This article talks about ways of making relationships stronger so partners are more interested in having sex because they feel closer. Then it gives recommendations on how communication can be improved in a relationship so couples can understand each other's feelings, needs and wants better. That includes the way couples talk about sex.
There are stories in the article about people who did improve their sex lives when they changed their relationships for the better.
Skip past the following quotes if you'd like to get straight down to reading the article contents and self-help article.
For women the best aphrodisiacs are words. The G-spot is in the ears. He who looks for it below there is wasting his time.
It is not sex that gives the pleasure, but the lover.
Just because somebody doesn't love you the way you want them to, doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have.
The man who never in his life
Has washed the dishes with his wife
Or polished up the silver plate -
He still is largely celibate.
--Christopher Morley, (Washing the Dishes)
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Love is an irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.
Love is the thing that enables a woman to sing while she mops up the floor after her husband has walked across it in his barn boots.
It is with our passions, as it is with fire and water, they are good servants but bad masters.
Aesop (620 BC - 560 BC)
The author/therapist says that people not getting enough sex in marriage can feel unloved and lonely, and start to feel as if they must be unattractive. They can find it difficult to understand how their marriage partner can love them if they don't want to have sex with them. Their self-esteem can go down a lot. She quotes one man as saying that to him, sex with his wife made him feel as if the things in life that could get him down, like losing a job, couldn't be all that bad after all if he at least had someone at home he could look forward to making love with. He said that sometimes, little signs of love and affection, like a kiss for no reason or a hug given for longer than usual were even more important than sex, so if there was more affection, the lack of sex wouldn't seem so bad. But not feeling special to his wife was what hurt, the times when he didn't receive physical signs of love.
The author says women often don't understand that sex is often more than just a physical release to men. It makes them feel wanted, and it often makes them feel good if they think they're pleasing their wife sexually.
She says women with husbands who don't want sex with them can find it even more difficult than men whose wives don't want sex, because men tend to find it more difficult to talk about the problem, since people are taught to think that sex is a fundamental part of masculinity, so not wanting sex can make them feel less than real men. But that's a shame, because actually, low sexual desire in men is common.
The author says that if one marriage partner often doesn't want sex, it can cause the other one to feel a lot of hurt and anger. But she says that people without much desire for sex aren't depriving their partners out of malice, and says that often, they don't like the fact that they've gone off sex either. She says there are several different reasons why people go off sex, some to do with illness, pain, hormone levels, an unhealthy lifestyle, or side effects of medication. Sometimes, there can be psychological reasons, like depression or embarrassment about body shape. Sometimes relationship difficulties can be at the root of it.
She asks people who are angry because their marriage partners are rarely in the mood to have sex with them to consider whether any of those things could be putting their partner off sex, and then to imagine what it might be like to be them, perhaps to feel embarrassed or ashamed of the way their body looks so it's difficult to relax and enjoy sex, or to imagine feeling pain during sex, or having problems getting an erection. It's understandable that such people wouldn't be in the mood for sex much.
Or they could try to imagine how it would feel to find it difficult to feel turned on and yet to know so many people find it easy, and wonder what was wrong with them.
She asks people to imagine how much they'd want sex if they were ill or in chronic pain. Wouldn't they rather be focusing on how to ease their pain and discomfort?
She asks people to imagine how much they'd feel like having sex if they were exhausted, stressed or depressed, and their mood would have to change quite dramatically for them to really want to relax and enjoy themselves.
She asks people to imagine how much worse it would be if their partner, the person they loved and wanted to be loved by, had no understanding of the way they felt but became angry and insulting, or kept complaining about how unhappy the lack of sex made them.
She says lack of sexual desire can be due to stress caused by problems in the relationship. So the partner who wants more sex should question whether they might be contributing to putting their partner off having sex with them because of the way their behaviour makes them feel. If they think they might be, they should be willing to change their behaviour. Sometimes, sexual desire returns when there is more love and consideration in the relationship.
The author tells the story of a woman who wanted a lot of sex with her husband at first, but over the years he became verbally abusive. He was often nasty and critical. As his job got more stressful, it seemed he would take it out on her. Her desire to have sex with him vanished. She'd have sex with him once a week, but only to avoid having to argue with him. She never put any enthusiasm into it. She'd just wait for him to get it over with. At other times, she'd keep herself busy hoping he'd fall asleep before she came to bed.
She said he was too wrapped up in himself to ask her about her feelings so she never told him about them. But that meant there was an emotionally intimate part of the relationship missing that might otherwise have sparked more desire on her part to be intimate with him physically. But she didn't realise why she'd gone off sex at the time.
She divorced him in the end, and she met and married someone else. She said he was always considerate, loving and caring, as if he was making love to her on an emotional level all day. Her desire for sex increased dramatically, and when she told the author what was going on, she said she was having sex with her husband on most days, doing creative things in bed, and really enjoying it.
The author says that people who want a lot of sex might not understand how important it can be for the one who rarely seems to be in the mood to feel they have a good emotional relationship with them before they'll feel turned on. The one who wants more sex might feel themselves that making love is a good way of making up and soothing bad feelings after arguments. But other people have to feel that there's an emotional bond between them and their spouse before they want sex with them. The person who wants more sex can help build one by showing concern and a caring attitude, asking about their spouse's feelings, enquiring about how their day was, spending time with them doing things they enjoy, showing an interest in personal things that matter to them, and so on. Once their spouse feels emotionally close to them, they may well feel more turned on by them.
She says the trouble is that one partner is often so frustrated by the lack of sex in the marriage that they just don't feel like being nice, while the other one will find the unpleasant behaviour of the one who isn't being nice a turn-off and won't be in the mood to have sex with them until they become more pleasant. She says that many people with low sexual desire have told her in therapy that they just can't stand touching their wife after she's been criticizing and nagging them all day, or that their husband's so angry all the time that they just can't let their guard down and relax and want sex with him.
She says it's important for people to have a good think about their behaviour and whether it could be putting their spouse off them. She asks, for instance, that people think about whether they've been highly critical and bossy, mean-spirited and angry; whether they could have been letting the angry feelings they build up because they're not getting the sex they want make them unpleasant to be around or emotionally distant; whether they're beginning to do things that indicate a rejection of their spouse, or whether they're considering an affair.
She says that things won't change for them unless they change. Even if they feel too angry to want to, they should know that holding grudges is a good way to ruin a relationship; it'll keep things the way they are because it'll make attitudes unpleasant. Looking back, people will be able to tell that it never did any real good. So they can work out for themselves that forgiving, starting anew and changing as best they can is more likely to bring what they want back into the relationship.
The author says that some people complain that the more they want sex, the less their partner does, or that the more they try to interest their partner in sex, the less interested they become. She says this is because when people encounter a problem, they try doing something to solve it, and if it doesn't work, instead of doing something completely different, they typically try doing the same thing that didn't work before, just with twice the effort. And that often makes things worse.
She gives the example of a couple she saw in therapy where the wife was depressed because her husband was distant from her emotionally, and to cheer herself up, she would go shopping. But her husband didn't like her extravagances, so the more she went shopping, the more he withdrew from her emotionally. She didn't realise that what she did to cheer herself up because of his behaviour was making it worse, and he didn't realise that his behaviour was making her shopping behaviour worse.
The author says the same thing works with sex, where the person who wants more will feel aggrieved by their partner's rejection of their advances, and they will start hungering for sex more, even becoming obsessed by it, just as someone denying themselves the food they love to go on a diet might become obsessive about what they can no longer have. She says they're likely to start touching their partner sexually at every opportunity, for instance when they meet around the house or hug to say goodbye, and making sexual remarks to them. But their partner will view this as pressure to have sex and be more put off by it. No one likes to feel as if they're being pressured into something. So they're likely to get annoyed. But the partner who wants more sex is likely not to realise that that's what's annoying them, so they keep doing the same things, and that puts their partner off even more. They still don't realise that their behaviour's the source of their partner's annoyance, so they start talking to their partner about how unhappy they are about the lack of sex in the relationship, and that just feels to the partner like more pressure, so they find it even more off-putting and so want even less sexual contact, and might even stop wanting much to do with the partner who wants more sex at all.
Their partner's efforts to get more sex might have put them off so much because they feel pressured that though there might not have been that much of a difference between the sexual desire of each of them before, there might be a big difference now. The one who wasn't so keen to begin with might take no notice of the twinges of sexual desire that might have made them want sex before. The one who wants more sex often just won't realise that it's their behaviour that's putting their partner off sex, so they'll just think the one who's gone off sex is becoming more and more stubborn and uncaring, and blame all the problems on them.
The author says another reason why people keep doing more of the same old thing that doesn't work is that it seems the most logical thing to do. So they never question what they're doing. But the solutions that seem the most logical aren't always the best.
She says another problem with doing more of the same behaviour is that partners get so used to it that their responses become automatic. They can predict exactly what's going to happen, so they get ready to say the same old thing, and don't really take notice of their partner's feelings. When their partner starts doing new and original things, however, they have to take notice.
The author asks people to consider whether they've been blaming their marriage partner for the problems and ignoring any part they might have played in them. Even if the partner's lack of interest in sex is partly to do with biological or mental health problems, such as low testosterone levels or depression, that will probably only be part of the problem; part of it may well be to do with how one partner's efforts to spice up the sex life are actually putting the other one off.
She says another way people can put their partner off sex accidentally by doing more of the same thing that doesn't work is by continually asking questions about why they're not keen on sex, since that can feel like pressure as well. So even though a partner might only be asking them because they want to understand the problem, they should stop if the other one seems annoyed.
She says another thing that can have the same effect is if someone diagnoses their spouse with a problem and insists they get treatment for it. For instance, someone might hear that depression can cause people to lose interest in sex, and they feel sure their spouse is depressed, so they run to them excitedly and say they feel sure they've found out why they're not interested in sex, and if they only get treatment for their depression, things will be allright again. Their partner might say they're not depressed, and that the reason they're not interested in sex is that they're tired at the end of the day, and that they don't feel appreciated for what they do by the one who thinks they're depressed. If their partner continues to insist that they must be depressed and need treatment for it, no matter how convincing they are, that'll just annoy the partner who's saying they're not depressed, and so it'll make them want sex even less.
The author says there are typical arguments people get into when discussing one marriage partner's lack of desire for sex with the other. They can make the partner who doesn't want so much sex feel angry and pressured and so they want even less sex.
She says that one common destructive topic of argument is who is to blame for the low sexual desire of the partner who isn't that interested in sex. The person who wants more sex will often assume it's all the fault of the partner who wants less, and so they will blame them for the marriage problems, especially since they don't seem willing to change. But the partner who doesn't want so much sex often won't see why they should change, since they don't see the problem as being that they don't want enough sex, but that their marriage partner is over-sexed and wants more than is reasonable. They might not understand why the partner who wants more sex is making such a fuss about sex, and think that if only they'd stop thinking about it so much and stop thinking of it as such an important thing, everything would be allright.
The author says both partners will typically think it's the other one who needs to change, while not being willing to change themselves.
She tells the story of a couple who only had sex once or twice a month, and the wife thought that was too much for her, whereas the husband would have preferred to be intimate every day if possible. He went about trying to convince her that her level of sexual desire was abnormally low to try to persuade her to change. First he asked his friends how often they had sex, and told her they were having more sex than them; but she said her own friends said they were having about the same amount. Then he researched on the Internet and found statistics that said the average was about once or twice a week. He confronted his wife with the research findings, but she said she didn't care what they said, and insisted that she didn't have a problem. He thought she was just getting more stubborn, but she thought he was just being annoying. The more he tried to prove to her that her sexual desire was below average, the more annoyed she got. So there was no way that he was going to convince her to change that way.
The author says that sometimes, both partners in a couple will agree that there's a problem, but they'll argue over what's causing it. For instance, the person who wants more sex might think it's because his wife is going through the menopause, while his wife thinks her lack of sexual desire has to do with her husband's critical nature. Or the person who wants more sex might think that the person who wants less has lost their desire because of a side effect of a certain type of medication they're on, while the person who wants less sex might think it's because their partner has let their body become less attractive. And so on. So they just argue about it instead of experimenting with things that could improve things.
She says that sometimes, couples will agree about the cause of the low sexual desire of one of them, but they'll argue about where it came from and what to do about it. For instance, they might both agree that depression is causing it, but the one who wants more sex might think the depression is a biological problem, since there's a history of depression in the family of their partner, and so they might be nagging their partner to go on medication; but their partner might not want to, because they think it's their job that's making them so miserable, and that things won't improve until they change it.
The author advises people to stop arguing about that kind of thing, and try moving things forward instead. If, for instance, someone thinks their job is making them unhappy, getting a better one can only be a good thing.
On the other hand, if both partners agree about what needs to be done about the problem, it won't necessarily mean the one who isn't that interested in sex will be interested in doing something about it. She says that if a couple agrees on what's causing the problem but one partner's constant reminders to the other one to do something about it, whatever that may be, are just annoying the one with low sexual desire, the one who wants more sex should try another way of trying to motivate them to change.
The author says that one common argument is over how often a couple has sex; one of them might think it happens a lot more often than the other one does, as if they're not even talking about the same relationship. It's because the one who feels rejected because they're not getting enough sex for their liking thinks it feels like ages since they last had sex, so they might underestimate the number of times they do have it, while their partner might think they have too much for their liking, so it feels as if they have it more than they really do, so they over-estimate the number of times a month they have it. Obviously, the arguments don't really solve anything.
She says another cause of arguments is that some people like to have sex right then and there when the mood takes them, while for others, the atmosphere has to be just right and a number of things have to be just the way they want them to be before they'll want sex. Couples often argue over whether it's fair of the person who only likes sex under certain conditions to inflict such demands on their spouse, or whether they're really just making excuses for not having sex.
The author recommends that if people haven't managed to work out whether the things they keep trying to do to solve the problem of the lack of sex in their marriage could just be annoying their spouse rather than solving the problem, they ask themselves certain questions that might help them clarify things:
The author says that going from not having much sex to having a satisfactory sex life all in one go might be a bit ambitious, since someone who isn't enthusiastic about sex might take a while to become a lot more interested. But there are little things that can be done along the way that might spark off hopeful signs of improvement that could gradually build up to a big change.
So the author suggests that people think of several things that they would perceive as hopeful signs of improvement, and aim for those, one at a time, at first.
For instance, some of them might be, "My spouse will start to compliment me on the way I look every so often like he/she used to", or, "He/she will hug me back when I hug him/her when I come in from work", or, "He/she will want to snuggle up to me when we're watching television in the evenings". That kind of thing.
She says people ought to write these things down, so they can look at them and work out ways they might be able to work towards them; and also when they've been achieved, they can look at them and be encouraged.
She reiterates that the signs of improvement people write down in the hope of working towards them should be specific rather than vague. For instance, they shouldn't be things like, "I want my spouse to be more passionate or tender when we make love", but they should describe exactly how they'll be behaving when they are more passionate or tender, for example, "I want them to look at me more and tell me how they feel, or caress me more before we start having sex". That way, people will know when what they want is happening, and it may be that they can tell their spouse that that's what they want and their spouse will know exactly what to do.
She says that each sign of improvement should be so small that it's possible that it might be achieved within a week or two. That'll mean that more and more hope is built up as more and more of them are achieved within a short time of each other. So, for instance, a person couldn't write down that they wanted sex once a week when they hadn't had any for ages, but if that's what they wanted, they could work towards it bit by bit; a more realistic aim to start with would be that their spouse would read an article they'd given them on how the side effects of certain medications can dampen sex drive, or listen to them talking about their feelings without getting agitated, or that kind of thing.
The author says that there are several things that may have to happen before things can start to go well.
She says the first is that people who haven't wanted much sex recently may have to admit that their lack of sexual desire is causing problems in the marriage. That might be difficult where they've been insisting they don't have a problem with low sexual desire, because admitting it after all might seem like a loss of face. Or they might be reluctant to admit it if they feel it'll mean having to confront embarrassing or painful issues, like having to talk about problems getting an erection with a doctor, or remembering a traumatic experience that put them off sex.
Or if they're a person who typically avoids conflict and they've been put off sex by the behaviour of their spouse that they've never mentioned before but it's caused them bad feelings, addressing the marriage problems may mean risking conflict, so they may prefer that things stay the way they are.
If and when they do decide there's a problem, they may want to do a lot of research on the Internet etc. into what causes low sexual desire. Although this won't in itself lead to an increase in their sexual desire, it is a step in the right direction, so when the spouse who wants more sex sees them doing that, they ought to express appreciation for it, to encourage them to continue.
She says some people like to research information about low sexual desire before they decide what to do, and since there are so many causes, they could decide the problem is most likely to be a biological one, a psychological one or caused by marital problems, or a combination of things. She advises that when they decide what they think is most likely to be causing it and decide to investigate it more with a view to a remedy, their partner shouldn't argue with them if they think they're wrong; the one working on the problem will feel most friendly towards the other one if they feel supported; and if it does turn out that they were wrong about what the problem was, they'll be more likely to turn to the other one for suggestions about what to do next if there's goodwill between them.
She advises that with everything a spouse does towards investigating and remedying the problem of the unhappiness caused by their lack of sexual desire, the other one should compliment them, telling them how much they appreciate it. This will do the one expressing appreciation just as much good as the one receiving the compliments and gratitude, because the more a person feels appreciated for a particular behaviour, the more they'll tend to do it. Even in the stages before they're ready to do something to remedy the problem, every step of the way towards it should be greeted with compliments and gratitude. It might take patience to wait as long as it takes, but it should be worth it.
She says that when the partner who didn't want much sex before starts to be more sexual, both partners should try to make things as enjoyable as they can, and they should think about what it was that inspired the changes and keep on doing it. It won't just be the responsibility of the person who didn't want much sex before to make sure they stay more sexual; if they were encouraged to become more sexual, it will have been because of something the other partner was doing right. So the other partner should think about what it was, so they can keep on doing it to make sure the marriage stays sexual.
Love is missing someone whenever you're apart, but somehow feeling warm inside because you're close in heart.
In the coldest February, as in every other month in every other year, the best thing to hold on to in this world is each other.
--Linda Ellerbee, (Move On: Adventures in the Real World)
The author says the marriage partner who wants more sex in the marriage should experiment with doing different things to boost the other one's sexual desire. Some of them might involve changing their behaviour to become kinder and more considerate, since greater emotional closeness can lead some people to feel much more like having sex; and some solutions involve doing things different sexually. She says that a solution that works for one person might not work for another, and indeed one that works for someone one month won't necessarily work the next. So she recommends that people experiment with different things; and if their spouse responds positively, they should keep doing them; but if they respond badly, they should stop and do something else. If they don't respond at all, it's worth giving the technique another try to see whether it does start working, and then it can be kept up or changed according to the partner's response to it that time.
She recommends people try every strategy she suggests, starting from the simplest to the most complex, unless it doesn't feel right, and then people should ignore it, since only if they put their heart into the strategy can it work.
She says that people who've been to see her in therapy have tried these strategies, so she knows they work, but not every one will work for everybody, and they won't work all the time.
She reiterates that it's very important to be patient, since if people have been very distant from each other, big changes are unlikely to happen overnight; change is far more likely to happen bit by bit. A show of impatience or pressuring behaviour could put a partner off sex again when they were just coming around to the idea of liking it. Every little sign of improvement can be an encouragement that can stop people losing heart. Little improvements can eventually add up to big changes.
She also advises that people don't take their partner's attitude to sex personally. It might have something to do with them, but then again, it might not. Someone whose partner isn't interested in having sex with them can feel rejected and incompetent and unloved, but their partner might not be thinking bad things about them at all. The reason they don't want sex much might have nothing to do with their partner.
And she says that no matter how the partner's refusal to have sex with them makes them feel, they should try not to say anything that will upset their partner. The calmer and more loving they are around them, the more positive their response is likely to be. She says it might be difficult not to express negative feelings, but no matter how people are feeling, they always have a choice about how they behave. They can choose whether to antagonise their partner or not.
So she advises that if people start feeling angry at the slow progress or something and they're tempted to express how they feel, rather than just speaking out, they first take a deep breath and say to themselves: "What am I hoping to achieve here? Is what I'm about to do or say going to bring me nearer to what I want or push me further away?" People who are trying to achieve more closeness in their relationship should stop themselves from doing anything they might feel like doing on the spur of the moment that might make their partner want to be less close to them for a while.
The author says that some people need to get close sexually before they feel close emotionally, but some people are the opposite, wanting to be emotionally close before they have sex. She says to people who think they need to get close to their partner sexually before they start to feel close emotionally, but who think it's possible that their spouse might prefer that there's an emotional bond before they're interested in sex, that they need to make efforts to build an emotional bond first, even if they don't feel like it.
Ideally, spouses should compromise, and those who don't feel like having sex until their partners are emotionally close to them should also be more sexual with them anyway to motivate them to want to become emotionally closer. But whether they do or not, the spouse who doesn't tend to start to feel emotionally close till they've been sexually close can start major changes happening by doing things that will make their spouse feel closer to them emotionally, such as talking with them, showing concern about what matters to them, showing they care, performing little acts of tenderness, sharing personal thoughts, and most importantly, spending quality time with them. She says the one who hasn't been that interested in sex needs to feel as if they're the most important thing in the life of the one who wants more, more important than their work, hobbies, friends, and so on. Even if that means the person who wants more sex has to forego other activities to be with them, that's what should happen to make them feel they're significant and loved. Couples should go out together as couples from time to time, perhaps asking close friends or family to baby-sit. Work and unnecessary distractions like television should be off-limits during quality time together, and couples should spend that time showing they're concerned about the way each of them thinks and feels, asking about each other's concerns, talking about themselves, rekindling old good memories and laughing about the past, and discussing hopes and dreams for the future.
The author says that this kind of approach can really boost the sexual attraction of someone who needs to feel emotionally close before they want to get close sexually.
She says that the lack of sex in a marriage might have made the spouse who likes to feel sexually close before they want to be emotionally close feel annoyed with their partner and really not in the mood to spend time with them being emotionally intimate. But she says they should make efforts to get emotionally close whether they feel like it or not, because that's what real love's all about, giving to the other one what will please them whether the person doing the giving feels like it or not. And when they do, the other person will feel more like giving them what they want. When someone does something nice for another one, it makes them feel more like being nice, and the likelihood is that they'll do something nice in return. For some people, emotional closeness can be like foreplay - it ignites their passion.
The author says that for some people, what turns them on is romance, and without it, they lose enthusiasm for sex. Some people just love little gifts and cards, romantic dates out, signs of thoughtfulness and appreciation, surprise sensual gifts, words and actions that will make them feel attractive, compliments, and that kind of thing. Without romance in their lives, they're turned off sex. It may be that their spouse thinks they're unreasonably sentimental. Yet if they want sex with them, they'll find them a lot more obliging if they bend to their wishes and get romantic, the way their romantic partner wants.
The author tells the story of a couple who had both had previous marriages where they had had children. At first, their own marriage was very loving and their sex life was great. But the wife lost enthusiasm. Her previous husband had died when her son was only seven years old, and she'd wanted to remarry to provide a father for him. She had thought the man she did marry would be an ideal father, since he seemed so caring. But for some reason, it turned out that he didn't think he'd be able to bond with a male child, so he didn't take much notice of the son. Over the years, his wife became hurt and angry about this, and that put her off having sex with him.
The author says the couple came to see her in therapy, and she advised the husband that he had to spend more time with the son if he was going to win his wife's affections back. He didn't understand why that was so important to his wife, since he thought he was doing lots of little romantic things for her which should have kept her love interest in him alive - buying her flowers on their anniversary, talking a lot about how much he loved her and so on; but her idea of romance was to have a protective gentle father figure for her son. the author told him he needed to do more of what his wife wanted to become the man she'd thought he was and had fallen in love with again.
He did. A couple of weeks later, the author saw the wife, and she seemed a lot happier. She said he'd been talking with their son a lot more, watching sports on television with him and doing jobs outside with him. She thought the changes were quite dramatic, and she said she'd started feeling much more passionate about her husband. Their sex life had really improved, to the point where they were secretly meeting in their lunch break, and going into their bedroom and locking the door in the afternoons to have sex.
The author says some people get so fed up of being nagged and criticized in a nasty way by their spouse that they can't bear to go near them.
She tells the story of a man and wife who came to see her in therapy. The man had been unemployed for six months. He had no sexual desire whatsoever at the time. It had vanished, because his wife was continually angry, saying nasty things, telling him how she thought he was disappointing her in various ways and what he was doing wrong. She never showed any appreciation for him, even though he helped a lot with the housework and the children.
She couldn't understand why all her bitchiness was putting him off sex with her, but he said that his self-confidence was damaged anyway because he was unemployed, and he just couldn't bear to touch her after she'd spent the day being nasty to him. She didn't want to be more loving because she was frustrated and angry because his sex drive had gone down and he was no longer providing much for the family financially. But he couldn't understand how she could pick on him and then expect him to want to get physical with her. He just wasn't likely to be in the mood!
The author says she helped the wife understand the hurt her husband was feeling over the loss of his job. And his wife began to realise that her criticisms of him were making him feel less like being near her. So she decided to start being kinder and more compassionate. She let him know she understood how hard it must have been for him to have been made redundant, and she made efforts to boost his ego by complimenting him every time she noticed him helping with something.
She found out that being kinder not only boosted his self-confidence, but also his sex drive. And she discovered another great benefit. It wasn't long at all before he got another job. It seemed that his self-confidence was making him a better candidate.
The author says that throughout the time she's been a therapist, she's seen many, many men who say they're really turned off sex by the nagging and criticising of their wives. Many have difficulty getting or keeping erections.
She asks people to consider whether they've been bossy or critical recently. She says it's difficult for a man to feel manly when he's being belittled or told what to do a lot. Some men ignore it or argue about it, but some take it to heart and it demoralises them and they lose all their sexual desire.
She says that even people who think their complaints are justified should realise the connection between their criticisms and the disappearance of their spouse's sex drive. She says even if what they're complaining about is their spouse's low sex drive, they should still recognise the connection between their complaining attitude and their spouse's lack of interest in sex.
There are ways to raise issues that don't involve belittling and grumbling. People who have been doing that may well discover that the nicer they are, the more their partner's sex drive comes back. So she says that even if people don't feel like being nicer, they should be.
She quotes a letter from a wife who said that a few weeks before, she felt like giving up on her marriage. Her husband hadn't done anything around the house for ten years, expecting her to do everything while he just sat and relaxed. They argued every other day. But then she made efforts to change her attitude. She stopped nagging him and tried to be nicer. She complimented him more, tried to be more patient and ignored small irritations.
One day, she came home in the middle of the day and couldn't believe what she saw. He had the day off, and all the washing-up had been done and the whole house had been cleaned. She was so pleased. She thought that if that was what was going to happen when she tried to be nicer, she didn't want to change back. And her husband wanted to have sex with her more as well.
She was really pleased at the way their sex life had improved. They hadn't been having sex much at all before, but they were now having sex in the middle of the day as well as at night. And sex was more enjoyable.
She said the evening before she'd written the letter, she caught herself three times when she was going to nag him, and didn't. Afterwards, she realised they were things that weren't even worth mentioning.
She was very happy at the difference in his attitude. Not only were they having more sex and he was being more helpful around the house, but he was expressing more love to her as well, doing things like ringing her at work to say he loved her.
The author says that even people who aren't that belittling or bossy can make a big difference to the way their spouse feels about them by complimenting them more, commenting when they've done something they like.
She says she once ran a discussion group for women with marriage problems, and one day she asked them whether, if their husbands were in the room and they weren't, their husbands would say they were critical or complimentary. Immediately, every woman in the room admitted that they were critical. One said she lived on a large farm with her husband, and the night before, she came home to discover he'd mowed three acres of grass. But she just pointed to a very small bit under some trees and told him he'd missed a bit.
The author says that not everyone loses their sex drive when they're being criticised, but a lot of people do, so people should start being kinder and see what happens.
She says that feeling that you're doing more than your fair share of work around the house or childcare can be a real turn-off. She says when people feel taken for granted, unappreciated and overworked, they can feel the marriage isn't a real partnership, and they certainly won't be in the mood to think up ways of pleasing their partner sexually. It can be a real turn-off.
So she advises people who aren't doing much of the housework or childcare and whose partners have complained about it before to do more, even if they think their partner's asking too much of them. They can still do some. If they don't, they can almost guarantee their sexual relationship with their partner will be ruined. Someone who feels taken for granted and unappreciated won't feel like having sex with the person they're angry and resentful with for doing that. So she advises that someone who's been doing that starts showing their partner they care, telling them they appreciate the things they do, and helping more. That might well get their attention and make them more concerned about doing things that'll please the one who wants more sex. When a person who already has low sexual desire feels over-burdened with things to do, sex is likely to drop off their priority list. But When they don't feel so tired and start to feel more encouraged and appreciated, they can start wanting sex again.
The author says that during her years doing therapy, she's realised that there are times in every couple's lives when things are better. She says that unfortunately, people tend to take them for granted when they're happening and not think about what's making them good. But when there are problems, they can't get those out of their minds. They think all about the problems. But she says a better thing to do is to think about the times when the problems aren't happening, and try to work out what's different about those times. When they do, they may have ideas about what they can do to solve the problems. She says that many people think good times are just flukes. But they're not. People will have been doing something to make those times good. So if they can work out what it was, then they might know what they need to do to make things go better now.
So she advises that people reflect on the times when perhaps they were arguing less, when they were having deeper conversations, when they were spending more time together and enjoying each other's company more, and feeling closer, and they try to work out what they themselves were doing differently then, what their spouse was doing differently, and what they were doing differently as a couple or family.
She gives a few examples, saying that perhaps for some people, when things were going better, they were talking to each other more, perhaps working less hours, doing more things as a couple together, having family times together - perhaps around the dinner table, finding ways of overlooking small irritations, calling each other more during the day, sharing housework more fairly, and so on.
She says that when people have worked out what it is that's different about the good times, they should do it, even if they don't feel like it. The more they do what makes the marriage work better, the more their spouse will respond in a friendly way, so they'll come round to feeling like being nice to them even if they didn't when they started.
She says that the same applies to people's sex lives. Chances are, there will have been a time when they were good, when sex was more loving, lively and frequent. So people should ask themselves what was different about those times - what was happening in their lives then that isn't now, or what wasn't happening that is now. Perhaps they were taking more time for foreplay. Perhaps one's doing shift work now and that's disrupting their time together. Maybe they felt more at ease, had more energy or felt sexier before the children came along. Maybe they put more effort into making things varied and creative.
She says some of the things that made sex better may be impossible to recreate, for instance, if it was better before the children came along. But then, it might be possible to recreate elements of those times. People may be able to work out how, if they ask themselves what was different about the times before the children came along that made them feel like having sex more. For instance, perhaps one or both partners were less tired, or they felt they could be more spontaneous because things were more private, or maybe they can't have sex because one of the children likes to sleep in bed with them.
If the problem is tiredness, they could sit down together and work out what to do to give themselves more energy, whether that be sharing housework and childcare more equally, cutting back on activities or working hours, paying someone to clean the house so they don't have to, getting a trusted friend or family member to baby-sit sometimes so they can spend time relaxing and unwinding, or whatever.
If the problem is that they can't be spontaneous nowadays, that might be true to an extent, but they could plan times alone, and they could be spontaneous during those times.
As for the problem of a child sleeping in its parents' bed, the parents can train it to go and sleep in its own bed, even if it takes persistence till it stays there.
The author gives an example, saying that men's testosterone levels peak most often in the mornings, so they tend to feel most like having sex then, whereas women's testosterone levels tend to peak most in the evenings. She suggests that perhaps a woman whose husband doesn't tend to want sex much when she wants it in the evenings can sometimes do something to make herself more alert in the mornings to see if her husband wants to have more sex with her then. Or a man could see if his wife is more interested in having sex later in the evening than he usually asks for it, or perhaps at certain times of the month, when her testosterone levels could be higher than at other times. He could ask her if she notices if there are certain times of day or month when she feels a bit more sexy.
The author says that some people think they're being absolutely clear about when they're in the mood for sex and get frustrated because their spouse doesn't respond, but actually, they're not being clear at all; they're hinting and making innuendos and expecting their spouse to know what they really mean. But their spouse won't necessarily know, since that would really take a mind reader. So she advises people to speak plainly about when they're in the mood.
She tells the story of a couple who came to her in therapy. They'd been together five years and their marriage was in trouble. They thought they were growing apart. The wife knew when they married that she wanted sex more than her husband, but she valued many other parts of their relationship, so she didn't think it would matter all that much. But a year into the marriage, she started wondering if she'd been wrong. She thought he'd lost his sex drive altogether, and not having sex wasn't her idea of marriage.
As she described their marriage in therapy, her husband became puzzled by her description of it. According to her, she was always very clear about when she wanted to make love, but he never wanted to.
He said he'd been under the impression that she'd lost interest in sex, since she hadn't initiated it recently. He asked her when the last time was that she had. She said, "Last night. Don't you remember? Just before we went to bed, I asked you if you were tired, and you said yes."
The husband said, "I was tired. But you didn't say you wanted to make love. You just asked me if I was tired".
The wife said, "What do you think I was talking about when I asked that?"
The husband said, "I thought you wanted to know if I was tired".
The author says it's understandable that the husband missed the hint. She says people ought to be clearer about what they mean. They don't necessarily have to do that verbally; with some people, physical means of expression work better, or other things. She advises people to think back to the time in their marriage when their spouse was most receptive to their come-on signals, and think about what they were doing then to let their partner know they were in the mood for sex. If it worked then, chances are it'll work now.
She says it's also important for people to tell their spouse what they think about their sexual relationship, since otherwise, they might be dissatisfied and just keep their feelings to themselves till their feelings build up and they feel so dissatisfied they go and have an affair or leave the marriage.
She quotes a letter from someone who says that all her friends told her they'd lost their desire for sex after childbirth, so when she did, she thought it was just natural. But when she tried to talk to her husband about his feelings about it, he didn't seem to want to know. But after a while, she found out he'd begun to have an affair, and then one day, he came home and told her he was leaving her for the other woman. She told him she'd do anything to save the marriage, whether that meant going to a therapist or whatever, but he wasn't interested.
She said it was a pity he'd chosen that time to leave, because their two children had just slept at friends' houses overnight successfully for the first time, and she'd thought it was a promising sign of things to come, since if they did that more often, it would mean that she and her husband would sometimes be free to go on the short romantic trips to bed and breakfasts they'd enjoyed so much before. But he wouldn't change his mind.
The author says that some people might not think they brush their feelings under the carpet or just hint at things, because they've told their spouse about their feelings of discontent about not getting sex. And yet they might not have done it in a way that will give their spouse clear direction as to what to do about it. So instead of just grumbling, it helps if they say how they'd like their spouse to change; instead of complaining about past discontents, they should be looking to the future, thinking about the way they hope things can improve. Their requests should be specific, focusing on the actions they would like their spouse to take, rather than being so vague their partner won't really be sure what they'd like.
She says it's important for people to be conciliatory in the way they approach their spouse, wooing them by saying positive things first, so as not to put them on the defensive, and to put them in the mood to want to be nice.
So she suggests that the one who wants things to change thinks of all the positive things about their relationship and any feelings of love and tenderness they have for their spouse, and then at the beginning of the discussion, they tell them about them.
So, for instance, they might say something like,
"Could we have a talk? I love you and I'd like to be closer to you. When we're not close physically, I don't feel I have a sense of emotional connection with you, and I'd like to change that. I'd really like it if you would ..." whatever they've decided they'd like their spouse to do, bearing in mind they can't ask too much too soon, or it might seem a bit overwhelming. Things can be improved gradually.
The author says that men in particular can be very bad at explaining feelings, and this can mean that a wife has absolutely no idea how her lack of interest in sex is affecting her husband. If she knew, she might be sympathetic and keen to do something to change things. But if she doesn't know, she might not see a reason to be sympathetic. Many women think that for men, sex is just a physical release, all about having an orgasm. Just an animal instinct. And she says though it's like that to a certain extent, sex often means far more than that to men. She says she's heard men explain in therapy how when they touch, hold, caress and kiss their wives, it brings out their feelings of love for them. It makes them feel emotionally close to them. When their sex life deteriorates, it makes them feel down. A wife might just assume that any complaints about it are just to do with not having that animal instinct satisfied. Wives often don't understand how not having sex with them can damage men's self-esteem and sense of manliness, how it can make them feel sad, hurt, lonely, despairing even, resentful and confused.
So she says men need to explain their feelings more. She says many men might think they explain them all the time, because they're always telling their wives how angry they are that they're not getting sex. But she says that although many men are skilled at talking about their anger, they need to start talking about other feelings, feelings that are more likely to draw out sympathy and compassion in their wives rather than defensiveness - feelings of hurt. She says men aren't raised to talk about their feelings; they're raised to be strong, even if that means keeping quiet about their hurts or letting them out as anger. But women have a protective instinct - if their husbands are expressing vulnerability, chances are their wives will want to protect them from the hurt; but if they're expressing anger, their wives will want to protect themselves. Men who do express their hurt may find their wives warming to them and being more willing to please them if they are made to understand their true feelings. So, for instance, men can explain to their wives what their touch means to them, how being close physically makes them feel loved and cared for, and so on.
The author says that sometimes, a person will try to motivate their partner to have sex with them by trying to persuade them they'll like it, but their efforts don't work. But suggesting other reasons might work better.
She says a similar thing happened when she used to do therapy with families. Many parents would try to persuade their teenagers to do their homework by trying to persuade them of the benefits, but they wouldn't listen. They didn't like doing their homework, and they were still slow at getting it done even when their parents started to punish them.
The author says she would speak to the teenagers alone, and sympathise with them for having to do the work and having their parents go on at them all the time. The teenagers enjoyed that.
Then she would wonder out loud what it would take to stop the parents going on at them. The teenagers said it would be easy - they'd have to get home on time and do their homework when they should.
Then the author would suggest they devise a cunning plan to stop their parents bothering them, that would involve doing the things they knew would make them stop. The teenagers liked the idea of sneakily manipulating their parents into leaving them alone.
She says that in the same way, someone trying to persuade their spouse to have more sex with them should try to appeal to what will resonate with them, not simply try to persuade them using reasons that they themselves think are good ones. For instance, someone who isn't very physical generally probably won't be particularly swayed by an argument about how good a physical experience sex can be. Someone who believes a person's happiness comes from within themselves probably won't be swayed by their spouse saying they're unhappy because their sexual needs aren't being met. someone who feels sex should be motivated from love won't be impressed with a spouse's argument that married people should feel obligated to have sex with each other. A person might think the reasons they're giving as to why their partner should have more sex with them are good ones, but even so, they need to find reasons their spouse will feel like taking to heart.
She tells the story of a man who wanted more sex, but also more affection from his wife, touching, kissing and hugging. But his wife wasn't interested. She said touching felt good, but then so did a hot bath, and that was less bother. When the author asked the man what he'd said to his wife to try and persuade her to have sex with him, he said he'd told her he was unhappy and needed more affection. She had just said that if he was unhappy about that, so what! She was unhappy about things too.
But one day, he realised that what really meant a lot to his wife was the children. She had grown up with parents who had an affectionate marriage, and that had meant a lot to her. So he asked her if she wanted the children never to see the two of them being affectionate, or whether it wouldn't be far better if they saw their parents hugging and loving each other. That struck a cord with her, and the very next day, she agreed to visit a therapist.
The author says that if a spouse is embarrassed about their sexual problems, has low self-esteem or a personal problem, it's even more important to be tactful and considerate when approaching them about the lack of sex in the marriage. She raises a few points to consider:
She says people should wait till they're feeling calm before raising the issue. If they're angry because they've just had their sexual advances rejected, they might well be tactless and overly-critical, and that will just put their partner on the defensive and they won't listen.
She says people should talk about how what's happening is making them feel, rather than making accusations, that will again put their partner on the defensive an cause an argument where each one will be so busy defending themselves that the problem probably won't get resolved.
So, for instance, rather than saying, "You're just saying no to spite me", or, "You're being hurtful" or "insensitive" or whatever, it's best if people keep the focus of attention on themselves by leaving out any suggestion of blame, but just talking about their feelings, for instance saying,
"I don't suppose you mean me to be upset, but when we don't make love much, I feel as if you can't be attracted to me any more or you don't love me".
She says another way of making the conversation more likely to go well than to turn into an argument where both are defending themselves and nothing gets resolved is to show understanding of the other person's problems. People who don't want sex as much as their partner does can feel awkward about it or embarrassed. So it can help if rather than just sounding demanding, the person who wants more shows an understanding that it isn't necessarily easy for their partner either, by perhaps saying things like, "I know this is difficult for you as well"; or, "I understand that me wanting more physical closeness feels awkward for you at times"; or, "I know you might feel embarrassed to talk about this because everyone thinks men are supposed to want sex all the time, but I know that's not really true; I love you, and I want to be closer to you, so let's talk about it".
She says people should be willing to change their style of sexual activity if that'll make their spouse want more, and they should say they're willing to do that. She recommends people ask their spouse if there's anything they could do differently that would make them feel more turned-on or want to be closer to them physically. She says that sometimes, when something is bothering someone, they might be too embarrassed to discuss it, so they just go off sex altogether.
She tells the story of a woman who saw her in therapy whose husband really enjoyed anal sex. She didn't like it. It put her off having sex with him altogether. She said they'd be enjoying themselves in the normal way and then he'd keep trying to start anal sex, as if he thought he could seduce her into liking it. She didn't come out and tell him straight that she didn't like it and didn't want sex with him if he was going to do that; she started avoiding having sex with him altogether.
So the author says it's very important that people care enough about their partner's feelings to change their behaviour if they want them to, and to make them feel trusting enough to want to discuss their feelings, by not judging or criticizing them, but just listening to them.
She says that if difficulties like problems with getting and maintaining erections, problems with ejaculation and achieving orgasm are what's putting the marriage partner of someone who wants more sex off sex, it may be best in the end to get the help of a sex therapist. The partner with the problems might be reluctant to do such a thing, but the one who wants more sex can always find a good sex therapist and then go on their own.
And their partner might feel less pressured and awkward if the one who wants more sex reassures them that a good sexual relationship doesn't necessarily have to include intercourse and orgasms. There are other ways of pleasuring each other and getting close physically, and they can help if they say they're happy to investigate and practice them. Worry interferes with arousal, so anything a person can say that will relax their spouse and take the pressure to perform off them will be helpful, and may make them more likely to be able to achieve erection or whatever. A qualified sex therapist can give people ideas on how to approach their spouse if they need more ideas.
The author says that sometimes, a spouse with low sexual desire might say there are lots of things that need to have been done, like the day's housework, and other things that need to happen, before they'll be happy to relax and have sex; and the one who wants more sex may feel cheated, because sometimes, they've helped their partner with the things they want done, and then they still haven't wanted sex. She says that nevertheless, if people have felt cheated before, they still ought to help their spouse get the things done they say they like to have done if they're going to feel ready for sex, since if they've stopped taking their spouse seriously when they say they like them done first, the one who likes them done will start to feel disregarded, and then they can start to build up feelings of resentment and frustration which will make them want sex even less.
She tells the story of a couple who came to see her in therapy. They'd been married seven years. The husband worked long hours, and when he was at home, spent a lot of time on the computer or making business calls. The wife said their marriage was suffering. They didn't have sex very often at all, whereas once their sex life had been very passionate. She thought he'd lost interest, and they often argued about it. She thought he was just making excuses for avoiding sex.
They had an argument about it in the author's office:
The author says she can understand why the wife's feelings were hurt, but the husband wasn't really just making excuses; it just took a bit of doing for him to feel relaxed. If his wife believed he was sincere in the things he said rather than thinking they were just excuses, she wouldn't keep giving up on him and they would have sex more often. And though it took a bit of doing to get him in the mood to start, that didn't say anything about how enthusiastic he got once he got going.
The author says she talked to the husband for a while about the importance of pleasing his wife sexually, and then she spoke to the wife about taking his requests seriously. She advised the wife that if the husband said he wanted to wait till the children went to sleep, she should be willing to oblige - in fact she could even put them to bed. She didn't seem too keen to change her attitude, but she agreed to do it.
The author says that the next week, the couple came back, very pleased about two things that had happened. One was that one night, the wife had told her husband when he was on the computer that she wanted to make love, and he'd asked her to give him five more minutes. Instead of getting annoyed and dropping the matter because she thought he was just making excuses not to have sex with her, she went downstairs and timed him. Five minutes later, she came back with a big smile, swivelled his desk chair around and sat on his lap. He laughed and turned his computer off, and they went to the bedroom. Later that week, the husband suggested they have sex for the first time in months.
The author says that after that, there were still times in their marriage when whatever the wife did, the husband wasn't interested in having sex. But since she learned that things weren't always like that, she learned not to react defensively when he came up with a reason why he didn't want sex right then.
The author asks people to consider whether there's anything their spouse has ever said to them about what would make them find sex more appealing, for instance if they'd prefer it once the children have gone to sleep, or maybe if it was earlier in the evening, or if their spouse was nicer to them, or if they didn't have to get up so early the next day, or if their spouse had a shower first, or if they were slimmer, and so on. She asks if there have been times when everything was to the satisfaction of the person who isn't ready for sex until things are right for them, and yet they still didn't want sex, and whether that has made the one who wants more sex apathetic about doing what their partner asks of them. She recommends that people in that position should rethink their attitude, and be willing to do what they can to create the kind of atmosphere that will make their partner feel relaxed and want to enjoy sex with them.
The author says that many marital experts stress the importance of talking problems through; but while that can be very beneficial for many, some people don't seem to take things in that well when they're spoken to, or they get fed up of all the words and tune out. But these people might respond to another form of communication better. She says she often suggests that people whose spouses don't seem to be listening to them write them a note or take an action that will indicate their thoughts and feelings, and this often works well.
She gives an example, saying there was a woman whose children had grown up, and she decided to leave her marriage. Her husband was an alcoholic, and when the children had been younger, she'd cared for him, but he didn't do anything about his problem. Now the children had left home, she wanted to focus on making a life for herself. She told her children about it, but they were saddened by the prospect of the break-up of the family and pleaded with her to try for a bit longer to work things out with their dad. She promised she would and decided to try, though she was sure she'd tried everything and that nothing would work.
She wrote her husband a letter about her desperation with the situation and her plans to leave the marriage, and left it in their bedroom and went out for the evening.
When she came back, she found him tearful, and he asked her to have a talk with him. He apologised for all the hurt he'd caused, agreed he had a drinking problem, and said he'd stop drinking entirely. He agreed to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. His wife was very surprised, since that was the first time in their lives together that he'd admitted his problem and agreed to do something about it. She wasn't sure he'd stick to his promise to give up the drink, but she decided to give him another chance.
Actually, though the author seems to think it was the letter that did it, I wonder whether it could have been the wife's threat to leave the marriage.
Anyway, the author says that it seems to her that when people say they've tried everything to get their spouses to change, they really mean they've said everything. She says no matter how something is said, some people won't take it in, but they might take it in when they have time to reflect alone on a letter, or something else.
It could be an action. She says she knows someone who'd been asking her husband to mend their stairs for a year but he hadn't; so one day, she got out his tool kit and started herself, and within two minutes, he was right behind her telling her she was doing things wrong and to move away and let him do it.
Another thing she says is that often, couples have more success in resolving problems when they talk on the phone than they do face to face. She says she thinks it's because couples can't see each other's facial expressions, so if either one responds to the other's expression of opinion negatively in the first instance, the other one won't know unless it's apparent in their tone of voice or what they say. Or emailing can work.
The author says that since doing more of the same thing, such as having the same types of arguments all the time, can deaden the sex drive of anyone who wasn't that enthusiastic about sex to begin with, doing totally the opposite could have the reverse effect. She advises people to think about what they've been doing that they realise doesn't work, and to reflect on whether doing the opposite of it might work.
She says that, for instance, someone who's always the one to initiate sex could back off for a while and see if their spouse misses them and decides they actually want to be more sexual with them. She suggests that people make a commitment to not initiating sex in the next three or four weeks to see what happens - to not kissing or touching their partner in a sexual way, not making sexual comments, not complaining or being moody about not getting sex, and not telling their partner what's going on. Then they can see what happens - whether their spouse starts to feel more enthusiastic for sex given a bit of breathing space.
She says that besides giving their spouse the opportunity to miss them, not putting any pressure to have sex on their partner will mean far fewer arguments. And if it's the arguments and unpleasantness putting the partner off sex, it may well be that more peace around the house will make them feel more loving and more like having sex.
She says it is difficult to just back off like that, especially when people have been so focused on sex that their concern about getting it has taken up most of their spare time. But she says although it will be difficult at first, it could turn out to be an advantage, since it will be an opportunity to have needs fulfilled that might have been ignored. For instance, it'll mean they have time to broaden their interests and activities - to go out more with friends, find new hobbies and so on. She says that once a partner notices their spouse getting involved in new and interesting things, they might want to join them, and so the life of the couple overall will be improved.
She quotes a letter from someone whose husband became more interested in her and affectionate when she stopped doing her usual behaviour and went out instead. She says a woman wrote to her who said she told her husband she needed more conversation, affection and sex. He thought it was the beginning of another session where she was going to have a go at him, but she said she wasn't; she just wanted to say she needed more from him. Then she left it at that.
The next evening, she went out with a female friend. When she got back, her husband started talking with her. He was very affectionate, and they ended up making love. She said he must have wondered what she was thinking when she stopped discussing sex with him.
The author quotes a letter she got from someone who said she enjoyed cuddling. She liked affection, but was fed up because with her husband, affection inevitably led to sex. She was resentful that he wasn't interested in showing affection just for affection's sake. She said they'd used to have relaxing bubble baths together with candles and nice music where they would talk to each other, but after a while, they tended to end up with them having sex, so eventually she was put off them and wondered whether her husband was just really asking for sex when he asked if they could have a bubble bath.
The author says that a lot of people with low sexual desire complain that their husbands seem incapable of or unwilling to be affectionate without it leading to sex. They can feel that it's impossible to hug, kiss or even pass by without their spouse turning it into something sexual. She says that a partner who isn't all that enthusiastic about sex may really enjoy touching, hugging, holding and caressing, but since they know that their partner will want to turn it into something sexual regardless of their feelings on the matter, they stop showing signs of affection. Eventually, they just pull back automatically without even thinking about it when the one more interested in sex touches them.
She advises people who think their partner might behave like that with them to try an experiment, being affectionate for some time without turning it sexual, hugging warmly without wanting anything more, disciplining themselves not to touch their spouse's genitals, offering to give a back rub or something else affectionate but non-sexual, just for the sake of the affection. It may be that the spouse who got fed up of everything turning sexual will appreciate the attempts of the other one to respect their wishes, will enjoy the affection much more because they know it doesn't just mean their partner wants sex, and might become more interested in their partner sexually as a result, wanting to please them more and becoming more interested in them because of their increased considerateness and willingness to do things their way.
The author quotes a letter she says is typical of people's attitudes, from a man who said his wife had grown obese since they'd married, and although he felt bad about it because it seemed shallow, he'd lost interest in having sex with her, partly because of her weight, and partly because she didn't seem to be interested nowadays in doing anything to change it.
The author says that though it might seem wrong, many people lose interest in having sex with their spouse when they stop looking after their fitness and appearance. She says she's heard many, many people in therapy say their spouses have grown fat and don't make efforts to maintain their appearance, and that puts them off sex with them, or they're put off by the way their spouse's breath smells or the smell of cigarette smoke around them, or the way they dress, and so on.
She says the husbands and wives of people who've lost interest in having sex with them because of their cleanliness habits or appearance might think their shallow and being unfair to have lost interest in having sex with them because of those things, and they might tell themselves they don't care about their spouse if they're going to be like that. But sexual attraction isn't under a person's control; so if they want to improve their sexual relations, they have to care. She says that when people keep fit and healthy, they're also giving a gift to themselves.
She tells the story of a woman who came to her in therapy after her children had left home and she realised her marriage was in a mess, with her and her husband hardly doing anything together. What upset her most was that he'd started spending hours on the Internet, often visiting porn sites. He'd said he didn't see anything wrong with it. She said they had hardly had sex four about four years. Her husband had been unhappy that she'd become fat and out of shape. She'd said she wasn't going to go on a diet just because of that! But towards the end of the therapy session, she admitted she was unhappy about her size regardless of what her husband felt, and admitted she'd just started going on walks to get back into shape and had gone on a new diet, and had lost five pounds.
The author congratulated her, but urged her not to lose heart if her husband didn't notice straightaway, since it might take a while for major weight loss to happen.
But he did notice, and offered to walk with her every evening. She was very pleased, and her self-confidence came back quickly, because she was pleased to know she was doing something positive about the situation.
And only two weeks afterwards, she initiated sex with her husband, and he was enthusiastic.
The author says that just the fact that people are seen to be willing to change can make their partners more interested in having sex with them.
But she says that on the other hand, the spouse of anyone who's expressed a willingness to change before and then not got very far might be doubtful that anything will really change this time, and be cynical about any announcements about intentions to change. So she recommends that people who don't think they'll get much support for their efforts from their partner join a weight loss group or keep fit class, so they'll have several other people supporting them.
The author says that no matter how much a person with lower sexual desire than their spouse wants to please them, it's unreasonable for the one who wants more sex to expect them to have sex with them every time they want it. So sometimes, they shouldn't feel bad about having to resort to masturbation. People can sometimes get resentful if they have to resort to that, but people should learn to accept it, although it'll be easier to accept once their spouse is at least making more efforts to care for them. Compromise is the key.
The author says that even the person with the highest sex drive can lose it if sex becomes boring. So she suggests people who've become bored, or who think their partners might be bored, experiment with new things, like going to a new place, perhaps renting a hotel room, wearing new lingerie, experimenting with new sexual positions, trying something sensual to get the atmosphere right, like a scented bath and massage, and other erotic things.
She tells the story of a woman who said she'd been losing her sexual desire. At first, she wondered if it could be because she was menopausal, but then she said she'd become bored and her mind drifted onto other things while she was having sex so she found it difficult to stay aroused.
The author advised her to discuss it with her husband and talk with him about what they could do to bring creativity into their sex life. The author discussed with her what had turned her on in the past. She said she'd enjoyed dressing up, and having sex in different locations in the house. So she then had some ideas as to what to suggest to her husband.
A few days later, the woman came back and said her sexual problems had gone. She'd had several strong orgasms and didn't have problems with arousal anymore. It was just like the old days. Doing different things was obviously just what they needed.
The author says that sometimes when relations begin to improve, the spouse who didn't want much sex before might do things to pleasure the other one sexually or engage in sex with them, even though they're not being turned on by it themselves particularly. She says some people don't want to have sex with their spouse if they know it isn't particularly exciting them, but the author says that if the one who isn't getting particularly excited is giving sex as a gift of love, they will be getting something out of it - they'll be getting pleasure out of knowing they're pleasuring the other one. She says relationships involve all kinds of situations where one might do something for the other one they don't particularly like doing, but that's part of loving and giving.
The author says she's met many, many couples where the lack of sex made one partner so dissatisfied that they were thinking of having an affair or leaving the marriage because of it. She warns that divorce and affairs are bad solutions. Affairs might bring more satisfaction in the short term, especially since when a relationship's new, people tend not to see potential sources of conflict in it. They might realise they felt like that when they first met their spouse, if they think back. But there will be problems in the long term. And she says that though an affair can make the other partner in the marriage realise things need to change, it might have the opposite effect - affairs can lead to divorce. And where they don't, they still cause a lot of emotional hurt.
As for divorce, the break-up of a family can leave suffering in its wake for years in lots of ways. People probably won't realise the full impact of it until it's too late. And marrying someone else might seem the ideal solution, but all relationships have problems, and they're very much complicated when the welfare of the children of former marriages has to be considered, children who might be psychologically damaged by the break-up of them.
She says a person desperate for more sex in their marriage might be fantasising about someone else, longing to leave and find sexual satisfaction elsewhere. But she says it's very important that people considering leaving or having an affair let their spouses know, in ways they can't fail to understand, what they're thinking of doing and how unhappy they are. She advises that they don't threaten in the heat of an argument; that they don't say nasty things, criticise or make accusations, but just that they say calmly that they're so unhappy about the sexual differences in the relationship that they're considering going elsewhere to find sexual satisfaction, even though they know it isn't a good idea. She says they shouldn't say it as if it's a threat; they should just say how desperate they are about the situation, and that they don't know what else to do.
But she says they should ask their partner once again to seek help, because it would be preferable that they stay together. Then they should wait to see what happens.
The author says that it is possible that lots of things will have been tried and there's still a problem. She says there are two things that make the lack of sex a problem in the marriage for the partner who wants more sex - the fact that they aren't getting as much as they want, and their attitude to that. And she says that although it's understandable that they should feel angry and hurt, they might not feel so bad if they realise that it might not be to do with them personally at all, and if they take a while to focus on all the positive things there are in the marriage and concentrate on those, rather than allowing themselves to be obsessed by the lack of sex in their marriage and continuing to make themselves miserable by arguing about it. She says it'll be difficult to do, but it can be done, especially with a change of perspective gained from contemplating all the aspects of the marriage that are valuable despite the lack of sex. She says it isn't a sign of weakness to just accept things as they are. It's a sign of courage and commitment to the marriage in general. Emotional closeness can be built in other ways.
But she does say that sometimes, when people give up trying to get sex from their partner, after a while, their partner starts to feel they're missing something. ...
Love means nothing in tennis, but it's everything in life.
The author says that marriages that survive difficulties instead of breaking up are marriages where the partners are better at communicating about their difficulties. Couples who have difficulty talking to each other are often left feeling distant and uncomfortable, and that's likely to put at least one of them off having sex with the other. So it's important that they learn better ways of communicating.
She says to get a good result out of a conversation, it has to take place when both partners are happy to spend the time sitting down and talking. So she advises that a spouse who wants a discussion should ask their partner first if now is a good time. If their partner agrees to have it then, the partner who wants the discussion should go ahead; but if they say it isn't a good time, the partner who wants the conversation should ask the other one to suggest a time for it, preferably in the next 24 hours.
The author says that one partner will often be more emotionally prepared for a discussion than the other, and if the other one is feeling tired or upset or stressed at the time, they're far more likely to get defensive and angry than if they're feeling calm. So even if one of them really wants the discussion, they should wait till the other one's in a frame of mind where they're more likely to be willing to discuss the matter calmly.
The author says that research has found that if people start conversations with something negative, they're likely to end badly, even if some nice things are said during them. So she recommends that even if people have some things to say that they know their partner won't really want to hear, they try to think of some complimentary things to say about their partner at the beginning of the conversation, so their partner doesn't feel attacked from the start and knows there is goodwill in what they say. She also recommends that people try to phrase things throughout the conversation in as positive a way as possible.
She suggests, for instance, that a person who's been very angry with their marriage partner for not spending much time with the family recently should avoid making accusations that will make their partner want to attack back or else get angry and defend their behaviour, like, "You don't care about me and the family! You're always out! And when you do happen to come home, you're always on the phone! I feel like a single parent!" Instead, the author says they should phrase things in a way that will keep their partner feeling calm and make them more likely to care about the way they feel and want to please them, for instance, "I've been thinking about the two of us. When we're together, I feel so good about us. It makes me feel a bond of affection with you. I've been thinking back over the times we spent more time together as a couple and a family and I remember how much I appreciated them. Recently, you've been very busy, and I haven't felt so close to you. I miss you."
She gives another example. She says that for instance, if a spouse has been concerned about the way the other one spends money, they shouldn't make blaming statements like, "You're so irresponsible with money! You don't care about what will happen in the future or whether the children will have what they need! You only think about yourself!" Instead, they could say something like, "I'd like to talk about our financial situation. It scares me when we're not financially secure. I'm wondering if you've been giving as much thought to this as I have. I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter."
She says a person who doesn't feel attacked will respond more sensibly, and more progress is likely to be made.
The author says it's important for people to be specific about exactly what's upsetting them, rather than using words that don't really explain what they mean. If they say things like, "You're disrespectful", or "critical", or "insensitive", or "lazy" and so on, the other person won't necessarily know what they mean. What seems disrespectful, insensitive etc. to one person might not have been disrespectful etc. deliberately, so the person being accused of being disrespectful or whatever probably won't know why. So it's important for people to say exactly what's bothering them instead.
For instance, a person who didn't like their spouse teasing them in public wouldn't be making themselves clear by saying, "I'm angry because you're disrespectful and you don't care about my feelings". They could make themselves understood much better if they said something more like, "When we go out with friends and you tease me in front of them, it hurts my feelings. It seems to me that you do that a lot. It makes me feel less close to you than I would like".
The author says conversations can go much further if instead of making complaints and accusations, people simply ask their spouse to do something different, thinking forward to how the future could be rather than thinking about how unhappy they've been in the past.
So, for instance, if someone feels their spouse is critical and controlling, instead of saying, "I don't like being around you because you're controlling and critical", which will only make the other one want to dispute the accusation that they're controlling and critical and the discussion will end up being all about whether they are or not rather than about what can happen in the future to make things better, they could say something like, "It would mean a lot to me if you'd compliment me sometimes. Your opinion means a lot to me, and when you continually say negative things about what I do, it makes me feel demoralised".
Or if a person thought their spouse was behaving at the weekend in a way that made them feel bored, instead of saying, "I hate it when all you want to do is lie around at weekends like a couch potato", they could say something like, "I'd love it if you'd be willing to go with me into town twice a month and we could find a new restaurant and then maybe go and watch a film or a play". And so on.
The author says that making accusations often isn't fair, because the way a person feels about their partner's behaviour won't necessarily be the way their partner's intending to make them feel. And their opinion of their partner's behaviour is often just that - an opinion, rather than the way things truly are. And in the heat of the moment, people can use words that exaggerate things anyway, like, "always" and "never" etc. So for that reason, as well as to make it less likely that their partner will go on the defensive and the conversation will turn into an argument where each one is defending themselves and no progress towards change is made, it's best to explain feelings to a partner rather than making critical accusations.
She says, for instance, that instead of saying to a partner, "You're a control freak!" it's better to say something like, "I feel controlled by you ..." and they can finish the sentence by explaining exactly what behaviour it is that makes them feel controlled. Rather than saying something like, "People just don't treat each other that way!", they could say something like, "When you raise your voice, it makes me feel intimidated, and I don't like that".
The author says she runs seminars on improving marriage, and she asks the people there whether they know when the conversations with their husbands and wives are going downhill, and how they know. She says everyone says they can tell when their conversations are deteriorating. They seem to be very clear about when they know it's happening. Some say they know it's happening when the voices of them and their spouse get louder; some say it's when they start to talk about how they've upset each other in the past; some say it's when they start calling each other names; some say it's when their spouse stops making eye contact with them; some say it's when they feel a knot in the pit of their stomach, and so on. People know the signs. She advises them that when those signs happen, different ones for different people, it's time to stop arguing and have a break for a while, since carrying on will just mean an unproductive argument where both partners get angry and no issues get resolved.
She says that spouses should agree beforehand that they'll have a break if things begin to become unpleasant. And they should agree on the lengths of their breaks as well. She says during the breaks, perhaps they can separate for a while, go for a walk, or do whatever they know will clear their heads best.
She says couples should discuss beforehand how in future, if one wants a break during an argument, the other one will respect that. She says some people don't like to have breaks during arguments in case the other one doesn't want to continue the conversation afterwards. But they should discuss those worries beforehand, since it isn't fair for one to refuse to resolve the issues or to let the other one have their say.
She says some people do take breaks during arguments, but they do it in a way that makes things worse, because they just storm out and refuse to continue the conversation and the other one feels abandoned, so it just makes them more angry. She says couples should talk about their intention to have a break, rather than just walking out, and agree that it makes more sense to have one than to hurt each other.
The author says one thing that really annoys people is when they say how they feel, and their spouse tells them they're not looking at things the right way or they're wrong about the way things are. People don't like to be told their feelings are wrong, because they're bound to have them for a reason, whatever it is. Feelings are feelings, not logical conclusions based on analysis of the facts. So it's more respectful for the spouse of someone expressing their feelings to listen to what they're saying rather than immediately telling them they're wrong. Then they should explain their own point of view without directly contradicting the feelings of the other, expressing any disagreement tactfully.
The author says another thing that makes people angry is to be told they don't mean what they're saying, or they aren't really thinking what they say they are.
She says yet another thing that annoys people is to be contradicted, for instance, to be told they had absolutely no intention of phoning to say they'd be late when they explain that they thought about it; or to be told that their partner just knew they were in a bad mood when they came home, whatever they say. That kind of thing.
So she advises people to avoid suggesting to their spouse that they know better than them how they're feeling, or what they're thinking or doing.
She says if people want to have a productive conversation, they should choose one or two topics they want to discuss and then keep the conversation focused on those, rather than allowing it to drift into recriminations about past injustices. She says even if a partner's words remind their spouse of past hurts, they should keep their thoughts to themselves and try to keep the conversation forward-looking, focused on how things can hopefully improve in the future, rather than getting angry about the past all over again or trying to get the better of their partner by bringing past wrongs up. If that happens, the argument will just get worse, and issues probably won't move forward and get resolved.
She says some words will automatically bring exaggeration into the conversation, and so are likely to cause trouble, words like always and never. For instance, if a person wants their spouse to be kinder to them, and they say, "You never say anything kind to me!" their spouse is likely to dispute that, pointing out any times when they have said kind things, and the conversation will turn out to be all about whether or not they ever say kind things, rather than about how one spouse would like the other one to be kinder in the future. So the problem won't get resolved.
Or if someone wants their spouse to introduce them to their friends more, it's best just to ask them to, rather than saying, "You always forget to introduce me to your friends!" If they say that, again, their spouse will point to times when they have, and that'll be a distraction which will stop the real issue being discussed, so it might not get sorted out and will just cause bad feeling.
So she says that even if someone genuinely feels as if their spouse always or never does something, it's best not to say so.
The author says that when couples get annoyed, they often start calling each other names, but that's one of the best ways to ruin a conversation, since someone's bound to get indignant when another person's just called them a horrible name. So she says that as soon as that happens, it's time to take a break from the conversation.
She advises spouses who are attempting to change the way they communicate for the better not to get discouraged if their partner doesn't follow their lead straightaway and communicate better themselves. Old habits can be so automatic that it can take a while to break free of them. But if one person carries on communicating in a better way despite the fact that the other one's taking a while to get used to doing the same, the other one will have to eventually, or they'll be arguing with themselves. They can't carry on doing it if the other one isn't responding to what they're saying in the old ways.
The author says that often, even if a spouse is busy defending themselves during a conversation instead of acknowledging that their partner has made a valid point, the point will still have sunk in, and later, on their own, chances are, they'll reflect on what their partner says, and might change as a result to please them. They might not say anything about their new decision. They might just quietly do it.
So she advises that people don't keep repeating themselves if their spouse doesn't seem to be taking in what they say; they can make their point once or twice and then leave it. Chances are, the other partner will think about it later.
She advises that the one who made the point just quietly watches in the couple of days afterwards to see if their partner's making any changes.
She says sometimes, a solution to a problem or compromise won't be found. But this need not necessarily cause problems. People can sometimes agree to disagree. But they're more likely to be able to do that if each one feels as if the other one has heard and understood what they're saying. People are far more likely to be happy to put up with not getting their way if they feel that the person they're disagreeing with nevertheless has been willing to listen to everything they said, has made efforts to understand it and has taken it into account, but explained the reasons why they still hold their point of view.
The author says she teaches a method of communication in her marriage seminars which will make conversations less likely to turn into arguments and make sure each spouse's points are heard by the other. She says some people don't like it, because they say it's too structured, but other people think it's really helped their marriages. It takes discipline to stick to it, but if partners begin to feel the benefits, they might think it's worth it.
She says that the first rule is that conversations about problems should only take place when both marriage partners are happy to discuss them. So if one doesn't want the conversation when the other one suggests it, they should suggest a time in the near future when they will be willing to have it.
She says the second rule is that only one person should have their say at a time.
The conversation should begin positively, and the person who starts shouldn't speak for more than two or three sentences.
She says the third rule is that it's the job of the other one to listen attentively. They have to repeat what the one speaking said back to them, so as to make sure the one that spoke feels understood. They're not allowed to comment on it at that point; they should concentrate right then on understanding it. They should paraphrase it back to the person speaking, so the one who said it can tell if they've really understood it or not. She says often, people don't really listen to each other during arguments, because they're so busy thinking about what to say in response to defend themselves that they don't pay what the other one says enough attention to understand it properly.
She says that after the person who took the role of listener to begin with repeats the first comment of the one who made it back to them, the one who made the comment can tell the listener if they've understood it correctly. If the listener did, the one speaking can say a few more things. If they didn't, the one speaking can explain themselves more, and then the listener can paraphrase that back to them as well to see if they understood it properly, and it goes on like that until the one speaking has made their point.
When they have, they become the listener themselves, and the other one starts speaking, with the new listener paraphrasing what they said back to them a few sentences at a time till they've got their whole point across, as before, and so on. When one person's point is made, they become the listener while the other one speaks, and that goes on, with them switching roles again and again, for as long as the conversation continues.
She gives an example of how it works:
Sarah: I've been thinking. When you come home in the evening, you often spend time on your computer. I miss having time at the end of the day with you. I know you're very busy at work, but I just wish you could skip your lunch now and then and get your work done at work so that when you come home, you're more available to me.
John: You're saying that you think I should be more efficient at work and get all of my work done before I get home, right?
Sarah: That's part of what I'm saying, but it's not the whole thing. I'm telling you that I miss you. We used to spend time together in the evenings, and I very much enjoyed that. I want to feel that our relationship is a bigger priority to you.
John: Okay, it's not just that you want me to finish my work over my lunch hour. The important message I'm getting here is that you feel as if you're not important to me. You miss spending time with me. You'd like it if I would plan better so that our relationship is a higher priority.
Sarah: That's exactly right. That's what I'm saying. How do you respond to that?
Then they change over, so the man talks and his wife's the listener for a while.
The example shows that at first, the husband thought his wife was just criticizing his time management skills. He didn't notice what she was saying about how much she missed him and wanted to be with him. But instead of it turning into an argument about his time management skills, as it might have done if they hadn't been using that technique, his giving her the opportunity to say whether he'd understood her correctly meant that she could focus more on what was really important to her, the fact that she was missing him and wanted to be with him more.
So the author says that although using the technique can be difficult at first because it means getting out of the habit of thinking about what to say in reply without really taking in what the other one has said properly, it can be worth it.
She says other reasons couples have difficulty with the technique is that they often long to stop their spouse because they think they're saying something unfair and want to say so, or they think that just repeating what they say back to them will make them think they're agreeing with them. But they will have the opportunity to have their say. And while they're just repeating back what the other one's saying, it makes the other one feel heard; and when people think others are taking in what they say, they don't feel the need to keep repeating themselves or to attack.
So she recommends that couples try it.
The author says she thinks it's a great shame that couples don't talk more to each other about their sexual preferences - what turns them on, what they don't like, and what fantasies they have about what it could be nice to do together. She says it could be nice if people were more willing to give each other instructions on how best to stimulate them, and give them feedback when they're doing a good job. She says she's met many couples in therapy who've been married for decades and yet have never had that kind of conversation with each other.
She says there are several reasons for that:
She says some people feel embarrassed and ashamed to talk about their sexual likes and dislikes. Sex education may teach people to talk about sex more openly nowadays, but in the past, people weren't generally encouraged to do that.
She says another reason is that people assume that people are just supposed to know how to make sex good, that good sex is just supposed to happen. But people don't just know how to make sex good. Someone who isn't a particularly good lover doesn't have to stay that way. And for one thing, different things turn different people on. What some people consider a turn-on might be off-putting to others.
She says some people don't tell their marriage partner about their sexual likes and dislikes because they don't want to hurt their feelings. But their partner's feelings can be hurt much more in the long term if they don't talk about them, because if a person doesn't tell their partner about what turns them on sexually, their partner won't know what to do for the best, so the partner who isn't being turned on as they'd like to be will be unhappy, perhaps put off sex entirely, and the marriage will go downhill. And when passion dies, it can lead to feelings of rejection which can be far worse than the slight knock to the ego received from someone giving instructions on what they like best. They don't have to get critical about what their partner's not doing right; they just have to say what they like best, and encourage their partner to do more of it. What really can hurt a partner is if the other one loses their desire for sex and then tells them they love them but they're not in love with them any more. Love can fade without good sex.
She says another reason people don't talk to their partner about what turns them on most is that they don't know themselves. She recommends that if people are unsure, they masturbate to find out, then they can instruct their spouse. She says some people are uncomfortable masturbating, but they should try and get over that and have a go anyway, since it's in a good cause.
She says a lot of the advice about communicating in general would be relevant to conversations about sex. She suggests people pick a time that suits both spouses to talk, and that they don't talk if one or both of them is in a bad mood, angry with the other, tired, or if there are distractions.
She says it's very important to talk in a safe, comfortable environment, rather than one where the marriage partners will be nervous about being overheard or interrupted.
She says that before couples begin the conversation, they should have a clear idea about what they'd like to achieve by having the conversation. She says, for instance, that some couples' reasons to have such conversations are:
The author says that especially since sex is such a sensitive subject, and especially for people who haven't talked about it much before, it will help to calm a partner's nerves if the one who starts the conversation compliments them at first, telling them about something they like.
For instance, for some people, it might be something like, "I really appreciate that when I suggest we try new things, you're willing to try them", or perhaps, "When we take lots of time for foreplay, I really find it pleasurable. I like it that you enjoy taking things slowly sometimes too".
She says that once goodwill has been established by something nice being said at the beginning of the conversation, the real issues can be discussed; but it's best to request more of what feels good rather than to just complain that things are being done wrong. She says there's nothing wrong with a person mentioning that they don't like something; it's just that the best way of keeping goodwill going throughout the conversation and to be forward-looking and get more of what they want in future is to focus more of what they say on what they want more of than on what they don't like. That way, they're likely to get more of what they want.
So, for instance, she suggests that instead of saying, "I really don't like the way you stroke my penis", a person could say, "When you touch the underside of my penis near the head, it feels really good. I'd love it if you'd do that more often". Or instead of saying, "I don't like the fact that you just turn over and go straight to sleep after we've made love", a person could say, "I've really liked the times when we have a cuddle after making love. I'd like to do that more often. I like feeling close to you".
The author says it's very important for people to tell their spouse exactly what it is they'd like, rather than saying things that are actually quite vague and expecting them to know. She says countless women have told her that they keep saying to their husbands that they want them to make love rather than having sex, but nothing changes, so they think they must be mismatched. She says that people won't necessarily know what spouses mean by asking them to make love rather than having sex, because everyone's definition of making love is different. So people should tell their partners exactly what they want them to do differently. Not doing things more the way a spouse likes them done isn't necessarily a sign of insensitivity; it may simply be that a person who doesn't change just doesn't really know how the other person would like them to.
So the author says that people who want their spouse to make sex more loving should think back through their sexual encounters with their spouse and reflect on what they like best - which of their spouses touches gives them the most feeling of tenderness and closeness etc. If they feel the most feelings of tenderness when their spouse strokes their hair or caresses their face, for example, they can ask them to do that for a few minutes longer before they have sex.
Or, to give other examples, if someone says to their spouse, "I'd like you to be more passionate during sex", or, "I wish you'd take more initiative" or, "I wish you wouldn't put so much pressure on me to have sex all the time", they're bound to know exactly what they mean by that themselves, since they know exactly what they're thinking; but their spouse won't know. So it can help if they can say exactly what they mean, for instance, instead of telling their spouse they wish they'd be more passionate, they could say they'd feel good if their partner would let them know when they were enjoying themselves during sex by making more noise when they were getting most pleasure, or moving around more energetically. Instead of asking their spouse to take more initiative, they could perhaps say something like, "I've loved the times when you've suggested to me that we go to the bedroom, rather than me being the one to start things. I'd love it if you could do that more often. And I'd like it if you'd suggest new things that we could do during sex sometimes, like giving each other massages, or whatever".
Instead of someone saying they'd like their spouse to put less pressure on them to be sexual, they could say something like, "I'd like it if you didn't talk about sex so much. I enjoy the times we have sex, but then I feel I need a break to charge my batteries; and when you talk about how you want sex with me during that time, it's kind of like overload, so it makes me feel as if I want sex less. So please could you give it a week or two every now and then before you begin again?"
The author says it can help if people talk about how things feel, rather than making accusations. After all, it isn't necessarily a person's fault if their partner doesn't enjoy something they do to them; what one person doesn't find stimulating or exciting might be something that someone else really enjoys. So it's best if a person talks about the way things make them feel personally.
She gives a couple of examples:
She says instead of a person saying, "I don't like it when you're so impatient when we have sex; you hardly spend any time on foreplay, and yet you expect me to have an orgasm!" they could say something like, "I'd really enjoy it if we could take more time for affection and slow the pace down when we're getting sexual. That helps me to get excited. But you don't need to worry if I don't have an orgasm all the time, because sometimes, I'm perfectly happy just enjoying the affection and the stimulation".
Or to give another example, instead of a person saying, "Your sexual desire has just gone out the window! I don't know what happened, but you just don't seem to have any any more!" they could maybe say, "Recently, I've been feeling as if you don't want to have sex with me. It makes me wonder if everything's allright or if something's wrong. I miss feeling close to you".
The author recommends that if things get heated in an enjoyable way, as in if the talk turns the couple on, they should go with the flow. But if it gets heated as in argumentative, she recommends they take a break. She says that when people discuss differences in how they feel about their sexual relationship, they can get angry or defensive, or start repeating themselves a lot. She says that if that happens, they should agree to have a break for a while and go and do something else, either together or alone, to calm down and think over things better.
She says it's important not to say anything in the heat of the moment that they'll regret later, especially since people's sexual skills is such a sensitive subject that saying something hurtful could lead to the other one remembering it and holding a grudge for a long time. So she recommends that people don't say anything they'd think was unkind if someone said it to them.
She recommends people don't carry on arguing in the hope that they'll be able to win their spouse over to their point of view. A caring approach works best. When people start arguing, they tend not to listen to what the other one says properly, because they're too busy feeling indignant and thinking of what to say to defend their position. So it's best to stay calm and really listen to what the other one says, and let them know they understand it. When people feel as if they're being listened to and their point of view is being respected, they tend to be a lot more willing to show goodwill to their marriage partner and please them.
She tells the story of a couple who came to her in therapy with typical marital problems. Several weeks into their therapy sessions, the wife started talking about how she never seemed to want sex, and she didn't know what was wrong, because she'd been keen on it before.
The author says she asked the husband how he felt when his wife kept refusing his advances. He said he felt really hurt. He said it made him feel rejected and unattractive, and unwanted. He said he tried to brush the bad feelings aside, and sometimes he could, but it was really hard, because he didn't feel good about himself.
His wife had become tearful, and she grabbed hold of his hand and told him she felt really bad, because she never thought about his feelings when she turned him down or what impact her refusals had been having on him. She said she'd only thought about what she'd been feeling like at the times when he'd asked. She said she felt terrible and was really sorry.
The husband started crying as well, and the author says she cried a bit too, not just from sadness, but because she felt things were changing for the better, since she knew how marriages can be transformed when spouses really listen to each other and begin to understand and empathise with each other.
The author says that no matter how differently each half of a couple feels about sex, unless the other one's doing something illegal or hurtful, there isn't a right or wrong way to feel about it. She says compromises can sometimes be reached, though they can take a bit of planning.
She tells the story of a couple who came to her for therapy. They'd been married for thirteen years and had two children. The first thing the wife said was that she'd been unhappy for a long time. They hadn't made love in two years, and she wanted a divorce. The husband said he wished she'd try to understand how he was feeling. He'd been very depressed for some time, and just didn't feel like having sex. But instead of trying to see things from his perspective, she would get angry and impatient and tell him to just get over it.
They were so emotional that the author says she might have given up on the idea that they could stay married if she was feeling pessimistic. But she says she felt sure that if they would only start doing different things, they could stick it out long enough for the husband to get help with his depression and for the wife to calm down.
She let each one of them let off steam about their feelings about the marriage for a while, and then it emerged that they were both feeling hurt. The wife just couldn't understand how her husband could ignore her pleas for physical closeness even if he was depressed. It made her feel unwanted and insecure. She didn't think he cared; he just kept saying he wasn't into it.
When the husband thought about his feelings, he admitted that his lack of interest in sex wasn't just to do with being depressed. He said he didn't like feeling pressured into doing anything, and when he felt pressured, he'd resist. If he was to reach out and touch his wife, he'd feel as if he was giving in. He knew it wasn't a good attitude to have, but it was as if the issue was to do with the amount of control he had over things in his life, as if it was a power struggle.
The author says she said to the wife that her husband's depression was likely to take a while to go, and asked her what he would have to do in the meantime to make her feel happy staying in the marriage.
She thought for a while, and then said it was a matter of him becoming sexually closer to her, to show he cared. Then the author asked her what would be one or two little things he could do to help her to feel sexually closer to him, if he didn't feel quite ready to make love.
She had lots of ideas! She said she wanted him to hold her. She wanted him to tell her she was beautiful and sexy. She wanted him to reassure her that his lack of interest in sex wasn't to do with her. She said they didn't need to have intercourse, but she used to love oral sex and they used to do that all the time. Even if he didn't want to do that, it would be nice if he could touch and massage her. That would make her feel as if he cared about her feelings, and that might make a difference to her attitude. She said she didn't really believe he'd do it though.
The author asked the husband if he wanted to save his marriage, and he was certain he did. But when she asked if he was willing to be more sexual with his wife, he was unsure, because there was something he wanted her to do as well. He wanted her to listen to him when he was feeling down rather than being impatient with him. He said he'd married her because she was kind and warm-hearted, but he hadn't seen those qualities in her for a long time. He wanted his friend back. He said he was willing to compromise with her over things, and wanted to be there for her, but she had to do some of the work too.
She said she was willing to do that.
Things improved after that. The author says she saw the couple for four months, and by the end, the husband was much happier, they were making love again, and were much better friends. The marriage was saved.
The author says that people shouldn't assume they know what their partner will want, or assume their partner will always know what they'll want. Talking isn't necessary all the time; during sex, other means, like putting a partner's hands in certain places, can be good.
She says that regular conversations about sex are a good idea, because they give spouses the opportunity to tell each other about any changes in their preferences or anything new they'd like to try. She says they're important, since the things people like can vary from year to year, or every few months even. She says people should keep in tune with the way their body's feeling and changing, and what they're thinking about the sex they're having; so if something that used to be exciting is now feeling commonplace, they can suggest new things. Otherwise, their spouse will assume they still like a thing just as much as they did last time they told them they enjoyed it, not realising that the one who used to enjoy it might be getting bored of it. So it's only fair to tell a partner about changes in sexual interests.
She tells the story of a woman who came to her for therapy who, when her and her husband first married, used to love it when he would hold still while they were in the middle of sex. She used to think the tiny movements of his penis in her aroused vagina felt really pleasurable. But after several children, a hysterectomy and hormone changes, it took much more stimulation to give her the same thrill. She wanted fast movements. But she didn't tell her husband. So he was still doing what he thought she liked best, moving slowly. The author urged the woman to have an open discussion with her husband about their sexual needs.
After that, their sex life improved. He was pleased to do what his wife wanted, since actually, he preferred more active sexual intercourse himself.
The author says that sometimes, people can have trouble feeling sexual desire for their spouse if their spouse has had an affair in the past. But an affair doesn't mean the marriage has to end. She says many marriages survive an affair and eventually go on to become stronger, although that takes hard work. She says marriages can take some time to heal, and while they are healing, the partner of the one who was unfaithful can feel as if they really don't want sex with them. She says this is understandable. Affairs can make people feel as if what they've committed their lives to has crashed in around them. They can feel betrayed and distraught.
But the author says that it's important for people to gradually work to heal the hurt in the marriage if it's going to be healthy again, as it can be. She says there is information around that can help marriages heal.
Although people might use the words always and never without thinking, the author advises people to make efforts not to use them, since those words probably won't be entirely true, and when they use them, their spouse will get defensive, contradicting them by reminding them of times when they didn't do what they're claiming they always do, or when they did do what their partner says they never do. And the conversation will be all about that, rather than about the real issue. So it may well not get resolved.
So she recommends that instead of a person saying, for instance, "I'm always the one who has to chase you for sex. I'm fed up of it. You never start things yourself", a person who wants their spouse to pursue them for sex more could say something like, "I'd really like it if you could suggest we make love once in a while. It seems that I do most of the pursuing, and I think it would be really nice if you were to initiate sex more".
She says that talking about sex is important, but when one spouse starts talking about it, the other one might not be so at ease with doing it and may feel uncomfortable. So they might not be as open as the one who wants the conversation would like them to be. They might, for instance, start joking around or changing the subject to hide their embarrassment. Or maybe they'll find it difficult to be specific about what they mean so as to make sure they're really understood. But the author encourages people to keep persevering, saying that with a bit of practice, they should both get better at talking about sex. She advises that if they haven't after some time, they see a sex therapist.
She says people don't have to have big conversations about sex every time they talk about it, but she recommends that they share thoughts about their sexual relationship regularly.
She says that humour can often ease an awkward or argumentative situation, although it has to be humour that won't make the other one feel belittled.
She says the most important thing is that when there is increased understanding in a marriage, and willingness on both sides to please the other, the marriage can improve a lot.
Note that if you choose to try out some or all of the recovery techniques described in this article, they may take practice before they begin to work.
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