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My husband will often touch me in sexual ways both at home and in public (when he thinks others aren’t looking). Sometimes I push him away and sometimes I don’t. The times I don’t push him away lead him to think I’m sometimes okay with it, but the truth is I hate it. I just don’t want to make a scene. I’m never okay with it and I’ll talk with him about it later, but he gets defensive and pulls away from me for days. He won’t touch me or talk to me, as if I’ve hurt his feelings by not letting him do whatever he wants to my body. All of his touches lead to something sexual, so I cringe anytime he wants to touch me. Even holding hands makes me nervous. I feel trapped.
Although I’ll provide a longer response, I want you to hear me loud and clear on this one truth:
You get to decide who touches your body, when they get to touch you, and where they get to touch.
It doesn’t matter if it’s your husband. No one has permission to touch your body without your permission. A healthy marriage is based on giving ourselves to our partners, not taking something from our partners. You give yourself to him and he gives himself to you. You get to decide what you’ll give to him. If he wants more from you, he can certainly ask, but taking is never okay.
President Howard W. Hunter taught that men must treat their wives with respect and dignity, especially in the delicate area of sexual intimacy. He said:
Keep yourselves above any domineering or unworthy behavior in the tender, intimate relationship between husband and wife. Tenderness and respect—never selfishness—must be the guiding principles in the intimate relationship between husband and wife. Each partner must be considerate and sensitive to the other’s needs and desires. Any domineering, indecent, or uncontrolled behavior in the intimate relationship between husband and wife is condemned by the Lord. Any man who abuses or demeans his wife physically or spiritually is guilty of grievous sin and in need of sincere and serious repentance.[i]
When he touches you sexually without your consent, his behavior fits President Hunter’s description of “domineering, selfish, and uncontrolled.” You aren’t required to let your husband touch your body. You are not his property. Even though you gave yourself to him in marriage, you didn’t give him permission to ignore your voice and preferences.
I know you’re worried about making a scene in public. It’s important for you to send an unmistakable signal to your husband that you won’t be sexually touched without your consent. If that involves moving away from him in a way that is noticeable to others, then I hope you’ll have the courage to act. You are the only one who can enforce your personal space. You are not trapped.
I see how confusing it is for you to have your husband treat you this way. I’m sure there are moments in your marriage where you want closeness, but don’t get to have it in a way that honors or respects your preferences. If you want this to change, you’ll have to teach your husband how you want to be treated.
Set the boundary around touch and let him know you won’t send mixed signals. You want him to understand that this behavior is never okay with you. This doesn’t mean you can’t be open to sexual touch under different conditions. If he’s open to hearing your concerns, then let him know how you want to be treated. Your boundary isn’t a manipulation to control his behavior. It’s an opportunity to do things differently in your relationship.
Now, I’ve spoken strongly about personal space and respect. This can’t be the final conversation in your marriage if you want to build a strong bond. While there needs to be time and space to rebuild trust and safety, there also needs to be a time down the road when you can both talk about the relationship dynamics around touch and sexual intimacy. If he’s working to respect your space, are you open to working together to create a new kind of relationship that is mutually satisfying? Don’t stop at personal boundaries and leave it at that. Marriage offers you both a chance to express what you need and work to respond to each other in loving and respectful ways.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at email@example.com
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.