Are You Listening to What Your Spouse Says about Sex?

I’ll be honest: I’m sitting here on the Sunday after the United States inauguration and feeling sick and tired of the news, my Facebook feed, and people I know and love from both sides of the aisle being at constant odds with each other. In our politically charged atmosphere, some have become so hypersensitive that you can barely say anything without being misinterpreted, challenged, and even maligned. And yes, from both sides of political opinion. Seeing such large-scale conflict is rankling and stressful.

But you can turn off the TV, stay off Facebook, pop in a movie or a TV show, read a book, take a bubble bath, etc. to get away from all that rancor for a while. You can’t do that with the conflict in your marriage over sexual intimacy.

When it comes to the subject of sex, some marriages reside in an emotionally charged atmosphere where one or both of you are so hypersensitive that the other can barely say anything without being misinterpreted, challenged, and even maligned. On this smaller scale, the conflict reaches beyond stressful. It’s painful.

And you can’t escape. Because the sexuality in your marriage is an important piece that deserves attention, resolution, and nurturing. So you keep bringing up the subject and facing the same issues again and again and again.

Maybe the current stalemates in our political arena could illuminate some thoughts about resolving conflict regarding your marriage bed. Because you know what’s often missing from those political conversations I’ve seen? Listening.

Open-eared, open-minded, open-hearted listening.

Are You Listening to What Your Spouse Says about Sex? with ear icon

Dr. Gary Smalley, a marriage counselor and author, wrote about the importance of creating a safe environment for communication: “When your spouse feels safe, he is naturally inclined to relax and open his heart.” (See this Focus on the Family article.) When we’re dealing with a contentious issue, we anticipate getting criticized or stonewalled so we’re far less likely to speak honestly and find ways to move forward. It’s only when we feel safe to express our thoughts, feelings, and concerns that we can open up fully.

Whatever the issues surrounding your marriage bed, finding out what they actually are would surely be an important step. You can badger your reluctant spouse from now until the era of Buck Rogers to have more sex, demand less sex, pay attention to your orgasm, fulfill your fantasy, etc., and you’ll likely make little progress unless you find out why they don’t want to do what you think is such a great idea.

Very often, there is history, baggage, a deeper story behind your spouse’s resistance. Until you dig deeper and fix the underlying problems, you’ll still be in conflict.

Why not try listening?

Like really listening.

No, like shut up and listen.

No, shut up your brain, not just your mouth, and listen.

Okay, now we’re getting somewhere. You might not agree with what your spouse says, but wouldn’t it be a great idea to better understand where he’s coming from? To at least get a sense of how he started at A and arrived at B?

You might even find out that you agree more than you thought.

How do you start these conversations? The ones where you actually let your spouse have a bit of monologue?

Don’t preach. Don’t explain. Don’t demand. Don’t push.

Ask a question. Listen to the answer. Ask a follow-up question. Listen to the answer. Ask another question. Listen to the answer. Ask for clarification. Listen to the answer.

Go away and mull it over.

Is this near impossible? For people like me, and many of you, yeah. It’s tough. Dare I say painful? You might have to burrow your teeth into your tongue so deep you leave gouges. But you were already in pain about your sex life anyway, so better to have a few tongue wounds and some progress in the bedroom.

Is this a single conversation? Probably not. It took years to mess up your sex life. No, really. Maybe it didn’t even happen with you there, but rather something that happened to your husband or wife before you even met them. But the deep-seated perspectives and approaches took a while to establish, so they won’t loosen up in a day.

Is this really the remedy? It’s part of the cure. If you two can’t communicate about sex at all, how are supposed to have fabulous sexual intimacy? I know couples who improved their sex lives a lot by one person taking positive steps, but I don’t know of a single couple who ended up with a fulfilling sex life that doesn’t communicate about it. At some point, they started talking honestly about their sexual intimacy.

We’re often eager to share with our spouse what we think about our sexual intimacy. But you might well need to change your approach and become more eager to understand what your beloved thinks about your sexual intimacy. Which means you need to ask the question: Am I listening to what my spouse says about sex?

If you aren’t, take the emotional earplugs out and create a safe environment for your spouse to say what they need to say. It may not be pleasant at first, but it will hopefully help you figure out where to go from here.

And be sure to pray for your unity.

37 thoughts on “Are You Listening to What Your Spouse Says about Sex?

  1. Nick Peters

    Awesome. I think there is a lot of heat over sex, but not a lot of light. Too many women for instance have this fear that their husbands are perverts. “They think about sex that much? That can’t be right.” Well, it is. We do think about it that much. In fact, when I have heard the statistic that your average man thinks about sex every seven seconds I think “Really? It takes them that long?” A lot of women think all we want is the physical release. We can just hit it and quit it. No. Sex is often the way we know we are accepted, we are turn ons to you, and that you trust us immensely. We don’t just want sex. We want you to want sex with us because it tells us you want us.

    Men, on the other hand, I think live with a fear that does relate to what I said above. A lot of women have grown up with the idea of duty sex. There are times that might be necessary, but men want to know that sex is something their wives desire with them and not just going through the motions. It really makes no sense to us that you could have so much fun with us in the bedroom and just not want this.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      Thanks, Nick. I think that 7-second thing (which I’ve also heard) is interesting, because I know men with average sex drives who say that’s not true — that they think about sex far less often than that. And of course others say it’s about right. Ultimately what matters is what your own spouse’s experience is and listening to that.

      Reply
      1. Nick Peters

        I think we could safely say it’s always on the backburner and it can be pulled up immediately. That’s why seeing other women is so difficult for us men. Living with a wife and wanting sex and having to go without it could be compared to a woman on a diet going down the ice cream aisle of the grocery store.

        Reply
      2. Dan

        I too wonder about the seven second postulate. The first question is what do they define as a sexual thought?

        My second question would be is this an averaged figure. Let’s say you happily reminisce about sex with your wife last night for a very pleasant 10 minutes. That’s 600 seconds. Divide that by 7 and you have almost 86 seven-second increments to average into a day. You have an average of sixteen waking hours in a day. 86 increments in 16 hours is one about every 5.4 minutes. Cut the hours to 8 simply because other things occupy our mental capacity out of necessity and now you have a sexual thought every 2.2 minutes

        I won’t continue parsing this but you can see how they could conceivably extrapolate this seven-second figure into being. Add another 10 minutes of “sexual thoughts” in the same day and your down to one every 1.1 minutes.

        We men can/do think about sex way more than the average woman, but I think the case is more than a bit over-stated.

        Reply
      3. Tom

        I’m guessing that figure is not based on any sort of actual research; just a jokey way or saying men think about sex a lot. Because every 7 seconds? I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else – which again, leads me to believe “That’s the joke.”

        Reply
  2. Tom Hillson

    The comments made me think of this: I don’t believe men are generally built for monogamy. Women are much more suited for it. Men often have to go kicking and screaming into it. Agree?

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I’ve really thought that in the past, but the more I look at art, literature, music, and history, the less convinced I am that men want anything other than what women want — one great love. Yes, I know the arguments about men “spreading their seed” and the far more likely occurrence of polygamy than polyandry (which have some practical reasons). However, the majority of men through history, and the ones I’ve talked to, want a long-lasting relationship with a single woman. I’m not talking about bodily urges, which can certainly be for a variety of experiences, but a deeper desire.

      By the way, I’ve written about this: Are We Naturally Monogamous? I admitted that, physically speaking, I don’t feel naturally monogamous. And that’s okay. My head, my heart, and my will choose to be. I also said, “I think we have a little of both desires in us: the desire to experience attraction with more than one person and the desire to connect our heart with one single person on this big populated planet.”

      Reply
      1. Tom Hillson

        Men want a long-term relationship with one woman, but they are sadder that they are “stuck” with one woman for the rest of their life more than women are sad that they are stuck with one man. Men are more likely to want to “sow their wild oats” before marriage than women are. Sure there are exceptions, but overall these generalizations are true.

        Reply
        1. J Post author

          Wow, that did not make a lot of wives feel good. “Sadder that they are ‘stuck'”? Ouch. I do think these generalizations have been true, but is that really due to biology or instinct? Or is it because we’ve long had this communicated: that men “sow their wild oats” and “good girls don’t.” Surely that’s made an impact.

          And I think far more men feel privileged than stuck in their marriages. I’m doing my part to make it an even higher percentage. 🙂 Thanks for engaging, Tom!

          Reply
        2. Nick Peters

          If you are a lover, you want to be bound. My wife does not exist for my pleasure alone. We exist for the good of one another. If all I am is thinking about myself, then I am a user of women. There is a proverb that says “He who loves many women, has loved none. He who loves one, has loved them all.”

          In showing the honor and glory of the one, I in turn show the true honor and glory of all.

          Reply
  3. Scott

    Another excellent post, J. There are so many explosive emotions and deep vulnerabilities around sex that it makes effective communication really hard. So we often leave each other guessing (mostly guessing wrongly, I suppose). Thanks for the reminder to really listen.

    Reply
  4. NickR

    So what do you do when you’ve made it through the first few steps to the point where the baggage of past abuse is expressed, that person communicates that they hate and are scared of sex, never want to have sex again, in fact are questioning their orientation, and are unwilling, EVER to talk about it again. This is us. Been in counseling for 18 months, making some progress but physical intimacy is NEVER talked about. Then what. Almost 2 years without talking about the subject, how in the world do you re enter that space safely? We don’t hold hands, kiss, cuddle nothing. I’m dying on the vine. How much do I push this conversation forward

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      It does sound like it would be quite difficult to try to discuss this with your wife. But you’re in counseling for 18 months and sexual intimacy isn’t brought up? I’d be asking the counselor for that subject to be covered. I’m not sure what their rules are (counselors differ on whether they’ll talk to a spouse alone or only as a couple), but I’d make that a priority goal. I’d flat-out tell the counselor, “I’m seriously struggling because of our lack of affection and physical intimacy. I need some hope.”

      Reply
  5. NickR

    J,

    One other question. I’m always amazed at how every blog entry, book and article I see on the topic of sexual abuse only addresses abuse as a child. Never from the perspective or topic of rape and abuse as an adult. I’d like someone to write something on this for people whose spouses were abused in this way.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      That’s a good point. I know of a couple where the wife was raped, and — long story short — their marriage broke apart. So achingly awful. But I don’t think they had any resources or support to get through that terrible event.

      Reply
      1. Nick Peters

        Dennis Prager did a look once at couples who had to go through severe hardship such as that or death of a child or something of that sort. What was the #1 factor in a couple staying together prior?

        They had a worldview they had thought through enough that they could make sense of evil in it.

        One more reason apologetics is so important.

        Reply
  6. NickR

    J,

    Perhaps a misunderstanding…the abuse was as a young adukt (20’s) prior to us getting married. Not while we were married. Any thoughts on why this side of abuse is rarly addressed?

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      For myself, I know several women sexually abused in childhood, who came through and shared their testimonies with me. I only know of one woman raped in adulthood, and it was a date rape that she never followed up on or pursued help for. I’m not aware of great resources addressing adult rape, but my own reasons might be that I hear less of those instances. Look, that’s not a good excuse, but it is perhaps an explanation. I would like to pursue what you suggest and find some help for those who have been raped in adulthood. Thanks for bringing it up.

      Reply
  7. blessed

    I dated what I would call a sociopath when I was 19, first year of college. He was 23. He said all the right things, swept me off my feet. He convinced me to move in after 2 months. Then things started to change. He began to isolate me from friends and family. …Long story short, he threatened my life on a daily basis. Fear crippled me from leaving. He had me perform every sex act. He literally had me read sex books and do it all. I was so emotionally broken and I felt like I had no one to turn to. Everyone in town thought he was a saint. He left the country for a wrestling tournament and I got the nerve to move out. Then he stalked me for two years. He finally messed up and got caught by the police. He got fined. But I looked over my shoulder for YEARS. That’s just one of the three men that raped me. My ex husband was another. I went through a couple therapists. My last one saved me. He was also a minister. One session he asked me how I felt to which I said I felt so alone, absolutely disconnected from every human being because no one could possibly understand me. Then he reminded me of Jesus and his story as he was preparing to be crucified. How his people and even his closest friends betrayed him and denied him, and how alone and isolated he must have felt. Anything and everything that I could possibly feel, Jesus has felt. And I have the gift of being able to talk to Him. His love is perfect, when all humans are imperfect. His love is all I need. When I accepted that fact, all the anxiety, panic attacks, paranoia, etc. went away. I experienced great personal growth and spiritual growth. 6 months after that God sent me a gift I now call my fiancé. I believe I had to go through all that pain to come to Christ in complete submission. Now I am in the most open and honest relationship I can imagine.

    Reply
  8. Anonomyous

    The article mentions ask questions and listen and ask more questions. Is there a list of good questions to go through together. When I try my own questions I usually end up with my wife shutting down. Maybe I’m coming off as blaming her or criticizing. Not my intent, but I’m pretty sure she’s feeling that way and then I’m back to not asking the questions for fear of the shut down.

    Reply
    1. J Post author

      I have not put together a list of questions, but that’s not a bad idea. I should start accumulating a list and publish that.

      I should also mention that tone matters. I know this because apparently my tone has communicated things I never meant to say, so I’ve had to learn to, well, tone down my expressiveness with a husband who came from a far more stoic family. 😉 So maybe she’s reading something into your tone as well?

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        I’ve shared several different resources (blogs, podcasts, devotionals) via text, email, face-to-face conversation, encouraged her to find something that speaks to her and share it with me. The electronic sharing never gets acknowledged and the conversations usually end with me feeling like the subject is completely unimportant to her. I try hard to avoid using the words “you” and “never”. There are even multi-day shut-downs when I’m pre-empted from any affection. Pushing my hands away, sitting/sleeping as far away (though in the same room/bed) as possible, etc.

        Reply
        1. Mike Steele

          I am right there with you Anon. You just cannot reason with someone that considers sex a sin, refuses to discuss it and refuses to discuss why they refuse to discuss it. That leaves a person no where to go. After years of trying, anger, frustration and disappointment, I have completely given up. If this is the way she wants it, this is he way she can have it. I have to live too. So, I do all I can to make a better person of myself, but I will never, ever trust her again.

          Reply
          1. Anonymous

            She doesn’t consider it a sin, but is very hesitant to discuss it. I don’t think there are any abuse issues or anything like that, but very mismatched drives and maybe just general embarrassment in discussing and a lack of general affection, I think, because she doesn’t want it to lead to more very often. I trust that there is nobody else and haven’t given up. Just looking for a way to make conversation easier and her feeling less judged when I try to keep working at it.

  9. Alicia

    Love how you wrote this post, J! My husband and I don’t have this problem concerning sex. But there are several other issues where I need to do exactly as you say: shut up both my brain and my mouth, and really listen to where he’s coming from. So, even if it’s about different issues, your advice is well-timed, and I intend to act on it.

    Reply
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