What to Do When Your Wife Won’t Sleep with You

I received the following question through my blog last week. Since it deals with a problem nearly all husbands face at one time or another, I decided to share my response here, in hopes of helping others.

Help! My wife won't sleep with me.

Question:

My wife and I love you guys. We are reading your books, and they are helping us. She is reading 25 Ways to Communicate Respect to Your Husband, while I am reading 25 Ways to Show Love to Your Wife. They have really helped our marriage — we were almost breaking up.

My wife has been disinterested in sex for over a year. We only have it once every two weeks. She says she doesn’t feel like it.

I’m deeply stressed and don’t want to cheat on her. I have talked to her a lot of times about it, but nothing changes. I can’t talk to her about it anymore.

We have even seen a marriage counselor, but she is still not interested. I’m frustrated and don’t know what to do. Kindly help.

Answer:

Let me start by saying you are not alone in your frustration.

If I had to pick a single issue that challenges married men who love God and want to honor Him in their lives and marriages, this would be it — wives who have lost interest in sex. I would not be exaggerating to say that it is something every marriage faces at one point or another.

  • Sometimes it is a new bride who finds sex terrifying or painful.
  • Sometimes it is a new mother who feels embarrassed about her post-baby body or is simply exhausted from being up all night nursing.
  • Sometimes there are trust issues if the husband has been unfaithful or is addicted to porn.
  • Sometimes there are trust issues that have nothing to do with the husband at all, such as a wife with sexual abuse in her past, which is alarmingly common.

Whatever the reason, the result is the same: a husband trapped in a marriage where his need for intimacy is not being met.

The default solution to this dilemma usually involves looking for intimacy elsewhere. Affairs, mistresses, prostitutes, and, in the last few decades, online porn are all variations on the theme of finding intimacy outside of marriage. I could give a laundry list of why this is a bad idea, including sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and further deterioration of trust issues, but the bottom line for the Christian is that the Biblical standard is complete and lifelong faithfulness in marriage.

It seems a cruel trick, that God commands a man to have sex only with his wife, knowing full well that at some point, the woman he married will refuse to have sex with him! Why would God put virtually every Christian couple into this horrible conundrum?

The answer is this: God wants us to be fully dependent on Him and also to learn to put our spouse’s needs ahead of our own.

Trusting God and serving others are recurring ideas throughout Scripture. In this particular area, they are precisely what He is asking husbands to do, because He has given us no other option. We cannot change a spouse’s heart, only He can. We can’t even change our own heart. We must therefore turn to Him in prayer.

I have actually prayed with men about their wives and seen such sudden and dramatic changes that the men quickly forgot that there was ever a problem in the first place. Sometimes the change is slower and more progressive. Whatever the timetable, always start with prayer and continue in prayer. It is the real secret. God loves to show Himself strong, to lift us up when we are weak, and to answer when we call out to Him.

The second thing is to pray that God would open your eyes to your wife’s needs.

  • Is she too tired for sex? Maybe you can arrange for her to have some help around the house or to take a relaxing vacation.
  • Is she insecure about her appearance? Maybe you need to reassure her that you still find her attractive.
  • Does she have unresolved trust issues? Then dig deep, seeking to understand the source of her fears and lovingly address them.

On some fundamental level, a wife’s denying sex is a cry for help. Through God’s enabling Grace, you can be the help your spouse so desperately needs.

18 thoughts on “What to Do When Your Wife Won’t Sleep with You

  1. If a wife is not interested in having sex with her husband for a prolonged period of time, it is likely that there is a medical basis for her disinterest which needs to be addressed by the appropriate medical professionals. She should start with a visit to her internist and go from there. On the other hand, maybe the husband has allowed himself to lapse into habits that render him very undesirable. Does he neglect his hygiene? Is he dismissive, contemptuous, arrogant, or otherwise disrespectful towards his wife? On this latter note, it is important to emphasize that wives must be respected as much as husbands. The “husbands must be respected” / “wives should be loved” construct is a false one. In fact, I would maintain that respect is an important component of genuine love. If a husband does not respect his wife, then he really does not love her. Rather than complaining about his deprivation, this man would be better off examining his attitude and behavior towards his wife to see if, perhaps, he is the cause of his own problem.

    • You have pointed out some important things. First, Love and Respect go hand in hand. Respect is a component of Love and Love is a component of Respect. When the Bible encourages us to do one of them, it is not to the exclusion of the other. The Love/Respect paradigm can become a false idea, if we believe we can do either one of them in total isolation. Second, is that the best course of action is to examine oneself first. If my wife is talking to women about difficult husbands, she will always encourage the women to pray for the husband and then to work on themselves. If I am talking to men about challenges with their wives, my advice will invariably be to pray for the wives and then to work on themselves. In other words, put your spouses needs ahead of your own. It is human nature to want the other person to act first – “when they start being nice, then I will start being nice.” Unfortunately, this strategy seldom works towards building lasting and meaningful relationships. It may be some comfort to “be right,” to feel “justified,” or to have “won points,” but it is usually a short lived victory that quickly turns to bitterness. It is always better to be the first to apologize, the first to forgive, and the first to make amends. That is the true path to success and for those who dare to walk it, it is a joyous one.

      • I agree in general with all you have said. You are obviously a person who has learned some of life’s most difficult–and important–lessons well. I have one question: why should a wife be limited to praying for the husband with whom she is having difficulties? Why can’t she tell him directly what it is about his attitude or behavior towards her that she finds offensive? Isn’t she the one in the best position assess what the issue is and to suggest corrective measures to her husband?

        • It is one of life’s ironies that the closer we are to a situation the better we can see the details, but the harder it becomes to see the big picture. That is why counselors and friends are so important to provide “third party perspective” and to say some of the things that those involved in the relationship cannot. It is the same principle that companies use when they bring in outside consultants. Aside from that, it goes back to the idea that you cannot change a person’s heart, only God can. We want to, sometimes really badly, but it is impossible to change another person in any substantial and meaningful way. Now, God may use us to help change them or He may not. At some point, it may even involve some very frank discussions, but that is rarely the starting point. The starting point should be prayer and self-examination. “Am I contributing to the problem directly or indirectly?” “What is missing in their life that is causing them to behave this way and how can I help?” When our spouse sees us reaching out in love, the barriers that prevented them from hearing us start to fall, and they can actually hear what we have to say rather than just tuning us out.

  2. I would offer some advice to the husband. First, make sure that your personal hygiene is a big priority. Body odor, bad breath and dirty fingernails are just gross. Next, think about what you know about your wife. What activities does she enjoy? What movies, what books? Would she like for you to fix dinner for her and the kids once a week? Try to establish some common ground with her and make a connection. Make sure there is plenty of non-sexual contact. Tell you that you love her. Tell her something that you love about her. Ask her opinion of something. Hold her hand, give her neck rubs or foot massages. Little kisses on the neck, cheeks and hands can be very sexy. When the kids are in bed (you can help with that), put on some music, dim the lights, and slow dance with her for a few minutes in the living room before bed, again, not necessarily to force sex, but to show her some intimacy in a form that she might like. Get a sitter for the kids, then spend the night in a hotel. Take her to dinner. When you get into bed, start massaging her back. Talk with each other in bed in the dark about something funny, or surprising or silly. Giggling with your partner in bed can be an intimate moment. Cuddle. This might not lead to sex the first time, but if you do all of these things regularly, you may be able to turn her back into your arms. If you think about it, the definition of “romance” is doing something for your partner that will please your partner, even if you don’t understand why it pleases her. For example, I have no idea why my husband likes sweet potato pie (yuck), I only know that he does like it, so I make it just for him a few times a year. I think that many women lose the desire for sex at some point, but are very willing to take care of their husband’s needs if their own need to be valued, respected, and acknowledged as a human being is met.

  3. If a man cares more about watching TV, being on his phone or computer, than spending time with his wife, she will lose interest. Don’t bring the phone in the bedroom. This is a place for the two of you, not social media. Don’t stay up late watching TV and then expect your wife to be perky and ready when you walk in the bedroom. Having sex for a woman is much more than a physical experience. She needs to feel loved and nourished by her man. Don’t just help her around the house on the night you want sex. Help her every day. Hold her hand every day. Get to bed early EVERY night, so that you have time to talk, not just on the night you want sex. She knows if you are just being nice or helping if it’s just so you can have sex. She should not be able to tell which night you want sex, because you should make her feel loved every day. If a man will talk to his wife and do little things for her every day, then she’ll want to have sex because she loves him and great sex is truly an act of love.

    • Good points. I actually know several people who have gotten divorced and listed “computer addiction” as the major reason! Video games, social media, or just “surfing the web” all cut into face to face time with our spouses and our children. It is a constant battle as new technologies develop and draw us away from the things that matter most.

  4. We shouldn’t ignore the fact that the answer might very well be a doctrinal one. That the husband may not be leading his wife in the Word; and that she might have inhaled false fumes from the world and may not realize that her actions are defrauding and a violation of the marriage covenant. As God’s Word commands:

    1Co 7:3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
    1Co 7:4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
    1Co 7:5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.

    • Every solution has a “why,” a “what,” and a “how.” For marriages seeking to honor God, the “why” is in essence a doctrinal or spiritual issue – what does God command? The “what” in this situation and in many other situations is prayer and addressing the root cause. The “how” is with kindness and compassion as in all things.

      • Ummm… well ok but….
        In many cases where the ‘why’ is false doctrine, the ‘what’ may end up being teaching true doctrine, and the ‘how’ may involve daily family Bible study. Or, in this case, perhaps (but not necessarily) daily couple Bible study.

  5. You forgot that there could be other medical issues/ disease/ aging issues! Shame on you for using the term ‘trapped in a marriage’! No Sex is not the end of the world but rather the new beginning/ new opportunity to show love and respect on a whole new level! What would the husband do if suddenly, for physical or medical reasons, they could never have vaginal sexual intercourse? A marriage is more than sex! A woman is more than a sexual object to gratify a male! Start focusing on what they love about each other — be each other’s best friends.

    • Actually the fuller quote was, “Whatever the reason, the result is the same: a husband trapped in a marriage where his need for intimacy is not being met.”

      Intimacy in this case meaning the sexual congress that is listed as a need a couple of times in Scripture. Besides the I Cor 7 passage listed in my comment, we read as well in Proverbs 5:

      Pro 5:15 Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.
      Pro 5:16 Let thy fountains be dispersed abroad, and rivers of waters in the streets.
      Pro 5:17 Let them be only thine own, and not strangers’ with thee.
      Pro 5:18 Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.
      Pro 5:19 Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.
      Pro 5:20 And why wilt thou, my son, be ravished with a strange woman, and embrace the bosom of a stranger?

  6. Well written article! May I also suggest a hormone imbalance? Hormones play a huge role in a woman’s emotions and can ebb and flow during certain periods of life. After I have a baby (#3 is 7 months old) and am nursing, I have ZERO interest in sex due to the overdrive of estrogen. But other hormone disrupters can be a factor and it is quick and simple to have them checked and talked about with a home-birth midwife. I write this to be encouraging to other mothers and wives out there who think perhaps they are not being obedient to God when it is an easily corrected hormone imbalance.

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