How Being Faithful to Your Spouse is More than Sex

Couple fingering their wedding rings. What does it mean to be faithful to your spouse?

You rightfully expect your spouse to be faithful to your marriage vows and you probably hold yourself to the same standard. “Don’t have sex with anyone who’s not your spouse.” But that doesn’t adequately express the concept of faithfulness. What does it mean to truly be faithful to your spouse?

The Hebrew concept of faithfulness carries the idea of being dependable, trustworthy, reliable. We count on God to be faithful (Deuteronomy 7:9, Psalm 89:1, Lamentations 3:23). God expected His people to worship only Him, and when they worshiped other things God described them as unfaithful or treacherous (Psalm 78:56-57, Jeremiah 3:20, Hosea 6:7).

God designed marriage as an earthy demonstration of the intimate relationship He has within Himself and that He desires to have with us. Our earthly marriages need to mirror the kind of covenant love God displays toward us.

Certainly that includes not having sex with anyone who’s not your spouse. But is that all? Being faithful to your spouse means a whole lot more.

More Than Bodies

Limiting faithfulness in marriage to the acts you do with your genitals misses the point. There are plenty of husbands and wives who have never “crossed the flesh barrier” who have been anything but faithful. Jesus made this clear when He equated looking at another person “with lustful intent” with adultery (Matthew 5:27-28).

Yes, any kind of sexual contact with someone not your spouse is wrong. But what about the rest of it? When you promised to “forsake all others and keep myself only unto you” that included getting your sexual satisfaction only from your spouse. How have you dealt with the temptations to:

  • Fantasize about having sex with someone else
  • Get sexual gratification from porn
  • Demand sex from your spouse as an entitlement
  • Withhold sex as a weapon to manipulate or punish
  • Flirt with someone who’s not your spouse
  • Share emotional intimacy with someone else that should be reserved for your spouse

There’s a difference between appreciating another person’s physical characteristics and lusting. When your mind starts going down the road of, “What would it be like to see them without their clothes on?”, you’re being unfaithful.

And there’s a difference between sharing emotionally important things with a same-sex friend or small group in order to get support, insight, and help, and sharing things with someone that you wouldn’t want your spouse to know about. You absolutely need friends beyond your spouse, but do you find yourself strategizing to be sure your spouse doesn’t find out? That’s dangerous.

The human heart easily seeks to justify itself. If you find yourself uncomfortable reading these paragraphs or you hear yourself making silent excuses, that’s an indication the Holy Spirit is wanting to deal with you about something.

More Than Sexuality

Sexual exclusivity is critical for a marriage to be healthy, but faithfulness involves more than sex. Remember the concept includes being trustworthy, reliable, dependable.

Can your spouse count on you to be for your relationship? Have you broken trust with your spouse in how you’ve spent money? Are you spending more time and energy at work or with your friends while neglecting to invest in your marriage? Can your spouse depend on you to truly hear them, to be a safe place for them to be real, and to partner together in solving difficult problems?

Faithful means sticking with it through tough times. Life happens. You and your spouse both bring baggage into the relationship. You will each hurt each other. Faithfulness means you don’t give up when things become uncomfortable. You do the required work to deal with your own stuff because that’s what’s good for the relationship. You stick with your spouse as they work through their stuff.

And you invest in intimacy regardless. If vaginal pain or erectile difficulties make normal intercourse impossible you do the work necessary to find other ways to connect physically and emotionally and pleasure each other. You do the work necessary to identify and overcome the barriers to intimacy. You seek to understand each other’s hearts with deep knowing.

(Note: some marriages become toxic. There are times God releasees someone from such a destructive relationship.)

HELP! There’s no Faithfulness Here!

Who of us can measure up to that standard of faithfulness? The disciples felt overwhelmed at Jesus’ teaching about marriage and exclaimed, if that’s the case “it is better not to marry” (Matthew 19:10).

We can’t be faithful–to God or to our spouses–on our own. Faithfulness is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). It’s part of becoming like Jesus. And the only way we can become faithful is to stick very close to Jesus, drawing our life from Him.

A few practical words.

If you feel convicted that you have been less than faithful to your spouse, start doing something different today. Simply trying harder won’t work. Faithfulness cannot depend on your own willpower. What will you start doing differently to become the person God is calling you to be from the inside out?

That might be dealing with your own sexual past, pornography use, hating sex, or other baggage. (Our Sexpectations course is a helpful way to do that.) It might mean learning skills of communication. You may need to work with God in making and keeping your own heart open to connection with your spouse.

And if you feel the pain of your spouse being unfaithful to you, remember that you can’t change them. You can only choose who you want to be. Criticizing or blaming your spouse won’t work. But there are many times setting hard boundaries or confronting bad behavior may be the kindest way you can be for your relationship.

Above all, stay on your knees. Remember, how God treats us, His faithfulness to us, is determined by who He is, not by how we behave. Ask God to show you who He needs you to be to your spouse in this season.

Let God’s faithfulness to you encourage and strengthen you. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy 2:13).

Your Turn: How well have you been faithful to your spouse? Have you thought of faithfulness more broadly than just who you have sex with? Where do you need to grow in faithfulness?  Leave a comment below.

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  • Being faithful to your spouse is more than not having sex with anyone else. It also involves matters of the heart, mirroring God’s faithfulness to us.  Tweet that.

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