Help For Wives In Sexual Despair(ity) by Debra Thomas
Hey Anatomy Of Marriage Followers!
Because Seth and Melanie have so much to share, and because they have so many fantastic guests with so much to share, we decided to put out not one, but TWO blog posts up every week, in addition to the already amazing podcast episodes! So welcome to the first week of TWO POSTS!
Did you catch last Thursday’s Podcast yet? If not, you will want to pause what you’re doing RIGHT NOW and go listen to it. Here’s why. Today’s blog post is by Thursday’s guest, Debra Thomas from the North West Institute On Intimacy. She reached out to Seth and Melanie to ask if she could help answer some of YOUR questions in a blog context. SO, here is the first installment from Debra Thomas!
Higher sex drive than my husband
I know it is common for one partner to have a higher sex drive usually. And it can switch off. But how do you handle when you’re the one with a higher sex drive than your husband? I feel like as women we gain a lot of our confidence by being “desired” by our spouse. But when they don’t want to have sex as often, it can create some self image issues even though it shouldn’t. Have you guys struggled with this? How did you overcome it and not let seep into an argument?
This last year I had the opportunity to talk to several groups of women in church and retreat settings aboutthe challenges of long-term relationship and married sex. Many of women were struggling with husbandspursuing sex just as often as early days of marriage, but their own sex drives hadn’t bounced back after kids, career changes (or both). These women were physically exhausted, often over-touched (especially moms with little ones) and overwhelmed with caring for everyone’s needsexcept their own—all common desire killers for manyfemales. In those same rooms were women with the opposite complaint: What happened to my husband’s sex drive? These women survived kids, jobs and life changewith healthy sex drives, but felt angry, hurt, and insecuredue to their husband’s lack of drive. They also felt a little betrayed by common myths: Men are supposed to want and pursue sex all of the time.
Desire differences are common and are especially noticeable in long-term relationships. Whether you are male or female and experience a higher or lower desirecompared to your spouse, conflict over desire and arousaldifferences is often frustrating and sometimes extremelypainful. Females are not the only ones who want to be pursued! No matter the gender, a common complaint by the higher desire partner is feeling rejected and unattractive. On the opposite side, the lower desire person is often fatigued from “gatekeeping”; experiences being only an object of sex and wishes for additional time, space or some other element needed for desire to grow.
So, how do you talk about desire differences without fighting? All hot topics—sex, money, parenting & in-laws—require intention and care, but sex can leave all of usfeeling especially exposed. When we are talking about sex,we need to be aware that we are also talking about every part of our naked selves—body, mind, emotion and spirit!This conversation could easily bump into past relationship wounds, trauma, self-esteem issues, and shame. Here are a few ideas for preparing yourself for desire differences and other sexually vulnerable conversations:
1. When preparing for a difficult desire difference talks, start with finding compassion for your own pain, hurt and insecurity. Notice that in this relationship, you are the higher desire partner, and with that position comes the challenge of feeling rejected by your spouse or perhaps worried that you are unattractive. Notice your pain. Avoid rejecting yourself or blaming your spouse for the pain. Next, get curious about the lower desire partner’s pain. Reach inside and see if you can find compassion and empathy. (In a different relationship, the roles could be reversed). To add a layer to the pain for lower desire males, he has heard that he should “be the man” and want, pursue and live for sex. All too often wives shame their own husbands in the same way, telling them that they are not manly and, if he is the lower desire partner, there is something wrong. But the two of you are individuals who sometimes fit cultural norm descriptions and sometimes write your own. Recognize how harmful these narratives can be when lower desire males feel ashamed of not fitting the messages they received growing up in most every locker room across the United States.2. Be intentional about finding a good time to have a discussion. Trying to solve desire differences immediately after feeling rejected is a recipe for a hot mess. Wait until all your feelings have cooled down a bit! While sexual conversations can be challenging any time of day, you’ll have more emotional energy when you pick a neutral time and setting, when both of you are relatively refreshed and relaxed. You might even consider scheduling a time you can talk without interruption. Most of my clients talk about the 10pm fight that lasts until 2am without any resolution and only more wounds.3. When you talk, start with the intention of cherishing each other. This is one of your most important relationships and you don’t want to cause more wounds. Many people fall into common traps of getting stuck in criticism and blame; sounding like a parent or therapist; or falling back on common, unhelpful sayings like “just do it,” or “get over it.” All of these cause more harm, are definitely sex killers.
4. Get educated on desire and arousal. In the United States, porn, movies and magazines are filled with myths and misinformation about what is normal and pleasurable for males and females. Learn more about the variety of “normal” when it comes to desire and arousal and what gets in the way of experiencing desire for sex. While there are common drive killers for or males (criticism, relationship stress, and fear of performance) and females (fear, anger, fatigue, racing thoughts), the most important people to describe what kills or flames your desire is you. Rely on education to help identify and describe what happens to you.
In the past few years there have been several amazing sex education books for adults. One of my favorites is Come As You Are by Emily NagoskiEmily has great metaphors for thinking about sexual desire and arousal as accelerators and breaks—if you can get to know what revs your engine and what puts on the breaks, you can begin to get strategic about what each of you need and how to navigate the differences. I also love Ian Kerner’scompanion books: She Comes First and He Comes Next. In He Comes Next, Ian Kerner describes some of the common desire problems for men.
Couples retreats are another great way to get educated. Listen to Anatomy of Marriage episodesfor more information about Passion for Life Intimacy Retreat. Also, you can find out more information at www.nwioi.com. As a facilitator for this retreat, it is such a pleasure to see couples shed shameful myths, realize that much of what they experience is normal and can be resolved with intention and care.
5. Consider re-thinking sexy time as a menu of touch options with the primary goals of mutual pleasure and connection. If you aren’t up for intercourse, could you be interested in some other type of touch? Many people turn down sex because a boring routine, or too tired to “go all the way.” So, what about part way? Also, consider taking the problem of pursing sex off the table by scheduling time. Sometimes when I suggest this to couples, they have a really difficult time finding time in their calendar! It is super clear during those times a bulging schedule is part of the problem. Sexual (and emotional) intimacy takes time and intention. These couples realize that if they want time together, they need to make it a priority by cutting or moving other obligations. (And, if you worry that scheduling time isn’t sexy because it isn’t spontaneous, do you schedule a romantic dinner or getaway and still find it romantic? Most people say yes. When you plan a vacation, did you still look forward to it? The same can be true for planned sex. You might even get your low desire individuals just might be revved up by having more time to think about it.)6. Don’t forget about doctor visits to rule out physical problems for low desire. Problems with sexual desire could be physical, psychological, emotional, relational or spiritual—issues in any or all of these areas could lower the sex drive.7. If these suggestions don’t fit your need, consider couples therapy with a therapist trained in sexual issues. This may help you take the fight out of having a conversation, identify conflict patterns that occur when discussing sexual problems and provide additional sex education. It could also help identify root causes if these aren’t already clear to you.
Desire and arousal differences are challenging but can absolutely be resolved with the two of you caring for both you and your beloved’s needs.