I am a Christian woman married to a man for 26 years who I do not love. I am ashamed to admit it, but I can't make myself love him. I cannot be physically intimate, which frustrates him of course. I want to obey God and serve Him, but how can I do that when I am pretending to love my husband. I feel guilty ministering to others in my situation. I know love is more than a feeling, but how do I sort this out?
Your situation is one that other married Christian women also face, though few confide in others for fear of being judged. Know you are not alone in this struggle.
To begin, let's look at the scriptures that relate to the relationship of a wife to her husband:
Eph. 5:15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men, but as wise,
Eph. 5:16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil.
Eph. 5:17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
Eph. 5:18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,
Eph. 5:19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord;
Eph. 5:20 always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;
Eph. 5:21 and be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.
Eph. 5:22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
Eph. 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
Eph. 5:24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
Eph. 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her;
Eph. 5:26 that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,
Eph. 5:27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she should be holy and blameless.
Eph. 5:28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself;
Eph. 5:29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,
Eph. 5:30 because we are members of His body.
Eph. 5:31 FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.
Eph. 5:32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.
Eph. 5:33 Nevertheless let each individual among you also love his own wife even as himself; and let the wife see to it that she respect her husband.
Paul gives guidelines to the church on how to behave knowing the days are evil. The church needs to follow what is right, and Paul outlines for the church the specific behaviors to adopt in their relationships to ensure they are doing what is right.
In verse 21 Paul says that Christians should be subject to one another. This means giving regard for one another, and not putting our own needs above another's. Simply put, we are to love others more than we love ourselves. Then Paul moves to discussing the most intimate earthly relationship we can experience: marriage.
In verse 21 he speaks specifically to the wife. Paul says the wife is to be subject to her own husband. Paul adds "…as we are to the Lord." To give an example of the marriage relationship, Paul draws a comparison to the Church's relationship to Christ. A wife is not commanded to love her husband; she is commanded to be subject to him.
Wives are to follow the husbands direction in every facet of life. By following her husband, the wife shows love to her husband. Remember, love is not described in Scripture as an emotion; it is an action. Paul's final verse ends by telling the wife to respect her husband. This is the purist sign of love: respect and obedience. Again, Scripture doesn't imply it will be easy to obey, but it is something we can do with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Moving in the direction of obedience and subjection to our husbands can begin in small ways. We start in ways the Spirit leads. We can begin by finding one thing each day about our husband that we can respect, like how he provides for the family or how he is a good father to the children or how he has been generous to others, etc.
By looking for a small starting point in respecting her husband, a wife can move in the direction of obedience and love by rely on the Holy Spirit to give herstrength in this process. When our struggle to show respect or subject to his authority wanes, we should pray that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes to see something else we can respect in our husband and begin the process again.
Paul follows this same pattern of teaching again in the book of Colossians chapter 3.
Col. 3:12 And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience;
Col. 3:13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you.
Col. 3:14 And beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.
Col. 3:15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful.
Col. 3:16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Col. 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.
Col. 3:18 Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
Col. 3:19 Husbands, love your wives, and do not be embittered against them.
Paul begins with the same example of how the Church should conduct itself now that we have come to faith. Then he moves to the more specific calling of individuals in the Body and what each group is called to do in Christ. In v.12 Paul gives a comprehensive description of how we are to treat one other in the faith.
Notice he specifically says we should "put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity." Perhaps you sensed the truth of this verse when you said you knew love is more than a feeling. The Bible affirms this view. We can't put on a feeling, but we can put on the actions that Paul listed.
We are called to act in love even when we don't feel loving. This choice brings unity to the Body of Christ and to our marriages. Paul gives a precise description of Christian love in vs.12-13, then Paul moves to giving specific directions for the more intimate relationship of marriage.
Again, he begins with the wife first in v.18 saying, "Be subject to your husbands…" with the clarifier, "…as is fitting in the Lord." Paul is saying a wife should be subject to her husband without doing anything that would go against the Lord. So as long as the husband is not asking the wife to sin, then she is to be subject to the husband.
Notice in both of these passages that Paul admonishes the husbands also to love their wives. More time is given to the man's responsibilities than to the wife's, in keeping with the man's greater responsibility in maintaining a strong relationship in the Church and in the family. But the wife has her role as well.
Finally, 1Peter 3 gives direction to wives, but to understand chapter 3, we must drop back into 1Peter 1 briefly:
1Pet. 1:17 And if you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each man’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay upon earth;
1Pet. 1:18 knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers,
1Pet. 1:19 but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.
Peter taught that because we call God our Father, then we must conduct ourselves in fear during our time on earth. By our fear of God, we gain the courage to do all that Peter teaches in the rest of his letter. Peter's third chapter then providing specific calls of behavior in submitting ourselves to all forms of earthly authority. Peter reminds us that these earthly forms of authority as always from God.
Peter begins in chapter 3 with a discussion of slaves. It is important to note this, because when Paul moves to discussing wives in 1Peter 3:1, he says "In the same way…" Peter told the servants and slaves of that day to be subject to their masters, whether they are treated fairly or not. This kind of obedient behavior became the slave's way to stand apart from the non-believing slaves of their day.
Peter uses Christ's obedience as our example to follow in the way Jesus was mistreated though innocent. He did not defend Himself; He submitted. Christ is the example of how we are to behave in subjection to authority.
Then Peter transitions to wives by saying they are to follow the same example. They obey and respect their husbands - not because the husband is always deserving of honor but because Christ's submission teaches us to obey despite mistreatment, because it honors the Lord.
Now let's look at what Peter addresses to wives specifically.
1Pet. 3:1 In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives,
1Pet. 3:2 as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior.
1Pet. 3:3 And let not your adornment be merely external — braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses;
1Pet. 3:4 but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.
1Pet. 3:5 For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands.
1Pet. 3:6 Thus Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
Again, wives are told to be submissive to husbands, and it does not depend on whether the husband deserves it. Peter emphasizes that a woman's beauty is determined not by what she does externally but by what is in the heart, that is a gentle and quiet spirit as we see in v.4. Peter says this is precious in the sight of God.
Such internal submission and obedience is how we please God, and the Lord will judge wives by how we met His expectations in honoring our husbands.
Peter ends this section with a wonderful example from the story of Sarah. Sarah obeyed Abraham, even calling him Lord, Peter says. Keep in mind that Abraham is not portrayed in Scripture as perfect, especially in his dealing with his wife Sarah.
Peter's point is that Sarah still obeyed her less-than-perfect husband, and therefore she is seen in Scripture as a woman who did what was right in the sight of God. Amazing!
You have a husband that is from the Lord. You want to be the wife God has called you to be in His Word, therefore you need to turn to the Holy Spirit to find the strength to submit and obey your husband, which is what you are called to do in your service to Christ and it is how you will be measured by God in your judgment.
We cannot promise you that in the end you will come to feel love for your husband, especially the emotional, romantic love you desire. You may at least reach a point of respectful admiration or brotherly love by God's grace. In either case, love will only come because you committed to obeying the Lord by submitting to your husband and respecting his authority. In the meantime, you can rest in the knowledge that you are worshipping your Lord and pleasing Him by your obedience.
In many cases where there are intimacy problems in a marriage, the marriage is lacking in good communication. If the couple is not communicating well, problems will go unresolved, and over time they can become barriers to intimacy. If communication in the marriage has broken down, then we recommend seeking professional help from a Christian counselor skilled in working through these issues. Counseling is often little more than communication education. Perhaps your church can help guide you in this area in helping you find someone who can counsel with the scriptures as their guide.
We believe you can work on becoming a more obedient and submissive wife while ministering to others, but the final answer is only something that you and the Lord can know. Seek His will on that question.
Our desire and prayer is that the importance of becoming the kind of a wife God has called you to be in His word will be your motivator for worship and in your family relationships. See this situation as a test God has graciously given you, and as James taught: