Although my wife and I rarely have sex, neither of us minds much. For a long time we were preoccupied with our kids, our business and some family illnesses. Not having sex became a habit, and now we don't really miss it. But I have to believe that a sexless marriage isn't what God intended. If neither of us desires a lot of sex, how can we both get more interested?
Louis: This is well-worn advice, but "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!" From what you say, you and your wife have a comfortable and meaningful relationship. If you feel satisfied that your relational needs are being met, I wouldn't worry much about your sexual frequency.
Melissa: But are you certain you're speaking for both of you? Sometimes you can assume you know what your mate thinks or feels—and then be very surprised when you find out you're wrong. You apparently have enough doubts to prompt this question. Your wife may also have some unspoken wishes or longings. Have a good, long talk about it. That could lead you both to an even more fulfilling marriage.
Louis: If you and your wife decide to increase your interest and frequency, talking about it is the place to begin rekindling your sex life. Talk about your feelings about sex. Talk about what is or has been romantic for each of you. Brainstorm things you can do that will draw you closer in an affectionate way.
You mentioned God's intention for sex. God wants us to become "one." It's our culture that defines oneness primarily as sexual. Because of that, many other aspects of oneness aren't emphasized. It's not uncommon for sexual drive to diminish and intercourse to be replaced by other acts of affection and love. Melissa and I really enjoy taking a walk on a beach or in the woods holding hands. If that closeness leads to something else, that's okay. If it doesn't, that's okay, too.
Sex as a Bargaining Chip
My husband and I plodded along for years in our marriage. Then, two years ago, he had to work out-of-state for an extended period. Since he came back home, he's been talking about how unhappy he has always been with the way we communicate—especially with how much we fight. Plus, he won't have sex with me. It's like his bargaining chip—no sex until I change. This really ticks me off, since he's blaming me for all our problems. Any suggestions?
Louis: This may sound insensitive, but I'm glad your husband decided to shake things up. Often couples plod along without connecting in meaningful ways. That's a dangerous pattern, because it can easily end in adultery. A mate feels lonely and frustrated and is attracted to someone else, hoping to find a more satisfying match.
Your husband has said (in so many words), "Let's stop the old dance and learn to tango." The "old dance" involves unproductive ways of communicating and unfulfilling behavior patterns. He wants more from your relationship—and that's good.
Ideally, you should try marriage counseling, which would help you both understand where these negative patterns come from. Counseling would also help you replace old patterns with more effective communication skills, understand your expectations, meet each other's needs, and learn to connect better sexually. For most couples, their sex life is a barometer of the rest of the relationship.
Melissa: Whether or not you get into counseling, we can offer a few new "steps" for you to try. First, take responsibility for yourself. Neither you nor anybody else can control another person, especially a husband. So it's important for you to change your part in the old dance.
Second, we recommend that you read the book Connecting with Self and Others (Interpersonal Communication), by Miller, et al. Read it just for you, not for your husband.
Finally, identify your husband's love language and try speaking it more effectively. For help with that, you might try Gary Chapman's book The Five Love Languages (Northfield). Whether your new dance turns out to be a tango or a polka, you're going to thank your husband (someday) for wanting to replace the old steps.
My husband doesn't enjoy kissing. When I kiss him, he pulls away quickly. I love kissing and miss it. He just seems to think it's "icky." This is a first marriage for me, but a second marriage for my husband. Is there anything we can do?
Louis: Don't be offended by this question, but have you checked your breath? Seriously! One simple reason some mates don't like to kiss is that their husband or wife has chronic bad breath. Ask a very good friend or your dentist. There are ways your dentist can help alleviate that problem.
If you pass the "breath test," ask your husband what it is about kissing that he finds "icky."
Melissa: If he doesn't like kissing, what does he like? Major on those things. That will say to him, "You are important to me, and I want to please you." You will then have a happier man (and it's a lot more fun living with a happy man). Maybe someday he'll change his mind about kissing, or kiss you just as a gift to you. In the meantime, take an adventure in unselfishness by providing what pleases him most.
Marriage is kind of a laboratory in which we're becoming more Christlike by becoming more selfless. When you're serving, caring, being considerate and giving up your own wants, you're practicing what it means to be like Christ—and you do this in many aspects of your relationship, not just sexually. Although you're being unselfish, there are positive results for you. Happiness is an excellent byproduct of your giving behaviors. The dividends for you are rich.
Melissa and Louis McBurney, M.D., are marriage therapists and co-founders of Marble Retreat in Marble, Colorado, where they counsel clergy couples.
1998 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. For reprint information call 630-260-6200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.