This article deals with withholding sex in a marriage, why it happens, and what can be done about it. This article is written from a man’s (husband’s) perspective because the author is a man and can readily relate to the effects of a wife withholding sex. That is not to say that wives withholding sex from their husbands is the only problem. Many men withhold sex and intimacy from their wives.
This article aims to help the withholder of sex understand what it does to the marriage and their spouses. I also hope to help the spouse suffering from lack of sex cope with the issue, move forward with fulfillment and happiness in themselves, and hopefully positively affect the marriage. I hope that you will be more sensitive to the value of sex in a marriage relationship.
What is Withholding Sex in a Marriage?
Withholding sex is simply the practice of refusing to have or avoiding sexual intercourse and sexual intimacy with your spouse. Withholding sex in a marriage is a long-term practice, not a single incident. If the wife, for example, says that she has a headache, she may really have a headache, and you, as the caring and loving husband, should address that.
Withholding sex in a marriage is much more than merely prohibiting sexual intercourse or physical contact. It involves emotions, effection, self-esteem, and togetherness. You see, there are many things tied to sex in a marriage other than mere physical contact.
For a man, sex with his wife is how he establishes or validates an emotional connection and receives a sense of being desired by her. For a woman, sex is how she expresses the emotional connection she already has with her husband. I believe it is vital for a husband and a wife to understand the meaning of sex to the other.
Therefore, withholding sex means severing physical intimacy, emotional connections and expressions, and the marital bond. It is also possible that withholding sex is a symptom of a larger problem in the marriage.
Why Do Husbands and wives Withhold Sex?
There are many reasons why a wife would withhold sex from her husband and vice versa. As I stated previously, this discussion is from the perspective of a man. Not only is it more natural for me to write from that perspective (I am a man), it also makes writing easier if I don’t have to include “vice versa, he/she,” etc.
I should also point out that my research shows that men seem to experience a lack of sex from their wives than wives from their husbands. However, men do withhold sex from their wives.
Okay. A wife may withhold sex from her husband for the following reasons.
- She feels emotionally disconnected from her husband. Women tend to open up to sex with their husbands when they are emotionally connected to them. Therefore, they avoid sex if they feel emotionally disconnected.
- She withholds sex to punish her husband. She may have been hurt by something he did and expresses that pain by withholding intimacy.
- She withholds sex to express her anger or displeasure with her husband. This is similar to the above, but she is not trying to punish him. In this case, withholding sex is a manifestation or expression of how she feels or a reaction to something he did.
- She resents her husband. In this case, withholding sex is a significant symptom of a troubled marriage. It’s hard for someone to express intimacy with someone they resent.
- She is responding to how her husband treats her. If a husband treats his wife poorly, it is reasonable to expect her to avoid intimate contact with him.
- She has a medical condition that makes sexual intercourse painful or uncomfortable. If the couple does not discuss this, the husband may feel rejected because he doesn’t understand why his wife consistently withholds sex. Therefore, communication is imperative for a healthy and happy marriage with fulfilling sex life.
- Her husband has poor hygiene. It goes without saying that a smelly husband with stink breath is someone that his wife may surely avoid having intimate physical contact with.
- She has low libido making her uninterested in sex. However, her husband may interpret her lack of interest as rejection.
- Her husband’s attitude and disposition make him unattractive to her. He may not approach her intimately in any other way besides wanting sex. For example, he may not talk to her, show his care for her during the day, etc., and all he seems to want is sex. She may feel like a sex object that her husband comes to only when he wants sex.
- She uses sex, or the lack of it, to manipulate and control her husband. She may do this because it has worked for her in the past. She may be a controlling and manipulative person.
- Her husband consistently desires sexual acts that she is uncomfortable doing. Therefore, she isn’t necessarily withholding sex but instead avoiding actions that make her uncomfortable.
- Sex is boring, so there is no motivation for it. It could be that sex is boring to your spouse, and things need to get spiced up. It’s not that they are withholding sex. It’s more like they are tired of the same ole thing.
There are many other reasons why people withhold sex from their spouses. However, understanding why it happens is the first step to resolving the problem.
Clueless ABOUT the State of the Marriage
Unfortunately, many people get married for the “wrong” reasons. I mean that they get married with no clue what marriage is all about and how to make it work. Instead, they get married because they are emotionally in love, which is inadequate for a lasting and fulfilling relationship.
Being clueless about the state of the marriage means that one or both have no idea how their spouse feels about the relationship. They are unaware that their spouse is unhappy with their sex life and possibly other relationship attributes. This cluelessness is exacerbated when the wife, for example, does not take her husband’s complaints seriously.
I should point out that cluelessness in marriage can result in many other problems besides the effects of withholding sex. Interestingly, we can spend so much time managing other things but neglect nurturing the marriage. We understand that we need to be educated and trained in our occupational disciplines, for example, but wholly neglect to educate ourselves about marriage.
A clueless wife, for example, will make her husband increasingly frustrated about the marriage. Eventually, he may give up on it or significantly separate himself from his wife emotionally.
The Effects of Withholding Sex
There are severe consequences of withholding sex from your spouse. For one thing, it has a very negative impact on the marriage, sometimes leading to infidelity, separation, or divorce. Let me now share some effects or consequences of withholding sex from your spouse.
- Of course, your spouse will not be happy about being rejected sexually consistently. Their despair can lead to depression, stress, and even anger.
- Typically, sex is expected in the relationship when man and woman pledge their love to each other on the wedding day. That is, sex is generally expected to occur satisfactorily. Resentment can quickly germinate and grow when that doesn’t happen.
- Emotional Disconnection. A man who doesn’t have sex with his wife becomes emotionally disconnected from her. However, his wife is looking for an emotional connection to be more open to sex. Therefore, this catch-22 exacerbates the problem.
- Feelings of Betrayal. If a wife consistently withholds sex from her husband, he may feel betrayed because an emotional connection (sex, for a man) was expected in the marriage. Betrayal can lead to all kinds of ill feelings towards her.
- A sexless marriage. Studies show that many marriages are sexless. A sexless marriage is defined in several ways. However, it means that the amount of sexual interaction between the husband and wife is insufficient for one or both. A sexless marriage is deadly to the relationship between husband and wife.
- Sex is an integral part of marriage. Therefore, if sex is absent, an essential component of the relationship is missing, and one or both become unsatisfied and unfulfilled. In some cases, someone else may satisfy their sexual needs.
- Separation or Divorce. A prolonged sexless marriage can result in separation or divorce. We tend not to want to remain in an unfulfilled and painful relationship with someone who consistently rejects us. Therefore, many people decide to end their relationship in hopes of finding happiness with someone else. Keep in mind that the decision to end it could occur after many years or even decades of marriage. The husband or wife loses hope for a better day and gives up on the marriage.
Withholding sex from your spouse will adversely affect the marriage and should, therefore, be avoided. There may be good reasons for withholding or avoiding sex with your spouse, but those reasons should be discussed and the issues resolved.
Of course, you should never withhold sex as a way to punish, control, or manipulate your spouse. Ever!
Prolonged Lack of Resolution
Withholding sex is not a single incident. It involves consistently withholding sex from your spouse for a long time. Talking about the issues in the marriage is the first step to resolving problems and helping the marriage move towards a state of happiness.
However, the marriage will suffer if the husband and wife do not talk about their problems, which is the lack of sex in this context. For example, the husband may express his concerns about the relationship, but his wife has an emotional outburst that diverts attention to her feelings instead of the issue raised by her husband.
Those unresolved issues will grow like weeds and further damage the marriage. When problems are brought up later (sometimes the same issues), stronger emotional responses continue to block resolution, and the marriage increasingly suffers over time.
Sometimes a husband, for example, cannot talk to his wife candidly about problems in the relationship because she usually responds emotionally instead of reasonably. Instead, she should try to understand his concerns and work with him to resolve them. Let me be clear that emotional responses are not exclusive to women. Men too can respond emotionally instead of reasonably to problems, such as angry outbursts.
The bottom line is that husbands and wives should be open and honest about problems in the marriage and work together to resolve them.
What to Do About It
What can you do when your spouse consistently withholds sex from you? Try the following before giving up on your marriage. It may not look like it now, but your marriage can return to the happy relationship that you long for.
- Pray for Wisdom. I do not believe God will wave a magic wand and fix your marriage if you pray about it. However, I believe that God will give you wisdom to effectively work to improve your marriage regardless of its current state. This one act will help you in the other items listed below.
- Don’t blame your spouse. They may not realize or may have a reasonable reason for withholding sex from you. Besides, the blame game is counterproductive.
- Express yourself. Talk to your spouse about how you feel and work to resolve the issue. Communication is critical to marriage anyway, and you should practice it regularly. Talk to each other.
- Educate Yourself. Learn more about marriage. Study the advice of people who have successful marriages. Read books, watch videos, etc. Educate yourself on what makes a happy marriage, sex in marriage, and much more. This will help you develop a path to your own successful and fulfilling marriage. It will also help to equip you to deal with issues that will arise.
- You Are Responsible for Your Happiness. Do not delegate your happiness to your spouse. No one can make you happy except you. Therefore, do not allow your spouse’s withholding sex to interfere with your pursuit of happiness. Make the decision that you will not be affected by your spouse’s actions. Continue to pursue your own happiness and fulfillment.
- Realize Your Contribution to the Problem. Rarely, problems in a relationship are solely the other’s fault. Each person contributes to the state of the relationship. True. Your spouse is withholding sex from you, but they may do it as a response to your actions. Therefore, be willing to evaluate the situation to determine what part you played in it. Be mindful that your spouse may be misinterpreting something you are doing, causing them to withhold sex.
- Continue to Love Your Spouse. You promised to love until death separates you or the like. You promised to love in good times and bad. Therefore, do not stop being kind to your spouse and generally caring for them when they withhold sex from you. The solution has to start with someone, so why not start with you? Besides, you will only exacerbate the problem if you begin mistreating your spouse.
- Stop Pursuing Your Spouse. Pursue your goals instead of having sex with your spouse. Don’t’ allow the lack of sex in your marriage to stop you from pursuing what matters to you, i.e., your passions. Work on making yourself a better person instead of chasing after sex that is absent from your marriage relationship anyway.
- Do Not Need Sex. Now, this is significantly harder said than done. However, it is a viable option, but also a dangerous one. Unsatisfied sexual needs can lead to actions you may regret later (e.g., infidelity, porn). Therefore, since sex in your marriage is absent anyway, why not train yourself not to need it as best you can—temporarily. Do that while you work on your relationship, which could open the door to a healthy marital sex life.
- Consider Ending the Relationship. This option is tricky for me to bring up because Jesus taught us that God never intended for married couples to be divorced. However, divorces do happen, and sometimes for good reasons.
I think that divorce should be the absolute last resort. However, I recognize that sometimes a marriage cannot be repaired because trust is lost. The emotional connection to each other has waned, and the commitment has disappeared.
The two can continue to live together as roommates instead of soulmates, but many people are not willing to do that and choose divorce when all efforts to improve the marriage fails. I know people who had hopeless marriages that were restored and some that weren’t, leading to divorce and remarriage.
Consider divorce very thoroughly because it may cause more woes than you may anticipate. Perhaps it is better to live as friends or roommates than to go through a divorce. The choice is yours. In any case, the focus should be on restoring the marriage, not ending it.
Dealing With the Frustration and Pain
It is painful to endure a sexless marriage where your spouse withholds sex from you. All sorts of ill feelings arise, and that relationship goes down the tube. You look at your spouse, and resentment and anger arise instead of the attraction you felt years ago. You want them, but they consistently reject you by withholding sex.
I believe it is imperative not to allow the sexual state of your marriage to define you or keep you from happiness. Therefore, continue (or start) pursuing your dreams and secure your own happiness. Don’t allow the lack of sex to rule your life. I’m not saying to become celibate. I am saying that your life is much more than sex, so act like it.
After being rejected by your spouse for an extended period, you will find that your attraction to them has waned. You may have begun practicing disabling your libido to protect yourself from rejection and the temptation that may occur when you are away from your spouse. It may become common for your wife, for example, to walk around in her panties, and it triggers nothing sexually.
Of course, such things as kissing, hugging, holding, spooning, etc., diminish over time. After all, it’s hard to hug a cactus tree, i.e., that which causes pain. Don’t concern yourself about those things. Instead, keep moving forward and work on yourself. Try to be open to your spouse and take opportunities to discuss issues in the marriage.
People sometimes ask how long they should tolerate such pain in marriage. Only you can determine when you have had enough and when all hope is lost. You can tolerate more if you are working on your own happiness.
Perhaps other aspects of the marriage are worth nurturing. Perhaps you can benefit from living as “friends” or roommates until things get better or you call it quits. Maybe you will resolve that you won’t divorce even if things don’t improve. You decide to continue with a functional and sexless marriage instead of ending it. Besides, there is no guarantee that you will not face the same issues if you marry someone else.
Be aware of the temptations to cheat on your spouse and do all you can to avoid it. Do not allow yourself to be in situations where your willpower fails you.
Overall, take care of yourself and do not stop living because you are not getting the sex you want from your spouse. Life is much more than sex. Avoid defining yourself and your marriage by how much sex you have with your spouse. Like most other things in your life where challenges arise, work on them and resolve them as much as you possibly can.
Many people withhold sex from their spouses for various reasons. You should never withhold sex from your spouse as a means of controlling, manipulating, or punishing them. That practice is counterproductive to the relationship.
Communicating your concerns and talking about the problems is key to resolution and a happy, sexually satisfying relationship. Be open and honest with your spouse, especially if you are the one withholding sex from them.
Pray to God for wisdom in dealing with a sexless marriage. Expect God to help you as you work on improving your marriage and yourself. However, keep in mind that you cannot make your spouse do what you want.
Remain committed to your marriage and avoid situations that could lead to infidelity. Realize that sex is not your master, and you decide to focus on other things. Improve yourself. Be a better husband or wife. Pursue your dreams and enjoy your life.
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you make some valid points in this article. I am in a sexless marriage and also a physical touchingless marriage. There is no longer any cuddles, hand holding, long hugs, etc… the wife has decided that this is how it is going to be from now on. One day she just announced (18 months ago, 14 Nov 2020) that she is done with all of this as she has changed and is not longer “that person” any more. I am hating her for this and you suggest that I should go find God, go find happiness. Well you know what? That is all fine and dandy to write but to actually do I find it impossible. What would the wife say/do and what would society say/do if one day the husband came home from work and announced, hey, you know I decided that I am not going to work any more and I am not going to work around the house either, I found out that I am not that person any more and that I have provided for this family for far too long and I just don’t need the role of “provider” I have changed and I no longer want that role. So, I ask you who is reading this comment of mine, if the wife can just decide to change the marriage relationship and that is evidently okay as hey you cannot make her have sex/physicial connection with you if she does not want to then why does the husband have to do something he does not want to do, such as sustain from sex or such as providing for the family? Sounds like fair is fair and yet I believe society would condem the husband to hell for doing such a thing and yet he wife is given that “oh you poor dear you don’t have to have sex if you don’t want to your husband is not caring of your feelings”
Frank. You have also made valid points, all of which I’ve heard and some of which I’ve experienced. When I say pursue God and find your own happiness, I did not mean that was the solution to the marriage issue. That is something I believe you should do to maintain your own sanity and not allow the situation to bring you down. While pursuing your own happiness and fulfillment, you would still pursue a solution to your marriage problem. Why did your wife check out of the marriage the way you described it? The way things are “now” is not necessarily the way things will be “tomorrow.’
Therefore, work at your marriage. Remember those wedding vows. It is easy to check out if the wife checks out and vice versa. It is a hard thing to do, which is why you need to pursue God and your own happiness. Talk to your wife. Try to find out what is really going on. Don’t allow that situation to bring you down. A sexless marriage is hard enough for a guy (and women too, believe it or not), and a touchless one adds more fuel to the fire so to speak.
I wish there was a formula that I could give you that says do X and Y = a happy marriage. The only thing we can do as husbands is to do all we can to restore a bad marriage and maintain a good one. However, a significant point I tried to make in the article is for you not to forget yourself and your happiness. Don’t allow your wife to define your happy life or fulfilled life. Always take care of yourself and work to restore your relationship.
Wow you too ! I hear you ,but to be fair you and I know we ate now a annoyance to them most of the time .Now this old wise saying is so true where there’s always a great man standing out their on our behalf somewhere in front of a huge audience with his beautiful wife standing right behind him “just rolling her eyes” over him to but As Jack Nickel said in a movie “What if this is good as it gets “.so cheer up you could be married to Nancy Pelosi or better yet Hillary Clinton so be grateful your not so hang in there because the lord loves you despite her .
Frank, your points are valid. Your happiness is just as important as your wife’s. Found out why the sudden change. Whatever caused this, the point is, is that she may be having her physical needs from someone else. Find out. This may require a breach of privacy. Look at her internet history of the computer, phone call and text. If nothing there, let it go. Find counseling for yourself with your pastor or marriage counselor. Then see if your wife will go as a couple. Find your happiness. Pray for healing for both of you. The Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7:1-5 addresses this very issue.
Hey, congratulations on having a blog which comes up in search results. I was in a sexless marriage at one point, so I can relate to this topic. Your article says that divorce should be the last resort, but I would like to advocate that if you find yourself in this situation that you are already at that stage. Pursue a resolution without apology as quickly as possible. Identity in wholeness has a great article about “making peace vs keeping peace” which I think can help those in this situation. Being in a sexless marriage can also be a lack of assertiveness or not standing up for yourself. It certainly was in my case. This is an opportunity to grow your character.
Thanks for your comment, David. I appreciate it. Your last statement is very interesting and could possibly help many people in a sexless marriage. Would you mind elaborating on it, if you don’t mind?
I’ve been in a sexless marriage for 40 years, a sexless marriage being defined as 10 times or less per year. The first three months of our marriage were great twice a week or more but as soon as she conceived her baby drive was taken care of and she needed me no longer. At first it was once per month but soon it was “can’t I started” so then every two months then she worked it into once every three months until menopause and now it’s never. I started researching online to see what I could do to make things better and stumbled across NPD narcissistic personality disorder, ugh what a discouragement. No cure for NPD they do t believe they’re doing anything wrong so they won’t change or even try to work on things. This is from the internet, “They are incapable of true love, They are incapable of empathy, They have a great need for control” and these are only three of at least fifteen characteristics of a Narc. I was to the place of considering suicide I found the fastest easiest least painful way to do it but thank God I went for help. I still think about it but it’s not front and center in my thoughts anymore. Most people think that men are the largest number of Narcs but I’ve noticed so many more women I believe demonstrate this disorder. When I did stumble on this I’m thinking oh my goodness this is it she’s always been this way I just didn’t know why. Very discouraging because I don’t think anything will change, she won’t go with me to talk with anyone, she says she’s probably going to hell and she doesn’t care. I told her again last night I need her love and yes I need her body. You can’t just flip a switch and turn off your desires even if you can slow your desires down they’re still there and will manifest I mean God created us to want sex right. I’m thinking seriously about seeing a lawyer, she always brings up divorce I never have I don’t want to be alone but I can’t take this anymore.
Hi Pat. I am so sorry to hear about your situation. Unfortunately, many men are in the same boat. What can be done, especially with a woman who thinks all is well or just doesn’t care? I believe men should ensure their own happiness. Do what you love to do and what gives you fulfillment. You can’t change your wife, so work on changing yourself. Move from dispair to approaching happiness as best you can. It is also interesting and unfortunate that your wife brought up divorce in the past. Keep in mind that divorce for a man can be very distressing because our society is biased toward women. She may gain much while you may lose almost everything. About 80% of all divorces are initiated by women.
So I encourage you to pursue your own happiness. Ask God to help you and your marriage. Who knows. Perhaps something will happen that causes your wife to start thinking and take a different course regarding the marriage. Don’t allow your marriage to get you down. Do all you can to lift yourself up. That’s the best any of us can do anyway. I’ll be praying for you.