Reader Question: How Do I Tackle Huge Marriage Problems?

Reader Question: How do I rebuild my sex life?Every Monday I like to take a stab at a Reader Question. Today’s is about solving marriage problems–problems that are quite complex. I think we can learn a lot of basic principles from this one on how to tackle the big issues in marriage. So here goes:

I have been following your blog and FB posts for a long time now. I’d be interested to know what advice you could give to a couple with a toddler, who have a “normal” sex routine of once a month sometimes longer in between? He works 6-4 and I’m a full time student & stay home mom. Even before our child, we were in this sexual funk. He always wants to go to bed early to get rested up for work, but stays up late watching movies or goes to bed even before I put our child to bed. Then I stay up to do homework for school or go to bed and he is “already sleeping” or says it is too late. He spent a lot of time early in our marriage accusing me of wrong doing, which drove a wedge between us intimately. During pregnancy and after birth I dealt with a lot of hormonal rage and and the idea of intimacy made me physically sick to my stomach, even kissing was gross. So he felt rejected and not good enough although I told him over and over it was not him, just the pregnancy. Now I feel more like I did prior to pregnancy, and would like to attempt a more intimate marriage and a real sex life rather than once every month or two. I’ve bought books, devotionals, toys, sexy clothes, etc Nearly failed my last course because I started going to bed when he did, but he would always say it was too late and he had to get some sleep for work. Where do I even start?

Do you feel exhausted yet? I feel exhausted reading all of that, and I think most of us, if we were going to describe our frustrations in marriage, would do something like this. Solving marriage problems is hard because most problems are so multifaceted, and the idea of having to unpack all of it seems overwhelming.

So what do you tackle first?

Solving Marriage Problems: When the issue is huge, what do you tackle first?

Let’s look at all of the issues we have here:

  • Their schedules are out of whack
  • They each have busy lives
  • They have a history of mistrust
  • They have a history of her turning down sex
  • Now he’s turning down sex

So where do you start?

Solving marriage problems involves identifying the issues in each of these categories: 

1. Lifestyle Issues
2. Communication Issues
3. Sexual Issues

And I firmly believe that solving most marriage problems should be done in that order: deal with the lifestyle issues first, and then the communication issues, before you really tackle the sexual issues.

Now, this doesn’t really apply if the sexual issue is one of “he wants it but I’ve always said no”, when the ball is in your court. If you can simply start saying yes, then the problem may be solved easily! But lots of times sexual issues look like what this couple looks like: sex is almost non-existent. Or perhaps the problem has gone in another direction, and sex has become somehow dirty or pornographic or something. In that case, it’s a really entrenched problem, and tackling it alone likely won’t do much.

Let’s look, then, at how to start tackling this big of a problem in marriage.

1. Get Your Schedules to Match

As much as possible, make your schedules match. Here’s the issue: he has to be at work at 6, which I assume means that he gets up around 5. If he needs at least 7 hours of sleep, that means getting to sleep at 10. If you want more than just sleep to happen, that means hitting the pillow at 9:30. She says that she’s tried to go to bed when he does, but her husband is still tired. That likely means he’s chronically tired and not getting enough sleep. So make it 9:00 if you have to. No matter what people say, pretty much everybody needs at least 7 hours to function well. If you’re turning in “early” with him, and “early” means 10:30, he’s not getting enough sleep. No wonder he’s tired!

Now, she also has school, and she needs to get work done. I don’t know what her schedule is like in this case (maybe she’s in school until 5, or maybe she’s home by 2, I don’t know). But here’s the way I’d look at it: You’re going to sleep from 9:30-5:00 with your husband. When is the best time to get your schoolwork done? Is it in the morning, or at night? If you don’t get home until 5 pm, it’s likely better in the morning. If you’re home when your hubby is, you could likely do some at night.

So if you want to do schoolwork in the morning, keep your 2 year old up until 9:00 so that the toddler will sleep until around 7. That gives you two hours to work in the morning. If you want to do it night, start waking your toddler up at 5 and put that child to bed at 6:30 or 7. That gives you some time at night.

Do what you have to do to get on the same schedule, and talk to your husband about this so that he sees the importance of it.

I know 5:00 is awfully early, but if you start doing this, your body will adjust. The key is to keep the same schedule even on the weekends so that you can actually feel awake at 5!

I have seen marriage problems sort themselves out with this one simple change. So as much as possible, get on the same schedule!

2. Talk and Work on your Friendship

Now it’s time to talk. From her letter, it seems like what this woman has done is to try to go to bed with him, and to try to be sexier. But neither is working. Maybe it’s time to try something else: just talk. Often the thing missing from marriage is friendship. Try taking at least 15 minutes a day and talking together, maybe by taking a walk after dinner together. Develop a hobby together. Play one round of a card game every night together. Do something–anything!–that will let you talk and laugh everyday, and remind yourselves that you are a unit. I can’t stress enough how important this is.

And as you talk, then those walls of distrust and miscommunication will start to come down.

I’d seriously recommend trying to pray together as a couple, too. I know some of us aren’t comfortable praying out loud, but here’s a post on how to make prayer easier. And as you pray together, even if it’s not about your problems, but just about your day and your child, you will start feeling closer. When this happens, often some of that mistrust evaporates.

3. Tackle Sex

Once you’re going to bed together and you have a schedule that’s in sync, and you’ve developed some habits of spending time together, it’s time to tackle sex! Talk to him about how you want things to be more intimate and fun in your marriage. Try to initiate more. Schedule sex if you have to! Suggest working on the 31 Days to Great Sex together (it makes a great stocking stuffer!).

Sex encompasses everything that we are, and starting with sex when you have multiple problems often doesn’t work. Sex is the outward expression of how we feel about ourselves and our relationship, and sometimes we need to start there. Like I said, I still firmly believe that if the main problem is that you’ve said no when he wants it, you can solve that one by jumping in more! Often, though, the problems are more complex. So work on those other things first, and then develop a game plan together of how you can move forward to make sex super fun.

When I’m presented with complex problems, then, that’s the order I usually tackle them. Lifestyle first, then friendship, then sex. I find that works better.

But now tell me: what would you tackle first? Have your schedules ever been out of whack, so that it’s hard to connect? How did you fix that? Let me know in the comments!

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  1. One thing I would suggest from my experience is making sure you make yourself (female) available to listen whenever he wants to talk. Stop what you are doing and give him your full attention. For me, that includes limiting my time on the computer and Facebook.

  2. Love your take here Sheila. i think our tendency, whenever we have intimacy issues is to go at them first, without looking at other areas that might be contributing. And we get even more frustrated when that doesn’t work. Communication is big, friendship is even bigger. There’s nothing you can’t work out when you are friends, there’s less tendency to hide, less walls, there’s a willingness to change and work out things because we are not feeling like we’ve been put on the spot.

    It’s the longer more difficult route ofcourse but in the end it’s a better route.
    great thoughts!
    ps – there’s a missing hyperlink to that prayer post on #2 (unless it’s not showing on my end only :) )
    Ngina Otiende recently posted…Making Money-sense in MarriageMy Profile

    • Thanks, Ngina! I totally agree about the friendship. If you can laugh together everyday, you can work through almost anything! (and I’ll fix the hyperlink!)

  3. We’ve been through this in our marriage as well, in the middle of the toddler phase with #4 at the moment where most mornings I wake up to her (the toddler, not my wife) kicking me.

    Some things we did to improve:
    1) Always go to bed together. Perhaps once a month we won’t (if I have a deadline approaching or something that requires me to be up, or baby won’t sleep and we’re exhausted, then we’ll do shifts).
    2) Always go to bed naked. Whether sex is expected that night, or not, we go to bed naked. It’s a lot easier to get to sex when there are no clothes in the way.
    3) Make sex a priority. Not THE priority, but it needs to be on the list. Yes, your toddler needs you, but as the toddler grows up, they are also going to need a stable marriage between you. And you can’t put that off and one day just go “OK, let’s switch to stable marriage now”. That’s something you need to be continuously working on.

    Hang in there. It gets easier, or so I’m told. We keep having babies, so we’ve been in the toddler or pregnancy phase for 8 years now. But, it does get easier to make it a priority and to learn to work around it. The first one is the hardest.
    Jay Dee – recently posted…Is it okay to track how often you have sex?My Profile

  4. While still a teenager, I lived with my aunt and uncle for a year. She was a night owl, he was a psychologist who worked in another city. Their schedules were so different, but every night she stopped what she was doing and went in to “put him to bed”… And always came our wearing her nightclothes afterward. Nothing more was ever said, but now, as a grown and married woman, I realize the married-sex friendly messages they were sending to their daughters and to me. There are definitely ways to make it work!

  5. Hi Sheila… Hubz just got put on a different shift and we now only get to see each otheron weekends. Besides praying for a shift change, any suggestions on how to connect when our schedules don’t match at all??

    • Hi Heather! Oh, that’s rough! Yeah, pray hard for a shift change. And then I think I wrote about this here. Hopefully some of that will help!

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