Is Having Sex Out of Obligation Building Resentment?

If you are in a marriage with someone that has a higher desire for sex than you, there might be times when you have sex out of obligation. I’m not necessarily saying it is wrong to have sex with your husband or wife when you don’t feel like it…but if you’re doing it because you feel like it is your marital duty or obligation, that’s a mindset that will breed resentment.

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Obligation sex is bound to build resentment in both people at some point. I know this because people write in to tell me this several times per week. So why is that? For one thing, the person that craves sex more often is going to resent their spouse for never initiating or feeling like they are not interested. The person that doesn’t feel like having sex ends up feeling resentment because they are pushed into having sex.

All the way around, it can create negative sexual experiences that ends up hurting the relationship for years to come.

Is Having Sex Out of Obligation Ok?

Like I said, I’m not saying that having sex when you don’t feel like it is never ok. In fact, you may very often not “feel” like having sex before you get started. This is not uncommon for someone that has a responsive desire. They usually have to go into it without being aroused and get excited as they are intimate with their spouse.

But, if you’re only having sex with your husband or wife because you feel like it’s your job or obligation to them, that’s a bad mindset to adopt. If you are having sex with them when you don’t feel like it because you love them and want to express that, that’s completely different.

If you are someone that struggles to ever feel like you’re in the mood, but choose to spend time with your spouse in a physical way, that’s your decision to make. If you’re initiating sex on behalf of your spouse rather than giving in to pressure, I think that’s a different story. If at any point you feel pushed into having sex that you don’t want to have, then it is better to say no at that moment.

Why Having Duty Sex Was Damaging to My Marriage

I’m going to share something personal here, which I don’t do real often because I’m talking about my personal sex life. Usually, I just share what a person may feel or may not feel. But I want to be honest here and share a real example of what I was feeling in my marriage for a period of time and how I realized it was hurting us. I want to do this, so you don’t think we had it all figured out at the start or even now.

So to set the stage for this part of our marriage…imagine me being a stay-at-home mom to two young boys. First of all, I’m an extreme extrovert so staying home and being away from people is very draining to me. Then, add to that, I was caring for two young boys that are a year and a half apart. We didn’t live near our family because Austin was working as a youth pastor….which means his schedule was unpredictable. Throw into that mix; he was still in seminary, so his time was limited.

At the end of each day, I was exhausted. It takes a lot of time and energy to keep your house straight, take care of young kids, make dinner, etc. Now, that doesn’t mean I never wanted sex, but I was often too tired to be intimate after 10:30 or so at night. Unfortunately, this was prime time for us to spend time together. And let’s just be clear…I almost never “feel” like having sex at midnight.

Why I Started Feeling Resentment

Back then (2006 or so), I had never heard of the concept of responsive desire and spontaneous desire. You can watch this video explaining this concept here.

This is a relatively new idea that my marriage blog friends and I have been talking about. Responsive desire is when you respond to something sexual going on and don’t usually feel aroused without it. A spontaneous desire is when you feel aroused when nothing sexual is happening…so then you desire sex.

Since I didn’t understand sexual desire at all, it confused me that I wouldn’t usually be in the mood before we started engaging in intimacy. However, I’d often get there after we got going on things. The problem with that is since I didn’t know this, I’d make a decision ahead of time of whether or not that sexual encounter was going to benefit me or be just for my husband. And sometimes, I made the wrong decision which left me feeling sexually frustrated in the end.

Over time, I started feeling resentful about having physical intimacy when I didn’t feel like it. It started feeling like another thing I had to do before I could go to bed at night. And if I wasn’t 100% sure that I was going to feel satisfied after, it felt like it was more of an obligation than an opportunity to connect with my husband.

Eventually, if I wasn’t “in the mood,” I was more inclined to say, “can we do this another night?”. Of course, I didn’t want to come and say no, but it still communicated the same thing, which was that the answer was “no”.

Why Saying No Can Build Resentment

Saying no to sex often when your spouse wants it can cause them to feel rejected. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t say no or not tonight, but what I am saying is that you cannot keep them from feeling upset or rejected. Rejection is a personal emotion that they need to deal with. But you can adopt an attitude of understanding when they are hurt or feel resentment towards you.

It’s really important that I say, I don’t think it is ok to stop having sex in your marriage. Also, I fully believe that continually denying your husband or wife of the sexual intimacy they crave is going to destroy your marriage. Both having obligation sex and denying sex can be detrimental to the relationship.

Stop Having Obligation Sex

Are you having a lot of duty sex? If so, I encourage you to stop. This is not popular advice, but over the years, I’ve taken the position that you should do as much as you can to limit or avoid negative sexual experiences as much as possible. Sure, there are going to be some times when you engage in intimacy, and it doesn’t sit well, but that should not be the norm.

Why do I advise this? Because when I’ve spoken to couples that are on the verge of divorce, resentment over sex is a big issue. I feel like we’ve told couples for far too long that they have to be intimate or the other person is going to cheat on them, or they will lose their relationship. In fact, it’s their Biblical duty to have sex, so they better get in there. I don’t think God ever wanted us to think we have to be intimate out of obligation, but rather help us understand that intimacy is expected in marriage. It’s not wrong, it is not dirty, but rather it is God’s design.

Ultimately, a steady diet of duty sex breeds resentment. So does an ongoing habit of rejecting sex. That’s where this all gets very tricky and difficult to negotiate sex in the marriage.

What Should You Do Instead?

So if having sex out of obligation can build resentment towards your husband or wife, and they can feel resentment towards you if you reject them, what do you do? I think you should identify what’s causing you to avoid sexual intimacy. Now, that’s not to say that your spouse may not still have a higher desire for sex than you do. But digging down and figuring out what’s going on is important for your marriage.

If your spouse continually says no to you and you feel rejected? What do you do? You also need to spend a lot of time in self-reflection and figure out why this is bothering you so much.

Read below for the different things I recommend for each side of the equation.

Ask Yourself Why You Aren’t Interested in Sex

If you are the person that is less interested in having sex, I think you owe it to yourself to figure out why. Don’t just have sex for the sake of shutting your spouse up or getting them off your back. Instead, I encourage you to explore for yourself what is going on.

Here are some top reasons people may not be interested in physical intimacy:

  • It’s painful – this is more common for wives. Maybe they are dealing with vaginal dryness, vaginitis, a UTI, hormones, or any number of things.
  • Sexual baggage – maybe you feel guilty for past experiences, sexual abuse, or the way you were raised. Regardless, baggage can keep you from allowing yourself to get aroused or enjoy intimacy. It can also cause you to sabotage your time because you don’t feel you deserve it.
  • Tired or stressed – this is a big reason that someone may not want to be intimate. When you’re unable to relax or too tired, it’s hard to be physically engaged. It would be like going to the gym late at night. Not ideal.
  • Relationship issues – maybe there are issues going on between you other than in your sex life.
  • Low libido – low libido is when you don’t feel sexually aroused regardless of what’s happening. It’s not necessarily a lack of being in the mood. As I said at the start of this, you could just have a responsive desire. Meaning you aren’t excited until you’re in the middle of being stimulated (possibly for a while).

I’ve had people ask me why there’s so much pressure on the person who doesn’t want sex that much to figure out why. Well…I tell you. If your husband or wife is having a hard time with your lack of interest, then it’s important you figure out what’s going on.

Intimacy is nothing like any other activity. If your spouse loves to run and you hate it, then they can go run by themselves or find running buddies. But, sexual intimacy is what they share with you and you alone. When you are not interested, have duty sex, or often say no, they are going to feel less loved and cared for. That is likely not what you want to communicate, but it is the message you’re sending.

Ask Yourself Why You’re Feeling Rejected

If you’re the spouse that has a higher desire for sex, then you should do some real soul searching about yourself. Here are some things you should ask yourself:

  • Am I offering sex that my spouse will really enjoy?
  • Is this a good time to ask them for intimacy?
  • How’s the rest of our relationship going?
  • Are we being intimate in other ways outside of the bedroom?
  • How am I showing my spouse love?
  • Is my attitude towards them off-putting?
  • How’s our spiritual relationship?
  • How is our friendship?

When someone asks me what they should do when their spouse doesn’t want intimacy as much as them, I ask them if they are doing other things to build intimacy with their husband or wife. Not with the intention of it leading to sex later. Rather, are they focusing on creating the closest, most intimate relationship they can with their lover?

If you are truly committed to your spouse for the rest of your life, there is going to come a day when physical intimacy is going to change radically. Oftentimes, I have older couples write in and ask me to help them get back to the same frequency they had in their younger years. But the truth is, there is going to come a day when they have to accept that their sex life won’t be what it was, but it can still be great.

Figuring out how to enjoy a deep relationship with your husband or wife even if the sex isn’t what you hoped for is key to being able to have a fulfilling marriage no matter what happens.

Take a Proactive Approach to Intimacy in Marriage

I encourage both people in the relationship to take an active approach to developing intimacy in their marriage. That encompasses the physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of the relationship. Work to meet your spouse where they are and create an environment where you are both moving towards one another.

I encourage you to look at your marriage and figure out how where you stand. Are you often declining intimacy? If so, why? Are you the one with a higher drive? How are you making your partner feel with your response?

If you have some built-up resentment in your marriage, check out this post here and this other post here that I wrote about dealing with resentment in your relationship.

If you have any tips on this, questions, or comments, be sure to leave them as a comment, or you can email me at [email protected] and let me know what’s going on!

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17 Responses

  1. Thank you for this article. I am not married but currently in a long term relationship. I love him so much but my sex drive has plummeted over the past 2 years (together over 4 years). I feel so guilty. I’ve come to the realization that there is no manual I can give him about how to turn me on and that its going to take more effort from myself to get in the sheets.

    1. Wow… Rene’ that is so hard. Many women feel the way you do. Your sex drive can be affected by so many different things. It could be hormones, a mental barrier you need to deal with, or just a stage in your life where you feel very tired. Either way, I think you are right, you have to make the effort. Don’t forget, that sexual intimacy is as much for you as it is for your significant other. I will tell you that I hold the belief that sex is for those that are married, and I realize that you are not. All of my posts will be from the perspective of a married individual, so I am not sure how that will translate for someone who is not in a marriage, but a long-term relationship like you are. Thanks for reading along with me. I really appreciate it. I hope that you will consider talking with your doctor about your sex drive. It might be something they can assist you with.

  2. I am sixty nine years old, married these last forty four years to the girl I adored and thought I would love and be loved by for the rest of our lives, having grown up in a family where love was totally absent it only accentuated my feelings of bliss that at last I could experience this exhilarating feeling that comes from both giving and receiving love. The only problem was that this meant that I was inexperienced in knowing how best to express my powerful feelings. The dilemma I faced was that I felt awkward, shy and embarrassed at showing my love and affection while at the same time wanting so much to do just that.
    Both virgins on our wedding day, saving ourselves for our special time was so important and while it had been a struggle for me at least, I was glad that I had managed it.
    Three children arrived, the first seven years into our marriage, and our relationship seemed all anyone could want it to be. Never were there any serious disagreements and we did what we could to provide a happy and loving environment for our children. The contrast to the upbringing I had, could not have been more evident, I considered myself most fortunate to finally be in a loving relationship. Our sex life was enjoyable if not hugely adventurous and always initiated by me, if I didn`t start it, it didn`t happen. I was slow to pick up on this point and by around 2001 thought that it was only me that was benefiting from our conjugal relations which caused me to have a range of feelings, not the least of which were ones of my inadequacy on my part. I was not giving pleasure to my girl. This did very little for my self confidence and made me wonder if this had been the case all along, could I have missed the signs for thirty odd years? Had I been receiving obligation sex without realizing it all this time? I stopped initiating sex with my wife sometime during 2001 to 2002 and that was the last time we had sex. I mean with anyone, I have never been intimate with anyone other than my wife and I am sure the same applies to her with me and I have no inclination to change that. I will not pretend that this has not had serious consequences on our relationship, it is in a very deep hole, having left me feeling emasculated and inadequate. I am left feeling devoid of love and affection with strong feelings of resentment. In 2014, I attempted to engage in a serious discussion about our relationship as I could see the situation only getting worse otherwise, this was rejected, which left me feeling surprised, disappointed, sad and only built on my already emasculated self. I felt great resentment and anger and sadness that our marriage had degraded to this extent. My great fear is that we have passed the point of no return, for love to form and develop there needs to be a germ, a seed a spark, from which such feelings can flourish, for me that spark has been snuffed out. To imagine how that can be reversed, turned around at this stage, is outside my comprehension, sadly.
    Too late, I accept my share of responsibility for where we are today. I at least, assumed that all was rosy, that a good marriage, which I thought we had, could survive without good housekeeping, without conversation directed at maintaining the right environment. If I could give advice to my younger self those forty plus years ago, it would be to be more open and frank in talking through our thoughts, fears, hopes,dreams however awkward and uncomfortable it may seem at the time. Marriage is an investment, maybe not the obvious large financial one such as ones house but an emotional one and no less important. It takes work and the work needs to start early to form the habit.

    I would ask that should you use any of my account that my full name should not be made public. Thank you

    1. goodness, that is such a very difficult thing that you are dealing with. I will pray for you and your wife. It is hard to have gotten this far and to feel that disconnected from one another.

  3. I’m 38; we’ve been married for 17 years. We have 4 kids and a pretty active sex life.

    We didn’t always. I used to buy into the Feminist lie that it’s your body 100%. It didn’t work; bought nothing but trouble.

    It’s not just sex that a wife is obligated to. It’s sex, the way he wants it, with enthusiasm. If you have to fake that orgasm, get good at it. Sex with a smile, 21 days out of the cycle.

    Don’t want to do that? Keep control of your body– stay single. End of line.

    1. I’m having a hard time understanding if you feel some bitterness towards your spouse for the sex life that you guys have or if you are just sharing how you have grown in intimacy with your husband. Are you feeling frustrated with the way your sex life is going?

  4. My wife will do it with me if I ask, but I can tell she’s not into it. She never initiates either. I’ve stopped asking for a number of years; why should two people suffer rather than one? Now I just masturbate to porn when I’m doing number two, and visit a prostitute on occasion. When people tell me that sex is a gift from God, I wish so much I had a way to return it to the store; it’s nothing but a sick scam or a really poorly implemented product. Oh and as strongly recommended, we saved ourselves too till after our wedding day; big difference that made.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that you are in a sexless marriage. That hurts my heart Sex is a gift from God my friend. However, people are sinful, and we do sinful things.

      I encourage you to share this article with your wife if she’ll read it – http://sixseeds.patheos.com/askshaunti/2015/05/how-often-do-men-need-to-have-sex/.

      I encourage you to read these articles- http://fightthenewdrug.org/40-reasons-you-should-quit-watching-porn-today/,http://sexwithinmarriage.com/bait-switch/

      1. I sincerely hope he didn’t share that Shaunti Feldhahn article with his wife. That would have been one way to make sure she feels cornered and manipulated. If my husband had tried to show me blog posts, I’d have shut down altogether.

        1. This is a very old comment from a reader, and I’d share very different feedback with them today if it were a current comment. However, I’m often asked by husbands and wives what they can do to get their spouses to be more open to having sex with them. Now, I encourage them to work on building a better relationships and growing emotional intimacy. I always counseled that, but I also don’t tell readers to share blogs or podcasts with their spouses anymore. Not that it can’t be helpful for some couples, but the way that the person goes about it can be seen as manipulative. Although I still feel like what Shaunti said about understanding the emotional connection aspect of sex is true, I likely wouldn’t tell someone to show it to their spouse. Rather, I focus on telling people to focus on themselves exclusively.

  5. Hi,
    first thank you Keelie for starting this discussion.
    My situation is unusual as I am the withdrawing husband from the sex field. Although I use to enjoy sex with my partner for the first 5 years of our marriage, I was always shy to ask, and more than often choosing not to face my inner discomfort but instead drifting toward porn as a solution.
    We have been married 13 yrs and i’m 36yrs old, 2 kids. Things have escalated big time when I started to loose my erection during sex, often not able to cross the finish line. Although, she has been willing and stepping forward to initiate our intimate moments for most of our marriage life, now I am withdrawing unequivocally, letting her no choice.
    I resonate with your message Mr.M in regards to the feeling of desperation to bring things back together. Having lived my life so long without taking the responsibility to be there for my partner’s desire. I feel backward and emasculated as well.
    I agree with you MC, you solved it. You found the strength to resolve it yourself “like a man” comes to mind, keeping your family happy, together, giving the best chance you could to your offspring. i’m sure you have a happier life than most who read this blog. You are a hero.
    I have a family now and what matters is that I do my part to keep it together and have a happy family. Sex is not the problem. The problem is that I am winging and irresponsible, using such a simple thing as sex as a lever to demonstrate to my living partner that I am dying inside and I can/will bring her down with me unto that path. Unfortunately, I’d rather keep on complaining and crying “poor me” instead of facing the cruel penetrating reality that I’m unloving, that I never did but always held up love, refusing to share the the fruits of it; withholding my body, my sexuality, my attention, my care… all those things that living people want and seek for themselves. I am playing the “zero-sum game”, you lose, I win situation. If you, my partner, is not happy to lose anymore, then we play lose-lose. It doesn’t matter to me cause I know that I am already losing, that is my choice. This is how cruel and despicable I have let myself to become. This is me that haven’t grown up to face life with energy and desire in spite of its inherent suffering.
    It is not an “all of a sudden, woke up like that” situation. This is what we call a sin, a wrong/unwise decision which repeated over and over lead to no-mans-land. It is the sin of omission. For days after days having omitted my inner self, silenced my inner voice, got by like a shadow, or more precisely staying in other people’s shadow, refusing to take on any fight that matters for me, until the life force in me faded. Unable/shy to ask for what I need, the very primary instinct that every baby has … was silenced by me.
    Here for all to see, the monstrosity, the calamity of what is called a sin.
    note to myself: “Say what you must, don’t leave it there” The Miserables.

    To all out there, this may sound harsh for some of you “Disney kids”, but forgive the man talking while sleeping, hoping to bring myself to wake up.
    Good luck fellow.

    I would humbly ask, should you use any of my comment, to not publish my personal details. Thank you.

  6. Hi, I am married to my husband for 37 years. I am in my early 70’s so is my husband. He would like sex more often, like every two days. I can’t always obliged him. I have vaginal dryness which affects it as well. I get migraine out of the blue, I cannot predict them. Also, I was diagnosed with osteoporosis 30 or more years ago and it has been giving me a lot of pain the last year or so. The migraine makes the osteoporosis flare up a lot where I hardly have any control over. Please I would like it if you pass on some helpful information for us.

    1. Here’s a few questions: What does it mean to “oblige” him? Have you also enjoyed sexual intimacy in the past? Do you feel sex is mostly for him? And has he perhaps absorbed that message as well, not believing that sex can be as good for you but expecting it as his right within marriage? It’s quite possible you’re using that phrasing because you want to lovingly care for him now, even if it’s not as good for you as it once was, but it’s also possible that a lot of misunderstanding about sex in marriage is wrapped up in that word choice.
      I’d make it clear that sex is not supposed to be painful, and it obviously is at least uncomfortable for you. You don’t owe him sex if it costs you physical pain. Rather, the best option is trying to get to the underlying cause of pain and resolve that, for which she should see a doctor. It’s possible that, given her headaches and vaginal dryness, your experiencing hormonal challenges that can be addressed somewhat.
      When you do have flareups of this or that, you should be able to say “not now” and suggest an alternative time to try. Rain checks are completely fine in marriage, and they only postpone sex, not take it off the table. It would be important to follow up when you feel better and able to engage, and might need some tips or encouragement for initiating at times that are better for you.
      And finally, sex does not have to involve penetration. You could be on hand for other forms of stimulation where your husband can reach climax, but that doesn’t cause you pain.

  7. A little insight from a husband of 20 years: (not counting abusive husbands or any hygiene issues) It is so interesting how most of the time, how different men and women seem to see sex. Many times women do not marry for love and/or sex anyway. Men mostly do. At least at first. Many times the husband is actually not the first choice, but the man that she really wanted physically, the one that turned her on, did not want to get married. Ladies/wives, let me tell you, if you are not in the mood, or just refuse, or say no more often than not, or whatever, you can do that, but your husband sees that as a personal rejection. If you do not initiate, he will feel unwanted and unloved. If you treat him this way intentionally, or unintentionally for long enough, he will stop desiring you altogether. It will turn into resentment for time lost, and a huge regret and disappointment in his life. He will eventually have to find another outlet for that part of him, whatever that is. It’s not about you always being in the mood. If you want him to stay with you, not just physically under the same roof, but also mentally and emotionally, understand what your lack of interest in sex is doing to him, before it is too late, and he passes the point of no return, even if just in his own heart, if nothing else. Refuse at your own peril. He needs it from somewhere, he needs hope.

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