Psalm 139:11-12

If I say, "Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me," even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. (PSALM 139:11-12)

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sexual Abstinence in Marriage

It's been the right choice for us. After years of struggling to put sex in its "proper" place within our marriage we decided, he decided to try it.

"Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command." (1 Corinthians 7:5-6)

Bruce N. Fisk writes in his book, "Interpretation Bible Studies: 1 Corinthians":
Through the years thoughtful Christians have recognized the value of periods of abstinence within marriage. In “The Spirit of the Disciplines”, Dallas Willard observes how “absolutely vital to the health of any marriage” it is “that sexual gratification not be placed at the center. Voluntary abstention helps us appreciate and love our mates as whole persons, of which their sexuality is but one part" (Willard, 170).
To some of you, sexual abstinence or moratorium as it's more commonly referred, may sound like a crazy idea. I believe for us, the concept of actually doing this was a long, God process. I can say with complete assurance that God was preparing the way for this moratorium and the success we find within it is the fruit of our obedience to His leading.

Although my husband is in recovery from his sexual addiction and he has not "acted out" since he divulged his secret sin many years ago, sex and intimacy within our marriage has continued to be a source of frustration for both of us. In some ways, it has been difficult to tell which intimacy issues are because of our baggage (my abuse, his addiction) and which are because I'm a woman, he's a man, or even our individual personality traits.

Of all the beautiful benefits to being committed and married to one person for the rest of your life, I have come to feel like sexual intimacy has always had an unhealthy, central position in our marriage. I would like to preface this by saying that I believe sexual intimacy is a very important part of a healthy marriage, but I do not believe it is the most important piece. I believe even though my husband has triumphed over many of his issues regarding his addiction, sex seems to be an easy idol for him. Sex had become like a parasite, sucking the life out of every area of our marriage and lives. Everything, yes everything, became tied to sex to the extent that he felt chained again. It seemed at times like it was okay because it was appropriately focused on me and not someone else, but he was still objectifying me. He felt a sense of entitlement and would often act bitter and angry towards me if things didn't work out for us in the bedroom. I wound up feeling overwhelmed and pressured, which led me to feel unsafe, shameful, and guilty.

This brings me back to sexual moratorium. After much prayer and the seeking of wise counsel, my husband (with my support) decided he wanted to try a sexual moratorium for a short time. It's almost been like a sexual reset. In the beginning we sat down and talked about other ways that we could love and enjoy each other. We made a list of some of the areas that felt lacking, like our friendship with each other. My husband and I have been amazed by the outcome of doing this. I emphasize that he went into this willing and open to the process. He felt led and ready to put the effort in. In his words, "I want this to be a permanent change" and I believe this perspective has helped him to fully embrace the experience.

So what's different? He is actively seeking to love me in other ways. It is reawakening our friendship relationship with each other, helping us to more deeply appreciate the things we always enjoyed about each other, and reestablishing the friendship attraction that ultimately led to us getting married in the first place. Moratorium takes sexual intimacy out of the equation for a time and by removing that "expectation" we can both enjoy more freely our time together without fear of rejection or the pressure for intimacy.

Honestly, my spouse seems happier and more contented then he has in a long, long, time. By removing the idol it has allowed the other areas of our marriage to increase. Hopefully when sexual intimacy returns, we can maintain a healthy balance in our marriage that had been missing in the past.

Sexual moratorium is not for everyone. There are some safe guards that you need to take before you decide to do it. I believe it should not be entered into impulsively or without prayer and wise counsel. Both husband and wife need to be on the same page, not only about doing it, but what you will do instead. It is not just about giving up sex. Like fasting, you should be actively praying and working together during the process. You should have a goal for the moratorium. It is something you are both doing together for your mutual benefit. When your spouse removes sexual intimacy from the equation, they should prepare for battle, especially in their thought life. It is a time to be on guard, but also to lean on God, the Holy Spirit within, your spouse, and a close friend or accountability partner for strength and support.

Sexual moratorium should be a mutual decision. It should be for a time, not indefinitely. I encourage you to pray about what benefits, if any, a sexual moratorium might provide you & your spouse recovering from sexual sins. It may be something God is leading you to consider in your marriage. It should not be undertaken lightly.

For more reading on this topic might I suggest a blog post from Purifying Grace, "Biblical Marital Abstinence: Abstaining from Sex in Marriage" or Porn to Purity, "Abstaining From Sex Will Help Your Marriage".

8 comments:

ialsoliveonafarm said...

Thank you for this post. My wife and I just returned from a week of intense Christian marriage counseling @ one of the "assignments" was this same decision to abstain for a season. We both entered into this decision with both eyes open for many of the same reasons the two of you did. I decided to get on line and see if anything had ever been written about it/ and came across your blog post. I have not read any of your other posts but really REALLY appreciate sharing this most personal detail of your lives. Thank you! DM Not sure I'll be able to find my way back to your blog, but going to print off a copy of this post for my personal journal.

Light in the Darkness said...

Thank you for your encouraging comment! I am glad you found it helpful. I'm curious what intense counseling you received. I know Harry Schaumberg offers something like that (in fact someone who attended it wrote a guest post about it here on my blog).

Anonymous said...

decided to book mark this post while I could still find my way back :-) The counseling we attended is done by Michael Cusick, their ministry is called "Restoring the Soul" their website is restoringthesoul.com We attended thinking it was more of a "tune up" in our relationship rather than crisis mode. What a powerful, life changing week it was. Lots of wisdom/ lots of hope. DM

Kazi Rahim Ullah Rahi said...

Statistically it has been proven that marriages between people who have practiced abstinence have a lower divorce rate. Sex is not the foundation of the marriage although it is a very essential part of the bond between husband and wife. Avoid choosing your mate based on their sexual performance over other characteristics such as shared values, goals and companionship.
benefits of abstinence

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your honesty in this blog post. I have to say that my husband and I are really struggling with sexual issues. Having done "sex" the way the church teaches, has only led to more distance in our marriage and some resentment and bitterness. Although I understand the Bible's clear instruction on sex in marriage, it has become clear to me, over 17yrs of marriage, that when all your husband's actions and reactions are based on whether he "got some" or not, sex has been elevated to an unhealthy position of deity in the relationship.
And although you say that BOTH need to be on board for a time of abstinence, I don't believe that continuing to give sex, in this unhealthy patterns, will be God honoring....my husband is not committed to identifying the spiritual problem we are facing. He's only committed to proving me sinful, because I'm "withholding" what is rightfully his.....but it has become his god. Everything he does, and every interaction with me is to get sex or he is bitter towards me when he didn't get it the way he thought he should, or didn't get it at all.....
The cycle must be broken and he is not on board to break it with me....but I can't continue in this unhealthy patterns that has been repeating itself throughout our whole married life.......

Light in the Darkness said...

Dear Anonymous:

I hear you and understand your plight. I don't know what your relationship with your husband is like. Are you able to talk openly about the issues with sexual intimacy in your marriage?

I believe having an open dialogue with your spouse could be helpful. Does he know how you feel? Can you talk about it without blaming or shaming the other?

From what you have described it sounds like there could be an unhealthy focus on sex within your marriage. Because it's about intimacy with one another, not merely the act of sex. The focus should be on meeting the needs of your spouse, mutually. God glorifying intimacy is an expression of your love for the other person, not merely a means to release.

Do you know if your husband struggles with pornography or masterbation? How is he "releasing" if not with you? The answers to these questions could reveal a deeper issue going on within the marriage.

If you would like to discuss this further in a private setting, please feel free to email me at lightmeetdark@gmail.com.

Thank you for your heartfelt comment! You are not alone in this struggle. I believe this to be a common issue in marriage!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response.
I have no idea how he is "releasing" himself.....I don't think he's allowing other sinful behaviors in, but hey, I could be wrong. I don't want to be suspicious but I also don't live with my head in the sand.
He just cannot go there - that is, have a heart to heart discussion regarding all this. His feelings of rejection and being right are far too strong and he needs to blame me (obviously, 'cause I'm the one DOING what the Bible says NOT to do, ie., withholding sex - so it's clearly MY sin that's causing this). Just to be clear, I'm not actually "withholding" sex. I told him that we could have sex whenever he wanted, but he wants my "full" participation (which, to be honest, is what I long for as well) but the reality is, if the preliminary emotional and spiritual work haven't been done, then it's just the physical act, nothing more....and it leaves me feeling used and empty. It's not that I'm punishing him 'cause I'm mad at him, it's just that there's nothing there to celebrate.
I don't want to be critical or mean spirited, but when it comes to spiritual and emotional maturity, he's about 12yrs old....and until his desire/need is filled with the Lord, we're gonna keep going around the same mountain.
We're actually in counselling right now, 'cause I just can't do this anymore....I've spent far too many years offering my body to him when that's all he ever wanted. SEX, not real intimacy. Now I'm realizing that everything he does is to manipulate my sexual response to him....it's clearly gotten dysfunctional. I cannot believe that just "having sex", like so many Christian blogs say to do, is going to solve this much deeper issue......
As for me, I can't say I'm angry at him or have stopped loving him. I don't engage in the negative reactions or comments fired at me....Thru a complete dependency on the Lord, I still feel joyful (most of the time) and can stand my ground (mostly) without retaliating. I try to keep a cheerful spirit at home and often will quote 1 Corinthians 13 to remind myself of what God calls me to do in the name of Love......but man oh man, every now and then, I have a good cry!

Light in the Darkness said...

Some of the behavior you describe about your husband sounds familiar. We have come so very far, but it wasn't so long ago I was fighting the same "battle."

Very happy to hear you are in counseling. I hope it is the right fit for both of you. Someone who understands both sides of this complicated story. Are you meeting together? Or do you get some one-on-one time with the counselor to share your side of things?

Like you, I don't believe that just having sex is going to solve anything. There are some other issues at play here for sure. God never intended sexual intimacy in marriage to be a dictatorship. And it requires mutual submission and serving the other to have intimacy. Otherwise, it's just a physical act for our own brief pleasure. Intimacy is meant to bring us closer as a couple. It's physically and emotionally connecting. That's what you're going for anyway.

I'm not trying to assume anything, but so often how we come to the other person to discuss something difficult like this can determine the response. Whatever his intentions (only he and God really know) the impact of how he comes to you and what he expects from you is hurting you, not honoring you. Can you convey that to him? And if you can't, then pray that sometime soon he will be open to having that conversation with you.

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