This short series, guest authored by my wife Aileen, began yesterday with False Messages I: What He Really Wants. Today Aileen picks up where she left off.
by Aileen Challies
When you thought about getting married and when you anticipated having sex with your husband, did you ever think about how often you’d be saying “no” to him? I know of a few women who decided before they married that they would never refuse their husbands and who have, admirably, stuck to their promise. For the rest of us, though, “no” is is a word we use far more than we ever would have thought possible (or desirable). Maybe we say “no” with our words, whether kind or gracious; maybe we say “no” with our attitudes or body language; maybe we say it with our wardrobe or simply by going to bed long before he is tired. We grow adept at finding new and creative ways of refusing sex.
We are not completely comfortable with rejecting him but at the same time, he wants so much! Can’t he see that I’m too tired? Can’t he see that I’m just not in the mood? Can’t he back off just for tonight (and maybe tomorrow night…and the night after that…)?
Yesterday we touched on what sex means to your husband and its importance in married life. Today I want to focus on an area in which many women harm their husbands. I want to talk about how a wife is to respond to her husband’s advances. How does the Bible want her to view sex? Is she never to reject him? Is she called always to have sex when he is in the mood? What does God want from us in all of this?
You are probably familiar with these words from 1 Corinthians 7: “Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer, but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” According to this passage, under what circumstances are you allowed to stop having sex? By mutual agreement, for a limited time and to devote yourselves to prayer. (This is why you always say “no,” right? Because you want to pray? “Not tonight, honey, I think we need to pray…”) Take out the exception clause and it reads as a straightforward command: “Do not deprive one another…so that Satan may not tempt you.”
As I understand it, this command does not necessarily speak to saying “no” to sex tonight; it refers to rejection. Let’s draw a line between these two things. The inability to have sex tonight is not the same as actually depriving him (perhaps you are feeling sick or you actually do have a bad headache or you’re just absolutely worn out in every way). You can turn him down for noble reasons and he will survive until tomorrow. But what may be sin in your heart and what may tempt him to sin is your rejection. You can say “no” without rejecting him. But do you? Today let’s talk about rejection and see what rejection does to you and what it does to your husband.
Rejection and Your Heart
Humans are selfish at heart; wives are selfish at heart. Though we know that God calls us to esteem others higher than ourselves, though we know that he calls us to love our husbands more than we love ourselves, we naturally tend toward self-love. Often we love ourselves more than our own husbands. Often rejection is not a reflection of our bodies or our lives, but of our hearts.
What happens to our hearts when we continually reject our husbands and do so out of selfishness? I believe the answer is that we grow bitter, increasingly hardened toward our husbands. I recently spoke with several friends about our reactions when we tell our husbands “no.” The overwhelming agreement was that we feel guilty and then, from that guilt comes anger. We grow angry at him for placing us in this situation in which we end up feeling guilty. The conversation in our heads goes something like this. “I should be having sex with him tonight. But I don’t want to have sex with him tonight. He should see that I’m too tired. It is his fault for asking. How dare he!” Instead of putting him first, we look first to ourselves and justify our sin by placing blame on him. If we do not deal properly with this heart sin, it grows and bitterness develops. While there are certainly valid reasons for not wanting to have sex or not being able to have sex on a particular night, like so much sin, it often comes down to attitude and selfishness. You are called to serve your husband as he is called to serve you. That calling extends beyond making sure he has clean underwear and a good meal every night (and, in fact, I’m guessing most men would forgo the clean underwear and the meal if it meant they could have regular joyful sex with you).
Angry rejection is not a sign of a heart that is joyfully engaged with their husband. Neither is mere placid participation. A heart that is engaged and willing to serve will find joy in that service if not the act itself. One flows into the other. Regular, joyful sex is for you too! It allows you to connect on the most intimate level with your husband, just as God intended. Your marriage need this connection if it is going to stay strong.
Rejection and His Heart
Women are often said to be the more complex sex–we are more difficult to understand, we have more hidden nuances. However, when it comes to sex, the male psyche is far more difficult to understand (though men would probably beg to differ). In a woman’s mind, we don’t feel like having sex simply because we don’t feel like having sex. Therefore, we say “No, not tonight.” And most of us could be happy going weeks or months like this (and especially when we’ve got little kids hanging off us for years at a time). But the rejection that the male feels in such refusals is far deeper and far more reaching then we imagine. We have not just rejected sex; we have rejected him.
Sin has deeply marred our perception of sex and, as we’ve seen, we tend to believe that it is the physical release men seek rather than the emotional and spiritual connection they experience when making love to their wives. But the truth is, your husband sees sex as a means to show his love for you and in rejecting that act, you are hampering his ability to express his love for you. In his mind you are rejecting not the act, but him and his love. This, more than any other, is an area in which your husband is vulnerable to being deeply hurt. God has given you a huge amount of power over your husband’s perception of his manhood. You can make him feel like a sexual superstar or a complete loser without ever leaving your bed. By rejecting sex, you are rejecting his manhood. It’s not that you can never say “No honey, not tonight” to your husband, but that you need to be careful in how you respond. As always, the heart is the heart of the matter.
In her book Becoming the Woman of his Dreams, Sharon Jaynes says that one thing she learned through all of her interviews and surveys is that men are surprisingly fragile when it comes to their sexuality. They may act all big and macho but they are actually very weak in this way, very vulnerable to rejection. So here is a question for you: how often are you acting from pure motives when you refuse your husband? And even if you are not being sinful in motive, are you perhaps being sinful in the way you refuse? Do you maybe even get a bit of sick joy from spurning his advances? Sex is a wonderful opportunity to give back to your husband, to accept his love, to show your love for him. Why, then, are you sometimes (often? all the time?) so quick to turn it down?
Take a look at two scenarios Jaynes offers in her book. In the first, hubby comes slinking into the bathroom as you are putting the finishing touches on your 15 minute face cleansing and moisturizing regiment. He runs his hand down your back and grins. You know exactly what he has in mind. “Not now!” you snap. “I’ve had a hard day and that is the last thing on my mind!” End of story. In the second, hubby comes slinking into the bathroom as you are putting the finishing touches on that same cleansing and moisturizing regiment. He runs his hand down your back and grins. “Now that’s a nice idea,” you reply. “I’ll tell you what, I’ve had an extremely tiring day today, but if you hold that thought until tomorrow, I’ll make it worth your while.” This story has just begun!
I love these examples. See, in both cases hubby is disappointed, but in only one is he dejected! In one scenario he is rejected, in the other he is simply asked to wait. A man who feels he is begging or asking his wife for a favor feels humiliated. He knows that begging costs him his masculinity. In one scenario the wife protects her husband’s heart; in the other scenario she abuses it. And there is a great danger in this.
Let’s go back for a second to 1 Corinthians 7 and make it a little bit more personal, seeing what can happen when you reject your husband: “Do not deprive your husband…so that Satan may not tempt him.” Have you ever thought about it this way before? Could you actually be setting up your husband to experience temptation to sin by rejecting him and refusing to have sex with him on a regular basis? Could you in some way be contributing to his sin? Coming at the end of Tim’s Sexual Detox articles, ones that focused so heavily on men and pornography, this may sound like a justification for these acts. Of course this is not my intention at all and no man ever has justification to turn to pornography or self-pleasure. However, I think it is wise to remember as with everything, when there is sin in one aspect of a relationship, it often spills over into other areas of that relationship. A wife’s rejection may actually leave her husband more vulnerable to sexual sin. While the rejection is not the cause of the subsequent sin it may be the catalyst.
Men can end up acting out through pornography or masturbation because of shame, humiliation or rejection. This is not to say that the sin of pornography is always a result of this. But is wise to remember that a denial of God’s commands in marriage can only have negative results. In a perfect world, in a perfect relationship, a woman would never say “no” to her husband and a husband would never ask when his wife is not desirous. Of course in that perfect world a woman would also never be up all night with a sick baby! In the real world, though, a woman often ends up rejecting her husband, not knowing just how deep this cuts.
Men, when they feel like men, make better men! They lead better, they work better and yes, they serve their wives better. Feeling like a man includes having a joyful, willing wife. If we are to be truly good wives to our husbands, we need to serve them in all areas, building them up as men. Sex is an important part of that–passionate, joyful, willing sex. Our hearts and attitudes need to be pure. We need to have regular sex with our husbands and always we need to be careful that we are not tearing them down with our rejection.
A pattern of rejection is dangerous to a marriage. It gives the wife a great deal of power over her husband’s heart–a power that she may wield wrongly. Rejection by the wife leads to feelings of inadequacy, bitterness and temptation in the husband. This may then lead him to be less loving, to lead him to struggle in his role as a husband. This in turn leads the wife to reject him more as she desires him less as she sees him as not loving her as she wants. Remember by rejecting sex, she is rejecting him, rejecting his heart. Meanwhile the wife may grow bitter as her rejection causes her to wrestle with guilt and to push the blame for this guilt upon her husband and his desires. The ugly cycle of sin continues.
It is God’s design for marriage that sex displays total love love and acceptance. Therefore a wife ought to be eager to accept her husband’s advances and a husband ought to be eager to accept the body and soul of his wife as they are united as one. It is Satan’s design for marriage that sex, instead of being all about acceptance, should be all about rejection. Whose team are you playing on?
This series will conclude tomorrow on what is hopefully a practical note. Tim and I are glad to get feedback and to have opportunity to learn from you and to hear from you (anonymously if you prefer). You can contact us using the contact form. I will be receiving and reading any of the emails from women.