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'Broadway malls, Jun 2008 - 225' photo (c) 2008, Ed Yourdon - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

(Note: I’m going to officially announce the winners of my “Girl Talk” contest tomorrow, hopefully. I just haven’t heard back from one of the churches yet! So stay tuned).

A while back, I posed the question: what should a man do if his wife is totally uninterested in sex? That post has over 100 comments with people going back and forth on the right strategy.

But one comment, by Timbreldancer, really spoke to me, because I think it epitomized what often happens in relationships, and how change occurs. It’s long, but it’s insightful, so I’m going to post most of it here (I edited it down a bit):

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Those of you who are struggling with this problem: I have been that wife. My husband and I have been married for over 25 years and I can see myself and my husband in so much of what you have described. In my case, some of it was physical issues, including a pre-diabetic condition that improved a great deal with medication, plus trying to be much more careful about my diet. I can really tell the times that I choose the wrong foods…I spend the rest of the day exhausted. Some of my problems were also a result of past sexual abuse.

Most of all, however, my problem was that I had a loving, caring husband who was willing and able to bend over backward to show me how much he loved me, but in return, I was selfish, thoughtless, and too focused on myself to really even notice how much pain he was experiencing.

I’m not saying I was selfish in general. I have been a caring mother to our children, a caring friend to my friends, a caring Christian to unbelievers, and a caring family member to the rest of the family. I was not even completely selfish toward my husband. He many times did not notice the many sacrifices I made to serve him in some way I thought he would appreciate. However, because I got my sense of self worth from serving and doing, all of that “doing” and “serving” others left me almost zero energy for giving and serving my husband sexually. When he would try to bring it up, gently and lovingly, I would get angry and resentful, because I felt he was one more person “sucking me dry” by asking for yet another thing that I just didn’t have the energy to give.

The times that I set aside my own desire and “let” him pursue sex, I did eventually relax enough to enjoy it, but I would never actually want to have sex on my own, or if I did, I was too lazy to pursue it, because going to sleep was easier than actually making an attempt to start things.

I think George is doing an awesome job of being caring and thoughtful, and having him become uncaring and unthoughtful (or demanding) is not likely to have the kind of effect he would hope for. It may, however, wake his wife up, but possibly at the expense of his marriage. My husband chose the route of becoming uncaring and unthoughtful, and it did eventually wake me up, but it also greatly endangered our marriage and also caused some serious problems with our children. If I hadn’t been extremely committed to staying married and if I hadn’t had numerous friends who were willing to pray for us, I’m fairly certain we would be divorced now.

What made the biggest difference for us, in the long run, was that I began to realize that my husband wasn’t the big, selfish “jerk” I thought he was, just because he wanted to have sex on a regular basis. I give 100% credit to God for the change that saved our marriage. On a practical level, though, it came down to the fact that I didn’t really believe my husband loved me like he said he did. Despite all of his selfless service to me, I always felt he was doing it either because (a) he wanted to anyway or (b) he was trying to manipulate me into doing something he wanted (like have sex, for example). Because of that, I either didn’t recognize the basis of his caring acts, or I assumed they had a completely selfish basis and I resented him. Resentment turned to bitterness turned to hatred turned to almost divorcing him.

So what can you do? You can’t fix your wife. You can pray for her. You probably can’t serve your way into making her stop being selfish and lazy when it comes to sex. What you can do, though, is ask her to set aside a half hour of time to talk with you about “the future of your marriage.” I highly recommend you do this in a coffee shop or park or someplace where your children will not be around, and where cell phones can be turned off. Make it clear to her that this is very important to your marriage. It is extremely important that you speak gently, without an accusing or angry tone, but that you also make it clear that you won’t be “wasting her time” by talking about unimportant things.

Once you have your wife alone, start by confirming your relationship. You can say something like this: “Honey, you are so important to me and I want us to have a really great marriage.”

Then, being careful not to make any accusations or any attempt to imply blame toward her, acknowledge your own failure. (NOTE: YOU ARE NOT FAILING! You are doing the right things, but she’s not seeing it, so in that sense, you are failing to connect with her in a way she can see.) You can say something like this: “I feel like I’m not doing a good job of showing you just how much I love you.”

Reconfirm the relationship:
“I really want us to have a great marriage…”

State the problem:
“…but I feel like there is always room for improvement.”

ASK HER for the solution to the problem: “I’d like to know if you can think of anything I can do to improve our marriage?”

If she’s like me, she probably won’t know what to say at this point. She may know exactly what she wants, but she may not be willing to say it, because she’s been hurt or disappointed in that particular area too many times in the past to be willing to risk it. Or, she may really have no idea what she wants.

From there, I would recommend an apology: “Honey, I know there have been times that I have not been able to communicate my love to you, and I’m sorry for that. Please forgive me for the times I’ve made you feel unloved.”

Here is the important part: ASK HER what you can do to demonstrate your love for her. “I want to know if there is anything I can do to show you I love you?”

Chances are, she may not have an answer for you, or she may try to push you off by saying you are doing just fine and she knows you love her. Don’t let that stop you. Ask her to think about it: “Would you be willing to give this some thought? Would you be willing to take some time and maybe write a list for me?”

Remind her that this is really important for the future of your marriage: “This is really important to me. I want us to have a great marriage, so I really want to know what kinds of things help you to feel loved.”

If you’re brave, you can also ask her to tell you what she thinks you are doing wrong. In fact, if she is not offering suggestions for improvement at this point, you probably should ask her if she can also think about giving you a couple of ideas about what you are doing wrong.

And a few last thoughts: First, don’t give her a list unless she specifically asks for one, and if she does, make sure your list is very positive and mostly includes things she already does for you, that you’d like her to do more of. Now is NOT the time to ask for more sex. Secondly, don’t assume the list she gives you will be accurate. She may not really know what she wants. What it will do for you, however, is give you some idea of what she *thinks* she wants, and also it should give you some idea of how she perceives love. For example, if “bring me flowers” is on the list, then she may be more of a romantic than you realized. If “take out the garbage” is on the list, then she may be resenting you for not doing something she thinks is your job, for example. ” The Five Love Languages book (by Gary Chapman, I think) may help you identify if you are just not speaking her love language, based on her response.

If you try doing the things on her list and you aren’t getting any additional warmth from her, then I’d recommend you go back and ask again if there is something you are doing that is making her feel unloved. Often, the thing that is making her feel unloved will also give you a clue to what would make her feel loved.

I’m NOT saying that you aren’t trying hard enough or that you’re not being nice enough.
I just know that when my husband started asking me these kinds of questions, it really made me stop and think about what I really did want out of the relationship. And when he was vulnerable enough to ask me what he was doing that made me feel unloved, I not only had to think about that (and actually tell him what was bothering me), but it also made me feel like he really did truly care about me, for real. That was when the iceberg began to melt, for me. And since he had also become something of a hard rock, too, because of his own hurt feelings, when I began to ask him these kinds of questions, he also began to melt. Our marriage is much much better than it was, and these types of questions helped to open up lines of communication that had never been there before, or were so firmly closed that even we didn’t notice they were missing.

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(Sheila again here):

I strongly agree with the idea that this commenter put forward, about having an honest talk where you ask what you can do to help your spouse feel more loved. I know this sounds backwards; you, after all, are the one who doesn’t feel loved. But the truth is that neither of you is connecting, and by showing her (or him) that you realize this, then your spouse will probably start to feel more positively towards the relationship, too.

The key thing to me, that this woman brought up, is that quite often we don’t know what we want. We sense that something is wrong in a marriage, but we can’t identify what that “something” is. We’ll think it’s one thing, and we’ll tell our husbands that’s the problem (“you never help clean up around the house”). Perhaps he starts cleaning up in response, but that doesn’t actually help you feel better, because that wasn’t the root problem.

The root problem, in my opinion, is usually a feeling of disconnectedness and a sense that you’re missing your purpose. When the marriage isn’t going well, it doesn’t matter how well you’re doing at being a mom, or keeping the house up, or working. You’re going to feel disconnected, because the intimacy isn’t there. Similarly, when we don’t feel intimacy with God, we’re going to feel like something is wrong.

What we need is to feel close to God and close to our husbands. An intimate marriage is really part of both, but often we don’t understand that.

So what should the spouse who is hurting do?

Recognize that this is the real problem, even if your spouse doesn’t see it, and do what you can to work on building intimacy and love and acceptance, as this woman suggested. And then do as much as you can to pull closer to God with your husband or wife. As you pull closer to Him, and learn to love your spouse, often the rest will come. But don’t expect her or him to understand that or see it, because often we don’t.

Have you ever tried something like this? What do you think?

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