SWM 110 – Noticing other women, forgotten anniversary, disconnecting during foreplay and more
Today, we have another round of questions from our anonymous Have A Question page. These are coming from July, which catches us up.
As always, these questions come without any context other than what’s provided, and I typically have no way of reaching out other than answering through the blog and podcast. If you have comments, ideas, or solutions I didn’t bring up, you’re welcome to post them in the comments below. If you disagree with something I said, you can also post that there.
Now, on to the questions.
Question 1 – My wife feels disrespected because I notice other women
Please excuse my rambling. I’m seeking guidance on proper boundaries and expectations for me and my wife and help effectively communicating my loving intentions / finding peace in a difficult and complicated area in our relationship. I feel inadequate in putting this in words, but I will try to provide background for the issue at hand. Without meaning to, I make my wife feel disrespected due to my wandering eyes, despite my efforts to avert attention. The issue has evolved over the years and, in my mind, has improved, but it keeps coming up probably once per year on average. I have been married for 12 years, and each time is a big conflict. My main question is how can I address her concerns, overcome whatever part of this habit that is my responsibility, and rebuild trust in our relationship?
I read that noticing others to varying degrees is shared amongst genders and a natural occurrence. I feel psychologically my avoidance of noticing, or upon noticing, my hypervigilance of such situations draws more attention to it in my mind (and from my spouse). In other words, I believe when such cases come up, we are both triggered regardless of how legitimate the threat is. Just based on their outfits, she has falsely accused me of wanting to look at people that, honestly, I don’t find attractive, and this has caused me to be paranoid no matter the situation. I do not desire to give attention, but I understand her perception and the meaning she attaches to my glances is enough to cause concern in both of us.
I try explaining my crazed state of mind after such situations, but since she is positive she saw me look more than once, she accuses me of wanting to look and making justifications. She interprets my confusion and analysis as guilt.
Based on the comments, I feel that she is less focused on me successfully reacting and overcoming a given temptation and more focused and upset by me even experiencing such temptations regardless of a successful outcome. She is very attractive to me, and despite this, I suspect but cannot prove she somehow feels insecure, and this feeds into the conflict, and there’s a feedback loop.
She is aware that in my youth and before marriage, I was addicted to porn. By God’s grace, I was able to break free of this addiction to not bring it into our marriage, and I’m aware this objectifies women. It’s my theory that all men have natural scanning built in, but perhaps porn can amplify this “feature” and can change how our brains work. For example, brains are rewired to survey a scene and perceive human figures but to the extreme (like terminators robotic vision automatically highlighting and identifying things and people in the field of vision.) I’m unsure if my mind is healed back to “normal” after a decade of leaving the addiction, but I assume men and women naturally, even without this moulding of the brain, work in a similar way but perhaps less amplified. Apart from analyzing my brain, I try to look at my heart as well when reflecting on this, and this is why I seek Christian feedback.
I’m aware of Jesus’ teaching that a man who looks at a woman in lust has committed adultery in his heart, and when I look into my heart, I feel I’m not guilty in this regard, though my wife still feels disrespected whether or not lust is there and feels my glances are intentional and hurtful. I assume if she does leave room for this being unintentional, she would still find them clumsy and embarrassing since she says she doesn’t feel respected and hasn’t ever received the respect she is looking for in this regard.
I believe in full fidelity and have never desired to be sexual with anyone else in all the days of our marriage, which is how I would define lust.
I try to show respect in private and public always. For example, I always open doors for her and the way I speak to her, but I know this is a different display, and perception is reality.
Regardless of whether her expectations are realistic or not, she feels hurt, and upon accusation, makes me doubt myself each time, though in most cases, I don’t feel I was losing a battle with temptation; rather, I was losing my ability to think clearly due to alarms going off. As I’m sure is the case with everyone, there are times I want to sneak a look at something I should not, but that has not been the case for a while because 1) I have wanted to work on this and 2) it is such a contentious topic, there are times I’ve avoided such situations at all cost.
(At one point, whether alone or with my wife, I was avoiding any aisle at the store I thought might have a female human in it without even having a clue of their attractiveness. I realized how fanatical and unhealthy this was and worked my way to being more stable and seeking to observe my surroundings and make my attention neutral to any person or object though some people naturally will call more attention, and I try not to dwell on it. I know God is always watching, and I’ve gained more peace when I’m alone and come across temptation, but more so in the presence of my wife, I’m more paranoid as I feel observed and judged because not only is there a temptation there is a lack of trust and a fear of failure that I don’t get from God’s observation just my wife’s. I feel God’s grace, and I hope to start feeling such by way of my wife. I often do feel her love and grace, but her feeling a lack of respect in these specific situations doesn’t always allow her to give that grace and she says “I see you looking at her” and assumes she knows exactly what and why I have looked in a particular direction.
I’ve been to counselling on my own, and she feels it’s my problem to fix and has refused joint or couples counselling.
We can normally resolve issues in our marriage, but I’m fairly confident there is unresolved hurt on both sides from past conflicts as she shuts off the lines of communication on this and related emotionally charged topics.
So, I don’t think I have a solution, but I do have some thoughts.
The first is that, yes, men tend to be more visual, and they tend to be more easily tempted by the female form. I agree that temptation is not a sin, but I think just shrugging it off and saying “Well, God made me this way” isn’t acting in a godly manner either. We can train ourselves not to struggle with temptation as much. It sounds like you’ve been doing that, so that’s good!
Dwelling on the thing you are tempted about – that now goes beyond temptation. Now you’re actively thinking about it. That, I think, is when it becomes sin. But again, you said you’ve worked to stop doing that.
It also seems your wife might be very insecure about this. Many wives, when they have husbands who have indulged in porn, become very insecure, and this may be an acting out of that insecurity.
I think what’s also concerning to me is that your wife seems to take things as “his” or “her” problems instead of “our problems.” The fact that she refuses to go to counselling with you is, to me, a problem. The fact that you can’t talk about it without getting into a fight – that’s another issue.
Those last two issues are challenging to solve and can’t be from one side of the marriage. You both have to want to improve to resolve those. Maybe your wife is willing to do something other than counselling. Counselling can be scary for many people. You could bring up coaching because coaching, for many people, is more about improving – going from good to great – rather than fixing a problem. Coaching can help with the communication struggles, help reframe the other issues and build some accountability.
Some of the others may need counselling or therapy.
LIke I said, I don’t have a solution because this is a situation that needs both spouses together to tackle.
That said, I think you can work to be more confident and content with the growth you’ve experienced. Just because she doesn’t acknowledge it doesn’t mean you haven’t grown. As well, just because she’s hurt doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done something wrong. There are times you just have to respond with “No, that’s not what’s happening” and move on. Don’t get upset, don’t start a fight, just state what reality is and then let it go.
Question 2 – Wife is hurt but not healing after years
I wanted to ask for your take on annually recurring conflict and what to do with it. Specifically, our marriage is healing and vastly improved, but I deeply hurt my wife years ago, and we faced it a couple of years back about this time. It was necessary for healing to proceed but it resulted in an open wound that she reacts to every year. She doesn’t seem to be aware of why she is battling depression at the moment, only that it is a serious battle and sex is off the table. This happens every year now, and sex becomes nearly nonexistent for one to two months (I think it stretched to three months last year).
I’m all about her healing, and I do try to support her and be understanding. I don’t want to be selfish. I just really struggle during these times, and this year it’s coming on top of a month of very little sex due to long / close-together periods and her travelling. So I’m facing the possibility of little to no sex for a third of this year.
I am the cause of the hurt. I own that. But the damage was done years ago at this point, and lack of sexual fulfillment was a key problem in my bad decision then. Am I just being selfish here? Our marriage counsellor seems to think so, but I feel I have a legitimate problem at this point.
I try to discuss the problem, but anything that might suggest that she is obligated in any way is labelled as psychological abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse or some combination of these. Since she can’t be obligated in any way, I pretty much have no recourse but to suck it up and deal with it.
And when I say deal with it, I don’t mean what some might think I mean. Like you, she views any form of sexual activity that doesn’t directly involve her as cheating which takes “self-help” off the table. Since she is not open to anything sexual, that means I have nothing at all unless she feels like doing me a massive favour to ease my misery. There is no such thing as a quickie for my comfort or sanity in our marriage. It is both of us get the full experience or nothing. I would have zero problems with that if she shared my drive, but, as you know, that is beyond rare and is not even close to true of us.
I truly do understand my culpability in the situation and accept it. I also truly want to be there for her and help her heal. I’m just losing my mind here and feeling very much rejected and unloved.Aching in limbo
When there is sexual betrayal in the marriage, there is an option – stay or leave.
If you leave, there will still be the pain of a severed relationship, but you’re out. You owe them nothing anymore. You have no responsibility or duty to them.
If you stay, you have chosen to stay, and you’ve decided to forgive and heal. That doesn’t mean it’s easy, and it doesn’t mean the relationship is immediately fixed. But there is the expectation that you will not hold it over the spouse’s head for the rest of their lives.
If the thing that happened isn’t adultery of some kind, then the same attitude should still prevail – forgive and learn to heal and move forward if you’re going to stay.
You said that this has been going on for years, so I see three potential situations:
- You need to find a new therapist. If, after years, they haven’t even moved beyond the point that every year (presumably on the anniversary of the event), she falls apart to the point that she can’t have sex with you anymore, and there’s been no improvement at all, then I say get a new therapist immediately.
- Your wife is irrevocably broken. The therapist may be good, but your wife is beyond fixing with talk therapy. If this is the case, then whatever you did is likely not the sole cause of it. It was more than likely just the straw that broke the camel’s back, or a catalyst, or a random trigger. If this is the case, then this is your new normal. She loves you the best that she can, and you should do the same.
- Your wife has not forgiven you. She’s holding on to the pain for some reason. If this is the case, it’s not okay. I would seek a pastor more than a therapist because this is a salvation issue more than a mental or even relational issue (Matthew 6:15). In fact, I’d argue that what she’s doing is likely no better than whatever you’ve done – whatever that is. We don’t fight sin with sin in Christianity. We fight it with love. That goes for you as well.
So, I’d discuss it with her and ask which of the three she thinks it is and what you should do about it together.
But this hinges on the fact that there’s been no improvement in years. If your wife had been healing and growing and things had been improving, then the plain fact is that you broke the relationship, and it will take time to heal. But if there’s zero healing happening – then that’s not the issue.
Question 3 – Wife disconnects during foreplay
My wife and I aren’t in sync when it comes to foreplay. Is there a way to change this?
For some reason it takes my wife awhile to “be ready” for sex. This doesn’t include flirting and touching and other types of affection throughout the day. When we are going to have sex my wife has to focus when I pleasure her before intercourse. She often will close her eyes and be silent, not moving for 30 minutes or more while I rub her clitoris and/or vagina. Sometimes we use toys, but it takes the same amount of time for her to be ready for intercourse.
During this time I am focused on making her feel good and ready, but in the meantime I lose my erection. Then when she is ready I try to get erect again, but get stressed out and can’t perform because of this. She doesn’t know what to do and everything we have tried hasn’t worked. She is not interested in oral sex which I think would help me get an erection again and her attempts at other things don’t have an effect at all.
This has happened for years. I am able to get an erection and my doctor doesn’t think it’s ED. He thinks it is more likely due to the stress of trying to get an erection. I am starting counseling this week and will see if there could be a psychological issue on my part.
My wife has not gone to the doctor to see if there is something physical that might be causing her inability. I have asked her repeatedly to see her doctor for this and other health concerns. She thinks it could be due to damaged or destroyed nerves during the birth of our 10lb. 1oz. kid 19 years ago. She also thinks it could be due to our 2 years of infertility where sex was a task to complete, not a way to show affection and intimacy. She also is not interested in going to a counselor with me or on her own to discuss this and other marriage problems.
Is there anything I can do to help us get in sync so that we can both be ready at the same time? Is there anything she can do? Is there anything we can do together? It’s important to me that she is aroused and wants sex. I want to please her and don’t want it to be just about my pleasure.
First, it’s not unusual for women to have difficulty switching gears to get ready for sex, but this sounds like she’s disassociating during foreplay. She’s not having foreplay with you – she’s blocking you out and retreating from the entire situation or into fantasy.
Depending on which it is, that gets dealt with differently. If your wife is retreating from sex, there are likely harmful teachings in her past, abuse, unhealthy thoughts or beliefs about sex, etc.
If she’s retreating into fantasy, then that’s a habit that needs to be redirected, and she needs to learn to reintegrate her sex life into reality – some foreplay that’s more interactive and engages her mind, not just her body, would probably help. We have some foreplay games in our shop that might help like Sexy Memory or Truth or Dare. If you’re looking for more, my friends Keelie and Austin over at LoveHopeAdventure.com have a ton of bedroom games in their shop.
But I agree with her that it’s likely not a physical issue.
As for your “ED,” – I agree with your doctor. Thirty minutes is a long time to maintain an erection without an engaged partner. There’s no way I could keep one that long with a spouse who was starfishing.
Question 4 – What can we do during fertile days
My wife and I have been married for almost 5 years. After using birth control pills for a couple of years, we found a tumour caused by birth control, so we had to switch to family planning. We do family planning through an app called Natural Cycles. It gives us red days (where we aren’t supposed to have unprotected sex), and green days where we can have sex. Unfortunately, her period is also in the typical 2-week time frame of green days. We avoid sex altogether on red days since my wife is worried that we might get pregnant if we have protected sex. From January to about July, there have only been about 6 green weeks. This makes it hard to initiate sex because it feels like I have a time window, and normally that window somehow always falls on a trip to see family or the period is early, etc. I want to initiate more, but I don’t want to pressure her to feel that she must have sex on red days. My wife is amazing and is generally open to doing sexual things. Oral sex is our Red Day go-to but I don’t want to do oral 80% of the year. Is there any advice you can give on things we can try to spice it up? We love your Sexploration List and the Podcast. It is super fun to listen together and come up with how we would handle the question!
Thank you for your advice,Caleb
Well, reading this question, I was going to say check out the Sexploration List. I mean, many things in there will not result in pregnancy. It sounds like you have to expand your definition of sex and dedicate some time to finding other ways to have fun that don’t require penis-in-vagina sex. I’d go through it again and be on the lookout for those things.
Also, is there a reason not to use condoms? Like you said, the red days are when you should be using protection if you don’t want to get pregnant – so use it.
Lastly, maybe learn a bit more about cycles and periods, because it shouldn’t be surprising or confusing as to why her period is a green zone.
But really, the Sexploration List is literally a list of every sex act I could think of or find. If someone thinks of one that’s not in there, let me know by email or in the comments and I’ll add it.
Question 5 – Oral sex questions
Curious about oral sex… what would be the norm regarding the frequency of it in marriages? We are pretty normal, with 2-4 times a week in sex while having three very young children, but oral sex has never been a huge part of our intimacy. It happens sometimes, though when I give him a blowjob, it’s mostly as foreplay. Is this something most couples engage in each time they’re intimate as foreplay? Or occasionally until orgasm? It is rarely even on my mind as an option when we’re in the middle of being intimate with each other, we both find it pretty physically strenuous to perform on each other.
That brings me to my next question… do the wives who are subscribed feel oral sex gets easier with time? It hurts my jaw and muscles a lot… is this something that will never go away, or would it get better if I did it more often? I like the idea of doing it, but feel a bit like a wimp. He doesn’t want me to finish him that way, so it makes it easier for me to not have to do it as long as I would otherwise… but sometimes I can tell he’s really enjoying it and don’t want to cut it short due to me getting exhausted. My husband also struggles with hanging in there. He pretty much always hung in there until I finish on the occasions he’s done it, but I recently had a hard time finishing that way and told him he can just use oral as foreplay if he wants so he doesn’t feel so much pressure and get exhausted if I’m not able to finish quickly.
It all just makes me wonder if it’s just us. Or do other couples feel this way? And how does it affect how often one or both partners do oral.
We did do an oral sex survey quite a while back.
You can check out the results here: https://www.uncoveringintimacy.com/oral-sex-survey-results/
We also ran another about orgasming from oral sex: https://www.uncoveringintimacy.com/orgasming-from-oral-sex-survey-results/
As for jaw and muscle pain – it varies. Some don’t get it at all. Some felt it didn’t ever improve. One of our supporters gives his wife head/neck/jaw massages before oral sex, saying that helps a lot. I know others feel that more practice yields stronger muscles and more flexibility.
Question 6 – Husband doesn’t know our anniversary date
Hi Jay Dee,
My husband and I have been married many years and he doesn’t remember our exact anniversary date. (No, he doesn’t have dementia.)
We had an argument about this about a year ago, so you’d think he would make a point of remembering it, if only to avoid another argument. But today, I asked him, and he was guessing – he was one day off, and yet he didn’t seem embarrassed.
This hurts my feelings. He doesn’t make a point of remembering his sister’s exact birthdate either, but our anniversary is a bit more important.
However, he does make a big deal of our anniversary every year. He buys me gifts, and we’ve gone on many memorable trips to celebrate.
Am I overreacting to be hurt by his lack of effort at remembering our anniversary date?
Thank you so much in advance for answering my question.
Yes. You are 100% overreacting. You’re focusing on the trivialities rather than the relationship. Please don’t ruin a good thing when you have it by being nitpicky.
Question 7 – Should I be worried if I’m late?
My period is about 6 days late and I had sex for the first time a few days after my period. He only put it in a couple times before putting a condom on. Should I be worried that I’m pregnant?
Should you be worried? No. Children are amazing. They destroy your life in the best way possible. But I would get a pregnancy test if you’re anxious about it. Pre-ejaculate can contain semen, after all. Now, if you aren’t married yet – well, you should probably get married or stop doing the thing that will likely eventually result in children.
Question 8 – In-laws over-share about sex
We have been married 20+ years. We have kids that are elementary to high school aged. I grew up in a divorced home. My mom got remarried in my teen years. I was woken by sounds I still can not explain of them having sex. My in-laws are still married. They are quite open they are still very active. In our early years of marriage, we spent the night at their home. At breakfast they asked if they kept us up last night. His siblings down to preschool were at the table. They used our wedding night as a good time to explain sex to tween siblings. Recently they apologized to us, including teen; they did not put away my father in laws enhancement drug when we visited. They could have just not said anything.
How do you handle privacy when talking about your implied intimate life with kids? With other adults? A few weekends ago, my husband and I went to a concert and stayed the night at a hotel away from the kids. It was amazing and much needed. Our teen made reference to knowing we would be enjoying some “adult time.” Our kids found out after there was a hot tub in our room. Our teen made a grossed-out face at us. My response was, “times like this between mom and dad bring stability to our home and their lives”. Our elementary-age kid asked what we would do when all of them left home? (10+ years from now) My husband’s response was probably walk around the house with no clothes on. It will probably be true but made me a little uncomfortable.
I am known as a prude to many of the moms in my mom group. I do not want to know about the specific stuff you do behind closed doors. If you want to talk about generalization, fine with me. (Last night, we tried this toy we loved vs my husband and I enjoy this toy.)
How do you handle this situation? Thanks
Me personally? I’m okay with details so long as it’s for educational purposes to an appropriate audience. For example, if I’m doing marriage coaching and they’re talking about something that went wrong, then details are sometimes helpful depending on what we’re talking about.
I don’t share details to titillate or turn someone on – other than my wife. I don’t discuss sex frivolously, either. Occasionally, I get people who email or DM me on platforms who seem to think that I do. Some will literally open with, “So, did you have sex last night?” and I’m utterly uninterested in those types of conversations.
I’ll also not shy away from talking about sex in general, though. I think we need to be more comfortable talking about sex in Christianity. But it is a topic that should be given due respect.
Your response to your teenager was entirely appropriate. I saw nothing wrong with your husband’s either – I’d likely say something similar.
As for your in-laws – that seems over the top to me. But it’s hard to control what your parents say and do. You can ask them to tone it down or choose not to go there anymore, but that’s about it. Their house, their rules. Ultimately, you can go and accept them or not go.
Question 9 – Fantasies for couples
What are the 10 most common fantasies for couples?
No idea. That’s not a topic that comes up frequently. Some in the forum shared theirs, but there wasn’t a consensus. Also, what do you mean for couples? Men and women tend to have different kinds of fantasies.
But along the lines of the question above – why are you asking? That’s the important question. This question seems designed to get a titillating answer rather than an educational one, so I’m not interested in answering it. Now, if you have a fantasy you’re worried about and would like someone to bounce the idea off of to see if it’s something you should be entertaining, feel free to email me, and I can help you think through it.
Question 10 – Low-drive husband
I am 32, my husband is 36 and we’ve been married for 11 years. In the first 8 years of our marriage, we only had sex about twice a month, with him initiating most of the time. I was/am a stay-at-home mom, so twice a month was enough for me considering I was tired and taking care of five kids. Since turning 30 I have noticed a huge increase in my sex drive. Life has also become easier now that our youngest is four. If it were up to me we’d have sex every day or every other day. My husband would only like to have sex once or twice a week. If I mention sex at all in any capacity he becomes distant. He has admitted he does it out of fear that I will try to initiate sex. This means I can’t even send a sexy text. We have a sex pillow that we’ve used once and a sex game we’ve never played. I’ve asked for him to bring one with him whenever he is in the mood for sex because I won’t be able to handle the rejection if I try to incorporate them myself. He just never brings them up again. I’ve asked why he hasn’t ever tried to play the game or use the pillow and he says he forgets about them. He obviously does not find either of these ideas exciting or he wouldn’t forget about them, right? I feel so upset and just plain ugly now. Thanks for any advice.
The typical causes of men having a lower drive are:
- Testosterone levels – your sex drive relies on this. Get this checked by a doctor.
- Medication – especially meds for depression and ADHD can kill your sex drive. Try some other meds – not all have the same side effects, and some react differently to different meds.
- Avoidant attachment style – they’re afraid of getting close to someone because they grew up not being able to trust that close relationships won’t hurt or abandon them. This needs a therapist.
- Depression/anxiety – these can kill your sex drive. Also, I would refer you to a therapist.
- Bad teachings/theology – Somehow, he gained a belief that sex is dirty, harmful, sinful, misogynistic or something else that makes it dangerous or undesirable. I can talk to him about this if he’s willing.
- There’s a relationship issue – this is not that common, and you’d probably know about it. Relationship issues are relatively common, but it’s rare to have it so bad that the husband is withdrawing to this extent.
I don’t have enough to go on from above to offer a guess. I’d start with getting his testosterone checked, as that’s pretty easy – if you can convince him to go. That’s often the hard part. But then, every one of these can be challenging to get men to participate in resolving.
The point is, this is likely more about him than you. In a decade of doing this, I’ve only come across one or two men who didn’t want to have sex with their spouse because they were not physically attracted to them and it generally involves morbid obesity.
Question 11 – Period sex
Do you have any suggestions for maintaining intimacy over periods? We only have sex about once a week, and depending on when her period hits it can be a 2-week gap over that time. She feels too gross for vaginal sex and oral is not an option for her.
As one of our supporters said, “It seems intimacy is being conflated with sex.” I mean, if you want to maintain intimacy over periods, you can do many things. Go for walks, talk, play a board game, read a book together, watch a movie, go bowling – there are many options.
If you mean sex, you still have some options, like manual, mutual masturbation, anal sex.
One suggestion was that shower sex might help with her “gross” feeling.
But I’d suggest increasing the frequency. We try to sneak one last session in before the period starts and another right after it ends to minimize the gap.
You may also be interested in these survey results: https://www.uncoveringintimacy.com/christians-sex-period/
Those are all the questions. As always, if you have a question of your own, you can submit it on our Have A Question page. If you’d like to participate in discussing them as they come in, you can become a supporter and gain access to the forum. All $5/month supporters in August and September also get free access to Our Sexploration List, but you can join the forum for as little as $1/month, which gets you access to the questions as they come in, sneak peeks at upcoming posts and an amazing community of Christians who are generally kind, caring and doing their best to have great marriages and help each other grow.
If that sounds like something you want to be a part of, come check it out for a month. There’s no pressure to stay if you don’t like it.