A Husband’s Emotional Need

What drives his sex drive?

I used to think that for my husband, sex was physical. All he really wanted from it was an orgasm—and all he wanted me for was sex. Because I thought his sex drive was all orgasm-focused, I didn’t understand why he made such a big deal out of it if I didn’t want to have sex. I figured he could just go take care of it himself.

What I wanted most was for him to value me for me, not just for sex.

My Husband’s Need for Emotional Connection

Over the past few years, I have come to realize that for my husband, sex is the primary means of emotionally connecting with me.

I always knew that I was able to get my emotional needs met through a variety of sources. The kids, my friends, and colleagues connected with me in various ways. Because I emotionally connect primarily through conversation and hugs, I experienced emotional connection a lot in my daily life—just not with my husband. I could talk with people, share my feelings, and know that my observations and feelings mattered to others. Even when my husband didn’t seem to appreciate me, someone else was bound to. (I recognize now that this was unwise on my part. Fortunately, the people I connected with were other women. Had I worked with more male colleagues, I could have been setting myself up for disaster.)

Big Guy, on the other hand, is a man. He grew up not sharing his feelings with others. He enjoyed male bonding and doing things with his guy friends and male relatives, but it didn’t involve emotional connection. Whether it was how he was made or how he grew up, my husband’s connections and interactions with others simply are not emotional ones.

Even with our kids, my husband was always aware of his role as father, provider, and leader.  It is what made him a good dad—but it didn’t exactly give him the emotional connection that filled him and helped him feel fully known and accepted.

That left only one pathway to emotional connection open to him—the one he had with me. And his primary means of experiencing that emotional connection was through sex.

Who Does He Have to Love Him?

Several months before I began to work on the sexual intimacy in our marriage, I looked at my husband sitting in his chair and thought how lonely he looked. It brought to mind a recent comment he’d made about feeling unloved. I stood there and looked at him, thinking about how I, too, felt unloved. But then one of the kids walked by and hugged me. It occurred to me that even though my husband didn’t love me, at least I had others in my life who did.

I looked back at my husband and wondered, Who does he have to love him?

The wind was knocked out of my sails. I stood in shock. God was speaking to me in that moment, I’m sure, because the next thought I had was, Oh . . . he is supposed to have me. I haven’t done a very good job, though.

My mind flooded with memories of all the times he had told me that what he really wanted with sex was intimacy. How did I not realize that he was referring to emotional connection? I didn’t yet recognize how much I had hurt him in my ongoing sexual rejection, and I don’t think I even realized that sex really had anything to do with my husband feeling unloved.

At that moment, looking at my husband feeling so unloved, what I did know was this: I had not been a good wife to him.

My heart began to soften toward Big Guy, preparing me for the moment a few months later when I recognized the hard truth that I had deeply hurt him.

What Drives His Sex Drive?

Today I want to encourage you to head on over to The Generous Husband and read Paul’s recent post, Maybe It’s Not Just Between Your Legs. Although it is written for husbands, it is a post that gives wives something to consider as well.

Paul suggests that husbands acknowledge that they have a deep emotional need that is filled through sex with their wives.

One interesting idea offered in something I read is that sex is actually more emotional for men than for women. The theory is sex is one of a men’s few ways of making emotional connection while women are able to feel emotionally connected in many more ways. This could mean some of our “I need it now feeling” is about an emptiness in our hearts rather than just a fullness in our pants.

When I read this passage, my mind flooded with the memory of finally seeing my husband’s emotional need and realizing that I had failed as a wife.

Just think about that passage for a moment: some of that drive your husband has to be sexually intimate with you is about filling his heart, not just about dealing with an erection. Emotional need, not just physiology, drives his sex drive.

What does this tell you about your husband’s heart? And what does it do to him emotionally if you consistently reject his attempts to sexually connect with you?

Your husband has a genuine physiological need for sex, but he also has a genuine emotional need for you.

When your husband reaches out for you for sex, he is reaching out for . . . you.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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36 Comments on “A Husband’s Emotional Need”

  1. Chris, you have authored many, many posts that I have enjoyed, including oral sex tips, suggestions about spicing up your love life with toys and mutual masturbation, etc., but never have you written a more beautiful, accurate and compelling post than this one. As a man I can absolutely confirm that every word and expression within your post is true. I love the feeling of sex and sexual release, but it is the desire to connect, indeed to emotionally “know” my wife (and for her to know me), that distinguishes the marital sexual act from mere physical pleasure. Every time we make love the bonds between us are strengthened and my urge to serve and protect her are fortified. When I am rejected, the hurt and confusion is often profound. I do not say this as any threat, but rather as a statement of fact: if your husband’s emotional needs are not met by you he will either – 1) gradually withdraw from you into depression; or 2) be vulnerable to having them met by someone else. Once again, this is not a threat, but human nature. We all have a need to be loved physically and emotionally and for most men, or least all of the men I know, marital sexual relations are the pathway to emotional intimacy.

    1. Thanking you for your kind words and for confirming that this post shows truth. For many years, I truly didn’t understand that sex was such an emotional experience for my husband. It is the one thing I wish I could go back in time to make sure my newly married self understood.

  2. One of the most important topics in all Christendom; thanks Chris. Suffice it to say that the world and church has lead us down many a wrong path, feeding us bad information, assumptions, and conclusions. It is never ever selfish to pursue you spouse. It is always selfish to deny your spouse. Men were created in the very image of God [and a surprise to all: women were not – but that’s another scriptural story]. That image of God that is in all men is: 1) be jealous for personal glory, fear, and respect from His people 2) wield, yea, demand authority and take responsibility 3) pursue His people, penetrate His people with Himself, know His people …and desire to be known by them. Those characteristics of God are created in men relative to their wives. This is an important part of the way His people come to know Him: by men pursuing their wives; I even suggest THE most important. The world and church have made this into an evil, just like many ways they call white, black and vice versa. If both men and women truly desire to know Christ as the LIVING word, then they need to drop what they have heard as conventional wisdom over their lifetimes and explicitly do as the word says; for as marriage goes, so goes the church. Blessings in the all power name of Jesus.

    1. I don’t agree with everything you say (I don’t think it is always selfish to deny a spouse, and I do believe that women bear the image of God), but I wholeheartedly agree that we need to look at what God says as a guide in our lives, not as what the world’s conventional wisdom says.

  3. I am convinced that a great many men do not realize what you have said in your article. They know the craving, but they really don’t understand its all of its origins. Even though I am in my sixties, I didn’t know about the bonding part until just a few years ago. Apart from my spiritual life with the Lord, all of my emotional bonds of real substance are with my wife.

    By the way, it takes both the male and the female to portray the image of God. Read the whole Bible carefully, and you will begin to see it.

    1. It is sad how many of us don’t understand ourselves. Time and time again, I find that when there is an area of dissatisfaction in my life, it points me to things I need to know about myself and to places where I need to grow. I hope many husbands read Paul’s article and really think about the implications of what he is saying. Just think–if a man understands that emotional bonding is a big part of his need for sex, communicating that to a wife who wants emotional connection might help her understand much more than, “Baby, I’m horny. Ya wanna?”

  4. Great post Chris! And yet lovingly explaining and showing my wife similar posts it has done nothing to soften her heart. I am sorry to say that I have given up and to continue this way is slowly killing who I am. I am now planning my exit strategy.

    1. Showing my posts to a wife who isn’t ready is not generally a good idea–but if you are at a point where you have nothing left to lose, it might be worth a try.. Please let your wife know that you are planning your exit so she can be prepared and understand just how hurt you are. So many women are truly clueless about what sex means to their husbands (including me, for many years), and even though you think you have been making yourself clear for years, she still may not get it.

  5. It is interesting how much this post has resonated with men/husbands, but that there has been generally little response from wives. I suspect that the 900 lb gorilla in the room is that while plenty of wives LOVE their husbands, being interested and enthusiastic about sex has become foreign to them. They are mother, co-provider, chauffer, cook, career planner and maid. I am wondering whether the rapid pace of modern life, combined with a woman’s inclination to constantly multi-task in her head, has left many ill-equipped to enjoy the simple beauty of a focused love-making session. I know that the only time my wife seems consistently interested in initiating sex is when we are on vacation and there is no “to-do list” cycling through her brain. Men, on the other hand, can stop and focus on sex just about immediately any day of the week. Unfortunately, I can offer no solutions, just observations.

    1. To be quite frank, when men comment first, women often stay silent. I struggle with this all the time, and I know that too many men’s voices makes this place a bit uncomfortable.

      The reason I am quickly approving most comments from men on this particular post is because I think they offer something that will help wives better understand why sex is such a big deal to their husbands.

      Vacation sex is probably best explained by my post about open mental browser tabs.

    2. I am currently struggling with this.I adore my husband and I love making love to him… But he doesn’t seem to understand that grabbing my breast out of the blue does nothing for me…. I wish I knew how to let him understand that it makes me feel used. I wish he understood that a little more effort and a bit more gentleness would make things a lot easier for him. But even though I’ve tried explaining it to him, he experiences it as rejection. And I don’t know how to fix it.

      1. My follow-up post Your Emotional Need might give you some things to try in communicating with your husband. I have found that if I phrase things as “please don’t,” my husband can easily feel rejected or like a failure. I have had more success with saying things like, “You know what I really like? When you do this . . . ” I try to discuss things I don’t like outside the bedroom, and I focus on my reactions rather than on his actions. For instance, with what you describe, I might say, “I have been having a hard time not feeling used when you grab my breast out of the blue. I know that isn’t what you mean, and I am working to change my feelings. Do you think you could try touching me on my shoulder instead, or leading up to a grab with a gentle kiss on the neck? It would help me connect that action to feeling loved.” And then, when my husband tried what I’d asked, I would thank him and tell him I feel loved. I want him to know how much I appreciate his efforts to do what I need. It makes a bigger difference than when I push his hand away during any groping–but I also work to learn to deal with the groping by focusing on his intention and not following through with my knee-jerk reaction.

        1. I think that Marlize’s complaint and Chris’ comment are both totally fair and helpful. As a husband I struggle with the same impulse to simply reach out and fondle my wife’s breasts. I know it is hard to understand as a woman, but your bodies fascinate us and make us, in many ways, immature. To tell us what kind of touch you like, as opposed to simply saying “no,” is much more likely to redirect our behavior. Knowing that your wife enjoys another kind of touch at least gives you an avenue to physically connect. While we may still be tempted to touch your enticing breasts, at least we know that we always have an open invitation to touch you in another way, and we husbands should be considerate.

  6. Thank you, Chris. We men should stay out of the way with our comments, but I can only go back to telling you that you are so right about the powerful effect that sex has on his emotions in terms of feeling loved or feeling hurt. It is enormous and, while we may have many friends or interests, for most of us our only emotional partner is our wife.

  7. I wish I would have known all of this 5 yrs ago. While it is too late to save my marriage now it does shed a light on a lot of things that he was going threw back than,if only I had known all of this back than. I will be saving this post and I’m sure there will be many more that you write that will help me and many others in days ahead..Thank you,Just Wendy

  8. The kids dont love him? I dont get that. This makes it sound like they only love and hug her? That would be weird. Pretty sure they hug their Dad too? Due to past abuse I’m rather cynical about sex. Pretty sure if orgasm wasnt involved, all those poor, unloved hubbys wouldnt be so eager for “love”…

    1. I am sorry I wasn’t more clear about that. Of course my kids loved their dad. But they didn’t reach out for him to hug him in the way they did me. Our kids loved both of us, but I was the one they were more comfortable showing that love to. It’s just a different relationship.

      The hug from my kid was what prompted me to think about how many people in my life show affection for me and truly care about me–not in the way a child loves a parent, but in ways that loved me for who I was beyond my role as mom.

      It may be that the reason orgasm is such a desired thing is not just for the pleasure but also for the feelings of connection brought on by the hormones that spike at orgasm.

      I am so sorry about your past abuse. That makes it very hard to develop a healthy sexuality. It’s possible to do so, but hard.

  9. Great blog article! So rings true in my marriage. I am a pretty open person but I don’t understand how I didn’t see it 10 years ago. Age has changed me, and emotional affair my husband had changed me. I am thankful for the changes and finally realize what truly my husband needs, just wish I would’ve recognized it sooner before some of the bad things happened in our marriage. We are getting back on track emotionally, we’ve always been good sexually but it is different now more loving you can say! I am more free with him with my love, feelings and body!
    Thank you for your blog has helped me put many things into perspective!

  10. Great post, Chris! Reading this pointed me back to your Sacred Cows article and the untruths I believed about men in general which I automatically applied to my husband. My first slaughtered cow was MEN DON’T HAVE FEELINGS. I really believed this one (for multiple reasons I won’t go into) and oh, the years my husband must have suffered from this crazy idea. 0.0

  11. Thankfully my husband doesnt not feel this way. I was abused and I have never experienced “healthy” or “normal” sex. My wonderful husband married me anyway. We live in a sexless marriage because of my PTSD, depression and anxiety (I have been in therapy for 1 year now). He would never expect me to do something that terrifies me so much and sex would not make him feel loved because if it makes me feel so terrible then it makes him feel terrible to (because obviously he doesnt want me to suffer). He feels loved because I do things to show him that I love him. And I often tell him how much I love him and appreciate him. So it is possible to love each other, and feel loved without sex. There are physical disablements or diseases that lead to sexless marriages and mental illness is no different from that. Its there even if you cant see it. Its just as real and valid as a broken leg for example. And I believe that there are women who have mental issues, maybe due to past abuse but their husbands do not know because they either have not been able to talk about it or they are in denial. A serious aversion against sex usually has an underlying issue and that should be taken seriously. And yes, I feel sorry for the husbands that feel rejected. But maybe their wives feel even worse. Maybe its killing them inside. Maybe they just need to know that they are loved for who they are, not for what their bodies can give.

    1. I am so sorry you experienced abuse and am glad you are pursuing healing for yourself.

      Some medical issues interfere with the ability to connect through sexual intimacy, and that definitely includes mental health and things like PTSD. I have written before about working to heal from past trauma. When a woman is averse to sex, it is important to understand why and for her and her husband to seek healing so she can feel healed and whole again. (I have written about that as well.)

      I am sorry that you and your husband are not able to enjoy sexual intimacy in your marriage. Most men would find this a very difficult situation. Your husband sounds like an understanding and compassionate man. He might benefit from some support as well in dealing with the ramifications of your childhood sexual abuse. RAINN.org has some resources for spouses of survivors.

    2. Amanda, I want to address your comments as a fellow survivor of both childhood and adolescent sexual abuse and an adult survivor of sexual assault who was raised in a physically abusive dysfunctional home. Okay, that’s the bad stuff in my past, now let me get onto the GOOD stuff. I am also a woman who lives in daily VICTORY over the abuse that happened to me and in a mutually healthy, supportive and happy marriage with a thriving, frequent sex life and it’s been that way for 20 years now, in fact it gets better every year. I want the same for every single one of my fellow abuse survivors.

      You mention you are getting help and I speak from experience when I say that can be a tough steps to take so good for you. I also know that applying what you learn through the help process can be even tougher than showing up to the counselors office in the first place so I want to encourage you to stick with it.

      But I also want to ask you what your goals for getting help are. If a healthy sex life with your husband isn’t on your list of goals for the process then I would hope you ask yourself why. Maybe your goals are more short term than that and that is fine for now. But to be your 100% most healthy self means that nothing in life is avoided because of past abuse. It means your abuse loses it’s power to dictate your life and your actions. You say that your husband is okay with having a sexless marriage and for right now with the state you are in that is probably for the best. But I can assure you from experience that time changes things. I am no longer the girl my husband married (which is a GOOD thing!) he’s no longer exactly like the guy I married (also a positive) neither of us want the same things we wanted from each other when we first married and our marriage and life look NOTHING like what we thought and planned for it to look life 26 years earlier and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Life happened (like having a baby 2 weeks before our 1st anniversary instead of in the 10 years we planned) and we had to adapt and grow.

      My husband married a girl who by her own admission was fundamentally damaged by events that happened long before he was in the picture. The fact that my husband knew about the abuse prior to marrying me and had witnessed the blowback from it first hand was no excuse to me when that abuse started to negatively affect our marriage and our sex life. Neither of us signed up for a no sex/little sex marriage and yet that is what we found ourselves in. I didn’t realize that becoming a mother and having a child to protect from not only the risk of outside sexual abusers but from unintended emotional damage that I had every chance of inflicting due to my past and that it would bring all that abuse right to surface and that for a change that abuse would refuse to stay buried where I placed it. Eliminating the negative impact of my abuse and how it made me behave in every single aspect of my life, especially my marriage and how I parented was my primary motivator for seeking help and applying what I learned to my life. It was tough work and I had to learn to do things that would usually put me in a bad place and I had to do it on purpose and the process of that sucked but it was worth every second of pain for the rewards I experience every day. I had a responsibility to heal from my past, a responsibility to myself FIRST, my husband second and my kids after that. I’m so glad I did. I had no clue how much sweeter life would be on the other side.

      You stated in an earlier comment that if orgasm wasn’t involved these “poor unloved hubby’s wouldn’t be so eager for “love” and that makes me wonder why you are resentful to the fact that orgasm is a natural part of sex. Whatever that reason is it’s keeping you from the fundamental truth that sex and the orgasms that happen during sex is a healthy and positive part of a good sex life in a healthy marriage with two healthy people. Orgasm isn’t the only way men receive love during sex by the way.

      You say that your husband is okay with being in a sexless marriage and maybe that is true. Maybe it will stay that way, maybe it won’t, I couldn’t tell you. What I can do is ask you why Chris’s post seems to have provoked and angry and defensive tone in your responses? Why are you reading here in the first place? Are both of you REALLY okay with a sexless marriage forever? Are you okay with only partially healing from all of this or do you want more for yourself and your husband by extension?

      I’m wishing you strength Amanda. Lots of strength.

  12. You so spoke to my heart this morning, thank you, thank you, thank you!!!
    I tend to push my husband away when he approaches me for sex, I’m usually tired, or upset at him about some little thing and many a times I look at him and see the sadness in his demeanor, his withdrawn facial expression and I think…”What am I doing to him!!!”
    God has spoken to my heart so many times over the 17 years of our marriage and I may change for awhile and then after a time I’m right back into my own selfish ways.
    Thank you for sharing your heart and such a pertinent message for keeping our marriages Christ-centered, alive and full of passion. I never saw the connection between the physical need he has for sex and his emotional need to connect with me.
    Again thank you for opening my eyes and I pray that God will open my heart to be the companion, the sex partner and the woman God intends me to be for my husband.
    May God continue to bless you, your marriage, your family and your ministry!

    1. I am hearing from so many men that this is the one thing they most wish their wives understood. May God grow your marriage in ways that help you both feel connected and loved.

  13. This came up in a conversation with my wife this morning, so I asked her to read this. Her only comment was, “That doesn’t seem fair to you”…..

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