What am I supposed to do with disparity in libido when my wife sees me as the only problem?

What am I supposed to do with disparity in libido when my wife sees me as the only problem? December 10, 2009

One question will seemingly not go away in our marriage: How does a Mormon man reconcile the physiological need for regular orgasms with his wife’s belief that not only are they not important, but that his need for them is somehow evidence of his sinfulness?

We are both in our early forties, have 3 kids and have been married for nearly 20 years.

Currently, we are having sex once every 6 to 8 weeks. I most assuredly want sexual intimacy far more often than this. She does not. When we actually do make love, it is a wonderful and fulfilling experience for both of us. She comes to orgasm easily and it is usually a great bonding experience for both of us. I’ve been getting VERY tired of trying to seduce her when the answer is always no. So I wait for WEEKS until, I suspect, she feels guilty enough to suggest it herself. She simply does not want it any more frequently than 10 12 times a year right now. And she thinks that’s entirely normal.

The weeks in between our encounters, she is either too busy, too tired or just not emotionally able to “go there.”

My suggestion that she just take a few moments to “help me out” (just be present and even just a little involved with a few moments of self stimulation) is, at best met with

capitulatory, but disapproving tolerance (does that make sense?), but more commonly, I’m made to feel that there is something sinful or wrong with me that I would require orgasms with that frequency. I’d be OK with 2 or 3 a week; If I were to get daily attention from her, I’d wonder if I had died and gone to heaven.

I’ve read various places, including this blog, that the real issues only arise when masturbation becomes a substitute or counterfeit for intimacy. I don’t think this is not the case with me. I have essentially ALWAYS had my wife as the focus of my self stimulation, even when she was not present for it.

I would VERY much prefer her to be a part of the process, but she seems to have at least a mild aversion to participating.

I made the mistake a couple of times of suggesting that she discuss the issue with her gynecologist just so that she could “see if there might be a problem” (with hormone levels, etc.). These suggestions are usually met with a short lecture on how we are no different than nearly all other married couples in our frequency as well as stresses, especially couples our age.

As a faithful Mormon man, what am I supposed to do with this disparity in libido between us when she sees me as the only problem?

It is unfortunate to see how easily we can take our marriages for granted. If we are truly committed to this idea of being “equally yoked” then it is imperative that we be willing to do the following:
  • Be complimentary and uplifting to the other: “build up rather than break down”
  • Be honest and open about things that we are not happy with (without using the blame game or personal attacks).
  • LISTEN and empathize to the other when it comes to the issues they bring up (put the shoe on the other foot).
  • Compromise!!!! Marriage is not just about what “I” want – it’s about what “we” want. Her needs are legitimate and so are yours.
  • Take responsibility for one’s own role in the relationship.
  • Have realistic expectations and not fall into “fantasy traps” (namely how wonderful it would be being married to someone else).
  • Overlook minute differences or imperfections while focusing on strengths of the other.
Therefore, one person is never the “only problem” in any relationship. Relationships are made up of a collection of interactions between two people or more. These interactions over time get clumped into patterns that can be difficult to break when necessary.

Your wife is correct in saying that many couples struggle with stress, economics, time management, children, etc., etc. This is exactly why it is so important to make the time to prioritize the couple relationship. We are encouraged by church leaders to have a date night EVERY WEEK. For many this is a foreign or overwhelming concept. I many times encourage couples who are having a hard time fitting sex in to actually schedule specific “sex nights.” Some think this may take the spontaneity or romance out of the process, but most don’t find this to be the case. In fact knowing a sex night is coming up can help psychologically with getting into the right mindset and mood.

Sexual relations between a husband and a wife are actually VERY important. We have been taught through the gospel that sex serves two purposes: to bring children into the world and to increase the bond in a marriage. It is not sinful to be sexual. It is not sinful to expect a sexual relationship within a marriage. It is not sinful to want to have or enjoy an orgasm with your spouse. In fact studies show that couples who report being satisfied with their sex lives are also in better physical and emotional health. I am encouraged by the fact that you report your wife enjoying sexual encounters when you do have them. This means she is more than likely not facing any physical limitations or disorders.

The frequency you describe does put you in the category of having a “sexless marriage” as described by most mental health professionals. Statistically most married couples report having sex between once a week to once every two weeks, although there is some ambiguity in these numbers (see articles below). As far as age, there should be very little if anything impeding your sexuality in your forties. In fact many women report a sexual surge in this stage of life due to the fact that they are usually done with childbirth and its accompanying factors by this time.

As far as some specific recommendations for your situation:
  • Are you openly communicating with your wife regarding these issues and how they make you feel? I would highly encourage you to do so using “I” statements and a non-blaming stance (i.e. “There are so many things that are wonderful about our marriage and look at this amazing family we’ve created. At the same time, as you probably already know, I am frustrated with the frequency of our sex life. I have a hard time understanding why we don’t connect more on this since we both seem to enjoy ourselves when we do have sex. I love having sex with you. You are amazing! You are beautiful! I get the sense however, that you disapprove of my wanting to share this connection with you more often. Do you feel this way or is this just my perception? I don’t want to pressure you or make you feel uncomfortable, but I don’t want to feel bad about myself because of this either. I feel rejected when you turn me away and it’s gotten to the point where I’m afraid to even approach you sexually. This is not how I want us to go forward. I think we have a lot of untapped potential in this area. I need your affection, both sexual and non-sexual, to feel loved and valued. What are your ideas of how we can resolve this? What are some ways we can compromise? Here are some articles I would like you to read and then maybe we can discuss if anything applies to us. I would really appreciate any efforts on this.”).
  • Be open to asking her what SHE is not happy or satisfied with. What changes would she like to see?
  • Reevaluate your courtship of your wife. Are you spending time and energy planning dates, doing small romantic things (i.e. writing a love letter, sending flowers, etc.), helping her with things around the home, etc. In all my work with couples I have seen great results when the male is willing to take on the traditional role of romantic pursuer.
  • Initiate several “non-sexual” encounters that are physical (i.e., a make-out session that only involves kissing, spooning her in bed as you go to sleep, holding hands while watching a TV show, give her a massage, etc.). Do these things truly and sincerely not expecting sex. There is so much power behind our intentions.
  • Compliment her in ways that highlight her sexuality (i.e. you look so curvy in that dress, you are so sexy, I love how you feel, I love how you look at me, you excite me, etc.)
  • Compliment her in ways that are not necessarily sexual (i.e. you are such a kind person, your eyes are beautiful, you are an amazing mother, your smile brightens my day, etc.)
  • Express your love often. Saying you love her, especially attached to good eye contact and sincerity is incredibly powerful.
  • Be aware that these types of efforts may feel “corny,” “cheesy” or unnatural at first (especially if you’ve not done them before). But the more you do them and essentially “practice,” the more results you will see, the closer you will feel, and the more intimate you will become.
  • Don’t give up on initiating sex. But make sure you take the time for necessary foreplay (both physical and emotional). It is just a biological fact that it takes women more time to “heat up.” Including or increasing the verbal communication during sex can be powerful for both of you.
  • Going to therapy can always be a useful step for couples where you will be offered insight, tips, education, etc. Just having a place where you can objectively discuss things such as your sexual history/education/religious-influence can open up doors to a deeper mutual understanding of where you both come from, what you’re up against, and where you want to go from here.
  • As far as masturbation, I would encourage you not to do so without your wife’s knowledge. Dishonesty and/or secrecy always drive a deeper wedge, which is exactly the opposite of what you need right now. And by the way, mild aversion is a lot better than complete aversion. It sounds like at least your wife’s been willing to join you in the past which shows some level of willingness on her part to get creative and meet your needs when maybe she’d rather be doing something else. Patience is definitely part of any sexual solution. And although you may find temporary relief through masturbating, it is not going to solve the relational issues that you report having.
Good luck and keep me posted if you feel comfortable doing so.

Some articles you may find useful:

A wonderful article written by Brent A. Barlow for the Ensign with some great advice for both husbands and wives on the issue of sexual intimacy:

“The selfish individual has a passion for the vertical pronoun I. Significantly, the vertical pronoun I has no knees to bend, while the first letter in the pronoun we does.”

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