In widowhood, envy is a huge enemy to healing. I remember in the early years of losing my husband looking around at all the married couples in my woe is me funk wondering why they got to be married, enjoying endless physical intimacy, and I didn’t.
Sexual bereavement is grieving the loss of sexual intimacy with your husband. This loss is not something that is openly shared or even recognized by most but is real. We are created as sexual beings. Sex is a gift of God to the married couple. Whether it be the quick kiss before he heads off to work, the long embrace after a long day, or the sex that unites the two, the death of your husband brings with it the death of your sex life, as well. For some, this sexual death is welcomed because that area of their marriage was abusive, painful, or non-existent. However, for many, experiencing this loss is devastating.
Matt Chandler describes the act of sex as a “mingling of souls.” To be physically, intimately, and deeply together with another person. You may not have thought of it in this way, but sex is emotional and spiritual as much as it is physical, which is why God gives clear guidelines for the handling of it.
Upon the death of a husband, every new widow is forced to ask, “How do I unmingle my soul from my husband?” For many, even myself, this was a terrifying question to ask. How do we transfer all delight, emotion, and physical dependence not onto another man but God himself?
In marriage sex becomes so natural; we get to know ourselves and our husband in ways that only we share. So it’s not surprising that there is no easy switch off after their passing, but yet the switch must be made. If we refuse to recognize our loss, especially in the area of sex, it will be easy for us to try to meet those needs in another man or even satisfying ourselves alone—which we all know in the back of our minds is only a fake and temporary fix.
The switch is at its core a physical one, yes, but the deactivation and transfer of trust has to be in your mind. So how do we fuel our mind to accept our new circumstances and how do we protect ourselves from our unmet physical desires as we “un-mingle?”
The most important thing in any circumstance that we find ourselves in is to know what the Word of God says. God has given us His Word so that we may be encouraged and equipped for literally anything we come across, grieving sex and transitioning back to a sexless and single life (hard but true) is no different.
After losing my husband it was hard for me to accept being single again, I had been married for years, had more kids than I could count on one hand, and I felt too “mature” to be single again. But as I opened God’s Word, I was surprised to see that God presented singleness positively. Paul, the great man of faith that he was, was single and content. He was not lacking any maturity because of his singleness. He even went so far as to say that he wished others were single like he was. His relationship status didn’t define his relationship with God.
“But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I… But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, 32–35
God has given us relationships to satisfy our desire for emotional and physical intimacy. Paul says, yes, go ahead, remarry just don’t do it for the status change.
“Therefore, I want younger widows to get married, bear children, keep house, and give the enemy no occasion for reproach; for some have already turned aside to follow Satan.” – 1 Timothy 5:14-15
But don’t rush it. Remain in the time of singleness and see where the Lord calls you, be devoted to God in both body and spirit. I love the way John Piper says it,
“Singleness has been a noble and courageous path for ministry ever since Jesus and the Apostle Paul chose it “because of the kingdom of heaven.” It is no sign of weakness to want to be married. It is normal, and it is good. The courage comes when you sense God calling you to singleness (for this chapter of your life) and you accept the call with zeal and creative planning for His glory.”
As you remain in this time of singleness/“unmarriedness,” it is important to set wise physical boundaries. Sex has been so biblically normal, and even encouraged, with your husband, but the Bible is clear, sex outside of marriage is wrong. Hebrews 13:4 gives us a chilling warning, “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” And again in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God…”
God knows what a special and unique gift sex is. He doesn’t set up boundaries to harm you, but to protect you from following a strong desire into sin, especially in the lonely days after losing your person. Boundaries are important because you know when you are crossing the line. Write these down and live by them, invite accountability into your life, and allow God to lead you.
These are boundaries I still follow to this day. Don’t put yourself in a situation where you are alone with a man. If you feel a pull towards a man who is off-limits (married), run. If you feel a pull towards sex outside of marriage, run. Conversations must stay pure. Avoid chatrooms where mingling will lead to destruction.
Oh yes, men will come along that you will be attracted to. Perhaps he reminds you of your husband or appears even better. Be careful not to confuse love with lust (yes even for women) – lust is wanting something you don’t or cannot have.
Being aware of yourself is another thing I found helpful during my early single years, and even still now. I was young, I had children, and my hormones were raging. I am sure you feel the same. When we are in those child-bearing years, grief may be heightened at that “special time of month.” Don’t settle emotionally or physically. For this season, sex is off limits. This doesn’t mean it will never be again. This was a verse I used to quote to myself,
“But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Romans 13:14
Then there’s the things we can torture ourselves with, the movies, the romance novels, the flashbacks of our intimacy with our late husband, or the lingerie that used to make us feel so pretty. To all that I say beware. While this may feel good in the moment, mustering up the feelings for sex will only make life without your partner more difficult.
The temptations are all around. Just as one fasting from chocolate must remove all signs and smells of it from their home, you must do the same. While many enjoy watching Hallmark movies, these may not be a positive way to spend your time. Even though there is beauty in these wholesome romances, they may cause your heart to long for what it cannot have right now. When these lonely moments come creeping in, thank God that He allowed you to experience the gift of physical intimacy and then set your mind on other things. Discard old lingerie and enjoy wearing comfortable flannel loungewear for now.
Above all, trust God in this season of your life. He knows exactly what you need when you need it. When we focus on something we cannot have, we will be miserable. If we long for what is not, we will rob ourselves of what is today, singleness as a gift of God for this season. As hard as that is to grasp sometimes, I have seen God be faithful to me over the last 22 years. It isn’t always easy living without a husband, while women around are happy and in love, but God always hears my cries. He became my husband and provided for me every step of the way. He will for you, too, no doubt!
I’ll end with another great line from John Piper,
“Why must I live my life alone? I do not know. But Jesus Christ is Lord of my life. I believe in the sovereignty of God, and I accept my singleness from his hand. He could have ordered my life otherwise, but he has not chosen to do so. As his child, I must trust his love and wisdom.”