Wednesday, January 26, 2011

When Your Wife Holds Back Her Love

To an anonymous commenter (found here),

I completely understand your frustration in your relationship and the pain it can cause. I don't know anything that can be more discouraging than feeling unloved by a spouse, whether you are a wife or a husband. I don't believe that anyone can have more influence over an individual, other than God Himself, than a spouse.

I will warn you that I will be a little on the frank side in this post.

One of the keys to intimacy in marriage is to feel complete respect from your spouse, which is the foundation to trust. Both respect and trust are the foundations of love. If a spouse, especially a wife, does not feel that she can trust her husband, it is a big turn off for her. For example, if a husband is using pornography, and his wife is aware of it or even suspicious of it, she will really struggle with her trust in him, and it won't be likely that she will feel at ease with any kind of intimacy.

Can you see how that would be a natural response? If a wife does not feel that her husband is reliable, she will not want to make herself vulnerable in her emotional commitment to him—in the extreme, having another baby—if she does not feel within herself that her husband will fully be there for her. Even if she is beyond the time of childbearing, she will still feel this way.

In counseling many couples over a number of years, I found that a wife who is suspicious of her husband's commitment is not very responsive intimately, but that a wife who feels truly loved and that the commitment of her husband is sure, is often quite responsive.

I hope you know I have great compassion for your situation, but I also know that each of us has far, far more power over the negative situations in our lives than we realize. No matter what anyone does or does not do, you are completely responsible for what you do or don't do. This is a fundamental truth. This also means that you have more power to improve your situation than anyone else.

If your wife does not feel trusting of you and resists intimacy, here is my advice, the result of years of thought, prayer, counseling, teaching and writing about this subject.

Number 1, do everything in your power to reassure your wife that she is the most important person or thing in your life, that there is nothing you wouldn't do to win her love again and again. You see, courtship is for life. If you want to keep your wife, you have to woo her and pursue her every day of your life. If she senses that she is second place in your life, or third or any other place but first, she will withdraw herself from you. She will be hurt. You have to be able to look her in the eye and tell her with all your heart that you love her, every day, and really mean it. This is part of every woman's love language. If that is missing, she will not feel warm, affectionate, or willing to give of herself intimately.

Number 2, you have to love her the way she wants to be loved. I am not talking about being her slave or caving in to her every whim, but I am talking about inquiring of her needs and then going about meeting those needs. If you do this with full commitment and an undivided heart, you will be irresistible to her. She will pay you back a hundred times. She won't be able to help herself. It can't be play acting on your part, though. She is a woman and she can tell the difference (though at times she can be deceived about a man's sincerity, usually because she wants to believe in him more than he is worthy to be believed).

Number 3, you must offer genuine apologies for your poor choices, past or present. If you are unwilling to admit to or work on your mistakes, actively and energetically, she will have a hard time trusting you. If she can't trust you, she will not want to be intimate with you. If you learn to accept yourself and look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself and your wife how you could improve for the better, and you really mean it, she will begin to trust you immediately. She won't get all the way there in a day, but she will begin to trust you.

It is all about a woman's inner detection system. That is what she relies on the most. She has a knack for discerning people's real feelings. Her discernment will not always be 100 percent accurate, but it will be most of the time and she will rely on those feelings to guide her. If she feels any uneasiness about your faithfulness to her, even if that unfaithfulness is to a virtual image, she can't fully give herself to you. This gift of being able to discern feelings is a divine gift. We men had better understand it.

So, in conclusion, I agree that a wife's reluctance to be intimate is very discouraging and can open the door to temptation. That is a sad and frustrating place to be. But no one has more power to change those feelings than her husband. If he will give her the attention and love she deserves, be unrelenting in showing his commitment, be willing to apologize and repent whenever needed, and love his wife the way she wants and needs to be loved, she will respond positively to him. If she has a physical illness or has been abused in the past, it will take more patience—great patience—but these are true principles and true principles always work, though we must pursue them patiently.

You cannot change your life for the better unless you take complete responsibility for it. I know this from personal experience and from witnessing it first hand in many people's lives.

Please understand me. I am not saying it is not painful when a wife is unwilling or reluctant to show you her love through intimacy, but what I am saying is that you have the power to change things for the better if you will faithfully love your wife the way God intended for her to be loved.

She has work to do too, of course. But don't wait for her to change before you take the first step. Step forward. Be assertive to do the right thing. Lay aside your doubts. Act. Love her with all you've got and she can't help but respond in a positive way.

You have to win her back every day. You have to change. You have to try and keep trying. In my experience, nothing else works.

God bless you in your efforts. He will help you. I promise you that.

9 comments:

  1. Mike,

    I think you are seriously off base here.

    I'm in one of those marriages. We never had a serious until she announced, after having our last child, that she didn't like sex, didn't want to do it ever again and the she wouldn't talk about it again.

    She moved into another bedroom and stopped all physical affection. I haven't had more than a peck on the cheek since.

    That was over a decade ago. I've tried to be loving, suggested counseling, and assumed it was a phase.

    But, it hasn't gotten better. So, sometimes, trying harder is not enough.

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  2. Anonymous, I was very sorry to hear about what is going on in your marriage. I don't always mention my disclaimer, but you're right, these principles don't always get results if your partner is harboring unresolved emotional issues. They are true principles, and will always bless your life, even if you don't get a direct response from your spouse. If you are still married to your wife, I have to say I truly admire you for your devotion and patience. I am reminded of a scripture that I love, Ephesians 6:8: "...whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord..." All your patience, faith and love will be rewarded, though the harvest may comes late in the season. Whenever you take action on a true principle, in faith, it will yield precious fruit. "But if ye will nourish...the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life." (Alma 32:41.) The truth is unfailing. But as we try to live it, it tries us to the very limits of endurance. Having counseled many people, I have found that those who will not communicate or are afraid of going to a counselor often have deep issues of which they are barely conscious or which are stuffed below the surface. Even if your spouse won't go with you, I would seek out the best therapy I could find, starting with your bishop or pastor. I pray the Lord's blessings will be with you.

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  3. Mike,

    I've sought both counsel and counseling over the years.

    Church leaders opine that it is just a phase. Wait it out. Gets tiresome after a decade.

    Counselors (including LDS Social Services) have indicated that the only options are to leave or suck it up.

    Unfortunately, i've discovered quite a few others in the same boat. I think some LDS women hate physical intimacy and believe they have thwe right to opt out. I had my bishop tell me that about a half a dozen couples in our ward were facing the same issue.

    Leaders love to complain about porn. I'm waiting for the one about frigid women,

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  4. I am the original Anonymous poster that got Mike going. I was going to come and post how what Mike said here was sound counsel - and I think absolutely is. If all men in the church did what Mike outlines I think most all of marital issues would go away. I was just going to stop there, but the other postings made me decide to add just a bit more.

    My original comment was more to encourage a mention of "for some marriages the risk of porn use is increased when intimacy is lacking." Mike seemed to zero in that I was blaming my wife for my porn issues. I assume this is from his many counseling sessions as a bishop. With the immaturity I see in many men in other areas, I would assume this is VERY common. Blaming your wife is an evil thing to do and seriously further weakens a relationship that is already on the rocks. I am assuming this is why Mike put the statement out there.

    I think I can honestly say that at this point I do not blame my wife and I take full responsibility of my actions (and have repented and stayed away for many years). For a wife reading the statement of "it is never ever ever your fault at all in the least" could be taken as "as a wife I am helpless and all of this is out of my control and if I don't want to have sex then if my hubby looks at porn I am 100% faultless." I would rather a wife know that than to have a husband become addicted to pornography when her efforts might have been able to be the tipping point in keeping her husband from falling (or should I say “tripping himself up”). I guess I would have like to have seen a statement of, “intimacy can help decrease the odds of a husband looking at porn, but for the majority it can’t be said it is the cause (as many men will attempt to blame others)”

    This struggle with intimacy in my marriage has gone on for decades now. This is despite reading a bunch of books and attempting to apply them as well as countless counseling sessions. Nothing has changed as my wife thinks everything is fine and likes the attention. It in the end has turned me to the Lord for support. I have committed to the Lord that I will be the best husband I can no matter what my wife does. I feel I have turned this over to the Lord. This is the only way I can handle this without feeling like my wife does not love me.

    I do struggle with 2 points even after I have turned this over to the Lord. I don't know if I am being a martyr and giving up or if gave 110% on Mike's suggestions that my relationship with my wife would change. I have tried giving 110%+ for months and months at a time (with no different responses from my wife) until I reach the point of emotional exhaustion and fall into depression. It has been a routine I have done many times for years now. I have learned that I need to stay at 90% (and what I can observe is much more than most of my peers). I have almost been fired for my professional performance during my last deep depression. Now Mike, don’t take this as me once again blaming my wife for my depression. I don’t feel that way (I did at one time). I am just letting others know of my struggles and experience working on this so that I hope that they can learn and use it.

    So in summary I think I would say – Great post Mike and every husband reading it really needs to try and do what he suggests. For the few that this does not work – get on your knees and pour out your heart to your Heavenly Father until you feel you can turn the issue over to him.

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  5. Brother Anonymous,

    You're in a tough spot and I agree with your opinion regarding the advice in the OP, but why in the world would you want Church leaders to say a thing about frigid spouses? That's really none of their business. And, none of Q of 12 or First Presidency are particularly trained or experienced in these kinds of issues. Respectfully, I think you should shift your focus from lay, unqualified Church leaders for advice and help with a "frigid" spouse and turn to professionals for help.

    The advice in the OP is good, as far as it goes but I don't see anything particularly spiritual or "Church related."

    Best of luck with your difficult situation.

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  6. In response to the third comment, I think you are touching on an important topic. First, I am amazed that you have hung on so long in your marriage. To be certain you are not alone. I think that Church leaders have said a lot about the subject of frigidity, though tacitly as they have not used that term, per se, but they have spoken so directly about the importance of healthy sexual relations in marriage.

    No one has done a better job of collecting those quotes than Laura Brotherson, in her book And They Were Not Ashamed. Several years ago, while I was still a bishop, we gave a copy of this book to every adult couple or single adult in our ward. I highly recommend it.

    Some people in our ward thought I must have been crazy when we gave that book out, but I have received many private expressions of gratitude for dealing with sensitive subjects openly.

    To sum up, a marriage without intimacy has no scriptural backing, nor can you find words by living prophets to support it. Quite the contrary. I think it is very sad and unfortunate when a wife (or husband) shuts it out of their marriage. It is not what God intended marriage to be.

    So my heart and prayers go out to you tonight and I really mean that.

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  7. To husbands of a frigid spouse: I suspect you spent the first part of your marriage unwisely making your sex life too much about sex. Husband's should take more time to make the experience about having fun and physical pleasure. Sometimes, the best thing a husband can say is "I don't want to have sex, I just want to cuddle/give you a backrub, etc." Then a woman is free to a precursor to sex, so she needs to avoid kissing. This didn't mean she was frigid, it meant she is a crockpot rather than a microwave. So every time you forced her to make the decision to have sex or not when she wasn't nearly ready for sex to sound good you were shooting yourself in the foot. Nobody wants to keep doing that over and over and over again.
    I suppose it is often too late, if she is refusing to have anything physical. So perhaps I can only suggest this to couples before this stage.

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  8. This is a response to the fourth anonymous comment. First of all, you have an awesome attitude. A person with that much faith can overcome anything. Yes, I have heard my shared of blaming for problems, but that doesn't seem like it is a problem with you. I struggled with that for many years, laying my problems at other doorsteps than my own. Just before I was released, a young man came in to see me and he said this: "You are your only limitation." That has to sum it up for me. No matter what anyone else does or doesn't do, I have to take responsibility for my actions even though I mourn the actions of others. Anyway, I was very inspired by your attitude and I hope I can be more like you!

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  9. To the commenter who addressed "husbands of frigid wives." Thank you for your insights. I think your thoughts could apply almost universally in marriage. I also am personally aware of other causes, such as past abuse. Sometimes that past abuse is so horrifying that the woman does not feel safe in discussing it with anyone, not even the people she trusts the most. This can have a chilling effect on an intimate relationship. I also believe that the feelings of some women are so tangled that they can't sort them out and she turns away from intimacy to protect those feelings. No matter your situation, all intimate relationships require patience, sensitivity, listening, generosity and unselfishness. When these virtues are present, walls will eventually crumble, though it may take years for those walls to come down. Thank you again.

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