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Should You Have Sex With Your Spouse When You Don't Want To?

What to do when one partner says "Go" and one partner says "No."

It’s not a good idea to force yourself to do anything that repels you. At the same time, you may want to push yourself to be experimental, especially if you have a loving and generous partner. Many people have to push themselves to get started, but once into lovemaking, enjoy it and feel more connected. This is especially true if they can take all the pressure off themselves and their partner, and assume a “let’s relax and just see what happens” attitude.

If you wait to have sex until one or both of you genuinely want to have sex, you’ll wait too long. The desire for sex easily goes into hibernation after marriage and especially for women after kids. The more time you let pass before engaging in sex, the harder it will be to start up again.

Having a truly loving partnership does not ensure that both parties want to have sex. Sex has a mind of its own. Good emotional intimacy in couples does not guarantee good sex. But things go downhill if the “No” partner assumes that it’s just fine to live in a sexless marriage, even if he or she is someone for whom sex is an enlivening essential force and means of connection.

To decide you won’t be a physical partner because you don’t feel like it is like your partner deciding that there will be no more conversation in the marriage because he or she is not a talker. On the sex front, there is probably something you can do that wouldn’t be too terribly difficult.

If you don’t want to have sex because your spouse hasn’t healed a serious betrayal, or isn’t a fair and respectful partner, you obviously need to address this. I’m not suggesting you have sex with someone who treats you in a demeaning or disrespectful way.

But if your partner is a good person, and a responsible citizen in the relationship, pushing yourself to have sex once in a while can keep your libido from going into deep freeze especially if children come along. There is often at least one person in a couple who will not feel a “natural urge” to initiate sex but may be able to get into it when they really try. If you’re not aroused, there’s still something to be said for doing something for your partner’s pleasure, and being open to enjoying the physical closeness.

If you truly believe that your relationship can operate as a platonic friendship over months, years, and decades to come, you can ignore this advice. But if you know in your heart that some sort of sex life is necessary for your relationship to thrive over time, grab this advice and go for it.

More from Harriet Lerner Ph.D.
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