How does a man stay sexually interested in his wife after years and years of marriage? Jesus said that anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart (Matthew 5:28), but this strikes me as being terribly unrealistic. In my experience, sexual attraction has always been closely tied to anonymity. A good-looking stranger excites my imagination precisely because I don't know her. My wife, on the other hand, is as familiar as an old pair of slippers. This seems only natural, but it really bothers me as a Christian who wants to stay faithful to his wife. Can you help?
If you're right in assuming that sexual attraction is based primarily on anonymity, we're all in big trouble. If familiarity really does "breed contempt," we've all got a serious problem on our hands. What's worse, we have to conclude that Jesus knows nothing about human psychology and sexuality. And that's not all: because He doesn't understand our internal make-up, He expects us to live by cruel and unreasonable rules.
We think, however, that the solution to the problem lies in a different direction. You have to realize that there is no necessary link between anonymity and sexual attraction. If such a link exists in the public mind, we'd suggest that it's purely a product of culture. It's probably based on western conceptions of "romance." Those ideas in turn go back to medieval notions about "courtly love." Among other things, the creed of "courtly love" held that a knight could not possibly feel as passionately about his wife as he did about his "lady" (who usually happened to be someone else's wife), and that a sexual partner, to be enticing and exciting, must also be mysterious and unknown.
We'll go further. It seems clear to us that remnants of this tradition, reinforced by Hollywood and played out in the search for "greener pastures," are largely responsible for our high divorce rate and some of the other domestic difficulties that plague modern American society. (Interestingly enough, these problems are much less prevalent in cultures where marriages are pre-arranged and where young people are not burdened with the necessity of "falling in love" with some alluring "stranger in the night.")
What you need to understand is that healthy sexuality, from a Christian perspective, actually involves a willingness to resist the apparent attractions of anonymity. According to God's plan, satisfying sex is something you "grow into" by constantly re-affirming and re-embracing the familiar charms of your spouse. In the words of Solomon:
Drink water from your own cistern, and running water from your own well. Should your fountains be dispersed abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be only your own, and not for strangers with you … Rejoice with the wife of your youth … and always be enraptured with her love. For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman, and be embraced in the arms of a seductress? (Proverbs 5:15-20).
You can take an important step in this direction by realizing that sexual passion is just one of four distinct types of love. It takes all four to hold a marriage together and keep it going. First, there's the unconditional, self-sacrificial love that the New Testament writers refer to as agape (see 1 Corinthians 13). Then there's the love of companionship, friendship, and open communication. Romantic love – the third type – can't possibly survive unless it's built upon this twin foundation. In a very real sense, it's the icing on the cake. As for sexual love, it's best understood as the physical celebration and expression of the other three.
If romance has waned in your marriage, there are a number of things you can do to revive it. Set aside a regular date night so that you can spend more time together. This may mean paying a babysitter, but it's worth the cost. Write a love letter to your wife. Buy her a rose. Be creative in the ways you show your affection for her. You'll be surprised at how simple little acts like this can impact your experience in the bedroom.
Meanwhile, if you struggle with lust, you might find some comfort in knowing that you're not alone. It may also help to reflect that "taking a hit on the male sensory apparatus" is not necessarily the same as "lusting after a woman." The Bible makes it clear that there is such a thing as personal self-control. A man can learn to let random sensory stimuli bounce off him without taking root in his mind and heart. Remember the words of Martin Luther: "It's one thing to have a bird land on your head, but quite another to let it build a nest in your hair." Naturally, this requires a certain degree of commitment and discipline, perhaps more in the case of the male than in the female. But it's not an impossible assignment.
If you feel a need to discuss these thoughts on love at greater length, we'd like to invite you to speak with a member of our Counseling department. They can also provide you with a list of licensed Christian marriage and family therapists practicing in your area. Don't hesitate to call if you think this might be beneficial.
Three Ways to Spark Attraction to Your Wife: Gary Smalley offers suggestions for how to recapture romance when you don't feel sexually attracted to your wife.
Sex and Intimacy