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.
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.
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 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!