This is the second of three articles in a series written by Christian Sex Therapist Dr. Michael Sytsma of Building Intimate Marriages, offering hope, encouragement, and direction to wives who have a stronger sexual drive than their husbands. In Part One, Dr. Sytsma encouraged these wives to first create a good environment for communication, make sure they are managing their own expectations, and not assume that their husband doesn’t care or has some unhealthy reason for his lower level of desire.
When She Has the Stronger Sex Drive; Part Two.
By Dr. Michael Sytsma
As you work on yourself (as encouraged in Part One), so that you can eventually address this issue in a healthy way, you will inevitably encounter the time in which you have to… well… address this issue in a healthy way.
So our focus in Part Two is this: Create a Good Process For Discussion
Most high-desire wives are so eager to “figure out what is going on,” that they try to jump right to diagnosing explanations without the internal and external preparation we’re discussing here, and without having a good process set up. This rarely works, and can actually lead to discouragement that never had to happen! Preparing well will set a much better foundation for success on this issue that is so important to you.
So here are five elements of a good process.
Element #1: Center Yourself And Resolve to Stay Calm
Your main area of power, mentioned in the first article in this series, focuses on centering yourself and staying calm as you think about the issues involved – and especially once you talk to your husband about it. Your husband’s lack of desire might not — and likely doesn’t — have anything to do with you. Recognizing that, avoiding the tendency to think otherwise, and deciding to stay even and balanced will provide the critical foundation you need to move forward.
Maintaining a steady demeanor will also provide the crucial safety factor that allows him to feel like he can take the risk of opening up to you. After all, this is a topic about which he probably already feels inadequate – which is often a man’s most painful feeling, even without being applied to an area so central to his sense of manhood. So, your husband is likely to be sensitive. If you resolve to stay calm and compassionate throughout the conversation (more on how to do that, below) it is far more likely that you’ll be able to discuss this topic not just once but over time as needed.
Element #2: Be Intentional About the Right Time and Place to Talk
Many couples seem to suppress their frustrations until they blow up, and then complain that the conversation escalated, or that their spouse shut down. A much better approach is to be intentional and plan a time to talk about the issue. This might mean a brief getaway, or just setting aside several hours to be together without the kids. Make it a time when you will both be rested and ready to focus on the issue at hand.
Element #3: Pray Before You Talk
I know many of you are in different places spiritually, and some will hold to different beliefs. But I’ve come to believe that the skills and attitude required to be a great spouse are not human. What I mean by that is that being truly humble, gracious, deeply respecting, cherishing, and appropriately assertive are truly “Christ-like” characteristics, more than they are natural human tendencies. Asking God to keep you centered and to take control of you and the discussion so you can truly understand and strengthen your husband’s heart can be critical as you seek success.
Element #4: When You Talk, Get Curious
When you finally sit down to talk, it is critical that you take on an attitude of curiosity. The research for Secrets of Sex & Marriage reinforced the importance of curiosity (see chapter 7). Rather than jumping to your own explanations for his behavior, work on leaning in and being curious. How does he explain it? Work on generating a dialogue with him. You aren’t there to problem solve just yet; you are there to understand. This isn’t about who is right or wrong, it’s about clearly hearing his explanation. The goal at this point is not to fix it, but to understand it. Later–after both spouses feel understood – you can begin to move toward solutions.
When approaching your husband with curiosity, remember that he may not be proud of his behavior or his level of drive. He hears many of the same cultural messages and stereotypes you do. Many husbands who are the low desire spouse feel a sense of shame that they don’t want to have sex with their wives more frequently. Shame is not a good motivator of open, healthy communication — or of healthy choices.
“Look at my wife. She is beautiful! What man wouldn’t want to climb into bed and enjoy her? What is wrong with me that I don’t?” That has been the heart cry of more than one husband in my office. For one, his wife was convinced he didn’t like her body, but that wasn’t his explanation. It took her quite a while to get past her fear to hear his cry of pain. But when she did, they were able to begin moving together to toward a solution.
Another landmine to watch out for when leaning in and being curious is his fear of opening up. This fear can come from a host of sources, including being afraid to really look within himself, bad experiences from sharing in the past (with you or others), or a fear of how you will handle it if he is honest. Your task is to do your best to create space for him to explore. Stay curious past his initial explanation. “Help me to understand” is a far better internal stance than, “Tell me what’s wrong so we can fix it.” Similarly, “You are wrong and need to change” pretty much never works. Some couples find it is easier to have some conversations through letter writing, email, or in front of a counselor. Work hard to make it safe for both of you to talk, even if it means absorbing some difficult information.
Element #5: Get Specialized Help If Necessary
It is vital to realize that your willingness to work hard to make it safe to talk, and your “resolve” to be calm and curious, may not be enough. The actual conversation is where the situation can get difficult and complex – and it is important to be wise about whether you’ll need outside help from the beginning. If something he says (or doesn’t say) throws you off center, might you – despite your good intentions — become reactive? (Blow up/cave in/run away?) If so, the conversation will go bad and cause more distance in your sex life. Similarly, you might stall out as a couple if he is not comfortable opening up to explore what he really wants sexually — or what he thinks the problem is. If you believe either of these is likely to be the case, seek out someone who can help the two of you talk through it. Just as you will need to feel heard, your husband needs to feel that his heart and manhood are safe going into this conversation.
Now You Can Explore the Explanations
Finally, now that you’ve set up a good, safe process, begin to explore explanations for his lower desire – or your higher desire. There are three possible explanations: his desire is normal, his desire is problematic, or your desire is problematic. We will address these explanations in the third and final segment of the series.
This article was also published at Patheos.
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