I just finished a series in which I attempted to bring balance to the discussion of Christian marriage and the validity of sometimes having to bring an end to a dysfunctional marriage by divorce. The springboard into that series was the attempt to provide an answer to the question “how much refusal is refusal,” and when does it justify separation and divorce.
In preparing for that series, I came across several “testimonies” from refused spouses who told of trying to have discussions with their refusers about the sorry state of their marriage bed, only to that these discussions turned back on them with accusations with a common theme–the refusing spouse accused the desirous spouse of wanting too much sex. (Just for your info, I’ve read stories in which both husbands and wives are accused of this, so it’s not solely a wife-specific complaint.)
If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll not be surprised to learn that these accusations were usually along the line of how the desirous spouse was damaging their marriage with their insatiability, maybe even to the point of ending the marriage. But there was one common theme in these accusations that I recently came across; these accusations added a new wrinkle to the eternal argument, shifting it into the future by adding a couple of hypotheticals.
“What If I Can’t Have Sex?”
“Hypotheticals?” Here’s one example: a wife began by arguing that her husband only wanted her for sex, thus making him the bad guy for putting a strain on their marriage. But then she changed gears and accused him with this: “So what if I’m not able to have sex, am I not a good wife to you anymore? Will you decide to divorce me if I’m sick and can’t do you anymore?”
As I said, this is not an isolated incident as I have read several stories like this recently, and I find it interesting that the refuser jumps to a “What if…” question concerning the future. Looking at this statement, it’s easy to see it for what it is, an evasion, an attempt to dodge the question, isn’t it? Instead of addressing the very real and immediate concerns of the refused, s/he tries to deflect from the matter at hand and turns to launch a preemptive attack on the motives of refused spouse.
So it is at this point that I don my Solomonic robes and, with my customary Curmudgeonly wisdom, pronounce, “Okay, down the road, if there are any physical challenges to the ability to have sexual relations, then you can deal with those challenges. But today, the matter at hand isn’t some future ‘what if you can’t…’ but a very immediate ‘Can you?’ As in, ‘If you can have sex now, why are you refusing to have sex with me?’”
Refusal is the immediate elephant in the room, and future exigencies can be met by future actions if the need arises. But what is of primary importance is the here-and-now, and if a climate of refusal has been created by Won’ts, they have to be dealt with. Can’ts can wait their turn.
If you are presented with a “What if I can’t….” argument, just remember this one fact and deal with the elephant in the room:
“Won’t” ≠ “Can’t”
The Second Hypothetical… Is Just As Unserious
Unserious? Yes, I mean “unserious.”
When I saw that “What if I can’t have sex?” argument, I was reminded of one of my old posts, “If you loved me….” In that post I wrote how “If you loved me, you’d accept me” was basically a resort to childish argumentation, akin to a Kindergartner telling his mother, “If you loved me, you’d give me a cookie.” (Ask me how I know about that.)
That If you loved me… line is an unserious attempt to deflect from having to deal with a serious issue, the attempt to restore intimacy, and so is this What if I can’t… line. One is an attempt to bargain while the other is an attempt to question the refused spouse’s motive and character. (By the way, both are attempts at manipulation.)
Above, I mentioned that some refusers were making the accusations that their spouses’ insatiability was damaging their calm and might be threatening their marriages. In the second hypothetical, the refuser casts him/herself in the role of a victim. In an effort to appear martyr-like (which is, as we all know, next to deity itself) this question/accusation has been presented:
“Would you really destroy our marriage, all that we’ve been to each other, over…. SEX?”
Okay, I have to confess that my immediate reaction to this is somewhat less than diplomatic, and certainly within my curmudgeonly character:
“Me? You’ve been destroying our marriage over sex for umpty-ump years;
I’m just calling time of death!”
(Mm-hmm, decidedly undiplomatic.) And most likely, you AREN’T calling TOD on your marriage, but trying to get your spouse to help you in improving your marriage. But in reflection, I’m not really all that wrong, am I? The refuser HAS been actively destroying his/her marriage over sex by denying its proper role in the relationship.
I really do wonder at the amount of self-control a Refuser has to have in order to ask that question with a straight face. After all, 5, 10, or 20+ years of gatekeeping and refusal into a marriage and s/he wants to claim that they have built a marriage together? When I read this I was reminded of one of my personal heroes who, when asked to renew vows for their 20th anniversary, responded, “Why? What have we got to celebrate?”
As you might imagine, Hero’s words were a mega-slap in the face for his wife (metaphorically speaking), but they were also a crushing blow to the Happy Marriage fiction she wanted to maintain in front of family and friends. Hero’s response was an honest assessment of what his marriage had done to him, and instead of having constructed a life and testimony to God and to the beauty of marriage, the refuser embodied the truth of Prov. 14:1:
“The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down.”
It’s ironic that this second accusation, this second unserious line, is actually true, but only in reverse. When God created man and woman and instituted marriage as the channel for the holy expression of one’s sexuality, He said, “It is good.” Men and women are sexual beings by God’s design, and He ordained that sexuality be the province of the married. But when one spouse gets the notion that they don’t have to honor their partner’s God-given, God-ordained need for sex, s/he sets in motion the engine that will demolish their house.
So there is no validity to a sexual refuser trying to seek refuge in the institution that they have worked so hard to destroy.
Don’t Accept The Deflect
“What if I couldn’t have sex?”
“Would you destroy our happiness just because of sex?”
So what are you to do if you receive accusations along this line, from your spouse? Just remember that they are just attempt to deflect from the real issues of your marriage; don’t allow yourself to get bogged down in these rabbit trails. Instead, keep the main thing the main thing, and keep pursuing marital healing for the both of you.