It has been two months since Janet and Mark have had sex. They’re hardly speaking to each other. If you asked Janet about this, she would say that their home has become a battle zone—they fight about every little thing. Janet goes out of her way to avoid Mark to protect herself from his wrath.
Mark tells a different story. His anger, he believes, is justified. He is fed up with Janet’s lack of interest in their sexual relationship. “She never initiates sex. She recoils when I try to kiss or hug her. I’m tired of being rejected.” To cope with his unhappiness, Mark spends longer hours at work and busies himself on his computer at night, deepening the chasm between them.
Both Mark and Janet think that the other one is to blame for the problems between them. They have hit an impasse. The result: A sex-starved marriage. And sex-starved marriages are surprisingly common. In fact, in about one in three marriages, one spouse has a considerably larger sexual appetite than the other. This in and of itself is not a problem—it’s how couples handle their differences that matters.
Here’s what you need to know to fix a sex-starved marriage and make you both happier…
Yearning for Contact
In a sex-starved marriage, one partner is longing for more touch—both sexual and nonsexual—and the other spouse isn’t interested and doesn’t understand why such a fuss is being made about sex. The less interested spouse thinks, Is this just about having an orgasm? That’s not such a big deal. But the spouse yearning for more physical contact sees it differently. Being close physically is more than a physical release—it’s about feeling wanted and connected emotionally.
When a misunderstanding of this magnitude happens and the less interested spouse continues to avoid sex, marriages start to unravel. Couples stop spending time together. They quit putting effort into the relationship. They become more like two distant roommates. Intimacy on all levels ends, which puts the marriage at risk for infidelity or divorce.
Typically, the spouse with the smaller sexual appetite controls the frequency of sex. If she/he (contrary to popular belief, men also can have low sexual desire) doesn’t want it, it generally doesn’t happen. This is not due to a desire to control the relationship—it just seems unthinkable to be sexual if one is not in the mood.
Furthermore, the lower-desire spouse has the expectation that the higher-desire spouse must accept the no-sex verdict and remain monogamous. The higher-desire spouse feels rejected, resentful and miserable.
How do two people with differing sexual appetites begin to bridge the desire gap? Regardless of where you stand on the sexual-desire spectrum, it’s important to keep in mind that loving marriages are built on mutual care-taking. Don’t wait for your spouse to change first. Be the catalyst for change in your marriage. Here’s how…
If You Are the Lower-Desire Spouse
Just do it—and you may be surprised. Over the years, countless clients in my counseling practice have said, “I wasn’t in the mood to have sex when my spouse approached me, but once we got going, it felt really good. I had an orgasm, and my spouse’s mood really improved afterward.”
Why would that be? For many people, the human sexual response cycle consists of four stages that occur in a certain order—desire (out of the blue, you have a sexy thought)…arousal (you and your partner touch, and your body becomes aroused)…orgasm…and resolution (your body returns to its normal resting state).
But for millions of people, stages one and two actually are reversed. In other words, desire doesn’t come until after arousal. These people must feel turned on physically before they realize that they actually desire sex. Therefore, being receptive to your partner’s advances even from a neutral starting place—when you do not feel desire—makes sense because chances are that sex will be enjoyable for both of you.
Give a “gift.” Let’s face it, there are times when people—even people with the typical desire/arousal pattern—simply don’t feel like having sex. It’s perfectly acceptable to decline your partner’s offer from time to time. But when “no” substantially outweighs “yes,” you are creating deep feelings of frustration and rejection—guaranteed.
What’s the solution to an “I’m not really in the mood for sex” moment? Give a gift—a sexual gift—or to be more blunt about it, pleasure your spouse to orgasm if that’s what he/she wants, even if you’re not in the mood for the same. This is an act of love and caring and completely appropriate within a marriage.
If You Are the Higher-Desire Spouse
Speak from your heart. If you’re feeling frustrated that your spouse hasn’t understood your need to be close physically, chances are you’ve been irritable and angry. Anger is not an aphrodisiac—it pushes your spouse further away. Press your mental-reset button, and approach your spouse differently. Speak from your heart—express your vulnerability (yes, you are vulnerable, no matter how “tough” you are!) and your hurt.
Example: Instead of saying, “I’m angry that we haven’t had sex in so long,” it’s better to say, “When we don’t have sex for this long, I miss being close to you. I feel disconnected. It hurts my feelings that you don’t seem interested in me sexually.”
Rather than complain, ask for what you want. Complaining, even when it’s justified, leads to defensiveness. Instead, ask for what you want in a positive way.
Example: Instead of saying, “You never initiate sex,” say, “I’d really love it if once in a while, you threw your arms around me and said, ‘Do you want to make love?’ That would make me feel great.”
Figure out what turns your spouse on. If buying sex toys or downloading X-rated videos has failed to entice your spouse to nurture your sexual relationship, there’s probably a reason. Your spouse might need to feel courted by you first. You might be married to someone who feels more connected to you when you have meaningful conversations…spend enjoyable, uninterrupted time together other than having sex…are more affirming and complimentary…or when you participate in family activities together. This is how your partner feels loved—and the truth is, there are many people who want sexual intimacy only when they feel loved first.
If you’re uncertain about your spouse’s way of feeling cherished by you, ask. Say, “What can I do to make you feel loved?” Believe it or not, meeting your partner’s needs, though different from your own, may be a turn-on for him/her. Try it.