Tag Archives: talking about sexual problems with spouse

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.

3 Barriers to Communicating with Your Spouse about Sex

Many spouses need to have a conversation about sex with their mates. They are not satisfied with the sexual intimacy in their marriage, and they see issues that need addressing, problems that need solving, holes in their heart that need filling.

Whatever the concern, it’s imperative that they start a conversation about sex. But all too often, such discussions devolve into frustration, contention, and stalemate. What’s keep you from making progress?

Couple with barrier between them + blog post title

1. Making yourself heard. You’re hurt by your spouse’s actions regarding marital intimacy, whether it’s insisting on activities you don’t want to do, resisting sex altogether, or whatever. You are sure that if only they understood how you feel, they would adjust their thinking and things would go more smoothly.

So you start the conversation, explain your thoughts and feelings, present information, argue your points, persuade, plead, beg, cry. Whatever it takes, you’re willing to do it, if only your spouse will listen to you.

Guess what? You’re making that conversation all about you and your feelings. Yes, you and your feelings matter! They matter a great deal. But so do your spouse’s.

Instead, try to ask questions and listen. Find out why they are resisting your viewpoint. What is in the way of them engaging more intimately or giving up porn or whatever you’re dealing with? Show real concern for your spouse’s feelings and give them a safe place to talk about what they are facing.

By doing so, you open up more conversation, gain insight you need to combat the problems, and show genuine care for your spouse. You might be surprised by what you discover if you’ll make the goal letting your spouse be heard and responding to them in love.

2. Keeping score. “You never…!” “You always…!”

We married people are excellent at keeping score. Especially if you’re unhappy in a specific area like sex. The rejected spouse knows exactly how many days it’s been since the last sex encounter or how many times she initiated and was shot down in the last week. The put-upon spouse knows how many times she’s been hit up for sex with no prior warning, romance, or affection. We don’t have to intentionally keep score; we have to intentionally stop keeping score.

Starting a conversation with a litany of your spouse’s failures is sure to end badly. Would you want to hear about everything you’re doing wrong? Then why do you think your spouse would respond to that?

Instead, talk about what you want. Instead of dwelling in real and perceived hurts, paint a picture of what your sexual intimacy could be like. Refer back to what it has been in the past, or what you imagine for the future, or — the best option! — the way God designed sexual intimacy in marriage. Speak of terms of the pleasure, connection, and closeness you desire to have as a couple; what your vision of sexual intimacy would mean to you, to your spouse, and to the relationship; and how a change in your sexual intimacy would honor God and keep your marriage strong.

Show how a new approach to sexual intimacy would be a beautiful thing for both of you — an ideal worth pursuing.

3. Blaming your spouse. If only he would… If only she would… Plenty of us believe that if our spouse would change, our problems would resolve.

Frankly, sometimes that’s true. Maybe your sexual problems really are the result of your spouse’s selfishness, sexual history, inability to deal with past abuse, or hormonal issues. Whatever it is, it could very well be that your spouse is a bigger part of the problem than you are.

But so what? You’re married. One flesh and all that. If you view your spouse as the enemy, you’re a divided team, and divided teams don’t win.

If you view your spouse as the enemy, you're a divided team, and divided teams don't win. Click To Tweet

Instead, make it a WE problem. One of the great perks of marriage is having someone on your team to support you and help you through tough times. Be your spouse’s biggest ally! Whatever the issue may be, it’s a we issue now — one you can tackle together. Remember Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.”

Don’t let your spouse fall alone. Reach out and help! Be stronger together. “A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (v. 12). Together, and with the third cord of God on your side, you can conquer almost anything!

Ask your spouse what you can do to help, and address your sexual intimacy issues as a we thing. “We can build wonderful sexual intimacy, and we can get through this together.”

For more tips on talking to your spouse about sexual problems in your marriage, see How to Talk about Sexual Problems with Your Spouse.

What difficulties have you experienced talking to your spouse about sexual issues? What has worked for you?

How to Talk about Sexual Problems with Your Spouse

So you see sex differently in your marriage? So at least one of you is incredibly frustrated? You know you need to talk, but you’re nervous about bringing it up or simply can’t imagine how another conversation won’t become another argument.

I can’t give you a “Guaranteed to Work or Your Money Back” promise, but I can give you some advice on how to increase the odds you’ll actually experience progress. Mind you, progress is not immediate resolution. Some problems have quick fixes, some don’t. But almost all of them can be resolved with two willing spouses.

And what you ultimately want to do in a conversation about sex is get the two of you willing to work on whatever ails the marriage bed.

Man and Woman Talking

Choose a good time and place. I’ve reiterated maybe a hundred times on this blog that bringing up your frustrations about sex right before or right after you make love or get rejected is not likely to go well. Your tension and desire and vulnerability are all very high, so poking at a sensitive subject may bring out the defense mechanisms or offensive fire for one or both of you.

Instead, get away from the bedroom. It can be your living room, a secluded area in a nearby park, a corner table at a restaurant, a neighborhood sidewalk as you walk together, etc. Simply consider your location, opting for a place that is either neutral or — better yet — positive for both of you. Also pick a time that’s conducive for discussion. Attempting to discuss problems when one of you is stressed or weary or angry won’t lead to effective listening and problem-solving. Set aside time and do your best to find which part of the day or week is most likely to result in calm conversation.

Ask questions and listen to answers. Most of the time when we’re distressed, we feel a deep need to get our own issues of our chest. We want to “clear the air,” “tell you how I really feel,” and “be completely honest with you.” All that’s well and good, but what you need from the conversation is not a vent session but to figure out what your spouse is thinking and feeling. You already know what you believe, but — even if you think you’ve heard it a million times — you probably don’t fully understand where they’re coming from, why they feel that way, what their fears and hurts and dreams and desires are. And that’s what you need to uncover.

So you have to ask questions, then get out of the way and let them answer. Get comfortable with silence even, because it may take some spouses a little while to gather their thoughts and their gumption to say what they want to say.

Consider how you express your concerns. Want more frequent sex? You aren’t likely to get it by saying things like:

  • “There’s something wrong that you don’t want sex more.” [Translation: There’s something wrong with YOU.]
  • “I’m a man! I need to have sex more!” [Translation: It’s not about intimacy, just a physical need.]
  • “If I’d known you didn’t want sex, I wouldn’t have married you.” [Translation: I don’t really love you; it’s just about the sex.]

Have people said stuff like this? Oh yeah, definitely. Did it work? Maybe they got some duty sex, but it doesn’t work in the long-term and it builds resentment for one spouse and dissatisfaction for the other. It isn’t true sexual intimacy.

Focus instead of what the sex means for the marriage. Why do you want to have it with your spouse so very much? Express that deeper need and desire. Yes, it feels good, but if it were only about a physical release of tension, let’s face it: You could do that yourself. Instead, you desire to be one with your spouse. Figure out how to communicate that.

Talk about what you want your sex life to look like, rather than bringing out a list of perceived offenses. Look ahead to a positive, progressing future for your marriage bed, rather than dwelling on problems in the past.

Ask for baby steps. If you’ve been having sex once a month and you expect to start having it every day, you need to dial back your expectations. Yes, I know you feel like you’re in a sexual desert and a spoonful of intimacy isn’t nearly enough. However, change takes time. Talk to people who have quit smoking or drinking or lost a lot of weight, and they’ll tell you it happened day by day, decision by decision. Prioritize moving in the right direction, and over time you can make a lot of progress.

Ask to add an additional sexual encounter to your regular routine. Encourage her to try one new position. Request he spend a few more minutes in foreplay. Purchase together one sexual aid (lubricant, game, etc.) to try. Celebrate small successes and improve your sexual intimacy bit by bit. Being married has the distinct advantage of a long period of time to make huge strides in fostering intimacy — but they’re made step by step.

So those are a few tips for addressing sexual problems in your marriage. What have you found that works? What challenges do you still face in getting your spouse to discuss sexual issues?