What does the Bible say that a husband or wife should do if their spouse refuses to participate in sexual relationship?
1 Corinthians 7:3-5
ESV – 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Jennifer Goss Artist, Babysitter, Perpetually Curious
Continuing to live in faith yourself and love unconditionally has been covered, so I will not get into that, but address steps that may be taken [if both parties are Christian].
As awkward as it may be, the two should go talk to their mentor or pastor or an agreed upon third party of some influence in their lives who is known for wisdom and devotion to God. Problems are to be resolved inside the church as much as possible – this is far preferable to going outside the church to get marital counseling, etc.
Every marriage should have breaks and breathers to focus on God – but if refusal is consistent or used as a weapon, then this is definitely something that needs to be brought discreetly into mediation.
Hopefully, the spouse will agree to come with, so that the discussion can be neutral and fair to all parties. If they do not, it is still acceptable to meet with a mentor/pastor/third party in the church – but the spouse may find themselves in the position of being asked to accept a determination that they were not a part of. The benefit of having the couple both there is that they each may present their side, and the councilor/judge may give both of them things to work on or do.
As marriage issues are private and usually involve at least the perception of wrong by both parties, I would advocate treating the resolution not in the format of church discipline (where the one in the wrong would eventually have to face the public judgement of the church if they refused to repent) – but more as civil cases which are brought before the church for resolution and judged privately by those the church or the couple sees as having the authority to mediate and determine the case. This is my own opinion only – but I do not think the public discipline of the church would benefit the reconciliation of a marriage. [However, as marriage does represent Christ and the church, perhaps even marriages are not exempt from this].
If no one can be found to mediate the case, or if the spouse refuses to go or accept the judgement, then it is “better to be wronged” than it is to return evil for evil or to take the dispute to the to the secular world (such as seeking divorce).
(1 Cor 6:1-11)
Lastly, while this does not excuse a marriage partner consistently refusing conjugal rights – it is easy to forget that the other spouse may also be forgetting his/her own duties in a marriage. If either spouse forgets that love is unconditional, they can start withholding their normal gifts of marriage (love, respect, protection, provision,service, etc). A man who withholds protection and affection out of anger that he is never listened to is equally as wrong as a woman who abstains from intimacy because she is angry she doesn’t think her feelings are being given enough priority.
Paul wasn’t giving an exhaustive list of marital duties, nor even saying that conjugation was the most important one. However, it was a topic that that specific church needed to hear (the influence of Gnosticism led to many viewing themselves as hyper-spiritual if they did not marry, or didn’t have sex if they did, as they viewed the physical body as evil).
To summarize: Love unconditionally, check over your own life to be sure you are fulfilling all your own duties, and seek out council or resolution from someone who can act as a mediator or judge in the church.