Have Your Sexpectations Caused You Marital Problems?

November 4, 2016

in Uncategorized

I have this nightmare scenario that sometimes goes through my head. Lori and I are doing premarital counselling for a couple. We ask them both to write out their sexual expectations for their marriage. When they each start reading what the other has written it gets ugly. She cries, he turns red and seems on the verge of screaming. They call the wedding off. She becomes a nun and he becomes a gigolo. 

Have Your Sexpectations Caused You Marital Problems?

Okay, enough of a look at my imagination, an admittedly odd and scary place. My point is men and women usually come into marriage with extremely different “sexpectations”. This is true even if both have been sexual and even if they have sex together before the wedding.

Part of this is based on gender differences, but I think the bigger issue is the two cultural stories we hear about married sex. Men get the male story while women get the female story. While both versions have some contact with truth and reality, both stray from those things in major ways. Most couples run into these differences shortly after marriage; usually, they ignore them thinking it will get better if they just keep going.

If this wasn’t your experience you’re in the blessed minority. The exact mismatch varies from couple to couple, but most find they desire very different sex lives with little common ground and no easy compromises. The norm is for the lower drive and/or more limited spouse to set the agenda by what s/he allows. 

Dr. David Schnarch says sex is always made up of leftovers – you both decide what you don’t want to do, then you do whatever’s left over. While this is certainly what most couples experience, I don’t think it has to be this way. In fact, in a Christian marriage, I think it shouldn’t be this way.

I realise some of you are married to men who want to do all manner of weird or wrong things. I realise some of you can’t get half as much sex as you want while others think their husband would do it a dozen times a day if he could. Regardless of how your sexpectations clash with his sexpectations, what can you do to move closer together? In particular, what can you put back on the table? I’m not suggesting you indulge sin or do things that cause pain or make you want to throw up. What I am suggesting is you might be able to improve things a bit. Maybe he will react by doing something to improve things in your marriage bed or some other area of your marriage. Who knows, it might become a habit for both of you!

~ Paul – I’m XY, and I don’t usually let my imagination off its very short leash!

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick Peters November 4, 2016 at 5:55 am

My wife and I go see a counselor together to help her with a number of issues and some of those are marriage related. When she heard about my wife having issues with sex, she wanted us to do an activity. She gave us each a small slip of paper and asked us in an ideal world how often we would each like to have sex a week. We each wrote a number and gave it to her. Then she had gave each of us the other’s slip of paper.

We had each written the exact same number.

It was a real eye-opener moment. Now we both know we have the same goal.
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B November 4, 2016 at 9:01 am

Yes. My expectations have caused issues. I guess I expected my husband to be happy that he had a wife who enjoys sex with him. I guess I thought as married people, and with as much as he claims to love me, that we’d have a great sex life. But he’d rather work. And sleep.

I’m not sure what it is. Maybe he thinks I’m ugly because I’m not a brunette. Maybe he thinks I’m too tall. Maybe I’m not good enough for him. But he doesn’t want sex but maybe once a week to ten days. And even then I usually have to ask for it. It stinks. I would love to be one of those wives whose husband actually loves her and desires her sexually. I’m so willing to give to him, but he doesn’t want anything. Except to work. And sleep.

So I guess what youre saying is I should lower my expectations. I’ve tried everything else. Lately I’ve been trying to count the blessings I do have, and train myself to NOT desire my husband anymore. It’s too painful.

@Nick, I tried that once. Asked my husband how often he’d like to have sex. He wouldn’t answer me. So I told him I’d love to have sex once a day, but I could certainly settle for every other day. He said he could go for that. That was a big fat lie. It’s never happened and it’s been months. I’m lucky if he’s willing to have sex once a week. And what’s even worse is, we can’t even talk about it or he gets all mad and mopey. So I’m just kinda left to long for him…and I’m trying to stop that. Oh and he also has the nerve to get upset when he tries to tell me he loves me or I’m pretty and I will not believe it. Unless he’s gay, which I’m sure he’s not, what man has a wife that he loves and thinks is pretty and yet he doesn’t want to have sex with her?

What’s even crazier, is sometimes he acts sad that he doesn’t want to have sex with me. Here’s a solution, tell me WHY NOT and I will change. But nope, he claims he doesn’t want me to change. It’s infuriating.

Things got better for a bit, where I felt loved and he seemed more interested in me, and he relaxed about work. That lasted all of two weeks. Now he’s back to working, stressing, and basically wanting nothing to do with me. Oh well.

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Life Travelers November 4, 2016 at 11:16 am

B: I would encourage you to seek marriage counseling with your husband. I would gamble that there is some deeper issue at play in your marriage other than your looks or anything else of that nature. There might be a hidden physical limitation or there could be a mental or emotional issue that is blocking the path to intimacy. My wife and I have talked with couples before where the husband was the lesser sexually aggressive spouse. That is okay but you need to ensure that it isn’t something deeper emotionally that can be resolved and improved.
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B November 4, 2016 at 3:02 pm

@LifeTravelers, thank you. We did a few weeks of counseling. Mostly he talked about his work stress (because work is his TRUE love) and then he went on about how much he does love me. I was encouraged to believe him and have more self esteem. Hard to do when you feel extremely unattractive because your husband doesn’t pursue you sexually.

If he loves me so much, I don’t understand why he won’t give me the one thing I long for, which is for him to find me desireable. But I understand he can’t force himself to be attracted to me if I’m not his idea of attractive. And if I was, he’d want to make love to me without forcing me to ask for it.

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Henri November 4, 2016 at 4:56 pm

@B – first can I just send you an empathetic hug. There have been periods of time where that is how my sex life goes too. And it causes me a great deal of insecurity, and I being to doubt my attractiveness. I’d like to issue you a challenge. It may or may not work, but it helped here. And part of the challenge is giving it time to work – however long.

Stop asking. Yup, you read that right. Stop asking. Release yourself and him from the pressure. I know you have needs. I HAVE needs.
When my husband was working long days, and under a lot of stress, he wasn’t able to function sexually. I believe Paul recently wrote how men respond to stress. Mine is one that his sex drive dries up,and to push for sex when he isn’t capable ends very badly.
So, I let him know I was available when he was, and then let it go. And I didn’t pout about it, or covertly try to instigate any sex. Instead, I just became his friend. This was a far cry from what I would normally do. It took a while, and its not like we went from nada to daily sex, but it released the pressure from him, and then when he was feeling up to it, it was great. But there was no expectation, and I stopped feeling like I was inadequate.
Now we cycle. When there is stress, our sex life is the first to dry up. When that stress is released, its back to being more frequent. But I don’t feel as though its about my lack of attractiveness anymore. It actually isn’t about me at all.
And if you should give this a try, don’t announce it. Just do it quietly.
BTW – it took almost 2 months before he was able to have sex.

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B November 4, 2016 at 7:50 pm

@Henri, thanks for taking the time to reply.

Yes, I should probably just give up. The sooner I accept that I’m not meant to have a fulfilling marriage, the better off I’ll be. I need to put my energies into other things, instead of desiring my husband and wishing he felt the same way for me. It’s a giant waste of time. He will probably be much happier if I stop wanting him sexually. It will take some work, but I’ll give it a go.

I have stopped talking about it, and I thought that would make him happy. But, no. He wants me to be happy, even though he doesn’t love me the way a normal man loves his wife. That’s too hard. I can be quiet. I can save my tears for when he’s not around. I can plaster on a fake smile for the rest of the world. But I can’t be genuinely happy knowing I will never be enough for the man I fell in love with. Knowing that I will never be sexually desired by the man who claimed to want to spend his life with me.

I don’t know if I can give up my sexual desire for him altogether, but I will try. It’s all there is left to do at this point.

Thank you.

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Henri November 6, 2016 at 1:45 pm

Oh B, I am not telling you to give up. I am just suggesting some breathing room of no pressure for either of you.
I get everything you are saying. I have sat there too. The feelings of inadequacy are hard to get over. If I looked to my husband to validate me as a person, then I think pond scum would rank higher then me. I often feel, and its not an exaggeration, the person I most resonate with from the bible is Leah, except Rachel isn’t necessarily another woman, but everything else that always ranks higher then me. Believe me, I feel your agony, because I’ve lived through it, and still live through it.
The only real difference between the me of now and of even a year ago, is I don’t look to my husband for my self worth or validation anymore (I am still human and relapse at times). If I were to wait to hear how I was “enough” for my husband, then I would be waiting. He is a “I told you I loved you when we got married, and we are still married” type of man.
And I would never say to stop wanting him sexually. Only to stop wanting him to validate you as a beautiful woman, to stop pressuring him to validate you through sex – because honestly, it’s hurting you far more then it’s hurting him. Trust me, I know.
Give both of you some breathing room for a bit. He knows you are there waiting. Instead, be his best friend. Sometimes that is what my role is. Just to be there.
In the meantime, you focus on you. Use this time to work on character in your life. Pick anything that will take your focus off what you are currently hyperfocusing on. Cut out any type of romance movies/ books/ etc, they really hurt, and put your energy into learning something, working on a project, going out with a friend just for a bite, or cup of coffee. Little things.
Don’t feel as though you are giving up, only that you are changing the game.
Oh, and find one positive thing about your husband that you truelly admire every few weeks, rotate through them if you can’t come up with a lot right now, but non sexually and just find little ways to praise/thank him. And if he asks “what do you want”, your answer is nothing, I just wanted to tell you, smile and move on.

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Life Travelers November 7, 2016 at 7:25 am

Excellent advice Henri! Thanks for sharing.
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Libl November 4, 2016 at 11:49 am

I sexpected my husband to be a “typical male” and want sex every day and be more adventurous. There have been periods in our marriage where he was the refused and gatekeeper and I was left feeling ugly and stupid.

I have accepted our differences and am even learning to be content in them. During our worst, I pushed myself to initiate and face rejection gracefully. I also pushed myself to initiate and enjoy sex for myself, and for sex’s sake, rather than expecting hubby to be all into me. For almost 2 years it felt like solo masturbation rather than mutual intercourse. I pushed passed his telling me I wasn’t attractive to him anymore. I pushed past him not touching me and staring at the ceiling. It hurt, but I knew I had to come to a place of right for myself (within God’s context).

Now, our drives are matched, we have a rythum and routine, and found what works for both of us within his narrow playground. It isn’t ideal for me, but I am getting more content with it. He is attracted to me again and sexually pursues me. It feels good.

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Paul Byerly November 4, 2016 at 1:34 pm

@Libl – Some men are not what society says is “normal” and that makes life difficult for them and for their wife. If couples understood this from day one things would be different. There would still be some adjustment, but it could be done sooner and with less pain.
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B November 4, 2016 at 2:58 pm

@Libl, that’s so great that he is attracted to you and pursues you. I can only imagine, but I imagine it’s a wonderful feeling. I’m so happy for you that things are getting better.
Maybe there’s hope for me yet…

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Jolie November 5, 2016 at 8:34 am

Sexpectations set us up for disappointment.
Sexpectations don’t allow for life changes.
Sexpectations are all about the self and how the other should fulfill them.

Through babies, job changes, caring for dying parents, prostate and heart surgery, and the joys of menopause, all I can say is that my Sexpectations have readjusted or disappeared over the years. Reality has a way of changing things.

As Ben Franklin one wrote: ” Blessed is he that (s)expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”

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Jolie November 5, 2016 at 11:52 am

I wonder which is the worse curse,
Being the one who is totally disappointed because their spouse doesn’t meet their Sexpectations
or Being the one who totally disappoints their spouse because their essence can’t live up to their spouses Sexpectations even when they try?

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B November 5, 2016 at 5:42 pm

I think it’s worse to be the one who is totally disappointed. Because, at least in my situation, the one with the low drive (my husband) controls everything. He has all the power. He decides what happens, if anything, and when. There is nothing I can do about it. I can’t force him to love me or be attracted to me. I can do things to show him love, serve him, I can work out, stay fit, pay attention to my appearance – but none of it makes any difference. Everything is on his terms.

And this is wrong on my part, but he even controls how I feel about myself. His lack of interest in me makes me feel ugly and worthless, and very unloved. The way he tells me he loves me so often only makes things worse, because he refuses to show it. I’m not allowed to have feelings because if I express my unhappiness that only makes things worse.

So because he refuses to change, I’m destined to never know true love or desirability. And I think he thinks he’s trying, but let’s face it, he’s not. So while he’s just doing what feels right to him, I’m stuck. Therefore it’s worse to be the one who is disappointed because you have no power to change things, other than to give up.

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Life Travelers November 7, 2016 at 12:53 pm

B: I want to recommend a book for you to read that may help you sort all of this stuff out. I am currently reading it and while reading at lunch today, I was reminded of your story. It’s called “Boundaries in Marriage” by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend. I think that it might help you out.
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MrShorty November 10, 2016 at 8:47 pm

If I may:
@B: As another who has reached a point of “giving up” (I like to call it “waiting for God”, but it probably is more like giving up), I can only commiserate. It is really sad when we reach a point where we decide not to pursue our spouses because they don’t want to be pursued.
@Jolie Re. Ben Franklin: He is probably mostly right, but it seems so cynical or something.

As for expectations, coincidentally, this came across my computer this week from the University of Toronto: https://www.utoronto.ca/news/u-t-study-reveals-key-happy-sex-life It really hit home for me in a few ways, mostly because I was one of those who married with the expectation that sex would happen and be fulfilling naturally, essentially without effort. Of course, that has proven to be a great disappointment. Perhaps if someone would have taught me some of these concepts like “sexual growth” and talked about how to navigate sexual differences in marriage. I hate to put too much influence for these attitudes on the church, but I grew up in a church with a solid dose of “purity culture”, which caused me to enter marriage with attitudes that would put “sexual growth” as something a good Christian would never pursue.

Thanks for the blog and discussion topic.

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Paul Byerly November 11, 2016 at 8:41 am

@MrShorty – Thanks for the link – had not seen that yet. It’s important research if we take it to heart.
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Alicia November 12, 2016 at 9:18 pm

I know this wasn’t the biggest point in your post, Paul, but the part that stood out for me was the very first line. The one about you and Lorri doing premarital counseling with a couple and discussing “sexpectations.” And I started to wonder, how many Christian premarital counseling/mentoring programs out there really do discuss sex and sexual issues, beyond the usual, “Don’t have it till you’re married? And if you’ve had it, stop doing it till you’re married?” I know that’s all that got discussed in my and my husband’s premarital mentoring. Thankfully we were older by the time we married, so had some maturity and wisdom on our side to help us figure things out. But what about for very young couples, or ones who have a hard time talking about sexual issues because they don’t know how? I wonder how many Christian marriages would struggle less with sexual issues if it were truly made part of premarital counseling/mentoring instead of being avoided as it so often is?

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Paul Byerly November 12, 2016 at 9:48 pm

@Alicia – It;s a huge problem. I’ve not seen a premarital curriculum I felt did an even half way decent job of dealing with it.
That said, last spring we got to have some input on a premarital course being put together by a mega-church. They sounded very interested in getting the sex right. I know they intend to sell it once it’s been tested in house. Praying it’s awesome.
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