Recently, I was a guest speaker at a men’s event, teaching the attendees the importance of knowing their self-worth and how to create boundaries with individuals including spouses. During the break, a wife of an attendee pulled me aside and asked for my advice. Her question was “what is the one thing I would recommend to women to avoid doing in a marriage?” Immediately, I replied, “stop using sex as a weapon.” This individual didn’t seem to like my answer and replied women have no other “tools” to keep the balance of power equal in marriages. I had to bite my tongue to keep my “jersey girl” from rearing her head. I wound up debating this woman for nearly 30 minutes, trying to explain that treating sex as a “commodity” in a relationship, only leads to anger, and resentment and will never end well. If sex is continually withheld until a woman deems her husband “a good boy” or worthy to have his needs met, this is tantamount to emotional blackmail!
One of the most common reasons I see men seeking a divorce is the fact that their spouse had been using sex as a weapon in their marriage, which then led to a sexless relationship, and ultimately now seeking a divorce. Men are often so desperate for sex, that they are willing to put up with these tactics for a while, but eventually, this leads to infidelity or they have their “ah ha” moment and realize their needs are just as important as hers, therefore, no longer willing to sacrifice them anymore.
Consciously and unconsciously, sex is all too often used as a tool to gain power or control in marriages and eventually leads to long-term damage. No marriage can function well when the beauty of sexuality is used in a harmful, controlling manner. When your spouse is using sex as a weapon, not only does a power struggle take place, but also likely a full-scale war is silently waged between you.
How do you know if sex is being used as a weapon against you? Here are 4 signs:
- Is she nagging and criticizing you regularly? Most likely this is to intentionally dampen your desire for her. Let’s be honest, men don’t want to have sex with a constant nagger.
- Your spouse controls not only the amount but also the timing of sex as an attempt to gain more power in the marriage. Sex is also intentionally withheld as retaliation for not having her emotional or physical needs met.
- Has she let herself go? I know this may sound shallow, but if your wife makes no effort in putting herself together, she may be trying to send the message she’s not available. We all know men are visual beings, which means the attraction is a visual experience for them. By not getting out of her sweatpants, and taking care of herself physically, she’s sending a message that you’re not worth putting the effort in to look good for you.
- If she keeps track of things that she wants you to do, i.e.: chores, errands, etc., and withholds sex until you do them, she’s using sex as a weapon! This turns a shared experience as a couple, into something one-sided and creates a troubling power imbalance.
When discussing this issue with my clients, I hear the many consequences of withholding sex has caused; resentment, and alienation, affected their value, and confidence, and erodes the trust in their marriage. When a couple’s sexual relationship goes awry, the level of tension in the household can be palpable. Not only is the couple often miserable, but the children may suffer because of unresolved problems. I put it this way to clients who are living in this scenario and are very unhappy, their children are probably not seeing the best version of themselves. They are most likely not the best they can be due to this underlying tension nagging at their self-esteem and self-worth.
At this point, you might be asking “What is the fix for this private, painful problem?”
The truth is that there is no simple resolution. Most “sex wars” come about because of longstanding communication issues that surface through sexual relations or the lack of sexual relations. In either case, the dysfunctional patterns that surface through “sex wars” take a toll on the overall health of the marriage, and separation or divorce often becomes the result.
If this has gone on for long periods, especially years, chances are slim change will occur. If a spouse has been conditioned to have sex with her husband only when she sees fit, it’s very difficult to give up that power in the relationship. For change to happen, I suggest creating a boundary with your spouse. Having a boundary that your needs can no longer be denied or rejected along with an open, authentic conversation about how you feel about this, may open the lines of communication, and increase your chances of bringing about change. As I had said to my audience, “know the value, in knowing your value!”
Hayley Lisa, The Divorce Coach for Men