This is the first in a series of posts in which I discuss six points husbands have expressed about the lack of sexual intimacy in their marriages. I first discussed these points in this post several years ago. Please read the introduction to this series here for background and a list of caveats.
This post discusses the first point: Sexuality is inherent to a man’s sense of self.
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What does it mean to you to be a woman?
When you think of being a woman, what comes to mind? We won’t all answer this the same way, but many of us are likely to mention nurturing others, empathy, motherhood, advocacy, endurance, or our bodies.
For me, the first two things that come to mind are nurture and empathy. I have a deep-seated need to care for others—especially my family, and especially when it comes to feeding them. I have a drive to be understood, and an equally strong drive to understand others. When I nurture someone or help them feel understood, I come away feeling like just for a few moments, I’ve been a good woman, doing what God has designed me to do.
Nurturing and empathizing are intrinsic aspects of how I see myself as a woman specifically, not just as a person. Even more than meeting the needs of others, nurture and empathy meet my own emotional needs. It is a place where I feel uniquely womanly.
What does it mean to your husband to be a man?
What if I were to ask men a similar question: When you think of being a man, what comes to mind?
A majority of men would give an answer that includes their sexuality.
We often assume that sex is just a physical thing for guys, thinking that they’re constantly horny and wanting an orgasm. Men do have a legitimate need for release from time to time, and it is easy to assume that’s all there is to their stereotypical obsession with sex. After all, there’s that erection as solid proof of their physical desire.
However, we are fooling ourselves if we think that physical release is the only motivation of his desire. If it were just about a physical release, a scratching of a prominent itch, he could take care of that himself.
A husband’s desire for his wife is just as much about his emotional desire to connect with her.
A man’s sexuality may begin with his lifelong relationship with his penis, but it doesn’t stop there. Men have a deep emotional need to be valued, desired, and loved. (Shaunti Feldhahn’s For Women Only does an excellent job of showing us the hearts of men. You can use this affiliate link to get the book.)
Sex is a place where these emotional needs come together, along with an intense physical pleasure. Their sexuality is where men most experience themselves as men. It is how they feel most manly—and it is where they feel most vulnerable as men.
A cautionary tale
Last year a friend shared with me that she’d baked cookies for her son to take back to college with him—and he declined the offer. I could hear the heartache in her voice. I, too, have been in the position of making something for a loved one, only to have it rejected.
In fact, we have a family story about that. I once made one of Big Guy’s favorite dishes. It involves quite a few steps, and making it is always an act of love for me. I love the dish, too, but a big part of my joy is in seeing that my husband enjoys it as well. I set in on the table, and I felt vulnerable. Will he like it? I mean, he always likes it because it has bacon, but will he savor it? Will he express appreciation? Will he recognize what I did for him?
I waited while he took a bite.
His response? “Needs more vinegar.”
The kids watched my face fall. You know that nurturing thing I have going on? I felt like the best of what I had to offer had just been rejected. I’d done all the things to the best of my ability. It wasn’t enough. I felt like I wasn’t enough. He ate it, but he seemed disappointed.
The story has become a family cautionary tale. To be fair to Big Guy, he certainly didn’t mean to hurt my feelings, and he felt bad as soon as he saw my face. He saw food as food, not as an act of love. I’d never bothered to tell him how I felt about serving him food that he loves. I have now, and he always begins with genuine thanks (even when he thinks I didn’t include enough vinegar).
Many men will say that they feel the same way when it comes to initiating sex. Their sexuality is core to who they are as men. They bring that sexuality to their wives, vulnerable in their own emotional need and offering the very best of who they think they are.
When we say no to sex, WE know that we are just not interested in the activity at that time. WE know it has nothing to do with our love for our husbands.
We know it, but to our husbands, we have just rejected their love.
We have just rejected THEM.
Consider how it feels to them when we expect them to have to earn sex. They have to clean the dishes, bring us a cup of tea, and basically jump through hoops—only to then find out if they did everything well enough to deserve the thing they most need. Of course a loving husband should help with household chore and do things that help us relax and feel comfortable. However, when we dangle sex as a reward for good behavior—or withhold it for not being good enough—we diminish them as men and as husbands.
What can wives do?
Men are so vulnerable when they present their sexuality to their wives. When their offering is rejected, or when they’re told they aren’t good enough as they are, it hurts their hearts.
So what should we, as wives, do with all this? I have several suggestions.
1. Seek to understand—without judgment.
Choose to believe that your husband’s desire for you is emotional as well as physical for him, even if he himself doesn’t articulate that.
Consider what comes to mind when you think of being a woman, and think about how you would feel if your husband rejected some expression of that. For me, thinking about our vinegar incident helped me glimpse what my husband was feeling.
2. Use your understanding of your husband to act and speak in ways that will help him feel desired, valued, and loved.
When you need to say no to sex, do so in a loving way that communicates your desire and love for your husband and all that he has to offer. Offer a rain check for some time in the next 24 hours—and then YOU be the one to initiate during that time frame.
Or, you might choose to have sex even if you aren’t particularly in the mood. Perhaps this will involve duty sex with the purpose of growth (as opposed to duty sex that is just about getting it over with). Or maybe you can use techniques to help your mind shift gears into sex.
A man’s sexuality is inherent to his sense of self. As wives, that gives us great power. Use your power to strengthen your marriage and lift your husband up, not to beat him down.
3. Nurture your appreciation for your husband as a man.
Be intentional about looking for things that help you love and appreciate your husband.
Like many women, I find that my attitude toward my overall relationship with Big Guy has a big effect on my attitude about sex with him. I look for things I appreciate about him every day, even when sex isn’t on the immediate horizon. Paying attention to these things on a regular basis helps me feel closer to my husband and helps me desire sex with him.
4. Communicate with your husband about your own needs and desires.
Your needs matter just as much in your marriage as your husband’s needs. If there is something that is interfering with your desire for sex, it’s important to talk with him about it. That doesn’t mean to set it up an if-then situation (such as “if you would do the dishes, I would have sex with you more often”) because that is too much like making him go through hoops. Instead, it might mean that you say, “I struggle to make a transition from housework to sex, especially if I know the housework still needs to be done.” Ask if he is willing to load the dishwasher and wipe the counters while you take an hour to take a bubble bath and try to wash the day away from your mind.
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As I began to better understand my husband’s view of his sexuality and the emotional aspect of his desire for sex, I found that my own needs—to nurture and empathize—could help me respond to this understanding.
Your husband’s sexuality plays an important role in his life. Responding well to that can meet your needs as well as his. Isn’t a win-win situation far better than a constant battle?
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