[This article from Those Catholic Men is featured on MovingBabies]
I was recently asked when it’s good for couples to take a break from sex. There are times when it is actually beneficial for couples to refrain from sexual activity; however, they should not be for extended or indefinite periods of time. St. Paul wrote, “Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor. 7:5).
When a couple is struggling in their relationship, it can be good to refrain from sex for a short period of time. To be sexual, one must be physically, emotionally and spiritually vulnerable with their spouse. If there are problems in the marriage, it can be difficult to allow one’s self to be vulnerable. Often sex is the problem in a relationship. I have worked with many wives who have felt sexually used and exploited by their husbands. This period of abstinence gives couples the opportunity to work on healing their relationship. This can include learning about healthy intimacy and sexuality. Thus, when they are ready to be sexual again, they can have a healthy sex life, which can enhance and strengthen their marriage.
For couples who are struggling because of pornography/sex addiction, I often recommend a 90 period of abstinence (maybe coincide with Exodus90?). For men who are addicted to pornography/sex, they need time for their brains to detox from the extreme neurochemical stimulation. This can only happen by avoiding all sex cold turkey. This time of abstinence also helps wives. There are several ways that wives react to their husband’s addiction. Many are completely disgusted by their husbands and just of the thought of having sex with them is repulsive; however, they may feel obligated as good wives to still have sex with their husbands. Others may blame themselves for their husband’s infidelity, believing it was because they weren’t sexual enough. They may become hypersexual with their husbands to keep them from straying again. This can be a great burden for wives because they then feel responsible for keeping their husband’s faithful. The 90-day period of abstinence relieves wives in both situations from having to be sexual with their husbands. The period of abstinence also gives them time to recover from the trauma as a result of the deep betrayal they feel. For both spouses, as stated above, the period of abstinence is a time to focus on healing their relationship. This is easier when they don’t have to worry about being sexual before their ready.
There are other times when it is beneficial for couples to refrain from sex. There could be medical reasons for abstaining from sex. Family obligations can also make it difficult to be sexual. For example, couples with infants or young children often find it difficult to be sexual. When bedtime rolls around, they may simply be too tired to be sexual. In this situation sleep is needed more than sex.
While refraining from sex can be good for a marriage at times, it should not be for an extended or indefinite period – no more than 90 days. I often recommend couples sign a 90-day abstinence contract. While they are abstaining, couples should be using that time to improve their relationships emotionally and spiritually. They can go on dates, pray together, and learn about healthy intimacy. Then, when they are ready to be sexual again, it can be a wonderful experience that leads to a stronger, healthier, and holier marriage for the couple.