I have been married to the most patient, kind, loving, gentle man I’ve ever met for almost 10 years. When we first were married we were very active with our sexual intimacy, but as time has gone on and a few kids later, work, school, depression medications – I just don’t feel like being intimate very often. I could honestly go a month and not be interested. My husband, of course, stands ready at a moment’s notice.
We are still affectionate toward one another – kisses and hugs. He says he can’t cuddle because he just wants more. I don’t want to have to “put out” just for a cuddle. How often should I be willing to be intimate with him so that he has his needs fulfilled, and how am I going to get my cuddling in without having to do intimate things?
I’m not going to attempt to guess how often you should be sexually intimate with your husband. This runs the risk of turning your sex life into a negotiation and making it feel more transactional. You’ll likely both feel more disconnected from each other if you’re only giving to get something back from your spouse. I hear your love for your husband, and I also hear the frustration, so let’s talk about some other ways to approach your concerns.
I love that you guys have a strong relationship and that you are so complimentary of your husband. Unfortunately, as you can see, sexual intimacy can sometimes feel complicated even when the relationship is strong. Healthy sex requires more than just having good feelings toward each other. Learning how to fully engage your body, mind, emotions, relationship and spirits can have a significant impact on the quality of your sexual experience.
Even though it’s normal for married couples with kids to experience a decrease in sexual frequency, it doesn’t mean you have to settle for a less-than-satisfying sexual connection. It’s also an opportunity to deepen your nonsexual connection.
Perhaps you’ve both decided that sex is “his thing” and that cuddling is “your thing.” Are you both okay believing this? Do you both want to expand your ability to enjoy all forms of physical closeness? Is sex difficult for you? Or is it more about having low desire? Does he only consider sex as connection, or is he capable of staying physically close to you without sex?
This is a good opportunity for you and your husband to shift out of the all-or-nothing mentality of sex. Many well-intentioned couples view sex as a pass/fail experience and often feel anxious and dissatisfied. Both the low desire spouse and high desire spouse can feel anxious, resentful, fearful and ashamed when sex is viewed as the pinnacle of connection.
Even though sexual connection is a healthy part of marriage, removing the pressure of it being the ideal way to connect can free both of you up to have more options.
Sex therapist and author Barry McCarthy recommends couples view sex on a continuum of connection that includes dozens of other ways to experience playfulness, connection and security. Instead of seeing each level of connection as a road leading to sex, he recommends that couples allow themselves to savor each form of connection instead of feeling the pressure to always organize around whether sex happens.
When you have this kind of flexibility in your intimacy, it gives you more options, especially when sexual intercourse isn’t available due to health, childbirth, aging or other issues.
It can be helpful to talk with your husband about all of the different ways you both like to connect with each other and feel close to each other. Encourage complete honesty so each of you is taking charge of what you need for your own personal style. You can work to influence each other for good by learning how to adapt to each other’s different preferences.
He might learn how to be more nonsexually connected to you, and you may open up to being more sexually connected. If each of you discover specific barriers that keep you from moving around on the continuum of connection, then take personal responsibility to address those so you don’t get stuck in a limited way of connecting with each other.
Of course, if you’re worried about your own sexual desire and want to explore how to increase it, there are great resources to support you. It’s also helpful to recognize that certain medications can kill your sex drive, so make sure you’re aware of side effects and pursuing a treatment protocol that supports your goals.
You’re wanting your husband to be responsive to you by staying close to you without pressure for sex, and he’s longing for you to stay close to him through sexual intercourse. Both of these preferences are healthy and can enrich your connection as you care about what the other needs. Continue to explore ways to feel the love and responsiveness from each other without getting locked into a narrow scorekeeping schedule of “sex or no sex.”
You both have needs that are deeper than snuggling or sex. There may be a need for fun, connection, stability, adventure, security, novelty and so on. The more you understand each other’s longings the more you’ll get out of this limited range of physical expression.
Geoff Steurer is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity” and is the founding director of LifeSTAR of St. George, a three phase treatment program for individuals and couples healing from the effects of pornography and sexual addiction. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice in St. George, UT. He specializes in working with couples in all stages of their relationships. He also specializes in working with individuals and couples dealing with any form of sexual betrayal. He has been married to his wife, Jody, since 1996 and they are the parents of four children. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.