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The dynamic that's killing our sex lives

As a couples therapist, I see SO MANY couples whose sex lives have slowed to a stop - especially after kids. When I speak to each partner alone, an interesting pattern emerges. The husband thinks his wife has become frigid and uninterested. He doesn't understand why she doesn't seem to want to be touched, to even want to hang out as much as she used to. He feels lonely, sad, and often withdraws from the relationship because he's not feeling wanted or desired.


Then I talk to the wife. She feels unsupported and alone in raising the kids and keeping the house. She works, often, and yet still feels responsible to be the manager of the house and everything to do with the kids. If her husband does help out, and he often does, he helps out doing the things she directs him to do. She's fully aware that her husband wants more intimacy, but is feeling so overworked and underappreciated that the thought of having sex, even though it could be enjoyable for her, feels like another thing on her to-do list.


For many women I've seen in my practice, if they feel their husband expects them to be the manager of the house, to carry the mental load of raising the kids, planning meals, emotionally supporting everyone, making sure the house is organized, the groceries are bought, the meals are prepared, the kitchen is cleaned, the kids have enough clothes and activities and not too much screen time, trying to encourage everyone to help out while also completing the tasks her husband and kids don't do… they do NOT have any (or very low) interest in having sex with their husband.


To be clear, this doesn’t mean their sexual desire has diminished - sometimes it has, sometimes it hasn't. but the desire to have sex WITH THEIR HUSBAND is not there as strongly anymore. This is because, for women especially, sexual desire is dependent on feeling like she can rely on her partner. If she's feeling resentful or constantly overwhelmed, she would need to be able to temporarily step away from those feelings in order to relax her body enough to have sex. This is why we often have more sex while on vacation or after a really nice date night out - we're feeling relaxed, connected, and temporarily separate from the constant overwhelm of daily parenthood.


For the husband, their wife's physical distance creates isolation and loneliness. He will often feel unappreciated by his wife because one of the ways he feels loved and valued is through physical intimacy of any kind. But because his wife is feeling the way she's feeling, she often doesn't want to encourage even affectionate intimacy, for fear of having to turn him down if he wants more.


It's not just "lack of help around the house", necessarily, that starts the deterioration of trust that eventually leads to a lack of sex. It's what the housework represents. An UNMET NEED. The link between unmet needs and sex is UNDENIABLE. When our partner does not meet our needs, we learn we can't trust them, rely on them. Over time, as our needs go unmet, the safety in our relationship crumbles. Resentment builds. There's now a wall up, where there may not have been before. This wall often does not allow us to engage in the very vulnerable act of sex, or even of simple intimacy.


The unmet need could be lack of emotional connection, physical touch, not enough quality time, financial irresponsibility, a competing attachment like your partner working too much or spending too much time on hobbies, not helping with the invisible work of raising kids, or unfair distribution of housework. Both women and men have unmet needs, and these unmet needs eventually lead to resentment and withdrawal from their partner.


Every single argument I've heard about in my practice boils down to an unmet need. Every resentment is a need that has gone unmet for way too long, or in a very intense way.


Of course sometimes sex will stop because one partner is overwhelmed, tired, struggling with their mental health, or has a physical issue that has maybe gone undiagnosed. But MOST OFTEN, the cause is simple. She does not feel supported and therefore her body will not allow her to relax and feel desirous of the person who is not meeting her needs. This means her husband is also not getting his needs met, which further solidifies the disconnecting cycle of withdrawal, unmet needs, resentment, and less and less intimacy as a result.


To be clear, yes husbands - theoretically, your wife could start having sex with you more and therefore you'll be happier and more likely to show up in a more loving way to her. This can lead to a happier few months. Unfortunately, though, more sex does not often translate into the husband meeting the wife's needs more, because for men - having your physical needs met and helping around the house is not a direct link. This means your wife will still have unmet needs but you won't and over time you'll wonder why she's getting more and more unhappy. It's not sustainable and not likely to last long when approached that way. 

If your relationship has been suffering from lack of sex, think back to the complaints you've heard from your partner. This is them stating their needs. You even simply HEARING these needs will go a long way, and you helping to meet them will change your relationship for the better, and maybe eventually lead to a more satisfying sex life where your needs too are being met.

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