To feel like having sex, a woman needs to feel loved. To feel loved, a man needs to have sex.
In the past 50 years, gender roles have been reinvented, with women following career paths outside the home and becoming breadwinners. Meanwhile, men are taking on more domestic duties, sharing childrearing, and even giving up careers in favor of their wives’ careers.
On one hand, women like and demand this equality.
On the other hand, somewhere in the subconscious, this can make women less interested in having sex, as recently reported in the New York Times. Deep down inside, most women want their men to be manly, and seeing their men being domestic can temper their sexual interest.
It’s a Catch-22 for men, or at least those who wish to try to live by new egalitarian expectations.
And it’s not one that can be cured by being nicer, bringing more flowers and gifts, or doing more around the house to help take more stress off our wives.
How do we bring back the spark, improve intimacy and build closeness?
Sex is part of it. If you aren’t having a satisfying sex life, neither partner is feeling good. Intimacy is down. And it flows through to the rest of your relationship.
We all have different aspects of ourselves that we need to nourish. If we are out of balance, with some parts of ourselves being unsatisfied, it ripples through to the rest of lives and our relationships.
Let’s use a bad analogy. Let’s suppose we’re a tree. (Admittedly, sometimes us guys are difficult to distinguish from plant life.) To thrive, we need water, soil, air, and sunlight. We also need warm weather and to not be in the path of a bulldozer. If all of those conditions are met, we’re pretty happy flora, doing our thing, photosynthesizing, adding rings, providing shade, maybe giving off fruit.
But, if aren’t getting what we need, we can wither and die, sometimes very quickly.
Our relationships are the same.
If we’re getting love, affection, emotional support, shared purpose, appreciation, the satisfaction of a mutually rewarding relationship, as well as regular and good sex, then we’re probably doing pretty well.
But, if we’re missing some or all of these things, we are under stress.
If we’ve built up goodwill in our relationship, then a bad day now and then happens and is no big deal. But repeated bad days that turn into bad weeks, months and years can lead to the end of a relationship.
If our spouse doesn’t appreciate us, or we just feel that way, maybe we stop giving appreciation back. We stop talking. Little resentments build up, and silence grows.
Negative feedback loops build.
Relationships wither. Intimacy ends. Sex stops. And maybe the marriage implodes.
So what’s the answer?
The answer, simply, is that to bring back the spark we all need to look at the different aspects of our relationships constantly, and do the work that’s required to keep things healthy.
And, as hard as it may be, sometimes we have to have hard talks.
We have to communicate.
If something is bothering you, or your spouse, you have to talk about it.
Personally, I hate conflict.
I also hate talking about my feelings and emotions. But we have to.
We have to talk about our expectations. So often, we never do.
We also have to talk about how we talk
Sometimes, my wife might tell me, not so nicely, “pick that up and put it in the trashcan.”
This causes a waterfall of thoughts and emotions in me.
To her, it’s just a reasonable, instinctual request to me to keep our home looking clean, that of course I’d just do.
To me, it’s an affront to my primitive brain and manhood. I feel like she’s ordering me around, and implying that I’m an idiot, irresponsible and uncaring. If I say something, she’ll also feel I’m unreasonable, oversensitive and a jerk. To her, it was a simple request. Me, I saw it as an order. And I am not her subordinate to be ordered around.
But we can work it out; I can explain how it made me feel, and why, and next time, she’ll instead say, “Could you remember to throw that in the trashcan when you’re done? You know how clutter drives me crazy.” She makes it a request, and explains why she it’s important to her. It’s no longer just an order.
We’ve had plenty of conversations just like that. Honestly, they’re not always easy and can trigger emotions. And I hate talking about how it makes me “feel.” It seems wussy. But afterwards, we understand each other better, we proved we care and respect each other enough to have the conversation… and we both get what we want.
Therapists say that preceding such discussions with “I feel…” takes a lot of the threat out of statements in such discussions, by making it clear it’s the speaker’s perceptions and emotions being discussed, not the actual behavior of the other person. This makes things less confrontational, and if not always easier, at least helps.
And another thing couples should talk about it sex. How much. How often. How adventurous… and if there’s an issue, how to fix any issues. If you missed my earlier post on that topic, you can find it here.
Read the next post in the Keeping the Spark Alive Series: Marriage, Part 1: Nourish your Relationship Emotionally, Mentally and Physically