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Marital Expectations — Ingredients for Marital Intimacy


Be wary of stereotypes.   They often hold elements of truth, but not the whole truth.

Stereotypes about men and women, for example, may be helpful starting points in discussions because there are true differences in men and women.  On the other hand, since there is so much variation between individuals, both men and women, stereotypes often don’t apply to particular individuals or couples.

Acknowledging that caveat (and with your promise of tolerating the following over generalizations), let’s see what we might learn by contemplating a couple of stereotypes.

(1) Men want sex more often than women.

(2) Women want conversations more often then men, especially about topics (and in feeling terms) which women experience as especially meaningful.

So, man meets woman.  They fall in love.  They promise to marry with the expectation that their spouse will dispel the loneliness  in their lives by giving them the security of (a) a sex partner forever and (b) someone to converse with forever.

Put another way, they are looking for sexual security and emotional security which are distinct but very intertwined.

Typically, for men satisfaction of sexual desire produces feelings of emotional closeness.  For women, emotional closeness produces feeling of sexual desire.

This is why women want to be romanced before sex and also why men have a tendency to want to move quickly toward sex . . . not just for the sex act itself but for the afterglow of emotional closeness which sex is the shortcut to.

So part of the “mismatch” between men and women is that while they both want true intimacy, which is both emotional and physical, they have a natural tendency to want the first steps to be down their own preferred path . . . emotional for women and physical for men.

This difference can lead to unintended hurts.   A wife can feel emotionally hurt and used when the husband neglects to emotionally warm her up before sex.   Conversely, if the wife refuses a “quicky” because her husband has failed to romance her, or she just doesn’t have the time, he is going to experience rejection.   Not just a rejection of sex, but rejection of emotional intimacy with him.   He, after all, is seeking not just sexual release but profound emotional intimacy. . .or at least a short cut to it,  especially in the afterglow of sex.

So remember this fundamental principle:  both husbands and wives want intimacy.  Deep, profound intimacy.  But they often see different paths to greater intimacy.  

While they both want sex and conversation in the mix, it is likely that they each want sex and conversation in different proportions.   Add on top of this the fact that either spouse, feeling that one’s desire for intimacy (verbal or physical) is being rejected feels like a rejection of one’s very self.

So what is the right proportion?

As much as your spouse asks for, with very few limits.

There may be limits, but the limits are not defined by whatever you consider to be “necessary.”  Instead, you should always be prepared to offer more sex and more conversation than you might personally consider “necessary.”

Why?  Because what ever you are willing to concede as a “necessary” is most likely to represent what suits your preferences, not your spouse’s.  Offering only what is “necessary” is just an excuse for not being generous in giving what your spouse desires.

This is why, speaking in terms of our stereotypes above, I think it is important for engaged couples to reflect on and be prepared to promise an unending willingness to give more to each other than is “necessary.”

When taking their marriage vows, grooms should be promising that they are prepared to participate in more conversations than are “necessary.”

Brides should be promising that they are prepared to participate in more acts of marital intercourse than are “necessary.”

Now, there are a few limitations.

Neither husbands or wives should be expected to participate in degrading conversations or degrading sexual acts.

There are also some reasonable limitations on timing.  Both a request for sex at the mall and a conversations at 2 a.m. are reasonably deferred.  But except in extraordinary circumstances, it is reasonable to expect requests for both sex and conversation to be accommodated within a reasonably short period of time, for example, within 24 hours.

Working Through Extraordinary Circumstances

As mentioned, however, “extraordinary circumstances” should also be respected.  These may be temporary (like the need to go on a business trip) or chronic (like difficulty coping with sex because an onset of psychiatric issues related to a history of sexual abuse).

Whatever the extraordinary circumstances may be, the spouse who is unable to provide  the desired sex or conversation should be committed to diligently working through these inhibitions.  If necessary, professional counseling should be sought.

Whether working through these barriers to emotional and physical intimacy takes weeks, months or years, the inhibited spouse should actively and diligently work at removing these obstacles.  At the same time, the inhibited spouse also has a right to ask the deprived spouse to be patient, but such patience will be far easier if the deprived spouse sees that the inhibited spouse to actively working toward improvement.

The alternative, a request that the deprived spouse should simply accept deprivation for the remainder of his or her life because “that’s just the way I am,” is not loving, is not fair, and does not contribute to a marriage that should be directed toward growing in true intimacy and love.  A refusal to work at known problems in the marital intimacy is a refusal to grow, and possibly a refusal to seek healing of past traumas.  While such avoidance behavior is understandable, living in denial and asking one’s spouse to join in that denial is not good for oneself, one’s spouse, and one’s marriage.

At the same time, while the inhibited spouse is trying to address his or her issues, it is important for the other spouse to be patient.  It is good to encourage and support growth, but it cannot be demanded.  Nor is it possible to coerce a loved one into meeting an established time line for growth and healing.

While it is right to want what is good for a loved one (and the ability to be emotionally and physically intimate is certainly a great good), any temptation to force or coerce even the most necessary changes can only backfire.  Dominating another person’s will never produces good results, because what is good for relationships can only arise from a gift of free will.

Coercion, will at best result a shallow pantomime of true intimacy. Such coerced imitations of intimacy will almost certainly impede rather than produce real growth.


The Obligation to Try Does Not Guarantee Success

In short, spouses should do their best to fulfill each other’s legitimate needs and wants.

At the same time, it is wrong to reject one’s spouse for failing to be an awesome sex partner or an fascinating conversationalist.  Everyone has short comings.  At the same time, everyone should be perpetually committed to trying to improve, for their own sake and for the sake of their spouse.

Confident in one’s own desire to contribute to the marriage and to the growth of one’s spouse, the loving spouse will seek to minimize displays of disappointment in favor of encouraging and praising the small successes which can lead to bigger successes as each spouse works to become both a lover and a better conversationalist.

Rather than focus on a spouse’s limitations in either department, each spouse should be focused on what he or she can do to improve at satisfying the other’s desires for both great sex and great conversations.  This may require actual study and practice.  But there are lots of resources out there to help.  Use them!

And the amazing thing is, more frequent sex will help men to become better listeners and conversationalists, which will in turn make it easier for women to have more passion in bed.

Conversely, cutting off either sex or conversation to punish a spouse for his or her failure to provide sex or conversation, guarantees misery for both.   Even giving only what you consider “necessary” is poison, especially if it is given with an attitude of “okay, I’m just doing this because you’re being such a pain and to prove that I’m more giving than you are.”

Your spouse should feel safe and free to ask for sex and receive a generous response, and also safe and free to ask for conversation and receive a generous response.

If you really try, but are having trouble in welcoming and responding to your spouse’s efforts to improve your sex life, I strongly advise that you seek professional counseling to investigate if there are any extraordinary issues, like a history of sexual abuse as a child which you have repressed, which may be impeding your ability to really develop the marital intimacy you and your spouse deserve.

For another angle on this topic, read “Sex, Success and Security.”


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