She said, he said: Don’t dump the topic — married couples need to talk about their sexual needs
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 everyday life. We had great sex in the early years of our marriage, but over time it became dull. I thought as our kids grew we would find that connection again, but they are now teenagers 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 mute. I want to grow and experiment in this area, but my wife is content with casual, routine and vanilla. I’m afraid I sound like a stereotypical hormone-dependent man, but the truth is, it’s a big deal for me. What should I do?
Signed, doldrums of the bedroom
Lori and Jeff: First and foremost, recognize that it is not your wife’s responsibility to encourage you, invite you, or give you permission to connect with your own sexuality. Many people look to their relationships or partners to feel more confident, attractive, interesting, fun, or sexy. If you want to grow sexually, make sure you start from within, own who you are, and bring that energy, presence, and intention to the relationship.
Lori: Is your wife genuinely satisfied, 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 accept your hypothesis. It’s true that for many women, having and raising children can curb innate sexual desire. The energy and time spent caring for toddlers can leave a mother feeling exhausted and not feeling like she has anything left to give anyone. So, back to my original question: what does your wife gain from having sex with you? Is it possible that over the years she was less than satisfied and being physically intimate became something she did for you or because she felt it was important to do it as a what wife? Women don’t want chores anymore.
I’m not saying you miss the bedroom or put pressure on her. The reality is that many women find it difficult to stand up for themselves sexually, and many men assume that everything is fine. So before you jump into a free fall about a potentially asexual 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 open up to you sexually. Second, stop obsessing over what you want and refocus that curiosity and energy on how to sexually pamper and please your woman.
Jeff: I would add to Lori’s first question by asking how do you know your wife is “happy” with your sexual interactions? Did you tell her you wanted to expand your sexual experiences, and she specifically said she wasn’t? Or are you just making assumptions based on “signs” you interpret about his behavior? Salt-N-Pepa’s song, “Let’s Talk about Sex” is an important reminder that you need to be intentional about your needs. “Don’t be shy, avoid or cancel the topic,” they articulate aptly, meaning it’s time for you to be clear about what you’d like to be different. Although expressing sexual interests and desires can create the potential for rejection and shame, dodging the conversation will only lead to frustration and blame.
Sexual needs can also change over time, and as we age, what once fueled the sexual bond may have shifted to something else. Start the dialogue and find out what she needs at this stage of her life and find out what interests her. You may be surprised at what she “gets into” once you’ve been able to support her and collaborate in the process.
Lori and Jeff: You only have control over yourself, you cannot change partners. However, as with many relationship issues, small changes 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 yourself.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couples coaches at the Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to email@example.com, and your query may be selected for a future column.