As Leslie settled into bed, more than ready for a good night’s sleep, Todd walked into the bedroom and gave her “the look” she knew so well—the sly grin and twinkle in his eye that meant he had romance on his mind. Leslie tried not to let a sigh slip out. After running afternoon carpool, juggling karate and ballet lessons, making dinner, helping with homework, and returning work emails, she was so exhausted that she had zero interest in sex. She just wanted to go to sleep without Todd trying to start something. But she knew from experience that he would get upset if she told him to please leave her alone. It’s nothing personal! she thought, I’m just… so… tired.
As a perpetually exhausted wife and mother, you might feel the same way some nights—or even most nights. For the sake of Leslie’s marriage—and yours—I want to provide some perspective that our tired female brains sometimes completely miss.
It might seem that putting dear hubby off for another night isn’t that big of a deal. As Leslie puts 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! Right? Well, actually, for him…. no. It’s much more than that.
Sex is a powerful emotional need for men.
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. (Ladies, if you have the higher drive in your marriage, check out our special article series “When She Has the Stronger Sex Drive.”)
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.”
Being physically intimate is as important to your man as being emotionally intimate is to you.
And it works the other way, too. Your (spoken or implied) “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 might never have 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 or communication 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.
Find ways to engage sexually that meet your needs and your husband’s needs.
Now, all that said: we all realize that sometimes it’s just difficult to get in the mood for intimacy. Sometimes it’s difficult to even think about enjoying it when we’re 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. 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’s 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 column about that). Or tell him it would help if he’d handle the kids’ transportation for the day—and then show him later that you mean it! Talk to him about what would make this more feasible for you.
Don’t worry—this doesn’t have to mean sex every day! Every couple has their own pattern. But if you’ve 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.
Looking for encouragement for your life and relationships? Learn about the little things that make a big difference in every relationship, from marriages to parenting. Subscribe to updates from Shaunti here!
Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her latest book, Find Peace: A 40-day Devotional Journey For Moms, focuses on discovering biblical direction to become a woman of serenity and delight in all seasons – and have impact for generations to come.
Visit www.shaunti.com for more.