HIM: Generally, we think of our job as spreading good news, but sometimes the contrast between the sexually free life we’re describing and the life people are actually living can be depressing. I understand that feeling all too well. Sex was a source of frustration and disappointment in my 20-plus year marriage, and any time I heard even a hint of other couples enjoying a free and creative love life, I felt a pang of jealousy.Although it was a source of resentment at the time, I now recognize that those experiences were indispensable in getting me to the place where I am now. How should I put this: to find the promised land, the first thing you need to know is that there actually is a promised land. If it doesn’t overwhelm you, the bittersweet ache of longing can provide the impetus to make difficult changes. That’s definitely how it worked for me. We recently received a letter from a reader of The Monogamish Marriage in response to our article on The Quantified Sex Life. When I read it, I realized that I could have written it almost word for word 10 years ago. Here is exactly what he said, and how we responded:
Guys, I am reading this and I feel so sad !!! I am 33 years old, my wife is 30, and I am the high libido partner. Today is feb 23 and we have had sex a maximum of 5 times this year. I feel depressed, I feel misunderstood, I even feel bad for wanting to have sex with her often. I find myself masturbating and it doesn’t feel right. I love my wife very, very, very much and I am sure that many of our problems/fights will fade away only if we were more intimate. I am writing this and I wanna cry, I have no clue of what to do, I only know that I’ve been carrying this burden for the last 13 years that we have been together 🙁 She is traditional when it comes to sex, no oral sex, not a fan of new positions, and not even close to anything from behind. On my end I want to explore so many things, new experiences, travel to hedo, going to sex clubs and so on. Any word of advice?
Lonely in Love
Dear Lonely in Love,
HER: Our hearts went out to you as we read your note and discussed it at length this morning. We are not psychologists or therapists. We have no clinical training, but we are a happy couple who can share our experience and observations.
First of all, we don’t think you should feel badly about your feelings. Sex is a wonderful thing that gives pleasure and brings people closer together. You want to share an amazing experience with your wife. That’s not selfish.
Secondly, although it may not appear so, keep in mind that your wife is a fully sexual being. She has all the same nerve endings that you do (science says more!), and an imagination that is capable of erotic fantasy. However, the forces that prevent her from loving sex the way you do are very strong. Usually it has to do with how a person was raised, their early experiences with sex, or their mental health: things that you cannot control.
HIM: There is one thing you can control, however, and that is communication. Although it might sound dismally unromantic, marriage is a little like a business deal: I’ll give you what you want if you give me what I want. That means you have to start by understanding your wife’s expectations of you and her love language. We could guess at the typical things – more help with house work, regular date nights, etc – but she is an individual and you have to ask her. She might surprise you. Once you know, you can get to work on turning her wishes into reality.
HER: So let’s assume you are giving your wife what she wants from your marriage. Now you have to tell her what you want. Have you ever shared with her how important sex is to you, how it’s so much more than just a physical act? Have you described the sadness and isolation you feel? You did everything in your note that the experts say you should: you expressed your feelings and perspectives without casting blame, and you were very specific about what you would like. I would suggest giving her a note like that to read. (I would give it to her and then leave the house, maybe ask her to write her response down, so she can process what it says without feeling defensive when you’re face to face and wanting to argue with you.)
HIM: But you have to be prepared for a negative response. There is a good chance she might not be able to relate to your desire for more sex. She may think that it is simply not that important, that you’re being selfish, and that you should just get over it. If that is the case, try showing her this excellent Ted Talk from Michelle Weiner-Davis. She is a marriage therapist who understands your frustration perfectly, advocating the Nike-inspired ‘Just Do It’ approach. In her view, having sex is an active decision you make, not a matter of waiting passively for special feelings to appear. It might help your wife to hear this message from another woman.
HER: Now, if your wife is willing to make a change, she has two challenges ahead of her:
First, she has to be willing to have more sex. If she expects you to be faithful, she is really saying that she will be your only sexual option. Which means it’s not fair that she gets to dictate all the terms. There needs to be compromise where your needs are taken into consideration as much as hers. If you’re having sex once a week, but you want it four times, consider proposing that you commit to having sex two nights a week, and let her choose when. She might be surprised at how her body responds even if her mind isn’t fully engaged.
Second, she has to be open to broadening her sexual horizons. Your concerns are not just with the quantity of sex, but the quality. Being able to freely express yourself sexually is important. Sex is like a conversation, and no one wants to hear that certain topics are off limits. It should be the same with sex.
Showing your wife one of our articles might be a good ice-breaker. Discussing strangers’ sex lives can be a non-threatening way to begin talking about the touchy subjects in your own. We’ve had several readers tell us that we’ve clearly expressed some of the things they haven’t been able to put into words for their partner. Let us open the conversation for you.
HIM: If, after all that, nothing changes, then you might have to admit that your marriage is already over. You could stay for another 40 years, but the heart of the marriage — the part where two people do everything in their power to make each other happy — might be over. In spite of your love for each other, she has put her needs before yours. And, even if she has very valid reasons for doing that, it doesn’t change your experience. Suppressing your true nature for someone you love will lead to resentment. Porn, massage parlors and affairs are not viable long-term alternatives either. Let me save you some wasted effort: I tried them all, and they don’t satisfy.
You’re young but you’ve already spent 13 years feeling unsatisfied. Don’t think that comes without a price. My first wife’s subtle rejections — even though she really did love me in her own way — sunk in. My sense of pride, attractiveness, and self worth were damaged in those years.
Eventually, I left that marriage and found a woman who is a wonderful, practical life partner and who also happens to be crazy about sex. These women really do exist. I used to believe most women weren’t really into sex, and that my situation was common, but I’ve now met so many fantastic women who embrace their high libidos with abandon. My current wife and I are living an amazing life together, but it took the painful road of walking away from my marriage to find her.
HER: The part of your letter that jumped off the page for me was that you said you love your wife “very, very, very much.” I have to believe that a man who feels that way will inspire the same kind of love in his wife. With that foundation, you two have the best chance of making a change that you can both be happy with. But you must try together. We wish you the best and hope that you will write back to let us know how things turn out.
Liam & Kate are a married couple, very much in love, writing honestly and insightfully about their adventures in the world of non-monogamy.