There is almost no physical intimacy in my marriage and I miss the sexual activity I thought I would have when I got married. I find myself resenting my wife and feeling frustrated because I did not get married to see how long I could go without sex. I feel discouraged with myself because I should be able to "suck it up" and stop having these feelings of resentment. I keep telling myself that maybe this is a challenge I am supposed to overcome, yet I sometimes talk to a friend who says I'm crazy to put up with it. Any suggestions?
I get letters with basically this same question at least twice a week, so you are not alone on this one. I'd like to address the problem and then give some suggestions to both husbands and wives on fixing this situation.
For many, the heart of the problem is that while most boys grow up hearing positive things about sex, most women grew up hearing nothing but shameful negatives. Women who were sexual were seen as sluts, and sex was talked about like it was dirty and wrong. As teens, many women are still curious about sex, which means they are open to learning about it, but now they have the negative subconscious programming. Needless to say, many women from Christian families are ill-prepared for marriage and don't understand how important sex is in their relationship and how beautiful it can be.
Then, add to that resentment, hurt feelings and betrayals of trust that often happen (like criticism that makes a woman feel emotionally unsafe) or to find out that a husband has been looking at pornography (which makes sex feel more dirty) and many women lose interest in the whole thing.
This is a complex issue and it can't be fixed in an article, but repairing the intimacy in your relationship is vital. You cannot have a healthy relationship without it. There is a reason they call it "making love." It is the most meaningful way to express love for another person. Also remember the main reason you are here on this planet is to learn and grow, and especially to learn to love. Your marriage is going to be the most important class you will take on this subject. So whatever the disconnect is between you and your wife, you are both going to have to grow and become more loving to fix it.
Here are some things each spouse can do to start the process of repairing intimacy in their marriage.
1) Be more kind, appreciative and validating: Most women can't feel amorous when they don't feel emotionally safe. Does your wife feel resentful, angry or walked on at any level? If you are prone to criticism, sarcasm, negative comments or if you just don't give enough positive validation, this could be a huge part of the problem. Your wife needs to feel admired, appreciated and cherished. She needs to see that you feel lucky to be married to such an amazing woman. (If you have been disappointed because of her sexuality issues and she feels this, it could be making her pull away further to protect herself.) She needs to be showered with praise and appreciation for who she is, as she is. Nothing makes a woman more interested in a man than him thinking she is the most amazing woman in the world.
2) Be the kind of man she can look up to: If you are voluntarily slacking in your responsibilities either in or out of the home, you need to step it up. This may mean exercising and getting in shape, spending less time in front of the TV or finding a better job. You may even ask her what you could be doing that would make her admire you more. She may want to see you deal with some of your own self-esteem, abandonment, career or emotional issues. This could mean getting some professional help and working on you. If you do this and gain some confidence, that will also make you more attractive.
3) Be more generous and giving: This means setting aside your own needs and focusing more on what she needs. This may mean helping around the house and with the children more. It could also mean honoring her feelings when she needs a good night's rest. Being resentful or complaining that she isn't meeting your needs, isn't showing love and it makes you just as unloving as her. Most couples find it works better if you let the woman initiate sex. I know you fear that if you do this, it will never happen, but being patient and giving her a chance to do this could reverse the cycle of her feeling taken from and you feeling rejected. Now, she might feel more motivated to give to you, and trust me, it will mean more to you when she does. Remember, women must feel emotionally safe and totally admired, accepted and cherished for every part of who they are before they can give sex as an expression of love. When you give more to them, they will want to give more to you. (If she doesn't respond to this, there are deeper issues in play.)
4) Avoid pornography: Pornography will harm your marriage in two ways. One, it will create unrealistic expectations that a normal wife and mother will not be comfortable fulfilling and two, it will trigger body image fears and feelings of betrayal that are difficult for a woman to get past. If a pornography problem has already created these issues in your marriage, you may both need some professional help to repair them. The good news is that you can repair them. They are not the end of the world, but you must get some help.
1) See a doctor or mental health professional: If you suspect a physical or psychological problem is in play, seek out some professional help. There are hormone imbalances and medications that can negatively affect libido. You also want to make sure you don't have experiences in your past that are creating negative feelings around sex.
2) Be more forgiving: I believe forgiveness is the No. 1 lesson you are here to learn in the classroom of life, and your marriage is the class where you will learn it. You must understand that you are no better than your spouse. You have the same exact value (even if he has made mistakes). You may not have made those mistakes, but you have made other ones, and your inability to forgive him is every bit as bad as his faults and weaknesses. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but you need to hear this. You are in here to learn to become a better, more loving person. If you don't learn this lesson now and forgive him for being imperfect, the universe will keep bringing this lesson back until you do. I have written numerous articles on forgiveness that may help, and there are two forgiveness worksheets on my website that might help. (Obviously, if you have an abusive spouse, then you need professional help immediately. But most of you just have a struggling, scared and occasionally clueless spouse who should be forgiven and given another chance, just like you. )
3) Be more generous and giving: This means setting aside your needs and focusing more on giving to your spouse and caring for him. This will mean initiating sex and doing it often. Sex is a more meaningful experience for all involved if the woman initiates it and enjoys it. A man desperately wants to be wanted by his wife and honestly gets more out of pleasing you than getting his own needs met. Your man wants sex to be an expression of love for each other, and a "quicky" that gets it over fast isn't fulfilling to him at all. (Imagine how you would feel if he told you to go take a relaxing bubble bath as his gift to you - "Oh but can you just jump in and out real quick.") That is not an expression of love. I know that as a mother you give and give, and some nights you have nothing left, but you must set aside time and energy to give to your spouse if you want a marriage that lasts and a spouse who takes care of you.
4) Work on your self-esteem: If you have body image issues or suffer from fears that you aren't good enough, you are literally incapable of giving love the way you should be. Most women suffer greatly from feelings of inadequacy, and these feelings must be repaired if you want a healthy marriage. We believe most people need professional coaching or counseling to change this. Ask your spouse to help pay for this, because a confident woman has more to give.
5) Communicate: Tell your husband exactly what he can do or change that would make you more attracted to him. Be frank and honest and kind. If there is no way that you can get past issues, or the issues are things he can't change, you need to be honest about that too, so he can decide if this relationship is right for him.
I believe you should try everything in your power to repair your marriage and learn the powerful lessons your relationship can teach you, but for some of you the lesson could mean loving yourself enough to get out, especially if the other person isn't capable or interested in changing. Only you know which path is right for you. Just make sure you have done the work on yourself first and learned how to forgive. That way you won't repeat the same pattern.
I would say don't "suck it up live with it." Instead, take action and get some help to fix the underlying issues.
You can do this!
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is also the author of the new book "Choosing Clarity: The Path to Fearlessness" and a coach and speaker.