For marriages in crisis, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Every situation is unique, because every couple and every person is unique. That’s why our work at The Marriage Place is highly customized, designed to help every husband and wife address their issues in a way that suits their unique relationship.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t answers.
In fact, there are specific answers, in the form of helpful practices and perspectives that can be applied in any marriage. These practices and perspectives make things better, period. You can think of them as healthy habits of living life together, because when they’re in place everything stays in good working order, humming right along. When they’re not, deterioration and corrosion and rot set in – basically, everything goes to hell in a handbasket.
There is one habit that can change the entire situation for you. Ellyn Bader from The Couples Institute uses the phrase “get curious, not furious.” When something is off-kilter in your marriage, partners use this habit as a way of exploring what’s behind the imbalance. Rather than critiquing or manipulating or simply getting mad, you honestly explore what you both need and why. Removing the hostility and blame creates a breeding ground for transparency and more sex.
Sex gets wonky sometimes
There are many reasons sex gets out of whack in our marriages. Sex involves so many conflicting dynamics, such as our feelings about our bodies, and the stresses we’re under at work, and the differences between what men want versus women, and our jacked-up expectations from what we see in TV and the movies. All of this and more affects how sex functions in our lives.
For example, take the matter of frequency. If you’ve been married a few years, what’s the “right” amount of sex? Are you getting enough? Too much? Does one of you want it more than the other? Researchers say that the happiest couples report having sex once a week. (Which is probably why so many of the couples we work with at The Marriage Place aren’t having sex anywhere close to that frequency.)
As another example, consider the basic differences between men and women. As I’ve referenced in other blogs, a study by Rosemary Basson, MB, FRCP showed that men have a spontaneous desire for sex, and women have a more responsive desire. A woman’s desire is usually in response to her partner’s sexual desire rather than a spontaneous ignition of her own libido. Men are generally ready to put the pedal to the metal, while women take a few laps to get up to full speed
And one more aspect to consider: Sex is simply a fragile thing in the first place. It’s touchy – pun intended – because it’s designed to be one of the most intimate, meaningful interactions we participate in as human beings yet it isn’t easy to negotiate in terms of how, when, where and even why.
So, if you’re like the majority of couples, over the course of your marriage, sex gets wonky at some point.
What do you do? Get curious, not furious
When expectations aren’t met, it’s easy to start the blame game. But there is another way! Like I said, there are answers! Instead of accusing and blaming, instead of getting angry and yelling, we can help you approach the issue of sex with an honest exploration that for most couples will deliver results in the bedroom and more intimacy over all.
Let me walk through one way of doing it. I’m adopting the perspective of the spouse who wants more sex because that’s the one who has to start the conversation, BUT that doesn’t mean they’re responsible for the fix by themselves. It’s just the starting point in the process for most couples.
1. First, get your head ready.
- Think through what you want. What is the best way to present it to your spouse? You must be willing to ask, “How am I making it hard for you to give me what I need?
2. Then, speak up.
- Be willing to come to the table from a place of vulnerability. Be open. There might be a valid reason your spouse doesn’t want sex. At the same time, they need to understand that no one wants to beg for it. Be clear about how that affects you.
3. During the conversation, manage your reactions.
- No matter how your spouse reacts to you, it’s important to let them have their thoughts and feelings, and you have yours. You need to take what they say seriously, but you don’t have to take it personally. This is differentiation, and it’s a healthy thing.
4. Finally, if your spouse isn’t listening, you must get their attention.
- If this is a serious issue to you, your spouse needs to know it’s not going to go away. You must seek counseling, whether together or individually. You may even need to
consider a step that I call “putting the marriage on hold.” This isn’t walking out or initiating divorce, but it is changing your life rhythms in a serious way, such as moving into another bedroom in your house. A counselor can help you figure out how to clearly communicate “this is a big deal to me.”
Many couples – dare I say most – need help from a professional to keep this process healthy and positive. The Marriage Place can give you a safe way to talk things through. Whether the issue is sex or something else, our counselors and coaches know how to guide you.