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So, What's the Holdup?

Typically when I meet with a couple for marriage counseling, I ask both the husband and the wife the question, "What would you like to see changed in your marriage through our time together?" Most of the time, the wife is the first to respond. She doesn't have to think too hard about the question because she usually is the one who initiated counseling. Her answer often sounds something like this: "I hope we communicate more. I want him to understand my needs. I want to feel closer and more appreciated by him."

She might also include specific requests, such as help with housework, more involvement in parenting, or a more active role in spiritual leadership.

Nine times out of 10, the husband's response has something to do with sex. His request is usually short and straightforward. And nine times out of 10, the husband gets some kind of disgusted or dismissive look from his wife. Her body language screams, "You have got to be kidding. That is so superficial!"

Sometimes she gives me one of those woman-to-woman looks that say, "See what I have to deal with! How are you going to fix this?"

Take a step back from this situation and look at the facts. The wife has made at least three or four demands on her husband. He makes only one from her . . . and she dismisses it as petty and superficial. As a wife I understand the woman's reaction. As a psychologist, I recognize that her response is illogical. Why is this such a roadblock? If sex is the one thing that would make the difference for him, the one thing that really makes him feel loved, why not make it a priority? Why is it so much easier to make his favorite meal or buy him an elaborate birthday gift than it is to meet his sexual needs?

As you read about the importance of sex to your husband, you may feel as if 50-pound bags of sand have been heaped upon your shoulders. As much as you want to be a good wife, it just feels like he's asking too much. But why? Although we have addressed and will continue to address aspects of this question, let's look at a few reasons why sex may be unappealing to you:

  • You have a physical or emotional illness that interferes with the desire or ability to engage in intimacy. Really investing in sex requires a tremendous amount of emotional and physical energy — energy that you probably don't feel you have.
  • You have your own issues with sex—perhaps related to body image or scars from the past. Focusing on sex will likely bring up painful feelings and experiences.
  • Sex makes you feel vulnerable. Perhaps you don't feel safe enough in your relationship to expose yourself physically and emotionally to your husband.
  • He doesn't deserve it. Walls of hostility and bitterness can keep you from even thinking about sex. Why should you be the one to take the first step toward intimacy?
  • Everything within you may be screaming that the relationship must be fixed before you can even think about sex.

Although these are valid barriers and concerns, remember this: Your lack of interest in your husband's sexuality is a significant barrier to intimacy. You may have legitimate reasons for minimizing sex in your marriage. In fact, your marriage may need a lot of work before a healthy sex life can even be considered.

I also want to emphasize that I am not saying, "Just do it." Your needs are just as important as his. A great sex life means taking into account both persons' needs and desires. I don't agree with well-meaning counselors who suggest that a wife promise to have sex three times a week with her husband. That approach is one-sided and defeats the whole purpose of sex: oneness and love.

More important than giving your husband frequent sex is a commitment to explore and embrace sexual intimacy within your marriage. There is a huge difference between the two!