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Sex: More Work for Women?

How to get more participation, not to mention support and caring, from your partner.

It's no secret that women are often the agents for change in a relationship. The way things work nowadays, women often want more participation from their partner, whether in a social life or around the house or with family life; these are the expressions of support and caring women commonly seek. But often enough of their requests for change come out as complaints to their partners, who wind up being angry. What often follows is a relationship standoff and a sexual turnoff that drains everyone's energy.

What does it take for women to get what they want from their partner? I went back to relationship therapist Michele Weiner-Davis, author of The Sex-Starved Marriage .

Everyone has his or her own way of being loved. For some people it's through words, the things a partner says that make you feel cared for. For others it's kind deeds, perhaps a partner making you a cup of coffee in the morning or putting on your snow tires speaks volumes about love and caring. For others the love is communicated through touch and sex, snuggling next to one another on the couch or giving back rubs.

The mistake couples make in relationships is that they usually speak their own relationship language instead of their partner's. If your spouse understands love through touch, "you can stand on your head and buy all the Hallmark cards and bring all the cups of coffee until the cows come home," says Weiner-Davis, "but it's not going to be heard."

She contends that it's not a matter of women doing all the work; it's a matter of working smarter, not harder. Which means giving in terms of what your partner wants and needs.

"Women tell me they've tried everything, they're really fed up," Weiner-Davis confides. "But what they're really telling me is that they've said everything." She thinks it's unfair that most everything about improving communication in relationships is geared to helping people improve their verbal skills—when in fact most communication is nonverbal. As important as it is for men to improve their verbal skills, it's equally important for women to live more in the world of action, as men generally are more oriented to acts.

Once people feel secure, loved, wanted through touch, they allow themselves to be open and vulnerable on many different levels. They allow themselves to invest emotionally, something they are not likely to do unless they feel centered by touch.

Giving to your partner what your partner needs is not an act of selflessness. It is enlightened self-interest. You get back in many ways. There is, of course, the direct sexual benefit. The relationship benefits because intimacy is enhanced; your partner is more likely to open up verbally as a result of feeling connected physically. It creates energy, so you feel more alive. And self-perception benefits, because it increases your sense of yourself as a vital, sexual human being.

How do you know when it's time to stop talking and start doing? "When you realize you've talked about your feelings, you've explained things over and over, you've threatened, blamed, and still nothing you've said has made a difference, it's time to stop talking and pretend your partner can't hear a word that you're saying," says Weiner-Davis. Do something as an experiment.

"When I advise women to become more sexual, it's not just a matter of initiating more intercourse, although that's on the short list of things to do," she notes. "It's also a matter of making someone feel wanted. Flirting. Complimenting. Putting energy into the way you dress and the way you carry yourself. Put little sexual innuendoes into notes and leave them around the house in places the kids can't get at. They keep the passion and fire alive—and they work."

Lots of women know—but they are just holding out until their partner changes. And vice versa. It's human nature to feel that you will be kind to your partner if you feel that your partner is putting effort into being loving to you. There's always the fear that if you give first you're not going to get back.

But holding out for your partner to make a move first is counterproductive. It makes it less likely your partner is going to take care of you. When you hold out you trigger in your spouse the feeling that he has to take care of himself, not you. He becomes defensive. In men that often comes out as anger or withdrawal.

There's another good reason why you should not wait for your spouse to be the first to change. Doing so puts the entire power of the relationship in your spouse's hands. In fact, you have options; there's something you can do that can make a difference in how your partner treats you, in how you feel about yourself and about the relationship.