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My husband and I have been married for 35 years. For many years our sex life was one where I felt forced to do it out of duty. It caused me to feel violated and now I don’t even want any affection from him. I will still do it out of duty but he knows I don’t really want to, and he doesn’t want it that way. He says now that he is sorry for acting that way all those years and doesn’t want to do that to me any more. But now I am having a hard time trusting him and believing that he won’t do it again. I can’t seem to bring back the desire to receive his affection. Instead, I still feel violated when he is affectionate with me. How can I get those affectionate feelings back?
I’m glad to hear that you both want to elevate your sexual relationship beyond the scripted and disconnected experience it’s been for both of you over the years. Yes, it’s been emotionally painful to feel obligated and to have your husband unaware of your experience. At the same time, you now have a husband who wants to get it right with you, which will make all the difference as you both work together to rekindle desire.
My guess is that when you say you’re worried he’ll do “it” again, you’re referring to him going back into the automatic mode of pressuring you to engage in sex regardless of the state of your relationship? If that’s the case, then you can both agree to protect the relationship from slipping back into familiar hurtful patterns.
For example, if you start to perceive that old entitlements are coming back, I encourage you to speak up about it immediately. You don’t have to be accusatory or rude in your delivery. Instead, you can bring it up as an observation so you can both examine whether it’s really happening. Since you report that your husband is remorseful for his behavior over the years, bringing up your worries and observations will help both of you stay out of the old interaction that clearly wasn’t working for the relationship.
It’s also important for you to recognize your contribution to this dynamic so you don’t feel like a helpless victim of your husband’s advances. You bought into the belief that this was your “duty” and continued forward with sexual intimacy when you didn’t feel there was real intimacy. You both need to be gentle on each other and stay out of blame. He wasn’t asking what you needed and you weren’t sharing what you needed. Neither of you singlehandedly created this dynamic. Instead, it was a cycle you both created as you played out roles and expectations.
Thankfully, it’s not too difficult to interrupt this old pattern by both working to help each other have a more connected and authentic sexual experience. He can work to be more aware and sensitive to your emotions and you can speak up about your feelings and experiences to help him know how to respond.
Rekindling desire isn’t just about trying to get to intercourse. There is no finish line with sexual intimacy. Instead, you’re both going to commit to non-demanding non-sexual touch on a regular basis until you start to feel more comfortable knowing that touch doesn’t create sexual entitlement in the relationship. Your current experience says that any form of touch equals sexual expectations. You have to retrain your body and your mind to recognize touch as a way to get close without automatic sexual expectations.
Even though intimate and meaningful sexual intercourse will be one of your goals as a couple, it will be important for both of you to have the ability to express the full range of physical touch available to both of you. Touch exists on a continuum ranging from holding hands to sexual intercourse and it’s essential that you can move any direction on the continuum without feeling pressure.
If certain kinds of touch are difficult for you right now, then ask him to touch you or be near you in ways that don’t activate that response. Continue to increase the level of closeness while giving him clear feedback about what’s working and not working. Teach him what you like and don’t like. Ask him to do the same as well. It’s important for both of you to take ownership of your experience in your physical relationship.
There is nothing wrong with taking a break from engaging in sex for a few weeks while you both work to focus on non-sexual touch. You can use this time to talk about what kind of touch you both enjoy and how you want your physical relationship to develop. My belief is that neither of you have a clear sense of what you like inside or outside of the bedroom. Your husband was playing out a prescribed role as much as you were. This is an opportunity for you both to consciously design the type of physical affection that works for both of you.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.