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.
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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