When my friend Ashley* shared that her marriage was in trouble, I asked, "Are you intimate on a regular basis?"

"Once a month or every other month – if I’m in the mood."

I took her hands. "You’re being very foolish. And you’re breaking your wedding vows."Ashley shifted in her chair. "Sex just isn’t that important to me."

"I bet it is to your husband."

Like my friend, perhaps you never realized you made a promise to God to meet your spouse’s sexual needs.

The wedding vow

What does the wedding vow "to have and to hold" actually mean? I think it’s referring to an exclusive, mutually satisfying sexual relationship within marriage. We chose to be sexually available to our mate when we said, "I promise to have you and to hold you." Living out this vow continues for the rest of our marriage. According to God’s design, you are the only person in the world who can legitimately fulfill this role.

While mutual sexual faithfulness is commonly understood to be part of the marriage commitment, the concept of couples pledging sexual satisfaction to one another may be easily overlooked. Yet, the two go together. Married couples who experience an ongoing healthy sexual relationship are better equipped to resist the temptation of adultery.

Caring compromise

The Lord designed sexual intimacy as a gift to every married couple, yet for some, it remains a point of frustration.

Struggles often come when the husband’s and wife’s desires for intimate contact are not equal. This calls for compromise. If your spouse would welcome making love daily while once a week seems ideal to you, why not split the difference and aim for every other day?

While most of us would never consider withholding regular, nourishing meals from those we love, some may be in the habit of assuming they have a right to ration out sexual contact according to their own desire, ignoring the sexual appetite of their husband or wife.

I asked Ashley to read 1 Corinthians 7:3-4. "A husband should satisfy his wife’s sexual needs. And a wife should satisfy her husband’s sexual needs. The wife’s body does not belong only to her. It also belongs to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong only to him. It also belongs to his wife" (NIrV).

"I’ve never read that before," Ashley said. "I’ve always thought, This is my body, and I give it when I want to."

While part of our wedding promise is to be an active participant in a passionate love life, we must be careful not to make unreasonable demands on our spouse. I know of a wife whose husband wanted sex up to three times a night. When I asked advice from a Christian counsellor, he said, "That’s spousal abuse. She needs professional help." True intimacy requires both partners to show consideration for their spouse’s health and built-in level of desire.

Sparking intimacy

What about couples whose sexual intimacy has been sporadic or nearly non-existent? Are there ways to coax the smouldering embers of desire?

First, understand that while a single image can produce flaming passion for a husband, his wife’s sexual desire may be like an elusive wisp of smoke. Heart-to-heart conversation and tender touches given without expectation will help her feel cherished. Wooing is never a waste of time, especially when the sexual relationship has been neglected.

Here are some other simple suggestions to help rekindle desire: Kiss passionately for five minutes each day; give your spouse a lingering back or foot rub every night for a week, without any further physical contact. This purposefully slow process is like blowing on smouldering ashes, hoping to stir a spark of passion.

Referring to sexual arousal, I’ve read that "men are microwaves and women are Crock-Pots." A husband who is aroused in two to three minutes needs to remember that his wife may require 20-30 minutes to be ready for sexual intimacy. Acknowledging this difference can help couples strive toward sexual pleasure for both husband and wife.

Aim to understand, honour and enjoy your differences. This takes time. But that’s okay; we have lots of time. In fact, when we promised "to have and to hold," we also vowed "until we are parted by death." (But that’s another story.)

* Name has been changed for confidentiality.

© 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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