Emotional and Relational Barriers to Sex

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You cannot underestimate how injurious it can be for your husband to find himself unable to perform sexually or to become the victim of a nonexistent libido.

In This Series:

  1. When Your Husband Isn’t Interested in Sex
  2. What Is ‘Normal’ Sexual Desire?
  3. How Do Aging and Illness Affect a Man’s Sex Drive?
  4. Emotional and Relational Barriers to Sex
  5. The Impact of Pornography on Marital Sex
  6. Sex Does Not Define Your Marriage
  7. Addressing Unmet Sexual Needs

A purely physiological problem can quickly snowball into an emotional roadblock. You cannot underestimate how injurious it can be for your husband to find himself unable to perform sexually or to become the victim of a nonexistent libido. Although he may appear nonchalant, more than likely he’s devastated and deeply wounded. In fact, he may avoid sexual encounters because of his tremendous fear of failure.

If your husband has experienced impotency or low sexual desire, the possibility of sex can immediately invoke anxiety and fear. Rather than face possible humiliation, he may make excuses to avoid sex, perhaps even blaming you for his disinterest.

Dr. Archibald Hart makes the astounding statement that more men have experienced unwanted sex than have women. His findings are based on the fact that men feel the need to prove their masculinity through always being ready for sex:

Men feel tremendous pressure to prove that they are adequate as men. They do this through succeeding in business and sports and through talking tough and boasting. They also do it through sex—especially through sex. Sex has long been a major arena in which to assert one’s manhood. . .. Men also equate sexual frequency with masculinity. They imagine that other men are more active than they are, and may have gathered their information from that great source of all wisdom on sexual matters, the movies. Film stars always seem to be ready, willing, and able.

Remember back to Viagra commercials you may have seen within the past few years. A man walks into work with a smile on his face. Everyone tries to guess what’s different about him. A haircut? Is he working out? Did he get a promotion? No. Thanks to Viagra, he’s able to perform sexually. The message is clear: Sexual adequacy is linked to a man’s confidence, well-being, and overall sense of power in all areas of his life.

What may have begun as a physical dysfunction can quickly turn into a devastating lack of confidence, depression, or anxiety disorder, which complicates the solution.

Past sexual trauma often plays into sexual dysfunction as well. In some marriages, the wife is hypersexual because of a traumatic past, unconsciously acting out feelings of shame or compulsively using sex as a way of gaining acceptance or affection from her husband. Alternatively, in other marriages, the husband’s lack of interest is due to emotional traumas he has suppressed. For example, he may fear intimacy or losing control. These fears will naturally inhibit his desire for healthy sexual expression. He may harbor shame related to past sexual indiscretions, sexual addictions, or childhood sexual abuse.

If your sexual role reversal is potentially rooted in either physical or emotional dysfunction, it is not normal. The dysfunction represents a roadblock that you and your husband must accept but also work toward resolving. As difficult and embarrassing as it may be to seek help, you may need to reach out to a medical doctor or psychologist to address the issue that is interfering with your sexual fulfillment as a couple.

Understanding relationship dynamics

Another reason you may find yourself identifying with this chapter is that the bedroom mirrors the rest of your relationship. Take Annie and Dale, for example. By nature, Annie is a type A personality. She is a go-getter who has strong opinions about everything. Dale, by contrast, is an easygoing, laid-back guy. Although Annie was initially attracted to Dale’s carefree approach to life, she has quickly become irritated when Dale forgets to pay bills, leaves his dirty clothes all over the house, and approaches his job with a minimal amount of effort.

As Annie’s aggravation with her husband builds, she begins nagging and criticizing. She, in no uncertain terms, lets Dale know that he isn’t living up to her standards. Whether Dale is cooking in the kitchen, picking out Christmas presents, or “babysitting” their children, he can’t seem to do anything right, according to Annie. Being a laid-back individual, Dale allows Annie to nag and take over. Ten years into their marriage, their pattern is definitely established. Although Dale and Annie rarely fight, their relationship seems to reflect a mother-son dynamic. Annie orders the household, and Dale halfheartedly participates.

True to form, Annie drags Dale to my office for counseling. She does most of the talking as she pleads with me to fix her husband. Through tears of frustration, she recounts how passionately Dale had pursued her when they were dating, but how his interest in her has evaporated with time. She confesses that Dale hasn’t responded to her sexually for several months. She is devastated by the fact that Dale avoids sex with her but is flirtatious with other women. Dale remains quiet but also seems puzzled by his sexual disinterest.

Dale and Annie have no idea that their problems in the bedroom might be linked to the dysfunction in their overall relationship. However, as we talk, Dale begins to express how inadequate he feels around his wife. Although he presents an unfazed exterior, Annie’s nagging and criticism chip away at him. If he feels defeated and incompetent in all other areas, how could he be competent as a lover? He’s destined to fail Annie in that area as well.

Annie never intended to dominate her husband. Their respective personalities just pulled them into this dynamic. On the surface, their marriage seems to work. The main reason they rarely argue is because Annie is content to be in charge, and Dale is OK taking a backseat. However, the dynamic of their relationship has created underlying tension, unmet needs, and resentments that play out in their sexual relationship. Annie blames Dale for his failure to initiate and perform sexually. Dale blames Annie for emasculating him.

This pattern of marital dysfunction is certainly not new, but it’s becoming more commonplace. If this relationship dynamic seems to reflect your relationship with your husband, there is hope. No matter how long you’ve been married, you can learn how to reverse the pattern that ultimately discourages your husband’s confidence and masculinity.

I feel so passionately about this topic that I wrote a book about it. The book is called Finding the Hero in Your Husband, and the content stems from my struggle as a young wife to learn how to use my strengths and abilities without stepping on my husband’s need to lead our family.

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