I am finding it difficult to communicate what I want intimately with my husband in our marriage. We have been married for 26 years. Lately, all he wants to do is have sex. I do not feel the same. He wants intimacy without any tenderness, without any thought about what I want. When I ask him to take it easy, or slow down, he gets upset, and we end up turning away and going to sleep. I do not feel safe to say what I want for fear of him getting upset or hurt. I want to respect him and what he needs sexually, but I do not feel safe, or feel I can speak about it to him. Help.
This is a painful and lonely experience for both of you in your intimate bond with each other. Not only are you sending a strong message to your husband that his way isn’t working for you, but you’re also missing an opportunity for deeper connection I also imagine he’s hoping you’ll understand his needs, which are likely more than just sex. It’s difficult because so much is happening but so little is actually understood. Let’s discuss some ways you can break this gridlock and help create a better experience for both of you.
Since it seems that your husband is the one primarily initiating the lovemaking in your relationship, it’s time for you to begin initiating moments to talk about this outside the bedroom. If you only wait to share your needs when he initiates sexual intimacy, you’ll both be stuck in the dreadful cycle of you anticipating and avoiding and him feeling confused and rejected. You’ve got important things to share with him, which deserve time and attention. Waiting until the moment he initiates sets both of you up for failure.
Instead of living in a defensive dynamic in relation to sexual intimacy, this is an opportunity to be proactive and create more understanding. It’s likely he’s only hearing what you DON’T want instead what you actually want. Instead of waiting until the next time he initiates, see if you can invite him on a walk to explore how to improve your sexual intimacy. Let him know it’s important to you that this experience is connecting and loving for both of you. Ask him if he’s willing to make some adjustments so you can fully relax and enjoy yourself.
You can let him know you’re initiating this conversation because you want to have a great sex life with him. Ask him if he’s willing to hear how sexual intimacy works best for you physically and emotionally. Let him know that unless you can work together on this, you’ll both stay stuck in this painful cycle.
Even though he needs to hear your voice and understand your preferences, it can also be helpful for both of you to seek out educational resources to help improve your shared experience. Most of us don’t receive much education about sexual intimacy beyond a crude understanding of anatomy. And, unfortunately, some people don’t even get that much information. As you already know, creating sexual intimacy in marriage involves more than just knowing a few things about anatomy. It’s also critical to understand other topics like consent, sexual response, communication, consideration, attachment, and so on.
One author, Emily Nagoski, teaches women to pay attention to their “brakes” and “accelerators” as they learn about their own sexual responsivity.[i] This can be a helpful way to show your husband that certain things he does are actually pressing your sexual brakes. Ask him if you can teach him about your sexual accelerators so you can both have a more enjoyable experience.
His style may work well for him, but if it’s not working for you, then it’s not working. This isn’t because it only needs to go your way, but because you can only go as fast as the slowest person. The goal is to stay attuned to each other so both people feel safe, loved, and respected. You might also discover that he doesn’t even know his own sexual style but is just doing what comes naturally for him. Learning together creates an opportunity for him to be more conscious about his own preferences.[ii]
No spouse should feel obligated to have sex. Consent needs to be given freely and enthusiastically, not begrudgingly as a marriage martyr. Let him know you want to respond and look forward to a great experience together. Have the courage to talk about these things even if it makes you both terribly uncomfortable. Instead of getting cornered into painful patterns of responding to each other, learning together will open up new ways to connect so you can have a more expansive experience co-creating healthy sexual intimacy.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, Utah. He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, host of the podcast, “From Crisis to Connection”, and creates online relationship courses. He earned degrees from Brigham Young University and Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[i] Nagoski, Emily. Come As You Are : the Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life. New York :Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2015.