In their book The Married Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, Christian sex therapists Clifford and Joyce Penner discuss what happens when men struggle with sex:
“When a sexual struggle invades your relationship, it attacks your self-esteem—and your wife’s. As you feel worse about yourselves, both of you will respond with characteristic weaknesses. You may withdraw, become more aggressive, deliver put-downs, show frustration or anger, or otherwise damage your relationship. Sexual dilemmas have a way of perpetuating themselves. . . . Spouses avoid each other because they don’t want to fail again. When they finally do connect, both are anxious and feel pressure to succeed. The likelihood of success lessens, and the problem grows.”
A wife needs to understand that when she makes only a halfhearted effort to have sex with her husband, he hears these messages:
“I’d rather be doing ten other things than making love to you right now. You’re just not worth my effort.”
“You don’t do anything right.”
“You don’t attract me the way you used to.”
When a husband receives those messages—whether or not they are what his wife intends—he feels rejected and reacts in several ways.
1. He may withdraw sexually and emotionally. When a man feels disrespected and disconnected, he may not verbalize it well. Instead he may withdraw. When a wife rejects her husband’s request for sex, it’s not that he feels the attempt failed; he feels that he’s a failure. A wife can say, “That’s not what I’m communicating.” Maybe so, but that’s how it feels to her husband. Even when she says no for a valid reason, rejection to a man spells one thing: rejection. And when the rejection happens often enough, he will shut down.
2. He may become angry and resentful. When a man’s need is unmet, he will try to fix it, control it, or change it. If he can’t, before he pulls away and goes elsewhere (to solitude or to another woman), he may grow frustrated and then angry. The frustration arises from being misunderstood, disrespected, or unheard. Unresolved anger then becomes bitterness or resentment, ultimately resulting in isolation.
He may express disappointment. He may not be able to say, “I feel disappointed,” but you can sense his disappointment. He may frown or pout. His anger may be passive-aggressive: not cooperating, not listening, avoiding contact, or coming home late from work with no phone call. Or his anger may come out through criticism or harsh comments.
Many of a man’s emotions go through the gate of anger. Fear, frustration, irritability, sadness, rejection, hurt—all are usually expressed through anger. This man, while expressing anger, was also experiencing all these other emotions. Pent-up anger eventually is manifested in isolation, resentment, bitterness, and depression. If a husband is expressing anger regarding sex, invariably this strong emotion is a secondary emotion, covering an emotion even more vulnerable.
3. He may become vulnerable to sexual temptation. Although a husband may not physically cheat on his wife, he may begin to fantasize or lust after other women. That’s what happened to Greg. During their eleven-year marriage, Greg’s wife, Kristi, rarely had sex with him, and when she did, she usually told him, “Let’s make this quick so I can go to sleep.”
“After several years of this,” Greg told Gary, “I began to think that this was just my lot in life and that I would need to learn to live with it. ‘I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength,’ right? But it’s not working out that way. My job requires that I work closely with several women, and they have expressed an interest in me. Until lately, I’ve never considered being unfaithful to my wife. But my wife’s rejection of me (which is not the way she sees it) has led to a fantasy life, and I’ve found myself drawn to other women who don’t think it would be so horrible to be intimate with me. I can’t believe I’m having these thoughts. But I just can’t shake them.”
The opportunity for sexual fulfillment outside marriage is constantly available to a man. Even though a husband is personally responsible for staying faithful and maintaining sexual boundaries, a wife’s behavior contributes to his vulnerability to temptation.
Most men are used to seeing responses to their actions. Work brings a paycheck. Running breaks a sweat. Initiation leads to a response in many areas of his life. But when a wife rejects his initiation of sex, he becomes upset—sometimes passively, other times indirectly, and maybe even overtly.
In Making Sense of the Men in Your Life, Kevin Leman writes, “Wife, in the twenty-first century, sexual disinterest on your part is flat out dangerous. Maybe in the Garden of Eden, where sexual images didn’t abound, sexual apathy could be managed. But this isn’t the Garden of Eden, and your husband isn’t living in a pure world. If you want him to be faithful, the least you can do is never give him a reason to look elsewhere.”
As a wife, you have great influence on your husband’s sex life. When you commit to fully engage with him before, during, and after sex, you help keep him fully focused on you.
*For more revealing insights about what your spouse’s most intimate sex needs are - and how to meet them - check out The 5 Sex Needs of Men and Women in our online bookstore!