Counselors have agreed for many years that sex is one of the four or five main areas of marital conflict.
I love asking young couples preparing for marriage why sex would be such a big source of conflict in marriage. If they’re striving for purity in their relationship, one of their toughest challenges is keeping their hands off each other!
Most engaged couples don’t understand why sex would be a source of marital conflict. It sounds strange to them. So premarital counselors must look down the road and help them to think realistically about life — and, reality is not unclear on this matter.
I tell singles and engaged couples that one of the primary reasons sex is a source of conflict in marriage is the very thing that makes it possible. I always get a look of confusion from them until I say: “It involves a man and a woman!” Then, after awkward laughter, they return to their confused look. To help them understand, I use the illustration of microwaves and crock-pots.
Microwaves and Crock-pots
Men tend to be like microwaves when it comes to sex; women tend to be more like a crock-pots. Sex for most women is more of an extended part of an overall relationship. It tends to be more of a physical act for men.
I am not validating all that could be implied by the imagery, I am just trying to illustrate general facts. The point of the imagery is that men and women typically approach sex differently.
In most marriages, sex will be more of an area of intentional giving for women. But relationship-building will require more thoughtful intention from men. A primary reason sex is a source of conflict is the fact that husbands tend to want more sex in marriage than their wives. When you factor in how a man often tends to connect his sense of self-respect to sex, things can get really bad if he feels rejected or like he is always the initiator.
I’ve sometimes observed resentment from husbands over the way their wives were sexually aggressive before marriage and shut down after marriage. Some single women (sadly) assume that they must use sexual advances to “win” a man. In doing this, they give him the impression that this is how life together will be. I’ve talked with men who resentfully express how they had more sex with their wives before they were married.
Lest I sound like I am picking on women, in a similar way, men are often guilty of using intentional relationship building to “win” a woman and then shifting into complacency after marriage. The pastor who performed our wedding charged me with these words: “The graces you used to win her love, use to keep her love.”
Sober words for married couples:
When it comes to the sexual part of marriage, couples should pause over these words:
“But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (I Corinthians 7:2-5, NLT)
If couples want to have a better love life, husbands must be intentional and take initiative in building relationship and wives must be intentional and take initiative in sexual matters.
Wives, please remember that you are God’s source of protection for your husbands. Couples must view sexual frustration as a threat to their marriages. Prolonged sexual abstinence must not be permitted in a marriage. Scripture specifically identifies it as an opportunity for the evil one!
Men and women are different. Without some prior discussion about this reality, the differences will likely become unnecessary sources of selfishness and conflict. Many images have been used to explain male/female differences. Men are from Mars, women from Venus; Men are like waffles; women like spaghetti. The differences are real and should be studied by couples preparing for marriage. Once understood, couples should consider the way God can use their differences to build stronger oneness.
A unique challenge in the Church
The challenge to allow differences lead to oneness is sometimes hindered by an unfortunate tendency to use biblical references to headship and submission to diminish the uniqueness and contributions of wives. When a husband insists that life conforms to his dominant identity, he violates God’s original plan for marriage and fails to embrace the original truth that it’s not good for the man to be alone.
I’ve also observed women who suppress their identity under more dominant men who frankly need their gifts and strengths. Sometimes these women entertain misguided understandings of headship and submission. Trying to be “submissive wives,” and letting their husbands be “leaders of their homes,” these women violate the original design by not fulfilling a complementary role for husbands who badly need their unique gifts.
The original plan assumes the necessity of individuality and uniqueness (in both husbands and wives) for the completion of oneness. The two must become one — without one disappearing into the other.