What if the relationship is what is killing your husband’s sex drive?
We’ve been talking about marriages where the wife has the higher libido this week. Often, higher libido simply means that she’s on the higher end of average libido, and he’s on the lower end of average libido. But it can also mean that while the wife has a normally functioning libido, her husband’s libido is almost completely gone.
Today we have Stephen Snyder, author of Love Worth Making: How to have ridiculously great sex in a long-lasting relationship, on the blog talking about how sometimes a husband’s lack of a sex drive is a symptom of a greater dysfunction in the marriage.
Check it out:
The first thing David tells me when he sits down in my office is that he’s only here because his wife Gwen insisted on it.
“She’s going to divorce me,” he says, “unless I start initiating sex.”
David is a handsome man with a good-natured smile. Given the situation, he looks surprisingly relaxed.
David tells me his wife found my name online.
“Is she going to join us?” I ask.
“No. She insisted I see you alone.”
“She says she’s tired of trying to fix me.”
Hmm. That doesn’t sound good.
Who’s more likely to eventually lose desire in a marriage—the man or the woman? Most people would say it’s the woman. But as a sex therapist, in the past decade or two I’ve noticed a shift. Now when a couple comes to see me, it’s very often the man who’s gone missing in bed.
“Are you still physically attracted to her?” I ask David. He says he is, and that when they have sex he still gets turned on.
“So what happens when you try to initiate sex?”
“That’s the problem,” he says. “It’s like there’s this invisible force field that stops me.”
“Any idea what that’s about?”
“Not really. All day long at work, I’ll be thinking about how when I get home I’m going to start something up with her. But the closer I get to home, the less I feel like it.”
“Why? What happens?”
“I don’t know. She’s usually complaining about one thing or another. She works hard. But I work hard too, and after a long day I really don’t feel like listening to her complain.”
He shifts in the chair. “Most of the time, I end up just shutting her out.”
“I assume she doesn’t like that very much.”
“Yeah, she hates it. She never stops talking about how I never pay her any attention.”
He stops for a moment and looks around the room.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t think she likes me very much anymore.”
What Men Really Want
Don’t men automatically want sex? Well, for the most part we do tend to be fairly simple that way. But in a marriage, there are other things we need just as much.
You know how most women need to feel desired?
Most men need to feel welcomed.
There’s a certain smile a woman wears when she’s really pleased —a big, welcoming smile of pleasure that says, “Hey, I’m so glad you showed up! Come on in!!”
When a couple is just getting started, she usually smiles at him a lot. The trouble often starts when he first sees her disappointed or unhappy. Especially if he’s caused it.
We men tend to hear any female unhappiness as criticism. That puts us in a bit of a bind, since we’re ordinarily expected not to just pout or cry if we feel criticized or under-appreciated. Instead, we’ll usually just try to adopt as confident a pose as we can and hope the hurt feelings will pass.
That tends not to work so well. Eventually, out of desperation, a man who feels criticized or unaccepted will usually just withdraw. Which of course only tends to cause more mischief:
He feels criticized, so he withdraws.
This makes her angry, and even more critical of him.
He withdraws further—and so on, and so on.
When he withdraws emotionally, he’ll often withdraw sexually too. Which she’ll of course usually interpret to mean he doesn’t desire her anymore.
A wife who no longer feels desired will almost never show her husband that special welcoming smile of hers. Which of course he’ll take to mean that it’s no longer safe to approach her. Which of course is totally nuts, since the only reason she never smiles anymore is because he hasn’t touched her in a month—but that’s the way these things tend to go.
By the time it’s gotten to this point, he’s usually lost all confidence in his ability to make her happy. He may try to make the best of the situation, by being good to her in other ways. Or he may regress to silly, childish behavior—like telling stupid jokes, or pulling pranks. He may just try to act like everything’s OK. But he and she both know these are all just poses—and that underneath he’s in despair because his confidence is gone.
Can This Marriage Be Saved?
Let’s look more closely at the situation above. She’s not feeling desired by him. And he feels hopeless about pleasing her. That’s obvious, right? What’s less obvious, is that they’ve both become so needy that they’ve ceased to function well as individuals.
One of the things people tend to expect when they first get married is that their partner will provide them with unqualified support and approval. But that tends not to last very long. Even the most ideally-matched couples sooner or later find themselves facing some degree of disappointment. Sooner or later the well of unconditional positive regard runs dry. It’s normal to feel terrified, insecure, and even angry when you realize your spouse doesn’t always like everything about you. When that happens, though, the key thing is to take a deep breath and begin to take more responsibility for your own emotional needs.
That might sound unromantic—but it’s actually much more romantic, if you do it right.
For David, who’d stopped initiating sex because he felt Gwen didn’t like him anymore, the first step was to realize how much power he’d given Gwen over his self-esteem. He decided to take a deep breath whenever he felt criticized by her, rather than just reacting or withdrawing. Once he stopped giving her so much power over his self-regard, she began to respect him a lot more. At that point, they were on their way to a better marriage.
There are many other reasons a man might go missing in bed—from low testosterone, to depression, to compulsive porn use. But very often a sexual road-block like David and Gwen’s is just a symptom of something more ordinary: two normal people, neither of whom have figured out yet how to strike the right balance between emotional togetherness and emotional independence.
That can take awhile to figure out. But once you do, it’s totally worth it.
So glad Stephen allowed me to share that! I know it may get many women’s backs up, but I hope you will listen and just ask yourself if the way you’re interacting has become toxic. I don’t think we realize how much our unhappiness sounds like criticism to him, but it does. Because men want to be able to fix things, they assume that when we’re unhappy, it’s because they haven’t done their job. I’m not saying we have to force ourselves to be happy; simply that maybe we need to take responsibility for some of our own feelings, too.
What do you think? Have you ever seen this dynamic in your marriage–or in a marriage that you know? Let’s talk in the comments!