We have young kids, and often I’m so exhausted that I just want to go to sleep without my husband trying to start something. Most of the time I have absolutely no interest in sex late at night, after running afternoon carpool, juggling karate and ballet lessons, making dinner, helping with homework (my husband helps too), and returning work emails. But my husband gets upset when I tell him to please leave me alone. Seriously? It’s nothing personal! What do I do? And please don’t say, “Have sex every day” or I just may toss this computer out the window.
Dear Too Tired,
Don’t worry! That advice is not what I would say! But for the sake of your marriage, I do want to give you some perspective that our tired female brains sometimes completely miss.
It may seem that putting dear hubby off for another night isn’t that big of a deal. As you put it, it isn’t personal. In other words… we women tend to think that, for him, sex is primarily a physical need. In the same way that sleep is a physical need!
Well, actually, for him…. no.
I was shocked in my research with thousands of men that sex is actually primarily a powerful emotional need for men. It meets a very deep need in a man to feel that his wife desires him – a need that hits at the core of who he is, and is thus far more central to his sense of emotional well-being (and thus the marriage relationship!) than most women realize.
Being intimate with your husband tells him he’s desirable, which, believe it or not, gives him that oh-so-necessary sense of confidence and well-being in all the other areas of life. One husband I interviewed explained, “What happens in the bedroom really does affect how I feel the next day at the office.”
And it works the other way, too. Your “please leave me alone” probably makes your husband feel like “you are so undesirable you can’t even compete with my pillow.” Looking at it from his standpoint, that is a depressing message. Do you see how responding—or not responding—tells your husband something emotionally important in a way you never realized?
The men often used this analogy: a lack of being physically intimate is as emotionally serious to a man as a lack of togetherness would be to you. It would be similar to how lonely and abandoned you would feel if he suddenly started giving you the silent treatment and stopped communicating.
Now, all that said: we all realize it is sometimes just difficult to get in the mood for intimacy. It is sometimes difficult even to think about enjoying it when we are tired, stressed, dealing with the kids, worried about work, and so on. So I’m sure you don’t intend to send a rejection message to your man night after night.
But he doesn’t know that. He simply feels rejected. And because feeling desired is so tied in to how he feels about himself, it is personal.
So for the sake of not only him but your relationship, it is probably worth it to find ways to address this. Help him understand YOU and how you need anticipation time to get in the mood (take a look at my recent column about that). Or tell him it would help if he’d do the karate and ballet run – and then show him later that you mean it! Talk to him about what would make this more feasible for you.
Don’t worry – there’s no reason to think this means “every day!” Every couple has their own pattern. But if you have gone weeks without being together, be aware that your husband, the person you love most in the world, probably isn’t feeling truly loved and affirmed by you. Thankfully when you find ways to get engaged in this way, I think you’ll truly enjoy watching the difference it makes; not only in his demeanor but the whole relationship.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and relationships, including For Women Only, For Men Only and her newest, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages. A Harvard-trained social researcher and speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Shaunti speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and corporate events. Learn more about speaking inquiries here.