Which is easier to deal with, “can’t” or “won’t”?
When your spouse is unavailable for sex, which response is easier to cope with? Can’t, or Won’t? For definition, “Can’t” could be anything from systemic desire issues, illness or recovery, mental or physical, short or long term. (Although the duration may change your answer) “Won’t” is more of an actionable choice or mindset that prevents you from celebrating your union, or having deeper fulfillment in your sexual relationship. I’ve thought about this a lot recently and I’m curious what the TMB’ers think.
(Edited because I thought about this just after posting)
Are you sure you know which response you’re getting?
Who gets to make the call if it is a “can’t” or “won’t”? We are semi dealing with this. When another can’t know what’s going on emotionally or mentally in another, it’s easy for that outside person to label the actions a choice of “won’t”, when it may very well be a “can’t”.
I think some of your definition is flawed “systemic dsire issues” I think would fall under won’t instead of can’t. Even if you are not “in the mood” or feeling the desire, you can still participate (not that its as satisfying, duty sex does nothing for me) but even for the man if there is ED hands and mouth still work. When my husband was dealing with low testosterone we still had sex (although much less than normal) but it was all “for him quickies” because he “didn’t have the energy” for a longer session with an orgasm for me. He would say that he “wanted to” and I do know he felt bad (mentally and physically) but to be quite honest he still got up and went to work even though he didn’t have the energy for that either. It was a choice. I’m the last person to throw stones because for the first three years of our marriage we rarely had sex and it was only when I “felt like it” which was very rarely, that was a choice on my part too. But even when my husband was finally diagnosed with low testosterone and I knew there was a medical reason for his decreased desire it didn’t really take the sting away. Even though we’ve been out of that period of our marriage for several years the times he occasionally deals with ed my mind automatically goes to “I’m not attractive” or “he doesn’t want me” or if he’s too tired on a night when I’m in the mood I can jump to worst case scenario. I recognize that’s totally my own issue and not his. I think for me its more cause dependent, as opposed to can’t/won’t dependent. I’ve never been in a situation of medical incapacitation so I can’t really say if that would be easier or harder but I tend to think I’d still struggle to deal with it even knowing logically that it wasn’t something he could control, not that I’d be angry at him but that I’d still have trouble feeling wanted. Something that I need to work on is finding my identity and “wantedness” in God instead of in my husband (or at least in different proportions than I currently do).
I can’t imagine anyone choosing Won’t over Can’t. Won’t is a choice, whereas Can’t is based on circumstances beyond spouse’s control.
I suppose you wouldn’t know which response you’re getting if you are married to someone who would lie about feeling ill or mentally exhausted, but in a healthy marriage, I would hope it would be clear and not a guessing game. As SC mentioned above, we can’t be inside the mind of another, so if my spouse tells me he Can’t have sex due to x,y, or z, I take him at his word.
Early in our marriage there were times when ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ were to me the same answer. I felt the drain of my purpose and value as though I was the meaningless and selfish part of our marriage. My responses were confusion, frustration, defeat and eventually anger. In the few years leading up to our marriage after salvation I worked to grow in Christ, to see my worth in Him. But then in marriage I found myself very dependent upon my own feelings. In marriage I would find myself laying down to sleep, rejected by my DW’s ‘can’t’ or ‘won’t’, unable to hold those truths of my value in Christ and I succumbed to the devastated devalued state of felt unworthiness in which I slept. This battle raged on for years and years, through prayers and prayers, until I began to grow.
I do not like ‘won’t’ but its part of marriage at times. There are lots of valid reasons for ‘won’t’, all of which pass soon enough. ‘Can’t’ is easier to swallow. My worth is no longer in the amount of sex that I have or don’t have with my DW. Those values are separate now.
I think it is easier to accept can’t, when the cause or reason is very obvious.
It has not been so long ago that I endured a whole lot of both. My DW spent the larger part of a year caring for her parents in another state.
the obvious cause of “can’t” was physical separation. It wasn’t fun, but it was manageable, because the reason was easy to see. Thruout that time, either I would travel out there, or she would return home, and not much was different in physical intimacy. I knew what she was going thru, and I didn’t really place any demands on her energies, which were quite honestly depleted. It would have been pretty easy to see those times as “won’ts” but I knew she needed some time to restore herself, and even to get accustomed to just being herself instead of someone elses caregiver.
Both of those examples fall into the can’t side, but without me being aware of what she was going thru, it could have been easy to become bitter.
After her being home for several months, and things not changing much, then it became less obvious that it was truly a can’t. She had simply adopted a different mindset, and it took some time to adjust from can’t to won’t to will.
@tentsofpurple, I recall feeling and thinking what you shared when dealing with my husband’s low T.
To spin off something you said (and I have said), “Even if you are not “in the mood” or feeling the desire, you can still participate (not that its as satisfying, duty sex does nothing for me) but even for the man if there is ED hands and mouth still work.” And a woman is created physically to “receive”, so how difficult is that? Wouldn’t it be easy to believe a woman almost always has a choice, so she falls under the “‘won’t’ do it” category?
It sure doesn’t take long to realize that even if there is a “will” there physically, if there’s a “can’t” emotionally or mentally, we know something is missing, and we are dissatisfied….and maybe it works the other way around as well. It is also easy to blur the lines and forget, that just because there is a willingness to continue to give physically, that doesn’t mean an emotional disconnect is a choice of “won’t “, but still a “can’t”.
Is it a disservice, to willingly give one part, when you can’t give another part? Is a spouse willing to be gracious and understanding that they are married to a broken person? Or will they get impatient and demand wholeness, because “you can give here, so you must be choosing a won’t here.”
I think the added question of “Are you sure you know what response you are getting?” is a great question. There has always be a fine line and a quandary between “gatekeeping” and “boundaries”. Gatekeeping would seem to fall under the “I won’t go there.” While boundaries are more of a “I can’t go there.” (Or an, I know how how unhealthy and damaging it is, so I won’t go there. I can’t for [personal, relational, etc] healths sake.)
A question only the individual can answer is one Jesus asked in the gospels, “Do you want to be healed?” There are many who get something out of remaining lame and sick in life. It’s a crutch, an excuse, a tool to use to get something they want, or to not get something they don’t want. Do I want healing and wholeness? Do you want healing and wholeness? Or are we enjoying our wallow in the slimy pit?
For me it is easier to accept “can’t” for an answer. I agree, even “can’t” might be a “won’t” or “don’t want to” at times.
I would venture to say that if you really know your spouse, you would have a good inclination to know which answer is really being presented. But that might takes years of experience or many trial and error situations to be able to know which answer is the real one.