I think one of the biggest conflicts regarding sex with a lot of couples is simply how initiation and rejection are handled. From both sides.
I think if we could improve that one back and forth conversation, a lot of marriages would be a substantial improvement. No, it’s not that sex is a cure-all, but that the sense of hurt and betrayal associated with sex spill over into a lot of other areas of the relationship.
Last week wrote a post detailing a bunch of reasons why it’s hard to ask for what you want during sex. But, the truth is, it’s hard just to simply ask for sex itself, let alone something specific. For a lot of us, we’re scared of initiating sex. But it’s not only fear. For some it’s hurt that’s stopping them, or changing their initiation behaviour. For some, it’s believing they shouldn’t be initiating. Many women don’t think they should initiate because it will make them look like a slut (pardon the term). Many men don’t think they should initiate because we’ve been taught never to pressure a woman into sex. It’s hard to change that mentality when you’re suddenly in a relationship where sex is not only allowed, it’s welcome, healthy and beneficial.
Many women don’t think they should initiate because it will make them look like a slut (pardon the term). Many men don’t think they should initiate because we’ve been taught never to pressure a woman into sex. It’s hard to change that mentality when you’re suddenly in a relationship where sex is not only allowed, it’s welcome, healthy and beneficial.
Another common dynamic is the higher drive spouse is rejected unskillfully too many times and then, to avoid the pain of rejection again, they stop initiating. Or at least, they stop obviously initiating. More often than not, their skill of initiation drops so they become subtle and passive initiations. But, like most (maybe all?) passive communication, it ends up hurting their spouse even more. They know that sex is still wanted, but the passive and subtle initiations, tricks, bids and covert contracts end up making them more likely to reject their spouse in an even more unskilled manner.
My wife will be helping me out with this post. You’ll see her thoughts in purple.
1. Unskilled Initiation
So, what does unskilled initiation look like?
Be subtle, unclear and passive in your initiation
Going to bed naked and thinking that is an initiation is an example of passive initiation. You’re “making yourself available”, which is not the same thing. Unless this is something that you have talked about and realized it is a way to initiate. But if you go to bed naked, and then pull the covers up to your shoulders and turn your back, so you may think your initiating, but also making it extremely difficult. Now if you go to bed, and then say something like, “How you doin?” like Joey from Friends, then it’s pretty obvious what your intentions are. It’s all about your attitude when you’re laying there naked, what is your body language saying about what you want to happen next?
Waiting for them to make the first move is another one. So is giving them a massage and then expecting them to know that was the sign for “I want sex”. Unless you do things in that massage that send a message to the person being massaged that lets them know what you’re hoping for. It’s also probably a covert contract, which is another thing you don’t want to do. Or expecting them to know that you are in the mood for sex.
You initiate without thinking how your spouse is feeling
If all you think about is how horny you are, and don’t think at all about your spouse’s perspective, then this is an unskilled initiation. Imagine coming home after a long day of work and you are so excited to be able to spend some time with your spouse, but they’ve been home all day with crazy kids. You walk up to your spouse and hug them with a squeeze on the derriere making your state of mind known. Not always the best way to greet your spouse who may be overwhelmed with all that is happening around you. I hate comparing marriage to combat, but this is like going into battle without knowing what your enemies defenses are. Now, ideally you should be working together, not against each other, but the principle still applies. Good relationships require you to have good theory of mind. That is, the ability to see things from the other person’s perspective.
Assume your spouse has the same arousal pattern as you or the same method or time to switch gears
This is similar to the 2nd point but subtly different. While the previous point is more about their current mindset, this is more about standing patterns. For example, if my wife, at any time ever said, “Hey, let’s go have sex”, by the time she’s done her sentence, I’m in the mood. However, if I were to do the same thing to her, I’d get a swat on the arm. While the first is theoretical, the second is not, if you catch my drift. Because he’d tell me that when I’m in the middle of something that couldn’t be put aside. and I can’t turn on a dime.
When you are turned down for sex, throw a pity party, sulk, or make them feel guilty
It’s about the least sexy thing you can do: act like a 4-year-old who didn’t get a cookie they wanted. Better yet, be rude, swear and throw Bible verses at them. I suggest 1 Corinthians 7:5, that’s sure to get you one step closer to a divorce.
So, how can you be more skilled? Well, simply reverse these.
2. Skillful Initiation
Are these guaranteed to result in more sex? Of course not. Just because you start acting better is not guarantee that your spouse will. But, I think it will definitely increase your chances and improve your marriage.
Be clear about what you want, but don’t demand it
If your spouse asks “What do you want to do tonight?” Just be clear. “I think we should go upstairs and have some amazing sex.” It’s clear, it’s not subtle, or passive. It’s not demanding. There are better ways, however, this is a good beginning to becoming more skillful. One thing to be cautious of with this approach is that a former refuser could feel trapped on how to answer that. It’s like you stuck them between a rock and a hard place. There is no way to answer that any other way other than with enthusiasm and excitement, anything else and you’re being a refuser. This could just be my own personal struggles with my promise to never say no again. What does that all involve? What if i just can’t get there?
Be interested in how your spouse is feeling, what their mindset is
Ask them how their day is, be interested, not because it’s more likely to lead to sex, but because you truly want intimacy, not just the physical kind. It’s good to show you care about other things besides wanting to see them naked. This will also help you gauge how and when to initiate, or even whether you should or shouldn’t bother. Let’s face it, some days it’s not a good idea to initiate. In fact, some days it’s downright unskillful to even suggest it. For example, I know day one or two of my wife’s period is a good day to work on patience and self-restraint on my part. She’s about as far from being able to get in the mood as you can get. It would take a monumental effort on my part to even get her to think about whether she’s willing.
Know your spouse’s arousal patterns and leverage them
Okay, that sounds a little manipulative, but I don’t mean it that way. Some of us are like an electric engine, and a simple button press gets the motor going at full speed. Others are a little more like an antique crank engine that won’t start if it’s cold, and needs a lot of care and attention to get running. That’s me, gotta keep me going with lots of care and attention. It’s true, its ok, I know it.
I know, for example, that if my wife is having serious problems switching gears, a massage will almost certainly help her to do so. It’s not that I’m manipulating her into getting aroused. We both know what I’m doing. I also know that she agrees with me that sex is important to the marriage and that she’ll enjoy it if she can manage to be present. So, we use the tools and routines that work best to achieve that outcome.
By the way, if you don’t know how to give a good massage to your spouse, check out yesterday’s post.
If you get turned down, be disappointed, but be in control of your emotions
Men, in particular, are not very good at this. When dealing with emotions we tend to do one of two things: Either we stuff them and pretend they don’t exist. Or we let them go completely out of control. When you get rejected, unfortunately, this sends one of two messages, depending on which you do.
If you stuff, deny or reject your emotions, then it makes it seem like you really don’t care whether you have sex or not. Or, worse, it’s obvious you’re not sharing your real emotions with your spouse and that might be perceived as you not trusting them. The alternative is that you let your emotions go wild, which, again, makes you look like a 4-year-old having a fit. And yeah, grown men can have pity parties just as bad as 4-year-old. And it’s about as sexy. But don’t think that this is exclusive to men. There are some princesses out there throwing adult tantrums and guilt trips as well.
Instead, if your spouse says something like “Oh, tonight? I’m really exhausted, can we tomorrow?” It’s okay so say “Aww. I was really looking forward to reconnecting. I’m sad, but I understand.” That’s all there is to it. Get them a nice cup of warm chamomile tea and tuck them into bed so they can get a good rest.
In more difficult situations, it might be a bit more like “You’ve said that the last 4 nights in a row now. I’m starting to feel a little frustrated because it feels like a promise is being broken every night.” You’re not yelling or guilting them. You’re sharing your feelings. This is clear, intimate communication about a conflict. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s healthy. Just remember to not assume the worst of your spouse, it goes both ways. Maybe there is some reason those last 3 or 4 days didn’t work that needs to be discussed, using the words “broken promises” can be hard to hear, but stay calm and figure things out.
Or, in the worst case, it might sound like “My dear, it’s been years since we’ve had sex. I think a meeting with our pastor to discuss our marriage might be a good idea because I’m struggling with the current state of our relationship. I’d like for you to be a part of that conversation so we can start talking about our issues.” Again, it’s clear, it’s not demanding, it’s inviting to solve a serious problem.
And just so no one thinks I’m perfect, I’ve done the “unskillful” set of these more times than I can count in my marriage. All of them. I have done and still do these also. I remember times when we never got to have sex even though I made myself available and just thought, if he wants to, then he will make the next move. And you know what? I still do them from time to time. I’m still growing with this too. But, I am getting better. I hope this can help you improve as well.
I’ll try to write about the other side soon: Rejection. Which I should have lots to say about.
37 Questions for spouses to ask each other about sex
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