You may be confident that your husband loves you, but if that’s true, why isn’t he receptive to your invitations for intimacy anymore?
Last night the kids went to grandma’s house for an overnight. It was the perfect time. You put on your satin pajamas, lit a candle on the bedside and summoned him to the bedroom.
He peeked in the door, smiled weakly and said, “Oh sorry, I’m in the middle of answering a work email,” before turning to leave.
Of course, it’s easy to get your feelings hurt—to take sexual rejection personally—but there’s a very good chance your husband’s behavior has nothing to do with you.
Men who are still attracted to their partners may refuse sex for a variety of reasons. They may be suffering from performance anxiety, dealing with stress, or holding onto old resentments. Partners may also have different sexual appetites. Studies show that equal numbers of men and women desire more intimacy in their relationships.
And these days, it’s not just men chasing women around the bedroom and women faking headaches. Men are faking headaches, too!
In this post, I’ll help you get to the root cause of why your partner might seem uninterested in sex. Once you know the reason, it will be easier to find a solution. And while keeping the desire alive is especially challenging in our modern age, I’ll give you some practical tips to rekindle the spark.
Is There a Libido Mismatch?
As a couples therapist for the past 20 years, I’ve worked with many, many partners who are turned down for sex. And I can say with confidence that most likely the problem is not you.
I want to bring up the possibility of a libido mismatch first because it’s one of the most common explanations I find for couples lacking intimacy in their relationships. In fact, about one-third of couples I see struggle with mismatched sexual desire.
“But wait!” you say. “When we were first married we were having sex all the time, and we were both loving it.”
Here’s the thing: As humans, our sex drives change every day. A heated argument with your partner, stress, fluctuating hormones, and exhaustion all noticeably contribute to these changes.
Your libido also changes as you get older—and sometimes the change is significant and can feel sudden.
So what should you do if you suspect a libido mismatch is the problem?
First, talk to your doctor to see if there’s a medical issue.
Then, keep in mind that the goal is not to match the higher-libido partner, or to completely avoid sex because of the lower-libido partner, but to be able to compromise and negotiate.
Also, be sure to read my post about the most effective techniques for negotiating with your significant other. I promise, they’ll help.
One time in particular that sexual attraction can plummet is when there’s a new baby in the house. If you’re a new mom, be sure to check out my post 9 Ways Not to Resent Your Husband After Baby for strategies to help get your relationship—and your intimacy— back on track.
Other Reasons Your Husband Might Not be Touching You
It’s likely that your husband IS still attracted to you, but he’s not touching you for other reasons. These could include:
1. He Does Not Know You Want Sex
It’s particularly hard to pull a relationship out of an intimacy drought. One of you has to make the first move and that’s vulnerable! If you aren’t the one initiating sex, he might not know that you are ready to dip back into being physically intimate. Make it clear that you are ready to turn the page.
2. He’s Battling His Own Physical Problems
Many men get to a point in their lives where their hormones are out of whack and they find it hard to have an erection or they notice a big drop in libido. As normal as this might be, it’s still embarrassing for him! He might be avoiding admitting this problem more than he is avoiding you. Also, women often don’t often consider that men can have body image problems, too. Has he recently gained weight or lost his hair? He might be especially self-conscious.
3. He’s Battling His Own Emotional Problems
When someone is depressed or anxious, their sexual desire usually plummets. If your husband is struggling emotionally, it can result in a noticeable change in your sex life. If he’s taking medication for anxiety or depression, there may be sexual side effects. Is he stressed about his job or finances? No matter the cause, stress often causes sexual desire to decline. There’s also the possibility that he’s holding onto resentments about your relationship, and these resentments can block sexual desire.
If You Still Think He’s Not Attracted to You
If you’ve truly considered all the reasons above and none rings true, it’s possible that your partner doesn’t desire you physically anymore. As I mentioned, this is far less common with the couples I see in my practice.
In some cases, though, partners do stop being attracted to each other.
The most difficult scenarios are when one spouse still feels strongly passionate and attracted, but the other one simply doesn’t seem to be interested sexually. This can be especially painful and lonely for both partners.
Attraction is important for any relationship, and when we take care of ourselves emotionally and physically, it’s more likely our partner will find us attractive.
This includes eating well, exercising, and grooming, as well as taking care of our own emotional and mental health.
As hard as this conversation is, if attraction is getting in the way, it’s important for couples to be honest with each other. Be kind in your requests and ask for your partner’s support as you work to get healthy or develop new habits.
Finally, if you feel rejected sexually and can’t find another reason for your lack of intimacy, ask yourself if you’re treating sex like an invitation. Because that’s what sex is—an invitation, and you want the invitation to be desirable.
Would you rather go to bed with a partner wearing sweatpants and a baggy T-shirt or a partner wearing something sexier? That’s what I thought.
So don’t be shy. Go ahead and ask your partner what they want you to wear to bed, and if you’re comfortable with the suggestion, change up your bedtime attire. Our brains crave novelty and this is a good opportunity to introduce some to the relationship.
The Crisis of Desire in Our Modern Age
It’s absolutely possible to have a loving relationship while the passion has faded considerably.
But why is it that emotional intimacy doesn’t necessarily guarantee good and regular sex?
Judging from the couples who come to see me, there is a crisis of desire.
Desire has become a central concept and a part of modern love and individualistic societies.
It can be hard to wrap your head around this fact but here it is: This is the first time in history that we’re trying to experience sexuality for both short-term pleasure and long-term connection.
In other words, it’s entirely possible that having a sexual and nurturing partner all in one is not even natural! And when viewed through the lens of history, it’s certainly not normal.
Twentieth-century marriage was built for stability and companionship. But, nowadays we long for more. We want:
- Heart-to-heart talks.
- Long walks on the beach.
- Great sex all the way into our seventies.
- Long-term romance, not just companionship.
Our dilemma is that no one ever teaches us how to sustain the energy and passion that are so vibrant at the start of our relationships.
At the heart of sustaining desire in a marriage or long-term relationship is the reconciliation of two very contrasting fundamental human needs:
- First, we want to satisfy our need for anchoring and grounding experiences such as safety, security, predictability, dependability, and permanence.
- Second, we crave the unknown. We want surprise, adventure, risk, and mystery.
When we can reconcile our need for these vastly different experiences, we now call it a “passionate marriage.” But for centuries, familial love and lustful passion were recognized as a contradiction.
Today, we want our spouses to give us belonging and security, but also transcendence and mystery all in one. We desire comfort but edge, novelty and familiarity, predictability and surprise. And somehow, we’ve been taught to think this is what we should expect.
So What Really Attracts Us to Our Partners?
Renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel has been around the globe to ask couples when they are most drawn to their partners. These were the 3 most common answers:
- When they are apart and then reunite. (Basically, couples say they like to feel the absence of their partner so they can long for the reunion and relish it when it finally happens.)
- When they see their partner in their element, radiating confidence.
- When they experience something novel together and delight in an element of surprise.
The Secret to Desire in a Long-term Relationship
Now, in this paradox between love and desire, what seems to be so puzzling is that the very ingredients that nurture love (protection, worry, responsibility for others, and reciprocity), stifle desire. Desire comes with a list of ingredients that aren’t always in favor of love, such as jealousy, possessiveness, dominance, power, aggression, naughtiness, and mischief.
Nurturing the connection between you and your husband, while avoiding putting sexual pressure on him, is key to maintaining a healthy relationship.
Nothing good will come from not talking about it.
Understanding and empathy are key ingredients in building or rekindling intimacy. Establishing proper sexual communication will greatly help men who struggle with intimacy. So take these steps:
- Be curious about what is getting in the way for him sexually. Try not to take his answers personally or get defensive. Many men will shut down emotionally and stonewall their partners because they are holding onto past resentments. Ask your partner if this is the case.
- Listen and empathize. Ask if there are things you can do differently to help increase his desire. And if you have requests that would increase your connection, be sure to kindly voice those as well.
- Manage expectations. Start by practicing non-sexual touch. Experiment with different kinds of touch on each other. Hold his hand, or give him a kiss or a good massage, without expecting sex in return. A good encounter at this point is one in which you both try to connect physically—however minimally— without expecting it will look like a Hollywood movie.
- Debrief. After you get physical, ask your partner if he’s willing to discuss the encounter. What did he like? What didn’t he like? Then it’s your turn to share the same. Try not to be defensive, and look for nuggets of truth in what he shares that you can use to enhance your intimacy next time.
I strongly suggest you read my post about bridging the emotional distance in a relationship. In it, I explain four rituals of connection you can practice to re-engage your partner. These are rituals that my clients practice and they work!
Focus on treating your husband with the same respect and adoration you probably did back when you were dating. Make time for each other, initiate dates, and remember to have fun!
So Does More Sex Improve a Relationship?
You may be wondering how often you should be having sex. You may think that your relationship is not “normal,” and if you just had more sex, things between you and your partner would be better.
But the answer is often not more sex. The answer is usually better, more connected sex—and more desire in between sexual encounters.
Better sex enables you to reconnect with the qualities of aliveness, vibrancy, renewal, vitality, and energy in your relationship.
So switch things up, get creative, and explore new things together (both in the bedroom and in life) to engage your emotional and physical brains.
If Your Husband Loves You…
If your husband loves you, even if your relationship isn’t sexual right now, that’s a good place from which to start reconnecting.
Even if there isn’t as much passion and sexual desire as when you just got married, if you can get to the true source of the problem, there’s hope for a more intimate future together as a couple.
Relationships are fluid, and improving the communication between the two of you is essential to rekindling the spark. Remember that nothing is insurmountable as long as you’re both willing to work on the relationship.
That said, if there’s been infidelity, or you suspect issues of trauma or low-self esteem are playing into your relationship issues, try to find a professional couples therapist to help.
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