“He hasn’t touched me in years.”

She fought back the tears in saying it. She had learned to live with her husband’s physical and emotional distance, but her heart still longed and needed to be wanted, desired, and touched sexually. What do you do when your husband doesn’t want to have sex with you?

(This is a post specifically written for women. For husbands, check out this article.)

The stereotype of a man pressuring his wife for sex does not apply to every relationship: about 25% of wives experience just the opposite. Even when a woman is not the one initiating sexual connection, it wounds a woman’s heart when her husband does not demonstrate sexual attraction to her.

The physical intensity and frequency of sexual activity vary greatly in healthy marriages. But if your husband is not regularly initiating sex with you and is also often unresponsive to your sexual advances, it can leave a hole in your heart. It’s easy to feel unloved, unwanted, and lonely.

I’ve heard from patients, coaching clients, blog readers, friends, and church acquaintances about the emptiness, pain, frustration, and isolation women feel who face this in their marriage.

While your husband is completely responsible for his behavior, taking action on your part will be empowering to you. Rather than wallowing in self-pity or looking outside the marriage for satisfaction, here are five questions to consider if your husband appears to be holding back from having sex with you.

What YOU Can Do

1. Does he feel loved by you?

The Number One love need for men is unconditional love, just like it is for women. This is not an excuse to start blaming yourself, but it’s an important question to consider. Some men will shrink back from the risk of asking for sex (and it IS a risk for him) if the emotional temperature between you is chilly. Can he win with you? Is he your hero?

Your part: be sure he knows you love him unconditionally. Consider, what’s it been like to be married to you? Would you want to come closer to you? Start by doing your own work in your own heart. BE the invitation for him to come closer to you.

Check out the many resources on our Relationships page

2. Are physical problems affecting his sexuality?

Substance abuse and many medications, some of them common, can decrease a man’s sexual drive and performance. Prostate problems or erectile dysfunction can make sex difficult. A man will shrink from attempting sex if he feels he will not be successful. Decreasing testosterone can dramatically alter a man’s sex drive and abilities. A doctor can investigate any of these potential physical reasons for his sexual difficulties.

Your part: encourage him to see a physician. Offer to go with him: he may or may not want you to. If he’s addicted, you can’t fix him but you do have a role to play.

3. Is he too distracted, worried, depressed, or tired?

Some men’s sexual drive is markedly decreased by feeling the pressure of providing, anxiety over money, overwork, physical exhaustion, a serious loss, etc. There’s a limit to what even a healthy man’s body and mind can carry without affecting the less “necessary” element of sexuality.

Your part: at a time when he can listen, talk with your husband about the burdens he is carrying, not to “get” something from him but to be a supporting presence. Make yourself a safe and caring place for him to work things out.

4. Is he indulging his sexual desires elsewhere?

OUCH!!! That’s not a possibility any woman wants to think about, but it may be a reality. If marital infidelity or pornography has invaded your marriage, ignoring it will not make it go away. While you are a sinner too, know that you didn’t cause your husband’s porn use or infidelity, and you can’t cure it. Porn in particular is an equal opportunity relationship destroyer! And some men do cheat.

Your part: be honest if you suspect your husband is looking elsewhere for sex. Get some help for yourself: Fight for Love Ministries, or Wives Care groups at BeBroken, are great options. Make a conscious and prayerful decision about what to do next. You are not powerless.

5. Has he felt rejected by you too often?

I am NOT saying that you must say Yes every time your husband asks for sex. Neither of you is entitled to sex. But remember, it IS a risk for him to pursue you. If he has gotten the message from you, verbally or nonverbally, that he is unwanted, unwelcome, unclean, or a poor performer, why would he keep trying? And who said you shouldn’t pursue him?

Your part: if you have issues with his hygiene, performance, or other behavior, talk about it at a time when he can hear you, apart from sex. Check your own heart for where you can be welcoming and affirming to him. And if you have the higher sex drive in your marriage, God may have gifted you to be the one to pursue that aspect of your relationship.

Remember, you cannot control your husband. A healthy marriage, including healthy sexuality, is a matter for both husband and wife to continually work on.

You’re NOT a Victim

But you don’t need to feel like a victim. Look honestly at what is going on in your marriage, and then focus on what you DO have control over. You have a great deal of influence, even power, in your relationship.

And lastly, know that God understands your heart. He knows what it’s like to feel lonely and rejected. It’s just possible that He can use you to be the catalyst in bringing healing and stronger connection in your marriage, sexually and otherwise.

Your Turn: How do you respond when your husband is not interested in sex with you? What emotions are most challenging for you? Feel free to leave a comment below.

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How’s Your Intimacy?

You said “I do” expecting lasting love, connection, intimacy, and joy. But you may now be feeling more loneliness, frustration, hurt, or even anger. What happened to “happily ever after?”

In one important sense it’s not your fault. Nobody ever taught you how to do marriage, intimacy, sex, and relationships well. Our Fully Alive Marriage online course shows you how to overcome marriage challenges, learn to love well, and build an intimate and Fully Alive marriage that lasts!