On Saturday there was quite the hullabaloo in the comments! I submitted a Reader Question: Is it right to expect your husband to be affectionate occasionally? Is it right to expect him not to ogle other women (especially if you’re right there)?
Some readers left some great suggestions.
But a disagreement broke out between two camps. Their arguments were as follows:
Camp A: Men are easily tempted when it comes to looking at women. If a wife withholds sex, or isn’t “sex positive” (like she sees sex as a chore), he can find it very difficult to stop looking. She really is the cause of him sinning.
Camp B: No one is responsible for another sinning. To look at a woman other than your wife is a sin. And you cannot expect a woman, who is totally demoralized, to then want to experience something really intimate with her husband.
Don’t get mad at me here, but I think both camps are right. I’d like to take each of their points in turn, and then suggest what I think is a helpful way to address an impasse like this in the marriage.
Let’s look first at Camp A, You Can Cause Someone Else To Sin:
Is it possible to tempt someone to sin, or cause someone else to sin?
The quick answer would be appear to be yes. Mark 9:42 says:
And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.
And in Romans 14, Paul is talking about tempting the weaker brother (or sister). He says:
I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. (verses 14 & 15). It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. (verse 21)
So Paul is saying: if what you are doing can cause someone else to sin (or fall, or stumble), don’t do it.
Therefore, we are to be very aware of the effect our actions can have on someone else sinning.
We don’t like to think about it very much, but it’s there in Scripture. I think the problem that many of us have is that we start measuring sins: I may have withheld sex, but that doesn’t give him an excuse to have an affair! Or to watch porn! (since I do believe that porn is cheating). And I would agree. These verses never say that when the person sinned THEY ARE NOT ACCOUNTABLE FOR THE SIN. I fully believe that they are. But we still need to be aware of the effect of our actions.
Now Here’s Camp B: Only The Sinner is To Blame:
He’s sinned against me, so how can he expect me to just forget about it and act all intimate and make love? When he sins against me, I absolutely don’t want to make love to him. He’s hurt me.
Absolutely. I totally understand this. In fact, I wrote in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex that “men make love to feel loved, whereas women need to feel loved to make love.” This is absolutely crucial to a woman’s libido. When she does not feel loved and cherished, she isn’t going to feel in the mood.
And to ask her to “go through the motions” so that she can stop a guy who is acting like a pig from sinning does not appear to be a Christian attitude.
And I would agree with that, too.
So now we’re at an impasse. What do we do?
The Way Through
Ultimately we are responsible for what we did. And it is more important to God that we deal with our own sin than that we worry about someone else’s. When you are in conflict with your spouse, your main job is not to fix your spouse; it is to go to God and ask, where did I play a role in this? And you’re not asking: “Did I cause it?”, because again, people always have a choice whether to sin or not. Nevertheless, searching your heart and seeing where you may have contributed to it helps you to be able to ask forgiveness, and to get on a right footing with God and with your spouse.
And if there is anything that you did–even if you were only 5% responsible, as if such a thing could be measured–it’s important to own up and admit that. It helps you break the ice. You’re not blaming your spouse for everything; you’re saying, “we have a problem. I know that I partially contributed to it. I did X and Y, and I am truly sorry, and ask you to forgive me.”
That is a freeing thing. If you go to a spouse who is using porn after you spent several years not making love to him and you say that, that gets your heart in the right place so that you can now address the issue. And it helps you have a humble attitude before God and your spouse.
So now you’ve dealt with your part–and that should ALWAYS be the first thing we do when we have a conflict.
Now it’s time to deal with your spouse’s part. And this may mean saying something like,
“I realize that I hurt you. But please hear me: I need you to realize how much you are hurting me now. And what I really want is for us to be intimate. I don’t want to refuse you; I want us to have a vibrant sex life. But I CANNOT do that when you are ogling other women/using porn/verbally abusing me (whatever it may be). I don’t want us to go on like this. Can we talk about how to help me feel more loved, so that we can get to a place where we both are feeling loved and cherished?”
You’re starting a conversation. You’re saying what you’re aiming for: intimacy and fun. You’re saying that you want to get there. But you do have a very real roadblock which he needs to address.
There’s been some disagreement in the comments, too, about whether her just having sex with him will reduce the temptation to look at other women. I think so much of that depends on the relationship, and I can’t make a firm pronouncement on that. When men become addicted to porn, for instance, it really is an attraction to an image or an idea or an objectified woman, not a real woman. And having sex with a real woman will not meet the need for a masturbatory selfish act. They’re two separate things.
On the other hand, if a guy is just tempted, and is trying not to fall, it could very well help. It just depends on how deep the problem is, and I can’t comment on that.
I do believe, though, that we shouldn’t wait for the other person to do the right thing before we do the right thing. We shouldn’t wait for the other person to love unconditionally before we love unconditionally. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk and express how we feel. That doesn’t mean we can’t go to a counselor or talk to a mentor couple. But we should still choose to love.
However, there are some relationship dynamics where much more is needed that just a healthy sex life. He needs to repent of lust or porn use, and she can’t fix that by just having sex with him.
So there is no black and white answer!
To sum up this murky mess, here’s what I’d say:
1. Examine yourself and see if you contributed in any way
2. Confess this to your spouse and to God
3. Humbly tell your spouse how his/her actions are hurting you now
4. Express your desire for deeper intimacy/more fun
5. Choose to love your spouse wholeheartedly, even if they are still hurting you (this may not involve jumping into a healthy sexual relationship; if your spouse is making pornographic demands on you, or if your spouse has major sexual sin happening, the next step may be to talk to a counselor or mentor. But you can still choose to love in other ways while the sexual one is dealt with).
Let me conclude by telling you the story of a couple that I know. They’ve been married for several decades. She came into the marriage with some emotional baggage, and found sex difficult. She had anger issues. Sex was never a great part of their marriage, and she did withhold quite a bit.
However, after about a decade he became more and more addicted to porn. It became focused on weirder and weirder things. She confronted him many times; she moved out of the bedroom. She told him that he had to stop. He never did.
They went for counseling; things still didn’t change.
He began surfing internet dating sites, and doing very inappropriate things online.
Eventually she told the elders in her church, and the elders supported their separation.
Had she withheld sex? Yes. Does she need to confess that sin and deal with it? Yes. But at this point, he is so far into sin himself that she cannot rebuild a sexual relationship with him (or indeed any relationship at all) until he deals with his sin. They have both messed up, but he is now the one that is jeopardizing the relationship.
So just because you may have contributed to the sin by withholding sex does not necessarily mean that you can fix it by becoming more “sex positive”. Sometimes the other person may have walked so far down the wrong road that it is first necessary for them to return as well.
That does not put you off the hook; if you have turned a bit to the left, and your spouse has turned a lot to the right, you still have a responsibility to turn back and do your part. But true reconciliation may not be able to happen until your spouse also returns.
Does that make sense? Let me know.
And for all of you who are hurting in this area of your marriage, I know that it is hard. But there is no pit that is so deep that God is not still deeper. And He really can carry you through your pain!