Does My Husband Have a Right to Sex?


On her Facebook page, Rose Sweet, who has a wonderful ministry to divorced Catholics, posted the troubling story of a woman whose husband was cheating on her.  The couple’s pastor counseled the wife that her decision to place a moratorium on her sexual relationship with her husband as long as he was cheating on him actually placed an undue burden on her cheating husband and was driving him away further in part, because sex is a “right” of marriage.

A little clarification might be in order. Yes, according to the Church, sex is a “right” of marriage. But the Church defines “right” a little differently than the world does.

To say that sex is a “right” of marriage means that marriage is the right place for people to have sex. It does not mean you have a license to demand sex no matter what.

Marriage is the normative–that is, “right”–place for sexual love to be expressed between a man and a woman. Assuming a healthy, loving respectful relationship, this is true. It is also true, as St. John Paul observed that a couple who does not love, respect and cherish each other could very well commit the sin of adultery even in marriage by using each other as objects rather than loving each other as persons.

Assuming you have a healthy, loving, cherishing relationship, marriage is the right place for sexual love to be shared. If you don’t have that kind of marriage, then you have a right to stop having sex and start learning how to actually love each other.

Older texts on moral theology and canon law tend to use words like “right” and “marital debt” when discussing sex.  These words are technical terms and taking them at face value can lead to a lot of problems.

Properly understood, referring to sex as a debt that husbands and wives owe to each other means that, in a loving marriage, loving spouses do not have a right to withhold sex from each other.  As St Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 7:5

The husband should fulfill his duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife. Do not deprive each other, except perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to be free for prayer, but then return to one another….

All of this means that marriage is the right place for sexual love to be expressed–assuming the couple is living their marriage as the Church defines it. Namely, as an “intimate partnership.” (c.f., Gaudium et Spes).

But there is a deeper debt the married couple owes to each other that precedes sexual union. They owe each other the love, respect, cherishing that characterized their dating relationship—the relationship that continues to serve as the foundation for their marriage. Sex, if you will, is the house that sits on this foundation of love, respect, and cherishing. If the “foundation” (love, respect, and cherishing)  is bad, the “house” (sex)  is unsafe to live in. Why? Because if love, respect, and cherishing are absent, sex stops being sex and becomes mere lust and using. Marriage is no place for lust and use.

No one has a right to abuse someone else. No one owes someone else the “debt” of using them.

To discover more about how you can live the Catholic vision of love and sex in ways that are healthy and fulfilling, check out Holy Sex: The Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving.

What IS A Catholic’s “Job” When It Comes to Voting, Anyway?

Image Shutterstock

Image Shutterstock

This is not a political blog, nor is it about to become one, but I have seen so many comments lately about what Catholics “must” do in this next election and it seems to me that every single one of these posts is missing an obvious point.

Once Upon A Time…

I once had a conversation with a prominent bishop in which I expressed my frustration that he and his brother bishops were not more strenuously and publicly opposing Catholic politicians who proclaimed themselves to be “good Catholics” while advocating positions that were virulently contrary to the gospel.

He explained to me, in a tone one usually reserves for a small child, that any time the bishops did this, the public reacted poorly to church leaders “meddling” in politics and their comments ended up getting the person elected.

I responded, “That may be. But I thought it was our job to proclaim the gospel, not win elections.  People can certainly reject the gospel if they want to. We have no control over that.  But they shouldn’t be allowed to say that the Church never proclaimed it in the first place.”

Needless to say, my comment was not well-received.

The Same Story

Be that as it may, I still don’t think Jesus came, suffered, died, and rose again so that we could win elections.  It is not our job to hold our collective nose and vote for the candidate who  is most likely to win no matter how execrable his or her policies or personalities are.  It is not our concern to worry about “throwing away our vote” because we cast a ballot for some obscure candidate who actually does hold verifiably socially just and life-affirming views but has absolutely no chance of winning.  It IS our job to preach the gospel with our vote.  To proclaim Jesus Christ to the world in the way we engage the political process every step of the way.

All Catholics are certainly free to vote as their well-formed consciences dictate.  But let me respectfully propose that if you are casting a vote for any other reason than that “this is the best and loudest way possible I can proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a hurting world” then you may be a Democrat, or you may be a Republican, but you are not a Christian.

People might be inclined, as the bishop I began this article with, to think of this view as naive, pie-in-the-sky, too idealistic, or not reflective of reality.  To those who would argue this I can only say that, to my way of thinking, there is nothing more real that the cross.  Nothing more pie-in-the-sky than the hope of Heaven.  Nothing more idealistic than proclaiming the gospel in a world that is, literally, hell-bent on rejecting it.  If my desire to not simply win elections, but actually proclaim Christ with my vote makes me naive, I guess I can live with that.


In this election cycle, especially, when every popular candidate is more foolish than the other, I would suggest that the question is not “how can Christians avoid looking like fools?”  Rather, it seems to me that the real question is,” who will Christians be fools for?”

To my mind, it is better a fool for Christ than a fool for the latest, two-faced demagogue who promises salvation with one hand while stealing it with the other.

And now we return to our regularly scheduled blogging….


Tender Tidings Online Magazine–Great (Free) Catholic Parenting Resource!

Parenting is tough.  Being a faithful Catholic parent in today’s world is even tougher.  That’s why I’m honored to help get the word out about my friend, Kim Cameron-Smith’s terrific resource for Catholic moms and dads.

Tender Tidings Magazine Spring 2013 is now available!  It’s full of insight about living out your gentle parenting path and it’s free!  This issue is devoted to the topic of self-care.  I (Dr. Greg) have an article in this issue on the difference between guilt and shame.  Don’t miss it!

Why, yes, Mr. Reporter, of course Catholics have women priests.

An acquaintance of mine who works in public relations was bemoaning a conversation with a producer for a liberal cable news outlet. The producer asked my friend if the Catholic speakers she represents would be prepared to discuss the likelihood of women priests under a new pontificate.  She, of course, was frustrated and annoyed.  I, on the other hand, see an awesome opportunity.

As a therapist, I spend a lot of time contemplating gender issues and the war between the sexes.  As a Catholic, especially one immersed in the Theology of the Body, I have a particular interest in how these issues play out in the Church.  As such, I’ve often imagined my answer to such a question.  Here’s what I think I’d say…

“Well, Mr. (or Ms.) Reporter, what most people don’t know is that Catholics DO have women priests.  It’s called the common priesthood of the baptized.  Although it isn’t PC to say so, the truth is every baptized Catholic woman on the planet has the same spiritual authority as any protestant minister who cannot claim apostolic succession.  So, yes. Catholics have women priests.  Millions of them. And I would like to see the next Pope do a better job of asserting that truth to the world.”

Of course, my answer would get me written off as a crank.  But it happens to be true. And it would be nice to hear someone say something different when the question came up. What do you all y’all think?

Marriage… Good for What Ails You?

“It is not good for man to be alone” (Gen 2:18).

We often think of that scripture in spiritual terms, but our souls are intimately entwined with our bodies to the degree that you can’t meaningfully talk about one without discussing the other.  Or, that is, you can, but then you’re talking about death–that unnatural separation of body and soul.

The upshot, of course, is that whatever affects the body affects the soul in some way and whatever affects the body affects the soul as well.  It stands to reason then that the way we choose to love one another–or not as the case may be–affects our health.

St Paul reminds men of as much when he says that a husband ought to love his wife as he loves his own body (Eph 5:28).  It turns out that he was speaking more literally than we knew.  According to a new study,

…married people have better mental and physical health than their unmarried peers and are less likely to develop chronic conditions than their widowed or divorced counterparts. A University of Missouri expert says that people who have happy marriages are more likely to rate their health as better as they age; aging adults whose physical health is declining could especially benefit from improving their marriages.  (read the article here).

If taking care of your marriage because you want love your spouse better wasn’t enough of a reason, then perhaps this will provide a little extra motivation.

For additional tips on how to make your marriage (and your health) better, I hope you’ll join me in my “40 Days to a Better Marriage” Challenge that I describe below. Every day, I’ll offer one, small, thing you can do to cherish each other a little better and help your marriage be a better witness to the free, total, faithful, and fruitful love God longs to share with all humankind.

Love doesn’t have to do big things to produce big benefits.


Catholicism and Psychology–Perfect Together?

Welcome Readers!

In preparing to write the inaugural post for this blog, a re-imagined version of an old,  popular candy commercial popped into my mind…

SCENE: A shrink and a Catholic priest are walking around a grocery store. They absentmindedly bump into each other and their purchases fall on the floor, getting all mixed together.

SHRINK: You’ve got your chocolate in my mayo!

PASTOR: You’ve got your mayo in my chocolate!


There are any number of people on both sides of the fence who think that psychology and religious faith (and perhaps, especially, Catholicism) go together like…well, two things that don’t go so great together. My hope is that this blog will help my fellow Catholics, and people-of-faith in general,  both appreciate the helpful role psychology can play in their lives and also become faithful, discerning consumers of psychological news and insights.

Although this blog will, at times, address topics related to general spirituality, my primary focus will be more on the intersection of religious faith and mental/emotional/relational health and specifically, how Catholicism might best interact with current trends in psychology.

The Catholic Church has taken a lot of hits over the last decade–many self-inflicted.  Religion, in general, is seen as being on-the-ropes in our current culture.  It is often said that we live in a post-Christian age.  Although the number of people identifying as “spiritual but not religious” is growing, and rates of religious non-affiliation among 18-29 yo’s has doubled from 8-16% (according to Pew) in the last decade or so, 80% of the US population still claims affiliation with one denomination or another (with 70-75% of those are various Christian denominations and the remainder divided between Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other faithful) and 40% of the US adults claim weekly Church attendance.  Despite the fact that religion’s influence has decreased, in this day of hyper-partisanship and cultural-compartmentalizing, it seems to me that getting 40% of Americans to do anything on a given day every week is something just shy of a miracle.  Religion is still a powerful force in our culture.

Likewise, it would be hard for anyone to deny that psychological insights and doctrines impact everyone for good or ill.  Psychological terms like “self-esteem,” “drive,” “sibling rivalry,” “actualization,” “identity,” and so on are part of almost everyone’s vocabulary. And, of course, Catholics are not strangers to psychological counseling.

Regarding this last point about mental health treatment, Catholics face a special challenge.  As fellow Patheos blogger, Mark Shea, is fond of noting,  the sociologist, Peter Berger once remarked that if India was the most religious nation in the world and Sweden the least, then the US is a country of Indians ruled by Swedes. We might as well say the same thing about mental health in the US; specifically, the US is a nation of Indian patients treated by Swedish shrinks.

Is that as it should be? Do the non-religious “Swedes” doing the treatment planning know something the religious “Indian” clients don’t? Can we in the mental health biz be comfortable with maintaining this attitude in this age of multiculturalism? What would it mean for religion and psychology to get beyond tolerating each other and, instead, creatively engage each other? And specifically, since this is a Catholic blog, is there such a thing as a Catholic approach to psychology and, if so, what would it look like and why?  Can psychology help us live our faith more effectively?  If so, how?

These are some of the questions I hope to address. Sometimes I’ll be able to answer questions, and more often my posts will just raise more question for you. But I think that’s just fine. After all, religious faith and psychology are both quests to discover ultimate truths about (with apologies to Douglas Adams) the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. And we can’t get anywhere without asking big questions. Chances are we won’t always agree, but hopefully, we can learn from each other.

Thanks for beginning this new adventure with me!