Marriage For Men
Articles by: Henry Sawatzky
MA; RCC and Director
Men & Intimacy
When it comes to reputation regarding sexual conduct, men seriously take it on the chin.
And to be sure, we are guilty of far too much heinous sexual misconduct. It seems that hardly a week goes by without a new report of a man in a trusted position of power placing a woman, or women, subject to that power, in a sexually perilous situation. It comes from men in all walks of life. Religious leaders, politicians, sports figures, and superstars.
It shows up on a domestic level as well.
Wives complain about feeling pressured to have sex when they don’t want it and being emotionally punished when they don’t comply.
What is going on here? Are we, as men, really just a pack of sexual beasts thousands of years behind the evolutionary curve? This is a view I’ve seen put forward in some anthropological documentaries. The reason we’ve succeeded as a species, in part, is because of men’s sexual aggression and promiscuity, is the theory. Now we’re having trouble catching up to changing times.
I wonder if there might be something else going on here.
I specialize in therapy for couples, so sex is a topic that comes up regularly in my office. I make a point of asking men “What makes sex important to you?” What I hear, almost without exception, are answers like “I’m just looking for that closeness” or “It’s the time that I’m almost certain that I am loved” or “sex makes all of my stresses disappear and we are just together” and “I don’t even care about the orgasm. Just feeling her skin against mine gives me the sense that I’m not alone.”
As I ask this question over and over again, two other things keep coming up that shock me.
First, too many men confess they’ve never admitted these feelings out loud. Second, they’ve never been asked the question before. The answer is assumed: men just have sexual urges. End of story.
What does one make of these deep needs to be loved and cared for?
They seem to be so much more personal and intimate than what is typically assumed of men. But they are tricky to deal with because they leave us feeling vulnerable, and emotionally exposed. So we are inclined to mask them with self-centered demands like “I’ve got needs you know!” leaving our partner feeling a little like a service station, or angry accusations like “Something must be wrong with you. You should see the doctor”, leaving our partner feeling chronically guilty and woefully inadequate. Needless to say, neither of these are effective aphrodisiacs. And so an otherwise beautiful relationship, which, in all likelihood, started out with their sex life being active and satisfying, now finds itself in a self-perpetuating spiral of sexual death. It’s agonizing, isolating, and can feel completely hopeless. It goes something like this: He wants connection and so reaches for sex. But she isn’t quite there and so turns him away. He turns his back in reclusive silence feeling hurt, alone and rejected. But all she sees is her angry man acting like a pouting child, and feeling alone and rejected herself, she loses a little respect for him. making it even harder to engage sexually. He, in turn, feels more rejected so becoming open about his needs gets even harder. And so their plummet into a spiral of sexual death has begun.
Once the death spiral takes hold are we doomed to a life of sexual frustration? Or divorce?
I believe there is an alternative. This “Sexual death spiral” can be broken, I’ve seen it happen while a couple builds an emotional connection that allows for respect, safety, and intimacy. And while it requires each partner to make some vulnerable shifts, I’m going to focus my attention on what we can do as men to start the winds of sexual and emotional connection blowing.
But let me warn you, the remedy is not for the faint of heart.
The first step will be to let your partner see your softer, vulnerable side. Expect this to feel hard, awkward and downright scary. Especially if it’s something you’ve not had much practice with. There are countless ways of doing this, but it could sound something like this: “I respect your right to say no to sex. It’s your body. But when I hear it, I feel unlovable and alone. I don’t really know what to do with that so I lash out at you, or turn away in silence. I think I need your reassurance that you still love me and that we are together.” One husband told his wife that believing that he is lovable and loved is very difficult for him. Whenever she tried to tell him, he felt the impulse to deflect it. He’d make a joke or change the subject. But sex pierced through his defenses like a high-speed arrow. It was the one time he felt sure he was loved. She had no idea. She’d assumed he was simply looking for sexual relief.
When you first begin to talk to your partner like this, don’t expect things to instantly change.
Reconnecting emotionally takes time, and new behaviors need to build trust through repetition. In the meantime, she may be wary of what you are up to and even skeptical that this is nothing more than just a new ploy to pressure her into unwanted sex. This is pretty normal, especially if you’ve been stuck in a sexual death spiral for some time. Let her know what you are up to, that you want to let her into your inner world in new ways. Ask her what it’s like for her to be in this death spiral. Chances are, she’s feeling every bit as isolated and hopeless as you are.
Finally, learn how to cope with sexual disappointment as a normal part of your life.
Actually, you can drop the word sexual and replace it with any other part of your life. We need a mechanism to get comfort and reassurance from people who care about us when life lets us down. It’s inevitable that you’re going to feel raring to go sexually, while your partner is just not there. But if it means that you’re disappointed, and you know how to ask your partner for comfort and reassurance, it doesn’t have to mean that you’re unlovable and that can save you from being sent into a death spiral.
It’s true what they say about men:
We like sex. But on an even deeper level, it’s the love we’re looking for. We have to learn to talk about that.