Q: During our first couple of years of marriage, we had sex quite often. Now it seems as if my wife’s appetite for sex has diminished and this is tough on me. What can I do?
Barbara: I think that what you are experiencing is a very common problem in marriage relationships. There could be several underlying causes to this problem in a marriage. Specifically, here are a few possibilities that I would investigate.
First, there might be baggage from her past that is beginning to surface in the relationship. It could be related to things that happened to her before or after your marriage. Your wife may have experienced hurt in the few years of your marriage that, although unrelated to the sexual aspect of your relationship, is affecting her ability to respond to you. If she feels emotionally hurt or unloved, she will be unwilling or unable to open herself up to the vulnerability of sexual intimacy.
Another cause could be the addition of children into the family. I am assuming that, in your situation, there might be a new child or two in the marriage now. Suddenly your wife has transitioned from filling the role of wife, focusing on her husband, to filling the roles of wife and mother. Now she has both a husband and a child who need her. Most women require time to adjust to this change and to learn how to balance both roles. Often women struggle to find that delicate balance.
Dennis: As newlyweds, we begin our relationship with intense feelings. Researchers have told us that those feelings can last anywhere from two hours to two weeks to two years. Over the long haul, a marriage cannot survive on those emotions. When the strong feelings begin to wear off—and they will—you begin to discover the flat side of emotions. Then people begin to have difficulty meeting each other emotionally and sexually.
I think communication can be the key to saving the intimacy. Husband and wife need to clearly, consistently communicate their expectations to each other. Communication about sexual expectations should occur when both of you are calm and not in conflict. Perhaps you can even express your disappointment and hopes best in a written form so that neither of you has the opportunity to become defensive.
I also think it’s very important for wives to understand how risky sexual intimacy is for a man. I do not think women recognize how much a man’s confidence is affected by his performance in the act of sexual intercourse. A rejection by his wife can cut to the very core of a man’s self-esteem.
It is important, if she turns him down, that she does it in a way that communicates respect for him as a man. She needs to communicate to him that his sex drive is not dirty and he should not feel guilty for wanting to be with her. Secondly, she needs to affirm him in who he is as a man and plan with him a time when they can be intimate. Although it may sound mechanical, scheduling some times for intimacy would probably not be inappropriate in our busy culture.
I will never forget a headline I saw in USA Today a number of years ago: “Jobs sap couples’ craving for sex.” The article detailed how today’s husbands and wives, exhausted from their work and families, have no energy left to be creative with one another in the sexual dimension of the marriage relationship.
Barbara: I would also like to emphasize the woman’s need for quality time and communication in the relationship. One of the things I enjoy most is talking with Dennis. I think most women have similar emotional needs. If husbands will continue to date their wives, court them, spend time with them and make them feel loved, wives will be more likely to respond and be interested in the sexual area of the relationship.
Learn more about Dennis and Barbara Rainey
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