She Said, He Said: Couples getting past sex stalemate not solved by negotiating frequency
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My husband seems to want sex all the time — or at least it seems that way because he constantly brings up that we don’t do it often enough. I think he’s overly focused on it and is unrealistic about how often married couples are actually physically intimate. He says his sex drive is normal and that all guys feel this way. I try to explain that I’m just not in the mood as often as he is, but he just becomes irritable toward me. He says that men need regular sex, and I should have known that when I agreed to marry him. The tension has just gotten worse over time. He’s not relenting, and I don’t want to force myself to have sex just to keep the peace. How do we get past this?
Not In The Mood
Lori and Jeff: Lack of sexual intimacy is consistently noted as a top five leading cause of divorce in the U.S., and it makes sense. Without sexual intimacy, relationships can easily feel more like friendships or even logistical partnerships. And when you can only legally be married to one person, many individuals don’t want to waste that opportunity with an unsatisfying arrangement. How much sex is normal or healthy, however, is hotly debated. For the majority of couples, the answer is what feels fulfilling for them. But there’s a caveat. Partners can become overly focused on using sex to fill other voids or can become avoidant of sex when they’re not addressing other important needs.
Lori: You shouldn’t just make yourself have sex, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Committed, romantic partnerships are special because of the depth of intimacy that couples co-create in and out of the bedroom. Your sex stalemate is a symptom of a much bigger connection problem in your relationship: you don’t really know each other. You don’t really understand what is happening at a deeper level for each of you related to sex, or you would have spoken to those points in your question.
I suspect you’re not even clear on what’s happening within yourself. What stifles your desire to have sex with your husband? Is there a lack of emotional closeness in the relationship? Has all of your creative energy been going to work or the kids? Have you lost touch with your own sexuality? If you truly are showing up as your best, healthiest, most sexually connected version of you, then kudos. You can explain this to your husband and explore your boundaries for him getting his needs met in other creative ways. But if you’re not as available as you could be, it’s time to step up. Compromise in relationships often feels synonymous with sacrifice. But this process you’re in shouldn’t be focused on what each of you has to give up but rather how do you grow into a new equilibrium together.
Jeff: Men often use sex as a way to emotionally connect. So when we seem to crave more regular sexual connections, it’s our way of asking for more emotional intimacy, without having to feel too vulnerable in the process. Many heterosexual couples experience the “two ships passing in the night” syndrome where women need to feel more emotionally connected before they get turned on enough to want sex and men need sexual contact before they are willing to open up and connect emotionally. It’s an unfortunate scenario because it often leads to the sexual stalemate Lori mentioned above, with both partners refusing to recognize each other’s vulnerability.
Once you’ve both gotten more clear about your actual underlying needs around sex, you can begin practicing a different intimacy ritual. For you, it might be understanding that he doesn’t necessarily want sex just to get off but to connect with you more deeply. If he were able to reframe his requests for sex to reflect more of his emotional needs, might you possibly have a different reaction? For him, it would be learning how to simmer. Instead of him jumping into bed after a long day and expecting to have sex, he starts initiating emotional foreplay throughout the day. Small, flirty things in the morning, mildly suggestive texts during the day and loving, caring gestures once the workday is over can all add up to the magical elixir you’re needing to be open to his requests for sex.
Jeff and Lori: A lasting and mutually fulfilling solution isn’t going to be found by negotiating frequency. The key is realizing that you both have needs around connecting and feeling loved but very different ways of going about trying to get them met. You each have a little work to do in getting clear on what those needs are and in validating those for one another.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Readers around Aspen and Snowmass Village make the Aspen Times’ work possible. Your financial contribution supports our efforts to deliver quality, locally relevant journalism.
Now more than ever, your support is critical to help us keep our community informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having locally. Every contribution, however large or small, will make a difference.
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
OK everybody, time for a deep breath, as we stumble toward the end of September and Aspen a little bruised, a little battered, but still beautiful — like a prom queen on the morning after…