God gave sex as a gift. The problem is that as sinful people in a fallen world, we have the potential to ruin anything good God gives us. Let’s take a look at three of the most common threats to healthy intimacy in marriage.
1. Intimacy in Marriage Is Threatened by Selfish Attitudes
Husbands and wives should be committed to satisfying each other, but Scripture must also be balanced in light of other Scripture. If 1 Corinthians 7 were the only passage considered, people could demand their spouses satisfy their desires regardless of the way the other person feels. But other verses command love, gentleness, compassion, and deference in the marriage relationship. While it would be unhealthy, and even sinful to deprive our spouses for selfish reasons, it can also be equally unhealthy and sinful to be demanding or insensitive toward our spouses.
Although Paul listed fasting and prayer as possible reasons for abstinence, common sense and simple consideration dictate there are other acceptable reasons—sickness, pregnancy, or grief. When people are suffering or struggling, they might find intimacy very unattractive. God wants sex to be enjoyable for both individuals. Selfish and unkind attitudes threaten the joy and pleasure God desires for couples.
2. Intimacy in Marriage Is Threatened by Mismatched Desires
Because no two people are the same, marriages always involve differences that have the potential to cause problems—finances, parenting, organization, promptness. Among these differences are mismatched desires for physical intimacy. There will inevitably be times when one spouse desires sex and the other does not. Possibly causing even more tension, there can be different desires regarding how the actual physical intimacy takes place.
Since sex should be enjoyable for both spouses, couples should strive to ensure there is a mutual level of comfort regarding expressions of intimacy. Love and respect means caring how the other person feels.
A Hypothetical Situation
Let me present a situation that can happen in any marriage. Spouse A desires intimacy while Spouse B does not. While there are no contradictions in Scripture, there can be situations when biblical commands would appear to compete with each other. For example:
- Spouse A might quote from 1 Corinthians 7 that spouses should not deprive each other, perhaps even being insensitive enough to add: “I know you don’t want to do this, but I don’t care. You need to obey God and recognize your body belongs to me like Paul said!”
- Spouse B might then respond: “Why don’t you flip forward a few chapters and read about love in 1 Corinthians 13! And Philippians 2 says you’re not supposed to look out for your own interests but to esteem others above yourself!”
So, should Spouse A’s desire for physical intimacy be satisfied, or Spouse B’s desire for no physical intimacy? God established a husband’s headship and a wife’s submission in order to break a stalemate so the relationship can go forward, but 1 Corinthians 7:4 says:
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Since husbands and wives have equal authority over each other’s bodies, unlike most impasses in marriage, it is not as easy as a wife simply submitting to her husband. For lack of a better way to say it: “Who wins?”
Boiling conflict down to who wins is not only selfish but will always cause problems. When counseling, I try to avoid being a referee. That makes marriage look like a competition, with husbands and wives seeing themselves on opposing teams competing against each other. This could not be further from what God desires when He joins two people together and makes them one flesh.
Rather than winning, a better approach for each spouse is one that seeks to die to self and please the other. If both spouses have this attitude:
- Spouse A will appreciate the effort Spouse B makes to satisfy Spouse A’s desire for intimacy even when Spouse B does not want to be intimate.
- Spouse B will appreciate when Spouse A puts Spouse B’s feelings ahead of Spouse A’s desires.
This approach allows couples to have a strong relationship and, more often than not, differences of mismatched desires will resolve themselves.
One might think that the “best” marriages exist between two similar people, but even the most compatible couple will have a miserable marriage if they are selfish. The healthiest, most joyful relationships consist of people who are the most giving, selfless, and sacrificial. This applies to every area of marriage, including intimacy.
Two Important Disclaimers
- If I had to suggest erring on one side or the other, I would recommend erring on the side of satisfying your spouse. Why? First Corinthians 7 commands husbands and wives to satisfy each other, but there are no competing Scriptures telling believers that they do not have to satisfy their spouses. Yes, we have considered biblical instruction regarding being loving, compassionate, and considerate toward our spouses, but those verses do not relate directly to intimacy. We have direct commands to please our spouses, but any verses we might think give us an out from pleasing our spouses must instead be inferred. A direct command should always carry more weight than verses that require inferences.
- Consider the results of both courses of action. The potential consequences of not satisfying your spouse far outweigh the “consequences”—if you want to call it that—of satisfying your spouse. There are not many drawbacks to pleasing your husband or wife, but the apostle Paul said that when people go without physical intimacy they are subjected to greater temptation (1 Corinthians 7:5).
3. Intimacy in Marriage Is Threatened by Impurity
Of all the gifts God has given us, sex might be the most perverted. This is even more tragic when considering that intimacy is most enjoyed when couples have pure hearts and minds. People who reserve all of their desires and passions for their spouses will have the healthiest sex lives, and this is why impurity is one of the greatest threats to intimacy.
In any discussion of impurity, pornography almost immediately comes to mind. My son Ricky recently shared with me how amazed he was that a bull can be controlled by a ring through its nose. He could not believe that a creature so big and powerful could be led around by something as small and insignificant as a ring. This is what pornography does with people. It controls them. It does not matter how powerful or significant people are, when they introduce pornography into their lives, it will control them.
We also have to be concerned with what we set our hearts, thoughts, or feelings on. While there is nothing wrong with having friendships between genders, we should be cautious of becoming too close with those of the opposite sex. Even if your feelings for someone are pure and healthy, you cannot control how someone may feel towards you, and you do not want to become the object of someone else’s misplaced affection.
It is best to err on the side of caution and avoid becoming “the good listener” or “shoulder to lean on” for a friend of the opposite sex. This is especially true with married friends who should be pursuing such relationships with their spouses. Recently I have learned of three prominent ministry leaders who experienced moral failures because of their relationships with the opposite sex. More than likely each situation began with casual friendships that escalated after becoming too close.
Many in secular society view contentment as they view love—as a feeling or emotion over which they have no control. The Bible, however, presents contentment the same way it presents love—as a decision. In marriage we choose to be content or discontent with our spouses—the way our spouses look and what our spouses offer us. This is illustrated in Proverbs 5:18–19:
Let your fountain be blessed,
And rejoice with the wife of your youth.
As a loving deer and a graceful doe,
Let her breasts satisfy you at all times;
And always be enraptured with her love.
A number of words reveal the pleasure God wants us to experience with our spouses: “blessed . . . satisfy . . . enraptured.” We have the choice to feel these ways toward our spouses, and that is communicated by the words, “Rejoice . . . Let her satisfy you at all times . . . always be enraptured with her.” These words are commands we can obey or disobey. Husbands and wives can choose to be content with their spouses, but only if they are pure.
The couple in Song of Solomon only had eyes and feelings for each other. They were completely content with each other. As a result, their physical intimacy was healthy and joyful.
Three Practical Suggestions to Combat Threats to Intimacy
- Rip our eyes away from anything that provokes feelings of attractions for anyone other than our spouses. Do this because God commands it as part of living a holy life for Christ, but also understand that failing to do so destroys the intimacy in marriage. Individuals who give themselves over to pornography or lust find very quickly that they feel no attraction for their spouses.
- Take steps to ensure purity in your marriage: avoid certain places, remove certain movies from your home, or install accountability software on a computer.
- Go to Scripture with life’s problems, and we can find the answer to an absence of intimacy in the Song of Solomon. This book helps husbands and wives enjoy the physical aspects of marriage. As you read it, pray for God to restore and increase your attraction for your spouse. It is a wonderful prayer request.
Discussion Questions for Husbands and Wives
- What threats do you see to intimacy in your marriage? What can you do to combat them? What do you feel your spouse can do to combat them?
- Do you and your spouse have different desires when it comes to sexual intimacy? If you recognize differences, how do you deal with them? What changes do you need to make? What changes would you like to see your spouse make?
- Regarding friendships with the opposite sex:
- Do you have any you believe threaten your—or the other person’s—purity? If yes, what will you do differently?
- Do you feel your spouse has any threatening his/her—or the other person’s—purity? If yes, discuss with your spouse.
- What steps can you take to ensure purity in your marriage? What would you like to see your spouse do to ensure purity in your marriage?