She Said, He Said: Don’t make void the topic — married couples need to talk about sexual needs
She Said, He Said
Dear Jeff and Lori,
My wife and I have been married for 17 years. We have a good marriage in that we both love and respect each other and work well as partners in parenting and daily life. We had a great sexual connection in the early years of our marriage, but over time, it has become lackluster. I thought as our kids got older, we would find that connection again, but they’re teenagers now, and nothing has changed for the better. I don’t want to leave my marriage, but I also can’t imagine spending the rest of my life feeling sexually muted. I want to grow and experiment in this area, but my wife is content with occasional, routine and vanilla. I’m afraid of sounding like a stereotypical hormone-driven male, but the truth is, this is a big deal for me. What should I do?
Signed, Bedroom Doldrums
Lori and Jeff: First and foremost, recognize that it is not your wife’s responsibility to encourage, invite or give you permission to connect to your own sexuality. Many individuals look to their relationships or partners to make them feel more confident, attractive, interesting, fun or sexy. If you want to grow sexually, make sure you’re starting from within, owning who you are and bringing that energy, presence and intention to the relationship.
Lori: Is your wife actually content, or is she unmotivated to invest more time or energy into your sex life because the perceived benefit is lacking? If your wife had never been a sexually charged woman, I might be more inclined to buy into your hypothesis. It’s true that for many women, having and raising children can dampen the innate sexual drive. The energy and time spent nurturing little ones can leave a mother depleted and not feeling as though she has anything left to give anyone. So, back to my original question: What does your wife gain from being sexually engaged with you? Is it possible that, over the years, she was less than fulfilled, and being physically intimate became something she did for you or because she felt it was important as a wife to do? Wives don’t want any more chores.
I’m not suggesting that you’re lacking in the bedroom or that you have put any pressure on her. The reality is that many women have a difficult time advocating for themselves sexually, and many men assume all is well. So before you set yourself into a tailspin about a potential sexless future, here’s what you need to do: First, make sure the emotional connection in the relationship is strong. If she doesn’t feel safe, supported and loved, she may be more reluctant to be sexually open to you. Second, stop obsessing about what you want and refocus that curiosity and energy into how to sexually pamper and please your wife.
Jeff: I would add to Lori’s first question by asking how you know that your wife is “content” with your sexual interactions? Did you tell her that you were interested in expanding your sexual experiences, and she specifically said she wasn’t? Or are you simply making assumptions based on “signs” that you are interpreting about her behavior? The Salt-N-Pepa song, “Let’s Talk about Sex“ is an important reminder that you need to be intentional about your needs. “Don’t be coy, avoid, or make void the topic,” they wisely articulate, meaning it’s time for you to be clear about what you’d like to be different. While expressing sexual interests and desires can create the potential for rejection and shame, sidestepping the conversation will only lead to frustration and blame.
Sexual needs can also change over time, and, as we age, what was once fueled the sexual connection may have shifted to something else. Start the dialogue and find out what she needs at this point in her life and learn what she’s curious about. You may be surprised by what she’s “into” once you’ve been able to be supportive and collaborative in the process.
Lori and Jeff: You only have control over yourself — you can’t change your partner. However, as with many relationship issues, small shifts made by one partner can create positive changes for both. You won’t know what your wife is capable of creating with you until you fully show up.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to email@example.com, and your query may be selected for a future column.