Question

My wife really struggles to care about and enjoy sexual intimacy with me. We’ve been married for over twenty years and I get tired of going through the same routine where I bring it up, she promises to do better, nothing happens, and then she forgets until I bring it up again. It’s something she’s never prioritized or cared much about even though she would say that we have a good marriage. I agree that our marriage is good in just about every area except for our sexual intimacy. After one frustrating letdown recently, she suggested that we schedule sex once a week on the same day and time to make sure I get my needs met. While it’s a relief in some ways to know that we’ll have this time together on a consistent basis, I also feel like she’s just adding me to her checklist of things she needs to get done. I don’t want this becoming something that she dreads and endures. I have no idea if this is healthy for our marriage.

Answer

It sounds like you’re both tired of this interaction and are looking for a way to break out of the sexual intimacy rut. The current arrangement isn’t working for either of you, which is probably why your wife suggested something different. I don’t know if this is the best answer for your marriage, but I can suggest some considerations to help you both stay connected to each other.

First, please recognize that there are a variety of reasons your wife might not enjoy sexual intimacy, even though she has a good marriage. If you have children, it could be sleep deprivation, exhaustion, stress, interruptions, lack of personal space, and a multitude of other challenges that come with mom life. Your wife might have physical discomfort or other physical health challenges that prevent her from caring about or enjoying sexual intimacy. She might have a history of attachment-related issues from her family or previous romantic relationships that make it difficult to trust and relax into the vulnerability necessary for connected marital intimacy. Sometimes spouses have unpleasant sexual experiences in the early months of marriage that are never addressed and become the template for future sexual encounters. Roles and expectations are often unintentionally assumed and couples can play out these dysfunctional dances for decades. If any of these situations fit your situation, it’s not wise to carry on without addressing them together. Many of these examples are environmental and might not require major adjustments.

Recognize that your wife was the one who suggested scheduling time on a regular basis. She’s seeing you and recognizing that this is missing in your marriage. Don’t complicate it by guessing her motives and intentions. She’s blocking out time to be with you, so allow her to move toward you in this way.

However, I recognize that you don’t want to be treated like a task she needs to mark off her list. Your deeper need is to be desired and wanted. This is a normal and healthy desire that you actually share with your wife. If you only use this time to go through the motions of having sex, then you’re both missing an important opportunity for your marriage.

Think of the scheduling as a dedicated time to be together regardless of whether or not you share a sexual experience. She likely believes that your greatest need is to have a sexual experience with her. I believe your greatest need is to know that you matter to her. You’ve been having sexual experiences with her for years, but the deeper need of knowing that she desires to be close to you isn’t registering. I also have to wonder if you know what her greatest need is in the marriage. Chances are she’s feeling unfulfilled as well.

If you only make the focus of this dedicated time about sex, then you’re missing a tremendous opportunity to address both of your deeper needs. In the dictionary, the sexual meaning of “intercourse” is the third definition of that word. The first two definitions read, “communication between individuals” and “interchange of thoughts, feelings, etc.” These primary definitions are actually great goals to have as you think about how to spend this time together. Use this time to talk, snuggle, ask questions, and be together. Let her know that it’s important to you that you feel wanted and know she’s looking forward to this with you. Find out for her what would make this time together meaningful and special for her. She might be going through the motions and trying to keep you satisfied, completely forgetting about herself. However, you don’t have to forget about her. Ask her how what she needs and what would help her feel cherished and close to you.

Scheduling sex isn’t the problem. Lots of couples with busy lives need to be intentional about making time for talking, connecting, and sexual intimacy. Scheduling time is just one proactive way to prioritize it, but you want it to be a meaningful and connecting experience for the couple. That will take more courageous questions and conversation to find out what each of you really need from each other. Take the focus off of intercourse as the goal. Instead, focus on how each of you can feel wanted and important to the other. You’ve broken out your old routine and now you have an opportunity to learn more about each other and create a new way of connecting.

Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at geoff@lovingmarriage.com

About the Author

Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.

You can connect with him at:
Website: www.lovingmarriage.com
Twitter: @geoffsteurer
Facebook: www.facebook.com/GeoffSteurerMFT