There are two situations in my mind – there are those of you who have a spouse who has good reasons why they can’t meet your sexual needs (illness, physical limitation, past abuse, emotional issues) and then there are those of you who have a spouse who is able but not willing.
If your bride can’t:
This is comparatively easy. She is hurt, wounded or limited. Your understanding of this and your love for her goes a long way towards removing the feelings of anger. It’s unlikely you will feel betrayed, as you are not being betrayed. Being upset at her is like being mad at your four year old for throwing up on the carpet – no one is happy about it, but you care about your kid more than the carpet or the mess.
The danger in this situation is that you focus so much on her injury that you fail to let her know your honest needs. You see that she hurts for not being able to give you what you want, so you shy away from showing her the want. It feels like it’s protecting her, like it’s keeping her from hurting unnecessarily. Thing is, it’s a subtle form of lying, and by feeding her a lie you are making it easier for her to not work towards the healing that will allow her to be what you need sexually. Even if there is no reason to think she will ever be able to do what you really want (such as a physical issue that is not going to change) she can learn to provide you with sex, and to enjoy sex herself, in other ways. Think of it this way, if your 13-year-old keeps throwing up, you expect them to work with you to figure out why, and you expect them to learn to have a bowl or trash can nearby – and use it! These expectations don’t change your concern or love for your kid, but they are right and reasonable expectations.
If your bride could, but won’t:
Let’s be honest, this is a VERY difficult thing, no matter how loving and selfless you are. It’s tough to be nice and loving to someone who is, intentionally or not, causing you deep harm.
The only way I know to make this happen is to make a choice. Choose to love her regardless. Choose to give her things you don’t feel she deserves. Decide she does deserve them because you say she does, and because saying she deserves them is agreeing with God.
Do NOT expect her to repay you with kindness – or sex. You are doing it because it’s right, not for what you might get out of it. If you expect something, you will find it more difficult to act lovingly when you are not getting anything in return.
I will have more sex when he does XYZ:
A common defense by those who say no to sex is that they are not getting what they need, and when they get what they need they will dole out more sex. Thing is, this is such an inherently selfish and unloving choice that it’s difficult to believe a person who would say this is actually willing, or even able, to be more loving. Quid pro quo is not love, and those who offer it as if it is love really don’t get it.
Taking it a step further, the same things would apply to the husband who says “I’ll be more fill-in-the-blank when she has more sex with me”. This is not love, it’s bartering for sex. Don’t fall into this trap, it won’t end well.
The after effect: After sex, a regularly refused person usually feels very close and loving. This is not just gratitude, it’s a natural reaction to having your needs met, and to feeling more loved and cared for. There is nothing wrong with this, but it might be used against you. “You are only loving after we have sex” should make her think about how she can positively affect you, but may be taken as proof that you can be “nicer” and that you are withholding being nice until you get sex. The solution to this is to try to be consistent. Don’t quickly burn up all the goodwill and loving feelings from having sex – stretch it out. Try to be just as loving regardless of how much sex is occurring – no downs when there is no sex, and no big ups when there is sex
You will fail: No matter how hard you try, no matter how much you really love her, you cannot be free of the harm, and emotional drain that comes from a long-term lack of sex. Effort can do a lot to show love when you are not feeling loved, but human limits mean you won’t always do as you would like. Don’t beat yourself up over this, and don’t blame it on her lack of sex. Acknowledge that you are human and that you failed, apologize, and go on.
Burn out: Loving when you don’t feel loved and giving when you are not receiving what you need is both difficult and costly. It’s done at the expense of something inside you – something which is not unlimited. If you are too starved for things that build you up, there will come a point when you just can’t keep going. Far too often folks hang on for all they have until they run dry – then they let go, fall, and die emotionally and relationally. Gage your energy, and when you are running out of the ability to go on, warn her. Tell her you can’t keep going the way you have been, and if she does not make changes you will. Be as specific as you can about what you need and what you are running out of the ability to do for her. Yes, I’m talking about an ultimatum here. Ultimatums may not seem loving, but it’s far more loving than dying, no longer caring, and not being able to do anything no matter what she does.