Recent studies show an alarming increase in “sexless marriages” – in fact, The Times reported that more than 21 000 people search for help on this monthly via Google, outnumbering searches such as “unhappy marriage” and “loveless marriage”. The phrase “sexless marriage” refers to couples having sex less than once a month.
But who cares? A survey by psychotherapist Abby Rodman says 75% of those couples do! They had healthy sexual relationships, but claim that having children, stress and fatigue, health reasons, or simply time, had dried up all the romantic passion. In fact, this matters so much that half the respondents stated they would not have married their spouses had they known their married life would be sexless (Although 75% said that they would not end the marriage because of the lack of sexual intimacy).
(Not making) love hurts
Why do they feel so strongly? Because constant sexual rejection in a marriage hurts. A lot. Reading through articles, blogs, and recalling phrases I have listened to during counselling sessions, the following statements best capture the pain of spouses in sexless marriages:
I feel unloved, unwanted.
I feel unattractive, ugly.
I feel hurt. I sometimes hide in the bathroom and cry.
I feel so ashamed – what about me is so despicable?
I feel angry and cheated because I explained my desires, yet he/she ignores my pleas.
I feel ignored, my needs and desires are simply not important to my spouse.
I feel so worthless because he/she has time and energy for everything else but not me.
I feel so alone. I lie next to him/her in bed and yet feel so far away.
Sexual rejection by a spouse hurts so much because it denies the means and expression of intimacy reserved exclusively for each other. Especially in relationships where there was at some point much sexual arousal, the onset of habitual sexual rejection communicates not just “I don’t want sex”, but rather, “I don’t want you.” Simply put, long-term sexual denial feels like rejection of the person.
Something’s gotta give
Marriage by definition is companionship, a means to obtain intimacy. When sexual relations within marriage are rejected over a long period, it not only impedes the relationship, but also has devastating effects on the identity and emotional health of the rejected partner. The following statements give good insight into the effects of such long-term sexual rejection:
I feel so disconnected from my spouse. We live like house-mates; nothing more.
I find myself to be very irritable; small things make me act out in anger.
I have lost confidence – not just at home. I am not the strong man/woman I used to be.
I feel resentful; my heart is really hard towards my spouse.
I feel attracted to the attention of others; the rejection has made me vulnerable to emotional and physical affairs.
I have grown tired of being rejected so I have stopped making efforts for the relationship.
I am very suspicious – I hate admitting this but I think my spouse is interested in or in a relationship with someone else.
I am so depressed; the one person that I love does not want me.
I have suppressed every sexual desire, because not feeling anything is less painful than being rejected.
I am addicted to porn and masturbation. I know it is wrong but I can’t stop it (and I honestly don’t care anymore).
I don’t have hope for our marriage anymore. Things will always be this cold between us.
These phrases capture much pain. Looking at the two lists of statements above I feel so much sympathy for anyone in a sexless marriage. And I understand why Paul would write so strongly about not denying your spouse sexually intimacy (1 Corinthians 7:3-7). Yet every marriage goes through ups and downs, and therefore the challenge of married life is to continue “cleaving to your [spouse]”, to remain “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Never stop pursuing intimacy with your spouse!
Helpful, hurting, and hopeful
Over the years I have noticed three general responses of people suffering from long-term sexual rejection. The first group harbours anger, visible in hostility and frustration – typically accusation. It is as though these people subconsciously want to hurt their spouses so that they share in their pain of rejection. This is not helpful. Anger and hostility hinder any form of intimacy, which requires safe space to open up. So this response pushes the couple further apart.
The second group has become passive, apathetic. Escaping the torment of perpetual rejection, they have given up on any hope for intimacy and have suffocated their own desires for intimacy. Marriage has become a cold, platonic friendship. This is indeed a very lonely place – especially within marriage. This is not necessary: there is hope!
The third group has embraced vulnerability to allow for intimacy, enduring the hurtful rejection towards the other’s heart. It simply means to forgive the other in order to not close one’s own heart. They strive for connection beyond fear. These spouses talk about their hurts – but with open hearts – and intentionally create an environment of affection, warmth and encouragement. They never lose hope that they will regain the romance and intimacy which they once enjoyed. And they see the fruit. Love never fails (1 Corinthians 13:8).
To the rejecting spouse, I don’t think I need to write any further advice, except that you ask your partner whether he or she feels the same as any of the statements recorded above, and then strive to understand his/her needs for intimacy. Then share your feelings so as to identify the barriers to intimacy, whatever they may be, and seek help as a couple. Do it today!
My counsel to you, the rejected spouse, is take courage, and embrace vulnerability to graciously and patiently explain your feelings to your spouse. But do so in gentleness and love, not anger, and not with nagging. Express your love and attraction for him/her. Affirm your affections and approval of him/her. And with or without your spouse, seek help – your journey need not be so lonely. But never lose hope!
You alone might not be able to fix this, but nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37). Ask Him to make a garden in your wilderness! (Isaiah 51:3).
But fasting is not only prescribed for its health benefits; it is rightfully still thought of as a spiritual exercise or discipline. Yet in our high-paced consumerist society, this ancient discipline is not frequently practiced. So why should Christians fast? What is the promise behind this self-denying practice?
The 69th Psalm of the shepherd-king gives us unique insight into the purpose and power of fasting. In its opening lines David cries, “Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my soul. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold… mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies” (verse 1-2, 4). Two verses later he writes, “O God, you know my folly; the sins I have done are not hidden from you” (verse 5).
These opening phrases sketch the mindset of a troubled man in a hopeless situation: his soul is in anguish because of enemies much more powerful than himself, and to top it off, his conscience is troubling him with the weight of guilt. Then David finds comfort in these words, the central thought of the Psalm: “I humbled my soul with fasting” (Psalm 69:10).
God alone can save
Why fast? Firstly, David “humbled his soul with fasting” to appeal for help: his fasting was a clear statement that all his strength, all his knowledge, all his resources, were insufficient to save himself from this troubling situation. This great shepherd-king who killed the lion, the bear and great Goliath, who lead an army of mighty men that put fear in the hearts of his greatest enemies, this great David abstained from food and wine to shamelessly declare: “I cannot save myself” – “my prayer is to you, O Lord!”, “Save me!”, “Deliver me!” (verses 13, 1, 14). In his fasting he displayed his trust in God, saying: “God alone can save!”
Years later his great-grandson King Jehoshaphat received troubling news that three great armies were marching against Jerusalem, greatly outnumbering the inhabitants of small Judah. His first response was to do what he learned from David: “Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah” (2 Chronicles 20:3). Rather than rallying the troops, forming allegiances, gathering supplies and fortifying the cities, Jehoshaphat humbled himself with fasting to appeal for help from God. The closing line of his prayer captures the motive of their fast: “For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12). And as they weakened themselves through abstaining from food and stood before the Lord helpless, the Lord answered: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s” (verse 15). God responded with a great deliverance that day!
Still, years later, Ezra the priest was returning from exile, leading a group of elders and officials to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. Although Ezra had special favour from King Darius carrying letters of his support, Ezra refused to ask for a royal guard for protection through hostile territory because he assured the king that “The hand of our God is for good on all who seek him” (Ezra 8:22). So what did Ezra and his company do before their dangerous journey? “I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (Ezra 8:21). The wise priest and his companions humbled themselves with fasting to appeal for help from God. And the hand of the Lord was upon them for good!
God alone can satisfy
The second reason David states in Psalm 69 why he humbles his soul with fasting is to facilitate holiness as he confesses and shows remorse for his sins (verse 5-7). After being confronted by the prophet Nathan for his adultery with Bathsheba and staged murder of her husband Uriah, the king fell on the floor in remorse and fasted for seven days (2 Samuel 12:15-18). From this time of fasting comes these words:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment…
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”
(Psalm 51:1-4, 10-12)
David did not invent fasting as a means of repentance and holiness; as a Jew David grew up and annually kept The Day of Atonement – the special holy day during which all Israelites fasted (“afflicted their souls”) and confessed their sins to God as a nation. On this special Sabbath the High Priest offered a lamb for atonement of sins (Leviticus 23:27-28). Thus the nation annually humbled themselves in fasting as a sign of remorse to facilitate their holiness to God – as prescribed in God’s Law.
But fasting for holiness not only has to do with confession of sins – the key focus is to humble the soul by denying its carnal cravings. During a fast one shuts down all other impulses that tug at the heart and denies all the cravings of the flesh. This time of consecration therefore serves as both a reminder that God alone satisfies the desires of the soul, and an opportunity to grow in holiness and love for God. During a fast one can pray with the Psalmist, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God… Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls” (Psalm 42:1 & 7).
So Psalm 69 teaches us to humble the soul by fasting, firstly to obtain help, because God alone can to save, and secondly to grow in holiness, because God alone can satisfy.
When fasting is not selfish
But we ought to fast to obtain help for others, as the Lord instructed Israel in Isaiah 58:6: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” And Nehemiah and Daniel showed us that even righteous men humble themselves by fasting to show remorse for the sins of their nation and to appeal for God’s mercy (see Daniel 9 and Nehemiah 1).
Is there any situation in your life too big or difficult for you? Is your soul too cluttered, too worried, too demanding or overburdened with guilt? And do you crave intimacy with God; to share in His holiness? Then it’s time to slow down, and fast.
Taken from www.walklikejesus.net
In our Ask the Pastor series we’ve asked questions about being Christians, church members and family. Ross van Niekerk from Shofar Durbanville and Anton Myburgh from Shofar’s head office answer, “How do I become connected in church?”