Sunday, December 14, 2008

Why would a refuser care if the spouse had affairs? Does love accompany a refuser's behavior?

On a marriage forum, Job asked a couple of questions that had to do with refusing sex. He indicated that he wanted to discuss this further so I decided to bring it here, with his permission. Please read this and feel free to post comments or questions of your own which you may have about this topic. Keep in mind, each refusing spouse is different so you may see similarities here with your situation or the situation of someone you know but there will also be differences.

This is what Job asked:

"Why does a refuser even care if a spouse goes out and "cheats"? I mean, if there is NO attraction, NO care for the physical relationship... what does it matter that a spouse goes out and has a strictly physical affair? (Don't get me wrong. I believe it would be TOTALLY wrong/sin. But I don't see why a refuser would feel "jealous" or "wronged". It seems so hypocritical.)"

I attempted to answer his questions here:

Yes, it is hypocritical but in spite of the fact that a refuser usually will not engage in frequent passionate sex, many of them often know deep down inside that something is seriously wrong with their thinking. Refusers may INITIALLY say "I do not care" or "I cannot fix this" or "do what you want" or any other similar comment because they genuinely do not see their refusal as a problem (ie, Living w/out sex does not bother them so how could it bother their refused spouse?) LATER, when they know they are wrong, those words are often expressed out of a loss for a workable solution to change their thinking. They hear the distraught comments from their spouse but out of pride, many refusers will not admit to the refused spouse that they know their own behavior is destroying the marriage.

When I was refusing, I believe that a part of me may have still loved GR but it was not a healthy, mature love and at the same time, I was not bright enough or caring enough to even begin professional counsel to help our marriage. Instead, I was more concerned about my embarrassment. How pathetic is that? My embarrassment??? If I kept telling him "it is not that bad" or "I am working on it" or "it is because of how you treat me"... I could continue to justify the refusing without taking blame for it.

Did I want GR to disappear from my life? The part that wanted sex-- yes, but the rest of him-- no. Yet, at the same time I would not have blamed him if he had had affairs during our marriage. My refusing could easily have driven him to that point. I thank God to this day that it did not or we would have had even more issues to clear up before our marriage was restored.

Then Job asked:

"So Gemma, in your case, and maybe in others, could it be that your original "love" was simply affection, or a level of comfort, or good companionship? Could it be that it took you 25 years to TRULY find Love with GR? Could it be that it took that long for you to permit the Lord to dig up and find actual "deep rich soil" in your heart and plant the seed of true love there? Is THAT the true beginning of your mature love with GR?"

I replied again with the following:

Two years ago, Dec 2006, was certainly the beginning of a healthy, mature love for my husband. But even before we were engaged I knew we were meant to be. On two other occasions I was offered marriage proposals, knew those relationships were wrong and I turned them down. With GR, I knew it was right. When we married it was all there- emotional, spiritual and physical. What went wrong with me began three months into the marriage during the time when we both left the Roman Catholic Faith and became practicing Protestants.

Everything went downhill from there. I could not handle my promiscuous past in a healthy way. Our health/fertility issues tore at my emotions. The legalistic teachings we began receiving in the Protestant Church just made things worse for all the emotional and physical issues I listed in my "About Me" article (in right side bar). A huge part of me just shut down and totally stayed that way until we became Christian Orthodox 20 years later. This was when I began acknowledging how wrong I had been and then it took me another six years to complete my emotional healing.

So I would say that I did love my husband in every way in the beginning until the first three months of marriage but then something in my emotions went terribly wrong and I just snapped. Can we say that I was deeply in denial about the state of my emotional health? GR should have hauled my butt to a professional back when it all began tumbling down; he knows that now.

Would I have cared back then if he had had an affair(s)? I think so because deep down, I knew that GR and I had something special that lie dormant and was just waiting to spring forth. Looking at what we now have, how can I deny that? But such may not be the case with some refusing spouses. The following words I'm sharing are strong words and I don't share them lightly but in my heart of hearts, I know them to be true. Gently, I would dare to say that some refusers would rather find a way to walk away from the marriage because clearly they, or their refused spouse or maybe even both of them know that the marriage should never have happened. Unfortunately, there are people who DO marry for the wrong reasons but the truth always, eventually comes out.

Perhaps that would be a good exercise for all of us to do periodically-- Share with our spouse the reasons why we married them. It would bring us back to the basics when there is strife developing between us unless, of course, we married for wrong reasons.


Cocotte said...

This is just my opinion - never having been a refuser and not married to one.....

I think there are two kinds of refusers. A refuser who just plain doesn't like sex (may have been abused or may have gotten poor teachings along the way) and a refuser who is doing it as some sort of punishment to their spouse (maybe the spouse doesn't treat them how they think they should be treated, maybe the spouse has poor personal habits such as drinking, smoking, eating too much, doesn't wash, etc.) I'd venture to say that the first refuser might not even care if their spouse found physical release elsewhere (affair or prostitute), whereas the second refuser would be furious.

Just some thoughts....

jml said...

I am not a refuser, but in the past I was somewhat of a user. By that I mean that I used sex with my dh as a weapon. If he was "good" I was willing. If he hurt me in some way, or I didn't get my own way, I wasn't so willing, and he knew it.
Now, I am not a user, and am more willing than ever.
My dh and I were talking the other day about sex and how it is still viewed in the church today as something naughty- even among married people.
How sad that is. I think that may be one reason that some people are refusers, they have been taught, either through attitudes about sex, or being told that sex is dirty, that it is only for procreation, or that enjoying it means you are perverted.
As a pastor, my dh has heard a lot, and the things people have hang ups about when it comes to the marriage bed are strange.
No matter what the reason for refusing is, the refuser has essentially left the marriage relationship. It may be temporary, or it may be long term. Leaving the marriage relationship, whether physical or emotional, can and does lead to divorce and broken families.
Maybe some people will hold on and pray for healing, but most often the end is not a healed marriage. Your case is one of the few, Gemma, that are actually healed and made whole.
Waiting and praying is not east. It can take many years, and may be a long process.
Teaching that sex in marriage should be enjoyable, fun, fulfilling for both husband and wife, and that there is nothing wrong with having sex, and having fun with it, needs to begin in church and in the home.
Just my 2 cents after 28 yrs of marriage.

Gemma said...


Do you mean that the example of the first refuser you described would be somewhat of a "passive" refuser and the second one would be more "aggressive"? You might be right except I would almost bet that even the second one may may possibly not like sex. Think about it--- Why would a refuser cut off sex from their spouse as "punishment" if they wanted/needed sex themselves? It would be like shooting yourself in the foot.

At any rate I agree with you that there may be different degrees of aggressiveness in a refuser. Sadly, to a refused spouse 'no sex' means 'no sex' no matter how aggressively they're turned down.

And come to think of it, in my refusing past I had received a lot of poor church teachings along the way but back then I distinctly remember thinking how awful it would be to me if GR would have had sex with other women. I wouldn't have blamed him because he certainly wasn't getting it from me. I knew he had every right to leave me but it still would have upset me to find out he was sleeping around while we were married. I know, it sounds screwy but my thinking WAS screwy back then.

Gemma said...


Good for you for having shed the practice of "using" with your dh :-). I've never heard the term "using". There are various degrees of "refusing". Most of the time I refused ALL sex. But once in a while, every few months, or 1-2x/year or once every couple years I gave "pity sex". I just called it all "refusing".

I agree with you in that many churches still view sex in marriage as being "naughty". Here is an interesting (maybe to some) bit of info that GR and I have experienced growing up Roman Catholic for 20 years, then being Protestant for 20 years and now having been Christian Orthodox 8 1/2 years. And these are general OPINIONS of our own that we've picked up during our time spent within all 3 Christian Faiths. So please don't feel like I'm picking on any one group.

Roman Catholics- Don't talk much about sex in marriage. It's just expected that you somehow figure out how to do it and you practice it for procreation reasons. If you find you're having sexual issues in your marriage, too bad; work it out on your own.

Protestants- Talk about the evils of sex in general but it's mostly in reference to immoral sex outside marriage. Healthy marital sex is rarely discussed in much detail, if it's discussed at all. Many of their clergy suffer from unhealthy physical intimacy going into their own marriages because of the preconceived evil notion that they have of sex. Even most lay couples go into marriage thinking, "sex = sin" so we'd better not act like we're enjoying it. What will people think? What will my new spouse think? Eventually they are willing to discuss issues but they often wait after years of suffering before they say "enough" and begin working on finding solutions.

Christian Orthodox- And I'm not saying this because I am Orthodox but honestly, of the 3 Christian Faiths, we've found that they seem to have the healthiest view of marital sex. Many in the Orthodox churches we've attended are from Arabic or Greek ethnic backgrounds. Sex in marriage is as natural as breathing to them. They're not afraid to dress modestly sexy. This means--- no frumpy clothing at all, dressing in style but appropriately modest, appealing dress lengths (neither extremes), not afraid to show or to see slight cleavage. And they regularly demonstrate physical affection not only to their spouse but also lots of nonsexual hugs/kisses across genders with others.

Again, this is only our opinion based on our own experiences within these 3 Christian Faiths.

midwestman said...

I think there is a third kind of refuser (maybe unwilling partner is a better term here): the UP doesn't think sex is important in the marriage relationship and doesn't put any emphasis on making it any kind of priority. So, while they don't need much sex and only permit their spouse to have sex when it is convenient (even if their mate expressed his/her need/desire for sex), the refused partner going outside the marriage for sex would be looked at by the UP as having breached the marriage relationship.

When my DW and I were working through things 2 and some years ago, I told her that I had been on the verge of having an affair because I just wanted someone to have willing enthusiastic sex with. This totally shocked her (confirming my theory that sex to her is not very important).

To this day, while we have some very good sex, making time/energy for it or being the initiator at all is just not on her radar.


luvmygirls said...

I'm a student pastor in a Southern Baptist church. I have been for nearly 20 years and I agree that sex is often a "don't until marriage", then it's "you still have limits, but let's not talk about it so we don't cause anyone to stumble" attitude. We talk to youth about purity and dating and setting boundaries, but we don't talk to couples in premarital counseling about how to remove those boundaries (not to say that there aren't ANY boundaries). We also often fall short of helping people move past guilt once they have been forgiven by Christ.

My wife and I led a pre-marriage weekend for our previous youth group and I am planning another one for this one in February. It's not a dating and sex weekend. It's a weekend where we talk about God's design for marriage, how men and women are different, and how to begin preparing for a healthy godly marriage. In turn, this DOES affect how people choose who to date, how to set boundaries, how to edit their "list" of what they want in a spouse (therefore boyfriend/girlfriend) and when to call it quits. Everything is taught with boys and girls together except for one session in which they are separated. This is the open question time where they have had opportunity to stick cards (blue for boys, pink for girls) in a box with ANY question they want to ask anonymously. My bride and I answer pink cards with the girls and blue cards with the boys. It went really well last time and I look forward to this next one, too. I'm revamping the material to address healthy sexual outlooks during one of the sessions, but I'm trying to be careful about how to do it so that it's appropriate. I never address it during regular teaching times because so many parents freak out. I've had so many at this church tell me that they want a calendar of what I'm teaching so when I talk about sex they can monitor it with their child. My response is that they need to just talk to their child about it at home if they want them to be guaranteed to know their parents' POV. But with the PM weekend, I know that everyone who goes will have permission from their folks to hear what they will hear. I will have a meeting beforehand with parents so they can see the material and ask questions beforehand.

Sorry for the long post, but I am trying to help change some things at least among the students to whom I minister as issues come up. It is such a struggle sometimes to help parents see that their own beliefs are not always right either. I still struggle with that for myself and I'm a "professional".

jml said...

Hi Gemma,
I was raised Roman Catholic too, but I have parents that were very open to talking about sex and anything to do with it whenever the desire or need was there. They even gave my dh and I the book, "The Act of Marriage" when we got engaged. So, I never experienced bad teaching from them.
I am now penticostal (is that considered protestant?), and my dh is a pastor. We have seven chilren. Our oldest dd is married, and when she got engaged, we gave her and her now dh the book "Sheet Music".
I have not noticed any religious tendanct among my friends of many different faiths, but I do notice a difference in Christians of different ages. My parents generation (in their 60's) seems to be more open minded about sex in marriage and talking about it, than the older generations were. My generation (40's) is also open minded, and seems to carry healthy views about sex in marriage (talking in the church here...not the world). Younger generations seem to have the view that any sex is good, and is now the church's position must be to emphasize that the only case that holds true in, is in marriage.
Now, more than ever, teaching our kids about sex in a healthy way, and within marriage, is more important than ever.

job29man said...


Thanks for being so transparent and vulnerable in this matter. I'm trying to understand this refusing thing because it just seems like such an extreme anomaly. i.e. An couple with genuine affection and fondness for each other, love of children, apparent love of God, and one of them is causing great misery in the other and KNOWS it.

It would be understandable if the refuser did not know about the misery, or MAYBE even if he/she thought the complaining spouse was exaggerating the claim of misery, or if they were not getting good teaching about sex in marriage. But still, I think that deep down they've got to realize that "What I am doing is wrong." And to that extent I see it as unloving.

At the very least the refused one should try (as you said) to haul his/her mate into the counselor's office. And then if all counsel is refused I'd say the refuser WANTS to remain ignorant and there is 100% culpability in him/her at that point.

So what is the answer? For Christians I'd say a large part of the answer is in specific teaching from by the pastor from the pulpit on Sunday morning. Frankly I do not even see a need to excuse the children to "Children's Church" or a special activity in the social hall for this. It can be discussed in a basic way in mixed age groups.

Maybe a more explicit sermon is in order with the children gone.

I think if it is relegated to a "special Sunday School class" that you have to sing up for, the refuser is going to choose a different class.

Gemma said...

You know, mwm, I think that there are oodles and kaboodles of refusers or unwilling partners who are clueless about how far they are pushing their refused spouses. I fell into that same group. My dh didn't actually have an affair but he spent over 25 years looking at other (read: lusting over) other women that he'd see throughout his workday. Essentially, he was like a notch from having an affair. I had no idea. He kept it well hidden and only did it when I wasn't around him. And he only told me about it a while after my awakening because he was afraid that I would have been offended and then everything we had worked towards would have come undone.

I just have to say this right now (again) while it's on my mind. I know on marriage forums folks always say that dh's need to be hit over the head with a 2x4 before they understand things with their dw's but you know, that goes both ways. Sometimes dw's need to be hit with that same 2x4. Looking back, I truthfully wish that GR had been more assertive about not tolerating my foolishness early in our marriage. He saw the problems cropping up but he did like so many other dh's do. He walked on eggshells around me, trying not to say anything that would have made my behavior even worse. Well, I've told him, "How much worse than worse could things have become?" Even if he couldn't have gotten through to me on his own, which he didn't, I wish he had dragged my butt to a professional counselor and insisted on getting help if we were to continue the marriage. Speaking for myself but I'll bet many of you are in similar marriages... there is nothing unloving or un-Christlike to insist that our spouse change their ways or else insist that they get counseling OR tell them, "Our marriage as it is, is not as good as it could be. We need help or our marriage will end up going downhill or possibly ending." GR knows now that if I were to ever revert back to old ways, God forbid, he has my blessings to insist on getting help. I never EVER want to put him through that again.

OK, I'm climbing off my soapbox.

Gemma said...


Good for you for pushing the envelope in trying to change things in your church. Down the road, you'll probably have many married couples thanking you for what you're doing. Be encouraged.

Gemma said...


Yes I think Pentecostal is considered Protestant :-). Somewhere along the line, your parents must have had a good example of how to teach marital sex in a healthy way. In the Roman Catholic community where I grew up, it was very different and this was back in the late 1050's until late 1970's. GR and I are presently in our 50's.

Gemma said...


I have no good reason to not be transparent with my past. Even if I can only help one couple it will be worth it to me to share my story. Like I said-- Most of the time I believe the refuser is in huge denial at least initially in the marriage so they don't believe that they are doing anything wrong. But you are correct. At some point the refuser does understand that they are making life miserable for their spouse. And yes, it is unloving to stay the same or to refuse to go for professional help.

:::So what is the answer?

I'm glad you asked. Until the churches wake up and realize that they are doing a huge disservice to their congregations, it is up to the refused spouse (the emotionally healthy spouse) to put their foot down and demand either change or counseling or if none of that works, at the least, legal separation. Sadly, that's what it will take for many refusing spouses to "get it". When they realize that the future of their marriage is at stake, it will be like a wake-up call. Otherwise, for refused spouses to remain passive about the issues, it's like they're telling their refusing spouses, "I don't like what you're doing to our marriage but I guess I'll have to put up with it until you decide to take steps to correct things." No, no, NO!!!!!! They won't on their own... just understand that. The healthy spouse needs to be calling the shots before real change will take place. Yes, it will reek havoc with the refusing spouse but it's the only way that I know of to begin the process of dealing with the issues.

Cocotte said...


I don't want to take over this refusal thread, but I have a lot to say on religion's view of sex based on my differing church backgrounds and the people who attend. Could you possibly start a new thread on this in the near future?


Gemma said...

Sure can, Cocotte. If you don't see it popping up within the next 1-2 weeks shoot me a reminder.

LIT56RD said...

Your response to Job is very timely. Job and I have been communicating about just this situation in my marriage. Unfortunately I have come to the conclusion that I think I am through knocking my head against the wall and have given up trying to bring changes to our marriage. With DW it is always a matter of not enough time to get everything in order before having sex. For a while I thought we were on a good track but things have suddenly gone down the crapper. Job knows just what a disaster I am dealing with. Seems like everything I try hurts her and I am tired of hurting the one I love deeply. Keep up the good work on this blog and God bless you.


Gemma said...

I know just what you mean, LIT. Those "emotional ducks" have to be all lined up perfectly or the person can't switch their focus on something else like sex. It almost reminds me of a person dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder: . When you say "everything I try hurts her" do you mean it physically or emotionally hurts her? I wasn't clear on that.

LIT56RD said...

When I say I hurt her I mean emotionally.


Gemma said...


If I'm not being too nosy-- How is it that you're trying all sorts of things and no matter what you try, your wife gets hurt? I mean, no matter how bad your attempts could possibly be, I can't believe that ALL of them hurt her? Are her emotions overly sensitive? If so, I'd strongly suggest going for professional counseling because if she's getting hurt all the time, that will never change until someone teaches her how to be more emotionally stable. Does that make sense?

LIT56RD said...

I guess what I am trying to say is that I try to do the right thing as a Christian husband and direct us toward a closer marriage. Alot of my suggestions seem to hurt her in that she says that I am pushing to hard and that she can't change. We have done some changes for the better but when I suggest maybe something more she thinks that I am never satisfied with what she has done. And this is what hurts her. So why should she change anyway. Kind of a vicious circle.


job29man said...

"The healthy spouse needs to be calling the shots before real change will take place."

Say.... THAT'S a radical statement! typically when I see a man complaining about a refusing wife (or it could go the other way too), he says...
"she won't let me ..."
"she controls the finances"
"she won't do this or that"
"she won't let me sleep in our bed"
"she won't let me touch her"

Always "she is in charge."
Always "I have no power. She calls ALL the shots around here."

So it seems to me that refusers are also the "power players" in the marriage. Do you also see the refuser as the one with the power? Is it about power?

I must agree that as long as the refuser has the power, nothing will change. Seems logical.

Gemma said...

I don't think it's always about power. Some refusers just hate sex or hate having it more than they want it, regardless of how often their husband wants it. They don't understand their husband's sexual needs, therefore, the needs don't exist.

Others, I'm sure, totally lack love and respect and do like to call all the shots even if they like sex.

But I agree... in many marriages husbands are afraid to stand up to their wives. I think some of it is that they know if they stand up to her, she will "play dirty" and make his life even more uncomfortable esp in the area of sex. I always say, "How can poor sexual intimacy get worse than poor?"

Gemma said...

She thinks you're pushing too hard and she says she can't change? That's where a professional counselor could step in and be an impartial 3rd party. If spouses can't see eye-to-eye someone else can often make the difference. Right now she's just thinking that you've had some change so you should be satisfied. Turn that around to dealing with emotional intimacy. How would she feel if she asked more of you in that department but you'd only tell her, "I can't." But she really, REALLY needed more emotional support. You think that would fly?

Ask her, "Do you have no desire to continually improve our marriage?" She should change because she loves you and sees that you have needs that she's not meeting. That's a good enough reason right there. Honestly, though, in a healthy marriage both spouses continually grow and change, hopefully for the better. They both should want to change. Again, this could be an area where a counselor could help her understand what you're trying to say.

Have you guys tried counseling? If not, would she be willing if you find one and set up the appointment? Usually the low-SD isn't motivated enough to set up a meeting but they might go along if the high-SD sets it up.