My wife (her comments in purple) and I host a small group in our house, and we’re currently studying Intimacy Ignited with 4 other Christian couples. It’s been an interesting experience, talking so openly about sex in person with people who we know. In fact, we know some of these people very well and have for years, but we were still surprised by some of the discussions. One thing in particular: how stuck people are on their own mindset of what they want out of marriage, and that their spouse needs to change in order to suit their needs. In our group (which is not large enough to show a typical division of sex drives), the men all have higher sex drives and the women all have lower sex drives (both relative to their spouse). And what do you think comes out in the discussions?
Who needs to change?
The men want an increase in the physical relationship, the women want an increase in the emotional relationship. Now, that’s not surprising, really. I mean, that is the statistically likely scenario. But what surprises me, and it shouldn’t after all these years, is the spouses generally are seemingly unwilling to see their spouses point of view. Now, I’ve known that this happens in marriage. I saw it in my own in the past, and I see it in many of the comments on this blog, in the emails I get, on The Marriage Bed Forums and basically everywhere I turn. But, I had always assumed, for some reason or another, that one outgrows this, that one matures at some point, to at least be able to accept that their spouses’ view on the subject is, in the very least, reality for them, even if you disagree with their view. Furthermore, I had assumed that of the 5 couples in our group (of which we are the youngest) would be more mature than us, and so we would learn much from them. Instead, I find my wife and I will flip sides and argue for whichever side is losing the discussion in a given night. We will both tell the men they need to be more emotionally invested, and then turn and tell the women they need to be more physically invested in the marriage.
The “you need to change” merry-go-round
Here’s how it usually happens. The book will bring up a point of discussion. Perhaps it’s giving your body as a gift, perhaps it’s “sex starts in the kitchen”. The topic really doesn’t matter, what matters is that it’s obviously more weighted towards the desires of one gender (on average) than the other. Of course the very next statement (from on of the “offended” gender) will be a something like “well, if [women/men] did more “x”, then we’d do more “y””. Before you know it, we’re stuck in a merry-go-round of “if you had sex more, we’d be more emotionally available” and “if you were more emotionally available, we’d have sex more”, and round and round we go, each gender ganging up to defend their own turf. And generally my wife and I flipping from one to the other to try to put the brakes on this amusement ride. We were trying to get them to see that they have to focus on themselves rather than point the finger at their spouse.
It’s all done very civilly, but you can sense the underlying tension in the marriages. And you know what it reminds me of? It reminds me of two kids fighting:
Kid 1 has toy A, and wants toy B
Kid 2 has toy B and wants toy A
So, who really needs to change?
If only they could realize that by exchanging toys, they would both be happy. But instead, neither kids wants to give up the toy they have…because what if they get neither?
I have tried to teach our kids to trade. Say, for example, Sam wants something Joey has, but he isn’t willing to share at that moment, then Sam needs to go find something that Joey would love to play with and offer a trade. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but at least they are trying, and Sam is learning to look for what Joey would like to have, instead of just focusing on what he wants and what he’s missing out on. If you could apply this to your marriage, what could you look for that you have that you could offer to your spouse? We are adults, so it might not an immediate trade, think of it as an investment. You’re filling their love tank.
But spouses aren’t children. Marriages should be founded on trust, and even without trust, on sacrificial love. In most cases (yes, I know, there are exceptions), either spouse could realize that by “gifting” their spouse with what they want, they raise their chances of getting what they want to, but generally they won’t. They’d rather fight over their “toy”, waiting for the other spouse to give theirs up, before making the trade.
So, it spirals, and it can start from either side: Wife rejects husband for sex because she feels emotionally starved. Husband feels emotionally starved due to lack of sex and stops communicating. Wife continues to reject husband because she feels emotionally starved, and around and around it goes.
The book we are studying has these little blurbs at the end of each chapter about the attitude of a selfish lover vs a selfless lover. And really I think that is the game changer in how to deal with this merry-go-round argument. When you think of your marriage, and how you would look at it from a bird’s eye view, are you each thinking of the other person and what you can do for them, or are you waiting for them to do something for you, because they should be doing something for you. In our early years of marriage, I was always thinking that Jay should be doing this or that for me. Almost like I was treating him like a servant, in my mind. I never really thought about what I could do for him, or how I could be a servant lover towards him. I’ll admit I was a very selfish lover/person in those days. (Thank goodness not anymore!)
The spouse that notices something needs to change should change first!
And what would it take for the cycle to reverse? In many cases, just one spouse deciding to be selfless. For example: the husband could reach out and start a conversation, without doing it because he wants more sex. Just because he wants to reconnect. That’s it, seems simple, and so many wives would be over the moon about it (I know, not all of them).It was a little more involved then that for us, there was a lot of different things going on that needed to be addressed and that in itself is a novel. (There are more than a novel worth of posts on this blog as a result…)
Instead of focusing on our spouses’ weaknesses, growth areas, selfishness, or whatever you want to call it, we should focus instead on our own.
One week we were talking about praying for our spouse and for our marriages and what type of things to pray for, it was really interesting! The book suggested that we ask God how we can delight our spouse in the bedroom, and one of the other women said that she prays for her marriage in general, not for anything specific, she just couldn’t see herself doing that. But I mentioned that if you ask God a vague question, you may only get a vague answer. I think it is really important to ask God what needs to change in yourself and be willing to hear the answer, even if it’s not something you wanted to hear. You can’t change your spouse, you can only work on YOURSELF. So ask God specifically what you can do to make your marriage better, to end the battle of needing that emotional connection first or needing a physical connection before giving your emotional side to your spouse. This will change how you see everything in your marriage!
Do you see this dynamic in your own marriage? Is it an attitude that you need to change?
23 thoughts on “Which gender needs to change in marriage?”
I read something like this on a similar Christian Marriage Blog. I decided to change myself in order to better my marriage, and also to make my husband more affectionate towards me. I now never turn him down, and I make sure to initiate at least 3 times a weeks. It is a huge improvement on my part but he refuses to change. Ive discussed my concerns with him and he just says that he is not an affectionate person, but im not necessarily a very sexual person but I make a sacrifice for my marriage and my husband. Is it too much to ask that he do the same? Im starting to get discouraged.
Yes, that frustration part is that we cannot make our spouses change (even by changing our own actions). But, what it does do is create an environment in which they are MORE LIKELY to change. And it may not happened immediately, or even soon. I know spouses who have waited 30 years before change came about. Sadly, for some it never does. But between the choice of waiting and doing nothing, or waiting and working to be a better spouse, and thus a better follower of Christ…I choose deciding to change myself, regardless of the change in my spouse.
And ultimately, that’s where the encouragement has to come from: from God, not from our spouse. But that is a difficult lesson to learn.
We had a former pastor who needed a car when he was in divinity school. He prayed at length for God to supply him with any car. He wasn’t being particular and probably didn’t want to seem demanding of God. Shortly after receiving the car, the driver’s door feel off. He decided perhaps asking for specifically what you want or need was not being demanding, but showing faith that God will meet your needs. After that, he always prayed specifically about his needs. Glad to see you posting again. Prepping and hosting a small group can involve a certain amount of time. We did it the last time our church had them.
I like the car analogy! Thanks for reading our post Dan.
Did you enjoy hosting and leading a small group? We’ve been doing it for quite sometime, This is my first time leading a group, but we’ve had it at our place for quite a long time. It can be exhausting on top of all the other things that happen around here. But I wouldn’t change it, I love having people come over and talk about their faith etc.
I did enjoy leading it…as much as any introvert could. I took the time to prepare for it as best I could…as any introvert would. I have a difficult time speaking extemporaneously (read leading spoken prayer)…as any introvert does. Other than that, we rather enjoyed it. The demanding part was keeping he house up on a weekend, preparing a snack, and preparing an agenda. The pastor gave us sheets to work off of, but told us we were putting too much effort into it with all the prep. Sorry. That’s the only way we know in this house. So, although they were fun, edifying and good fellowship, they were a lot of weekend work for us. We opted out the second quarter. They were turning into cliques by age and whom you were already friends with for the other groups which negated the purpose of small groups. They are talking about starting up again this fall. We’ll see.
Working on my next post as we speak. It’s a series spinning off of the original Duty Sex post before the current Part 1. I’m going out on a limb with it and may loose some of my community but being out on a limb is why I titled it Frankly Speaking. Again, we’ll see. The next sound you hear may be be shooting my own foot. 🙂
I have tried and tried for over 20 years..I am sick of being the only one who is trying. He gets all the perks I get all the crap.He doesn’t want to change. Finally I decided I was going to stop and focus on me. I am doing what I want, and what I think is best for me. I feel better. Our marriage is the same, but at least I am not a door mat. I am happier, even if our marriage doesn’t change. I don’t think either of us care anymore. We are more like room mates than spouses. That’s just how it is.
Hi Rebecca, Thanks so much for commenting! I can feel your frustration through the screen. I’m so sorry that you have tried for so long and feel like you have gotten no where. I am glad to see that you are focusing on yourself, that is a good thing, we aren’t called to be door matts. The only thing, if I could give some advice would be to pray for him, and for yourself asking for guidance on how to improve your marriage. Marriage can be so much more then just room mates. I wonder why he doesn’t want things to be better? Are you involved in and happy with your church?
Rebecca, I can relate, but I am 27 years of trying. I don’t have any more energy to invest just to get a good hug back in return. I have driven myself into depression several times and I just can’t do it again. I am still nice to my wife but have told her I am giving up on trying. My visits with the therapist are no longer about fixing our marriage, but instead helping me get to a good place mentally. God bless you.
Jay and Christina,
Good article. If both spouses would have a serving attitude toward each other, then they would have something really good. Somebody has to make the first move to get the ball rolling (so to speak).
“And what would it take for the cycle to reverse? ”
–You guys have completely nailed it here. It was The Love and Respect Crazy Cycle that we first saw ourselves on. Pointing/blameshifting and the like only juices it up to go faster.
–The complete stop of the Crazy Cycle happens when the one who, as you say, notices. This is generally the spouse that is stronger. The one that is being hurt – the most.
I agree and disagree with some of the things spoken here by most everyone. One thing that is left out that I honestly think derails many of the efforts of couples is that husbands so often refuse to follow the Word – and wives refuse to follow the husband. Husband leads – wife follows. This means to me that it is NOT up to the one who notices a change is needed. It is up to the husband to lead the wife, the family, where God intends. If it is the husband who is not being emotionally available, it is he who needs to initiate that change and lead. If it is the wife that is not submitting herself physically – it is STILL the husband who needs to figure out how to lead her to him, make himself attractive to her again, not just be her “servant.” It sounds unfair gentlemen – but God is not always about fairness as we see it. But the creator of both men and women might just know a little about the two so it would behoove us to try it His way every now and then.
So men – MAN UP! STOP WHINING! Do the work and learn how. Start LEADING – It will change your life!
Oh, I agree (I think I talked about this once…or twice…or maybe three times…you know, I think it’s been a few times…), but you can lead all you want…if she doesn’t follow…well, then you’re not really leading anyone, and can’t be called a leader…
And so, we go back to both have to actively work at it.
yea quite agree wit sum of d thingz said so far,but regardin Who to chaNge first I geuss wife; bkos if our hOme will bE gOOd today it’s all d effort of d woman u marry. As of mE heAven is my witness hav try a lot to bE so nice en A good husband,but sumtyms despite all i do fOr her she will still open her mouth en say what have u eva done. 2ndly A wife may go wrong dat even d devil can testify but she will neva say I’m sorry, but mistake once she will repeat it ova & over, she will neva close her mouth untill it lead to fight,quarrel nor odas to hear,pls who needs dis chAnge abeg!
I have always felt like I have done most of the changing and I am ok with that. I have an older woman in my life who told me in all my relationships especially my marriage If there is a problem I am the problem. She said in essence if I wasn’t the problem that I was screwed because I would never change someone else’s behavior I can only change myself. And she was absolutely right. You echo the same thing. I. have been married 13 years and years 2,3,4,& some of 5 were very hard we fought like crazy. I would pack up our kids and go stay at my moms a couple times a year. It was bad. That same woman told me when leaving was no longer my solution, that I would find another one. So I needed to make up my mind that leaving wasn’t the solution and only then could I find a better one. she was right again and marriage has continually gotten better. my husband hasn’t changed that much. I have changed a lot and continue to do so. He has changed some too. But it most certainly seems like unequal amount of work. But no matter who did/does the most changing the marriage is still better because of it so we are both happier. And I have learned I had outrageous expectations. My husband is not God he does not have to make me happy (Although it is nice when he tries) and he can not meet my every need nor should he try. I do sometimes want to keep score and say its his turn but that is not loving. What finally settled it for me was. I read somewhere, I don’t think it was here, i honestly can’t. remember where I read it. Never the less it was a sight like this one but I think written by a woman. And basically she said my husband is a child of God, a beloved son. and one day I will stand before God and answer for how well I have loved or failed to love his beloved son. That settled it for me. I am to love. I am to change as often as I am called to in order to become the image of Christ. the goal of life, the goal of marriage is to grow in that image. It is nor my job to judge whether or not he is. he is of course but it doesn’t look the same as mine because we started from different places if you know what I mean. Sorry that got a little long. I do enjoy your blog very much. blessings Monica
You put this well here. I think when we’ve been hurt in our marriage, we erect these protective walls and refuse to let go until the other person meets our desires. We say, “You first,” because we’re scared to be vulnerable and potentially hurt again. We may know logically that withholding ourselves is no way to build a good marriage — whether it’s emotional or physical withholding — but there remains the question of how to get a spouse to make that first move. Ultimately, there’s no intimacy without vulnerability.
For years, I also looked to my husband to change things, and prayed a lot to God that he’d make my husband change, but my marriage improved when I worked on myself. When I took the pressure off my husband to make me happy and turned to God to make me holy, that’s when I sensed true hope and a good future for us.
It is hard to get people to understand this much of time, because, as you say, they are hurting and feel like they need to tend their own wounds. It’s a difficult leap to make, but well worth it in the majority of cases (there are exceptions unfortunately).
The most mature one changes first. So if you are not changing, you are not the mature one.
My pastor and I had a discussion about this today. Most couples don’t look at “what can I do to fix my part in this,” but “want can I do to fix my mate.”
sex is quantifiable…. for example x amount of times per week WITH a recipricating wife who makes herself available.
emotional closeness is not quantifiable… for example having coffee in the a.m. before the day starts “connecting” talking about kids, work, family, church, God.
I think I can speak for many men when I say we can go on with a routine day starting with the “coffee talk” like we would almost every day, and our wives feel “connected”, and sex happens soon. On the flip side of that we have no clue what made our wives feel “connected” one day over another. It can actually work against us as well, meaning our wives feel unloved by one conversation one time and the same conversation another time they can feel loved. You can argue tone/timing/body language however conversation content remains constant excluding these.
I am definitely in christian marriage hell. I will not divorce and in fact love my wife. The kid A/B sums up our marriage. I don’t know how other men feel, but I feel like I am the one 100% responsible for the intimacy.
Example: All last week I was loving and she admitted same and was feeling close. She does not make herself available, so I have to ask or drop loving hints. We had a date night and everything was going great, watching a movie. Out of no where she starts saying I’m not being loving or affectionate! Uh, we’re cuddled on the couch, I’m rubbing her leg and holding her hand. she ends up scooting to other side of couch. I’m done. It’s been 3 weeks since sex and I’m not even going to try for the fact that she was mean and disrespectful.
This is our marriage after years of counseling with counselors to pastors. She has hypervigilant personality disorder. You cannot win in this.
It becomes such a male problem, if the wife could care less if there is sex or not regardless if you are loving or not.
Yes, sex is quantitative, but if you just have the same sex every time, if it becomes routine, that would not be good enough either. Both genders generally want that qualitative, unmeasurable connection: emotional, physical and spiritual. Men generally lean more to the physical, the women towards the emotional and spiritual, both they all exist.
You haven’t mentioned how your spiritual relationship is. How’s your walk with God? How are you leading your family spiritually? How is your devotional time, your Bible reading, your praying together with your spouse (not including meals and church)?
But you can’t get to “routine” if you’re not having enough sex in the first place.
Personality disorders, of any type, greatly complicate all this and I think are far more common than generally realized.