The fourth core vow is a promise to live in a mutual sexual relationship to the exclusion of all other sexual partners. This vow has two aspects – (1) to engage in physical intimacy with each other and (2) to refrain from (refuse to engage in) physical intimacy with anyone else. Keeping this facet of the marital covenant is a mutual charge. Neither party carries the full weight of it.
While we are young and healthy, the first aspect of this vow tends to express itself with no difficulty. Periodically in our relationships, health issues may make it necessary to suspend full sexual expression for a season. We weather these storms together.
Paul also suggests in 1 Corinthians 7:4-5 that a sort of sexual fasting might sharpen the spiritual focus. (The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise, also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.) Under no circumstances should physical intimacy be relegated to a reward system to control a partner’s behavior.
In time, as bodies age, sexual expression may take on more creative, mutually comfortable forms, but it does not need to cease. Recognizing that physical intimacy is recreational as well as procreational keeps us healthier and happier together. Couples that are willing to age creatively tend to age more gracefully and with greater unity.
The latter aspect is a matter of personal discipline. We need to understand that, and never lapse into the mindset that our spouse can do or say (or fail to do or say) anything that will drive us into the arms of another lover. Humans never outgrow the tendency to blame others for their own failures. Words like seduced, lured, and enticed are enhanced forms of asked. At the marital altar, every future conversation of this genre is asked and answered. If a conversation turns in that direction, do not play with it. Shut it down and walk away from it. Better yet, run. You are not as strong as you think you are. This is one situation where the abortionist mantra “MY BODY, MY CHOICE” genuinely applies. That choice was made at the marital altar.
No one can ever, under any circumstances, force anyone else to engage in physical intimacy.
I hear you. The question “What about rape?” rings loud and clear. The answer is simple. Rape is an act of aggression perpetrated against its victim. It is the ultimate expression of breaking and entering and the most heinous form of theft known to humankind. Any physical response notwithstanding, the victim of rape did not choose to engage in physical intimacy. God forbid that any of us should ever face this terrible situation, and God heal and comfort those of us who have, but such an encounter is neither volitional nor consensual, so it does not break the marital vow. Hear that clearly.
If we find ourselves engaged in any level of physical intimacy with anyone other than our marital partner, we have broken this vow. Stop right there and think that all the way through. The marriage is wounded, but this wound does not have to be fatal. If there can be honest confession and genuine contrition that is met with compassion and mercy, this wound can be healed. But make no mistake about it, there will be a protracted healing process, and this level of damage will leave a permanent scar. That said, if that is where you find yourself, back up and fix it if you can, and God be with you.
Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.1 Corinthians 6:18-25
Tomorrow, to keep this covenant inviolate until the death of one of the parties to it…