have been attempting to answer the question of how to quantify refusal. As a reader said, it takes only one act of adultery to break the marriage covenant, but surely one “Not tonight” does not constitute refusal, thus violating the marriage covenant.
Since Jesus addressed divorce in the cultural and historical context as a rabbi, I went back to rabbinic writings to find out how the rabbis of Jesus’ day addressed the topic of refusal, and I discovered several things:
- the rabbis believed sex to be a right and responsibility of marriage;
- the rabbis even went so far as to list the amount of sex a wife would be entitled to;
- The rabbis viewed sexual neglect as a violation of the marriage covenant deserving of non-support (after one month) and divorce (after one year.)
And what was incredible to me was that…
The People and the Rabbis Were Okay With Going Public!
Think about it–today, if a husband or a wife endures refusal, they internalize it, they try to talk with their spouse about it, which quite often spirals down into pleading, begging, arguing, misery, and desperation for…, how long? Years? A decade or two, or three? For the Mishnah and the Talmud to have rabbinic rulings, halakhic decisions concerning sexual refusal, men and women had to be coming to rabbis and teachers, experts in Torah and the Law, with their concerns and problems.
Contrast that to the culture of Omerta that we have surrounding our sex lives. There is nothing that we view as more private and inviolable than our sex lives, and to even hint to someone else that there might be problems in the bedroom is considered a shocking violation of trust and loyalty to our spouses. The one thing that is practically guaranteed to cause your spouse to go ballistic is to inform him/her that you are going to talk to the pastor or a counselor over your marital problems, including those based in the bedroom.
I truly believe that one thing that would bring about change in marriages in which refusal has been established is for the refusee to impose their own regime of “refusal”: refusing to allow marital Omerta to silence him/her. To stay silent in the face of imposed sexual refusal is to be an abettor to the diminishing of your marriage. Just as ancient Jewish men and women were willing to go to the rabbis and synagogues with their problems of refusal, today’s Christian husbands and wives need to find the will to step out from behind the facade of the Happy Christian Marriage™ we all want to project and start asking for help.
How Much Refusal Is Refusal? One Year…
Well, that’s one answer. After all, it was good enough for the rabbis, so it’s good enough for me. I say this because I see so many husbands and wives with these kinds of stories:
- We had sex like rabbits until the honeymoon and then it began to taper off (not Christian, but I’ll bite my tongue.)
- We were good until the kids came, and then for the past five (ten, fifteen, twenty…) years, nothing/next to nothing.
- She has so many restrictions about time and place that we almost never have sex.
In bible times, if you were to approach the rabbis with a tale of being refused for ten or twenty years, they’d shake their heads and ask “What kind of meshuggeneh allows a problem like that to go on for so long?”
As I mentioned in my last post, I discovered that the Mishnah and Talmud had passages giving a year of refusal as a reason to divorce. This was the halakhic ruling at the time Jesus was teaching, and so it seems valid; since Jesus, by silence, let this ruling stand, who am I to disagree? Ergo, one year of refusal is a valid reason for divorce.
Another Answer: Climate Change
My second answer is that the crux of the matter might not lie with amount, but with attitude. My last post also included my discovery that the rabbis had a label for refusing husbands and wives: mored and moredet, or rebellious. I know we say that we don’t like labels, but I’m not going to gainsay the rabbis. After all, if a spouse unilaterally decides that there will be little to no sex in a marriage, they are in rebellion to the marriage covenant. He is a mored; she is a moredet. And as such, refusal to have sexual relations with a spouse is cause for divorce.
While this may seem hard to determine, I don’t believe it is. The spouse who announces “That aspect of our marriage is finished” is obviously a mored/moredet, that’s an easy one to spot. And from what I’ve been reading, it’s not uncommon. On different marriage fora, I am reading tales of years, even decades, of sexlessness because one spouse has shut down any and all forms of intimacy .
But absent a clear “It’s over” declaration, is the refused spouse able to claim that the marriage covenant is broken? My answer is, to no one’s surprise “Yes.” I believe that the truth lies in the answer to this question: Has your spouse created a climate of refusal, one in which sexual intimacy is no longer a guaranteed act (a sure thing) in your marriage, but merely a dangled carrot that is somehow always unattainable?
See if any of these might apply to your situation:
- An attempt to initiate sex has more likelihood of starting an argument about sex than end in sex.
- An attempt to initiate sex, while possibly resulting in sex, is met with an attitude of resentment, making any “success” somewhat less than pleasing.
- You don’t bother to initiate sex because you know you haven’t earned enough brownie points (through Choreplay) to even think about it tonight.
I could go on with different scenarios, but you get my drift. Instead of being an act of love and intimacy between a loving husband and a loving wife, all your indicators tell you that sex is now a burden, and intimacy is unwanted. Despite your best efforts to be a loving spouse, you are met with the resistance of a mored/moredet, someone in rebellion to you.
Okay, So I Can Divorce Now, Right?
Have you been to the rabbi, erm…, pastor yet? Have you brought your situation/problem to counselors, etc., to help you to try to right your ship? After all, those rabbinic decisions and practices didn’t just come out of thin air. They were decisions made about on-the-ground situations that were brought to the rabbis and the synagogues.
In my last post, I included this quote from David Instone-Brewer’s Divorce and Remarriage in the Church:
The Rabbis were reluctant to allow a divorce on the ground of refusing conjugal activity and in such situations they tried to resolve the issue by talking to the offender, or by applying gradually increasing fines. [my emphasis]
Even when a husband or wife brought a problem before them, the rabbis didn’t immediately issue a warning or a get (Jewish certificate of divorce). Instead, they wanted to save a marriage where one was salvageable; it was only when one party remained obdurate that steps were taken to warn and then validate a separation and divorce.
So just as the rabbis did, I say the same thing; if a marriage is salvageable, do so. But it’s going to take work; it will occasion tears and arguments, but if both parties are amenable to rebuilding their relationship, they can make a go of it.
If, however, a marital climate of refusal is maintained and one spouse continues to feel denied and rejected, and realizes that the marriage bed is abandoned, the refused is faced with deciding what his/her path forward will be. If in the end, the refusing spouse remains a mored/moredet, that is is the breaking of the covenant and the refused is faced with deciding what his/her path forward will be. If s/he decides that life without marital intimacy will be impossible, then, with a good and clear conscience, s/he may separate and divorce.