Tag Archives: sexual problems in marriage

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.

Q&A with J: I’m in a Sexless Marriage

Today’s question is heartbreaking. Listen to this husband’s emotional pain as he writes:

It has been 22 months since my wife of 22 years has had sex with me. She has told me she doesn’t feel a desire for sex. She either has an excuse for not doing it or want even answer my requests. I am really struggling with the situation. I’m looking for suggestions on how to discuss the issue further with her. The most hurtful thing to me is that my interpretation of the situation is that she doesn’t care about me enough to do something for me that she knows would make me happy.

Low-drive wives who struggle with high-drive husbands, please read that last sentence. I hear this again and again from husbands who want greater sexual frequency: What hurts isn’t the “blue balls” of not getting any sex; it’s the dismissal of their emotional needs and desire to connect physically. As I’ve often said, if it was just about the sexual release, he could take care of that on his own. Rather, it’s about sexual intimacy with his wife.

Q&A with J: I'm in a Sexless Marriage

Experts define a “sexless marriage” as one in which couples have sex less than 10 times a year. This poor husband has gone completely without for 22 months — almost two years — which isn’t sex-less so much as sex-free. And it’s absolutely not okay.

Of course, I’d love to chat with the wife. Oftentimes, a woman will tell a girlfriend what’s really going on more than she will her husband. Because she’s embarrassed or doesn’t think he’ll understand or gets caught up in her own fears. It’s risky to talk to your spouse about what’s going on in your head and heart regarding this most vulnerable, intimate act. But the wife isn’t available at the moment.

That’s okay. While spouses cannot make one another change, we do have influence. So to this husband . . .

She has told me she doesn’t feel a desire for sex. To me, this is the key line in your email. Because that’s where I’d start.

Did she have desire previously? If she used to desire, or at least enjoy, sex but doesn’t now, what changed? That’s what you need to know. And if you can calmly have that conversation with her, you might discover the underlying cause. Has her sex drive diminished with perimenopause or menopause? Is she under greater stress now than before? Is she discouraged in your relationship in some way? What’s different now from the way things were before the 22-month dry spell began?

Getting her to share such information requires creating a secure space for her talk, and not feel judged. Yes, she might have failings she should own, but this isn’t the time to point fingers or apply blame. As much as possible, make this subject one you can discuss as easily as “What did you do today?” Keep in mind Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Approach your conversation with the goal of peace and understanding.

Does she have a desire for you? Too often, a lower-drive spouse views sex as an optional component of the relationship. If they feel like it, they’ll engage in sex. But if they don’t feel like it, they’ll just say they don’t want sex. That’s not the ultimate point, though, because it’s not just about sex. You clearly, and understandably, feel her rebuffing of sexual encounters as a personal rejection of you.

When you approach the subject of your sex life together, try to speak in terms of deep intimacy, loving acceptance, and physical expression of love. I understand you feel this as a strong physical need — because the longer you go, the more raging that physical drive can feel — but try to avoid statements like:

  • I want sex.
  • I need a sexual release.
  • I can’t go without for this long.

Dig deeper to what you really feel about this situation, with statements like:

  • I want us to connect physically.
  • I need to feel one flesh with you.
  • I miss you.

Make it clear that it’s not just the sex, but the sexual intimacy you desire with her. You can even liken your desire for sex to activities that make her feel connected to you — perhaps conversations, holding hands, vacations together, etc. Explain your perspective that sex is an important part of feeling uniquely connected to your wife.

The most hurtful thing to me is that my interpretation of the situation is that she doesn’t care about me enough to do something for me that she knows would make me happy. It’s normal and reasonable for you to feel rejected personally since she appears to be making no effort to address the lack of sex in your marriage. However, one thing here hit me as well. Yes, sex would make you happy. And I think you should be happy in that way.

But what about her happiness? What would your wife get from being sexually active with you? What’s the payoff in her world? Yes, of course we should serve one another in our marriages, but God also designed sexual intimacy to be mutually pleasurable. It’s not for one spouse or the other — it benefits you both.

Plenty of Christian wives have heard the erroneous message again and again: Sex is for him. What a pile of cowpattie! It’s for him and for her. God’s biological design of male and female and His Word repeatedly convey that He wants husband and wives to delight in this gift for marriage. What can you do to ensure your wife gets that message from you? That she knows it’s not all about your needs, but about your mutual needs and satisfaction?

Your wife might need to hear how much you want to sexually pleasure her to a mind-blowing climax, or maybe for now she just needs you to offer her a full-body massage with no strings attached. There are many ways you can communicate with your gaze, your words, and your touch that you long to bring her physical happiness that’s meaningful to her. From that place, wives are often more willing to engage sexually over time. Because they feel safe and cherished.

Those are some thoughts specific to your email, but I’ve written many times about related topics. Here are a few other posts you might want to check out:

How to Talk about Sexual Problems with Your Spouse – how-to advice

3 Things Higher-Drive Spouses Long For – perspectives for you

For Wives: When You Don’t Desire Sex – possible reasons for her low-libido

More on Wife’s Low Sex Drive – more resources on low libido

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Your Sex Life: What If Nothing Ever Changes?

That title is a tough question for many of you. Some marriages are struggling in the area of sexual intimacy, and one or both spouses feel trapped in an impossible situation. Your spouse doesn’t fully understand what you’re going through, and you don’t know how much longer you can hang on.

I get it. I really do.

Because that’s where my marriage was for days, weeks . . . okay, honestly, it was years. I didn’t feel that way every single moment, but there were more moments when I thought we wouldn’t make it than I expected we would. It was so very hard to hang on and believe things could get better.

I’ve said many times on my blog that you cannot change your spouse. You can make requests, explain yourself, encourage change, and make your own choices. But you can’t force someone else to behave the way you want. God gave your husband (or wife) free will, and He won’t take that away because it’s not working out well in a particular moment.

I believe spouses in unhappy situations need to ask themselves that question: What if nothing every changes? What if my spouse keeps doing X? What if we continue to have this struggle? 

Your Sex Life: What If Nothing Ever Changes?

Such questions may feel like a recipe for despair, and maybe even divorce. But NO! That’s not at all what happened when I finally asked myself that question in the worst time of our marriage. I didn’t want to base my answers on the fissures in my heart or the frustration in my head. I wanted biblical, common-sense answers. What I discovered is what I want to share with you today — those of you whose sexual intimacy isn’t everything it should be, and who feel like giving up.

You have many other blessings in your life. When something is going wrong in your life, it’s easy to fixate on that. Likewise in marriage. Believe me, I spent years dwelling on everything that was wrong in my marriage, not bothering to consider what was going right.

That gave me a skewed perspective of the whole and sapped my energy to work on the area that needed improvement. It brought resentment and anger. And it made me blind to my own contributions to our problems.

Instead, consider all the blessings in your life — both in your marriage and elsewhere. Your sex life isn’t what it should be, but you likely have other benefits from being married. I know that doesn’t cover over the problems, but it may give you a healthier perspective and infuse you with a positive desire to work toward increased intimacy.

You can change the way you approach your situation. You are not powerless. You probably feel that way, but you have a say in how you deal with what’s going on. You choose your attitude and your responses.

Sometimes inadvertently enable our spouses to mistreat us regarding sexuality. We cooperate with the cycle of frustration or shutdown. We bring our anger to the forefront and operate from a selfish standpoint.

What if you changed the way you approached the situation? What if you stepped away from the role you’re playing in making things worse and discovered positive ways to approach your spouse and your marriage?

Without knowing your specific situation, I can’t say what that looks like for you. But most of us have some inkling of how we are adding to the problem. If you don’t know or need help figuring out how to change your approach, I recommend seeing a Christian counselor who can help you work through alternatives.

You still have an obligation to your family and to your God to do the right thing. Sorry to break it to you, but you don’t get a waiver from God because your spouse mistreats you. You are still called to act in ways that mirror Christ and exemplify love.

Now if your spouse has been unfaithful or abusive, you might well have reason to leave — permanently. But most troubled marriages fall short of this. Most of us are just unhappy. Yes, the issues may be big or they may be small, but they are likely not insurmountable.

Which means you can still do your part — by being the most loving spouse you can be. I recognize how hard that prescription is, but once again, I have personal experience on this one. Holding myself responsible for living out God’s commands was key to the resurrection of my failing marriage.

But even if my marriage had fallen apart, I could stand before my God and my family and say that I’d done everything I could possibly do.

You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” Many of you are heartsick right now, your hope deferred because it feels like nothing will ever change.

But there are happy-ending stories for marriages and marriage beds that seemed they would never work out. If you doubt things can change, read the testimonies of wonderful marriage bloggers like Paul and Lori Byerly, Scott and Sherry Jennings, Chris Taylor, and others.

I’ve received great comments on my blog from couples who rediscovered sexual intimacy after years of frustration, and my email inbox has messages from now-happy couples that were very unhappy with their intimacy before. It happens.

You don’t know what’s coming, but if you can remain faithful, something beautiful could come your way. Pursue the best for your marriage, get help if you need it, and continue to hope that your future could be better.

Once again, even if nothing changes, continuing to hope can get you through a lot. It sure beats despair. And it can help us to “be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

Are you ready to give up and feeling like nothing will ever change? Or do you have a hopeful story to share about your journey from unhappy to happy in your marriage bed?