My husband and I have been married just over 50 years. The other day he was saying our relationship expectations are different. I suppose that is somewhat normal, but he said his expectations are sex, intimacy and meeting each other’s needs. I admit I am a pretty much “be okay with whatever” person and I guess I don’t really have a lot of needs I spend a lot of time worrying about. My husband feels like his needs are never met. His biggest need is for me to want sex and he doesn’t understand that I don’t need sex as often as he seems to. He also wants me to do things in our sexual relationship that I don’t feel are right and are very upsetting to me. He doesn’t feel like I care about him. He never feels well, except when making love. I do all the housework, most of the yard work, and he spends his time pretty much feeling sorry for himself. I feel like I need to let him find someone who will meet his needs, but he just can’t let me go. I feel like I can’t win. Any suggestions?
It’s not easy to always align the different needs we have in marriage. You might think that after 50 years of marriage your needs would line up to blissful perfection. However, even though you’re an easygoing person, there is something about how he approaches sexual intimacy that conflicts with your needs. This is perfectly normal and healthy to have different needs. Research and experience show that almost all couples will have a few areas in their marriage that they won’t agree on most of the time. Surprisingly, the goal shouldn’t be shoulder-shrugging compromise to break the gridlock, especially when talking about sexual intimacy.
Instead, it’s important to learn how to stay connected to each other despite your differences. His strong preferences around what you should desire, frequency of sexual encounters, and pressing for certain behaviors are only going to push you away if you don’t have influence in this discussion. If you’ve been so easy-going about everything in your marriage, then it’s likely he’s used to having things his way. It sounds like you’re now speaking up for the first time around sexual intimacy, division of labor, and other areas that are imbalanced. Even if you’ve allowed things to go his way for decades, it’s okay for you to change your mind and begin advocating for your preferences.
While you can certainly end the relationship anytime you’d like, I’d suggest you continue practicing speaking up about what really matters to you. While you may truly have a personality that is easygoing, sometimes we embrace this type of approach in our relationships to avoid conflict or vulnerability. It’s difficult for some of us to advocate for our needs and expect others to take us seriously. You have different needs and that’s perfectly healthy. He may say you’re being difficult, but, if you’re just asking to be included, then you’re just showing up to the relationship.
Let’s talk about some ways you can show up differently in this conversation about sexual intimacy. Healthy sexuality is based on partnership, equality, and both people feeling valued. This is clearly out of balance in your relationship. While sexual connection shouldn’t be set up as a transactional reward for him doing more housework, you can certainly let him know that living in a more collaborative and balanced arrangement might help you feel closer to him.
You don’t have to negotiate a set number of times to engage sexually with him when you don’t even feel attracted to him. This is a set up for serious resentment and depression. Truthfully, there isn’t an ideal number of times per week couples should be having sexual intimacy in marriage. Not only is there no such number, but that number will change depending on countless contextual changes through the lifespan. When someone tells me they must have sex a certain number of times per week, I begin to believe they’re disconnected from themselves and their partner. It feels like they’re wanting a guarantee without having to tune into themselves or their partner’s ever-changing needs. Again, this is a set up for resentment for both people when this number isn’t met.
Instead, I believe it’s important to prioritize intimacy over sex. Recognize that many couples are having sexual experiences with each other but still feel like they have no real intimacy. On the other hand, when you prioritize intimacy, sexual experiences get placed on a wide continuum of connection that affords the couple endless ways to adapt to each other’s preferences while staying close and secure. Even when couples can’t experience the physical pleasures of sexual connection, they can still experience transcendent feelings of closeness when they have real intimacy.
Ask your husband if he’s willing to drop the sexual frequency negotiation and, instead, focus on creating a healthier relationship. You can let him know that this relationship imbalance has been difficult for you and it’s time to do something different. Even though he believes he needs more sexual experiences with you, he actually needs more intimate experiences with you. He just doesn’t realize that these intimate moments are available to him every single day. They’re disguised as spending time together, working together around the house, non-sexual touch, and so on.
If both of you need help building a deeper friendship in your relationship, then invite him to join you in seeking out support through a marriage workshop, a book, or couples counseling. He’s clearly unhappy in the relationship and would like something different. Instead of just going along with his strong preferences without any input, use this as an opportunity to speak up about the kind of marriage relationship that also works for you. If you’ve never really advocated for your needs or he’s simply disregarded you, then start by making sure your experience is part of the discussion. Avoid the temptation to just give in and go back to giving in to keep the peace. It may look quiet on the outside, but you’ll be at war with yourself.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at [email protected]
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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.