Contingent problem-solving results in lonely, sexless marriages. Power struggles in marriage impact physical intimacy every day. When the answer to "do you want to make love?" is "no" — little compromise seems to be present. When your partner cranes their neck to see the screen when you are talking, the heart freezes and often the body with it.
We feel locked into our responses because our partner seemingly withholds the very thing we need to have in order to want to give what they need. If love is spelled S-E-X; it feels like an essential prerequisite in order to open up emotionally. If emotional connection is our primary love language, then without time and talk we feel shut down sexually. We think our partner asks for too much. Giving too little seems justified.
Our reaction seems absolutely dependent on the way our spouse acts in most conflicts. "I'm only angry because you have acted irresponsibly." "I'm withdrawn because all you do is criticize me." "I would be enthusiastic if you would give me something to get excited about." "I would respect you; if only you weren't lazy." If our partner does something insulting, hurtful, or stupid, and there's seems to be only one option — do it back." Our partner's weakness is the very thing we hate about them. Our actions are predicated on their actions. It's the only thing that makes sense to us. And it keeps us apart.
We want our partner to change before we do. We want to see some evidence of their heart's commitment to us. We want them to go first.
During the power-struggle season of coupleship, we would rather starve ourselves than give our partner what they need. We may like a little affection too, but damned if we'll reach out to soothe their aching body. Unburdening our worries seems like a luxury but we don't trust our spouse to safe-keep the secrets of our job much less our heart. Trusting them again to do their part seems as foolish as Charlie Brown trusting Lucy to not pull out the football.
There is a way out. Unhook the two seemingly connected problems. Don't wait for change on your spouse's part. What you feel does not have to determine your actions. Ask yourself three things:
- Is there any truth to your partner's complaint (s)?
- Will meeting your partner's need make you a better person in any way?
- Do you want your partner to be happier?
If you can say yes to 2 out of 3 questions then it's time to make a change. Does it all seem so unromantic? For many of us sexual desire happens after arousal and warm emotions emerge after forging through periods of anxious initiation.
If you are a sexual distancer, don't wait for the butterfly of desire to light on your shoulder. Go ahead, bid your own body's response by starting to give a massage. Giving sexually doesn't mean waiting for an optimal moment. Find a benign moment instead, since during the power struggle stage warm feelings can be difficult to come by. Create the hot feelings by summoning your own sexual power rather than waiting for your partner to spark some interest. If your partner needs more sex; it's a soulless response to just give over your body as a masturbatory tool. Develop your own erotic core.
Can't think of a single topic that won't start a fight? Read several PT blogs and find something unusual to mention (we've got plenty to say!). Become aware of the ways "quiet", and "down-time" and "relaxation" might be code for avoidance. Ask your partner about their day and murmur something every few sentences. TELL your partner about your day. Question yourself about the last time you revealed something vulnerable to your partner or asked them about their inner feelings about anything. Look up when your partner enters the room and smile. Initiate regular blocks of time for being together. Listening means attention, caring and involvement not just being able to say the words back.
Give without watching for the reward for a designated period of your own choosing (probably longer than a month and shorter than forever). Don't ask for credit that you are changing. Just do and see what happens. Then when they start to be different, resist thinking, "well, it's too little and too late." Delay the impulse to put the whole conflict in motion again with this reaction. Receive graciously the first tentative offerings toward peace.
Link for more help from Laurie Watson with Marriage Counseling in Raleigh, Cary, Greensboro and Chapel Hill, NC. Laurie’s book Wanting Sex Again is available on Amazon!