On Dalrock’s thread “Radio Silence and Dread” I got into a discussion with a commenter who suggested that the husband threaten divorce as a last resort if the wife was refusing sex. I disagreed, and said that for a Christian divorce (even civil divorce for us Catholics) should not be an option except in cases of physical abuse with no signs of stopping or serial adultery where the offending party has no intention of stopping (as was the case with someone I knew who admitted adultery and then claimed he couldn’t promise he wouldn’t commit it again).
Commenter deti disagreed. First, I want to emphasize that deti’s disagreement was polite and I believe he argued in good faith. I have no overarching quarrel with him. That said, I’ll get down to the disagreement.
First off – the main purpose of marriage is indeed sex, but it is certainly not the only purpose of marriage. For one thing, St. Paul explicitly writes that by agreement couples can refrain from sex for a time. For another, we have such things as Josephite marriages. Now, obviously there is a key difference here in that such marriages are sexless by agreement, but that is not the point. The point is that there are obviously points to marriage besides sex, so I would say that denial of sex is no reason to (civilly) end a marriage.
I said this in the thread:
There is no such thing as abandonment of the marriage. The best a wife can do is leave, but she’ll always be married whether she likes it or not.
I know you probably think this is a semantic difference, but it is critical. Even if she denies sex, they are still married. They will always be married. For that matter, if there are kids involved I’d say that civilly divorcing because of lack of sex is absolutely and totally immoral.
If a husband literally can’t abide living in a house in a life with no sex, perhaps he shouldn’t have gotten married. He is in no danger of injury in this case, and his wife is not leaving him.
Just like a wife has no right to stop obeying her husband even if he is a bad provider a husband has no right to leave his wife even if she is not giving him sex.
I think the “provider” point is crucial. Just as husbands enter a marriage with (highly reasonable) expectations of sex, a wife enters the marriage with (highly reasonable) expectations the husband will be a provider. I think everybody would agree that being a bad provider is not an excuse for a wife to divorce – indeed, that is one of the points of Dalrock’s blog. Given that, we should also agree that denial of sex is no reason for divorce.
The bottom line here is that the husband (not to mention children) is in no physical danger and the wife is not getting sexually satisfied elsewhere with no sign of remorse (this is an assumption I grant in my premise). Given those two parameters, unpleasant as lack of sex may be – terrible, even – divorce should be one hundred percent off the table.
Deti wrote this (he had several responses but I think this sums them up nicely):
When you’re a married man, and you’ve been told that you are finally, at long last, going to get to have sex pretty much when you want it within reason, because you’re married, and you’ve been told sex is your reward for marrying, because marriage is the only biblically sanctioned place for sex; then your wife deprives you of sex deliberately and with the specific purpose of gaining control in the marriage, there is nothing which could be more cruel and inhuman and deliberately, willfully injurious and demoralizing to that man.
The problem with this line of thinking is that the only purpose of marriage isn’t sex. It is a major purpose of marriage, probably the primary purpose (along with having kids), but not the only purpose.
What the wife is doing is cruel and demoralizing, but the husband is in no physical danger. It’s important to remember that, at least from the Catholic perspective, divorce is literally impossible. The very worst the wife (or husband) can do is stop acting like she is married. This is what she is doing, and the answer to fixing it should not be to destroy everything ELSE that makes up a proper marriage as well.