Updated: Aug 17
Really glad you asked. It’s very painful for a man with a healthy libido to be in a marriage where he feels undesired and constantly rejected. Desire discrepancy can be an issue for any relationship, but when your partner never wants touch, there is often cumulative frustration and resentment on both ends. For many couples, sexual activity dates are few and far between, or even when the wives “agree” to sex, the man can feel that their hearts aren’t in it. They know their wives aren’t enjoying themselves, which feels yucky for both of them. Some common lines I’ve heard from men in this difficult situation are:
“Isn’t it a normal thing to want physical pleasure?”
“I feel like a dog, begging for scraps. At a certain point, it’s not worth asking anymore.”
“Even when we are together, she feels completely detached, limp, or stiff. It’s like being with a blow-up doll, not a person who loves me.”
“It’s like she’s just doing me a favor.”
“She doesn’t make any effort- put on lingerie, perfume, a little ambience. I wonder if I’m asking for too much- just a little something to show she’s interested.”
“It’s as if she sees it as a chore- something to check off her to do list.”
“I think she’s happy to get her period. In a way, I am too- it’s a relief from the disappointment.”
“I try to do things to make it more enjoyable, to give her pleasure, but she just wants to rush me and get it over with. I thought women were supposed to appreciate the foreplay but she just can’t wait for it to all be over.”
“It used to just be intercourse, but now I feel like she rebuffs any kind of touch, almost like she’s scared.”
“She doesn’t even want to discuss it.”
“She doesn’t know what she’s missing.”
“Is she at all attracted to me? Repulsed? Do we even love each other if we can’t get close?”
“I wonder if someone molested her when she was younger- how else do you explain such bad feelings towards men?”
“She thinks I’m being selfish, but actually what I want the most is for her to enjoy.”
If this sounds like your marriage, please know that it’s not only you, and it doesn’t have to be that way.
There are ways to deal with this problem, and equally, even more importantly- ways to NOT deal with it. Let’s start with those. Please do NOT:
Force, pressure, guilt, nag, beg, or threaten her to engage in any form of unwanted or reluctant touch
Not technically force, but make it so unpleasant to say no, that she will “consent” rather than have to deal with the emotional repercussions of saying no to you
Accept her rejection but then get very grumpy, angry and/ or passive aggressive. (similar to #2)
Tell her that she is not performing her marital responsibilities, ruining your life, causing you to sin, or being sinful herself
Tell her that she is defective and/ or messed up
Turn towards porn, cybersex, or other women
Penalize her for not wanting sex by withholding money, household tasks, or other necessities
Ok, if you’re still reading at this point, and you haven’t been doing any of those things, please sit tight- I’ll get to you in a paragraph or so. But if you have been doing any of the above, please understand that those tactics will not only be useless in fostering desire, but they actually exacerbate (and often create) the problem. The good news is that even if you have been doing some of those, which can be very damaging to relationships, it is often possible to shift gears and learn better, healthier, and more effective ways to improve your sex life. The first thing to do is STOP, own the mistakes, and express to your partner that you recognize you messed up here. That if this has been going on for a long time, it’s entirely possible that she is not even the problem. And that you are ready to change things from your end. This takes tremendous humility and strength of character to do, especially if you are already feeling deprived and frustrated. But it’s really the only way to even hope for relationship repair and creating real intimacy. See if you’re doing the above, your wife is likely feeling fear, hurt, or anger, none of which create real desire and connection. What does help is empathy, compassion, patience, communication, and understanding. Please understand: I’m not asking you to lead a sexless life. I’m saying that by changing course, you can restructure the dynamic and get more of both of your needs met.
If you haven’t been doing any of the above list, first double check with your wife to see if she agrees. If she does, congratulate yourself for being a particularly kind and patient person- this is not easy to handle with grace.
Now- regardless of how things have gone until now, here are some alternate ways to address the problem:
Open a gentle, honest, respectful dialogue with her. Ask how this has been for her. Explain that you love her (if you do- if not- that needs addressing too) and that you very much want to have a more mutually pleasurable bedroom life. Ask if you have done or been doing anything that impedes that. Ask if there is anything she can think of that would move things in that direction for her. If there is something you could do or not do, or do differently, that would help. If there is anything she would like to do, or stop doing. Be prepared that you might not love some of the answers you hear, but try to be open and encouraging so she can be real with you. In order to solve a problem, you need to first understand it.
Ask if there is anything in the relationship outside the bedroom that is affecting the physical relationship. Many women (and men, but especially women) can’t get comfortable physically if there is something bother them emotionally. Often when you address the interpersonal tension, the sexual tension melts. It’s hard to have good sex when you don’t have a good marriage.
If it’s too difficult to have a conversation like this, or she doesn’t want to, seek outside help. Find a sex therapist or a licensed marriage counselor to help you navigate this. If your wife doesn’t want to go, ask her if she would be willing to accompany you, even if she doesn’t want to talk. If she refuses, then just get help for yourself. Talk to a counselor to manage your own feelings and expectations, and learn more about what you can do from your end. Becoming more educated, by a capable professional, even for just one spouse, can make a world of difference. Good therapy can (and I believe even should) be supplemented with relevant and reliable reading material.
What I often teach couples is that good men have two levels of sexual need:
a biological drive to physically mate and
an emotional need to be desired and know that they can exchange pleasure with the woman they love.
When a woman “consents” to unwanted sex to “make her husband happy,” she is generally only satisfying that first lower need of his, and they both end up feeling icky afterwards. This is not a blame game- neither one is necessarily at fault, although, they can be, and there are many behaviors that can compound the problem.
There are a number of different reasons why a person might not enjoy sexual activity- physical, interpersonal, historical, psychological. If you have been acting in any of the seven ways listed above, it will probably require outside help and take the marriage some real time and effort to heal and reset. Some of them are traumatic; there are no guarantees. But if there is love, safety, connection, humility, willingness to learn, and commitment in the relationship, there is a lot that can be tried to make things better for both parties.
If you or your spouse are suffering from a sexually distressing marital dynamic, please know that it’s very common but you don’t have to live like this indefinitely. This tends to be a treatable problem. Ideally- reach out to a competent licensed profession who can guide you on a path to healthy, pleasurable, two-way intimate fulfillment, but if you’re not ready for that yet, there is plenty of information available online and in literature that can educate you towards improvement.
Note: This article addresses the phenomenon of desire discrepancy for couples where the man has the stronger libido. There are many couples where the situation is reversed: the woman has the stronger sex drive. Please know that if that is you, you are not alone, and much of this holds true as well. But there are differences, so I hope to tackle that in another post, G-d willing.
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