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The Crucial Emotional Climate in Marriage 

Men and women are both wired for connection. But, it is especially true for women when it comes to sex. Emotional intimacy is a wife’s primary fuel for connecting sexually with her husband. It’s the quality of the emotional relationship that matters more than physical aspects like sexual technique. You might think of it as 80 percent emotional connection, and just 20 percent physical or physiological. I like to call it the 80/20 rule.

This analogy highlights the importance of the emotional context of female sexuality, and ultimately her marital and sexual satisfaction.i This important dimension of emotional foreplay tends to occur primarily in outside-the-bedroom interactions before sex itself even begins. Especially for women, tenderness, thoughtfulness, and trust in the marriage describe some of the key ingredients of a sexually intimate and fulfilling relationship.

Creating a safe haven in marriage lays the foundation for women to be able to open up and connect sexually. Being your spouse’s safe haven is vital. It’s what allows women to turn off their fears and relax into sexual arousal. When we feel emotionally bonded, we experience the greatest sense of security and well being.

The very best sex is built on emotionally bonded, securely attached relationships. Husband and wife are tuned into each other and responsive. They can talk, and tease, and be playful with each other. A connected couple has the most enjoyable, adventurous, and mutually rewarding sexual relationship, because of the mutual trust and respect they have for each other. They are a team. They know they are safe in each other’s arms. Truly, married sex–where spouses are well-connected–is the best sex!

Being sexually intimate is first and foremost a decision for women. It’s a conscious choice to go there. A lack of libido may have more to do with a lack of emotional connection in the marriage than anything else–especially for women.ii

Consider what would entice a woman to want to flip her mental switch to a “Yes!” It’s generally the feeling of safety and emotional connection she feels with her husband that increases her sexual responsiveness to him. It’s then easier for her to say yes to sex when an opportunity presents itself. She may even find it easier to initiate sex as well.

Couples may need therapeutic help addressing both the marital relationship and the sexual relationship, in order to overcome their inhibiting issues and get to a good place sexually.iv

Emotional Connection is Our Foreplay

Noted marriage researcher, Dr. John Gottman, has a fabulous slogan: “Every positive thing you do in your relationship is foreplay.”v He’s right on the money. I call these various experiences “emotional foreplay.” This is a vital concept for husbands to get. If they miss this, then not much else will matter.

Women are not generally walking around with feelings of desire to have sex at the drop of a hat. If there is not a good amount of connection, warmth, tenderness, thoughtfulness, trust, etc., outside the bedroom (where her decision to “go there” is generally made), then she will not be very willing to decide to say yes. She will likely be hesitant to put herself in a position of vulnerability by giving herself to him sexually. For her, having sex when feeling emotionally disconnected might be compared to her having sex with a stranger.

For women, the desire to be intimate is more of an “emotional desire,” whereas for men it’s more of a physical desire. Husbands often struggle to understand the concept of women needing to feel emotionally close and safe before they can “decide” to have sex. This is especially true given that husbands are not wired to have to feel emotionally close before they want to have sex. They also don’t have to mentally “decide” to go there sexually. Their minds and bodies practically do that for them.

Men usually have enough sexual desire floating around to easily say yes to sex, whether their spouse has been kind or considerate of them that day or not. For a woman, it isn’t so easy to overlook it if her husband has been a jerk that day. It isn’t easy to say yes if, in general, her husband simply refuses to acknowledge, respect, and meet her emotional needs in the marriage.

So, men, if you want to “get lucky” you may want to tune in to how connected your wife feels to you, and consistently work on those things that make it easier for her to say yes to sex.


For help with improving this aspect of marital intimacy and many others read Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage by Laura M. Brotherson. This article was excerpted from Chapter 3 — “TENDERNESS” of Laura’s NEW book — Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage. Get your copy here for a fabulously discounted price…especially for Meridian readers!

Other articles in this series:


Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) and Certified Sex Therapist (CST), Laura M. Brotherson, is the author of the best-selling book, And They Were Not Ashamed: Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment, and her latest book Knowing HER Intimately: 12 Keys for Creating a Sextraordinary Marriage. She counsels with individuals, couples and families in private practice (and online), and is the host of “The Marital Intimacy Show” podcast.

As a Certified Family Life Educator (CFLE), Laura is actively engaged in providing marriage education through Couples Cruises, articles, a newsletter, radio and television broadcasts, and presenting at conferences and workshops. Laura is passionate about helping couples navigate the intricacies of intimacy to help build stronger marriages and families. She and her husband, Kevin, of 25 years are the founders of—your trusted resource for education, products and services to strengthen marriages… intimately!

Connect with Laura:

Instagram: @StrengtheningMarriage



i Pascoal, P. M., Narciso, I., and Pereira, N. M., “Emotional Intimacy is the Best Predictor of Sexual Satisfaction of Men and Women with Sexual Arousal Problems,” International Journal of Impotence Research 25(2) (2013): 51-5. doi:

ii Johnson, Dr. Sue, Love Sense: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

iii Bulow, S., “Integrating Sex and Couples Therapy: a Multifaceted Case History,” Family Process 48(3) (2009) Sep: 379-89. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.2009.01289.x.

iv Gottman, John, and Silver, Nan, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work. New York: Harmony Books, 2015.