Sex often serves as the canary in the coal mine for a marriage, an indicator of its overall health and vitality, particularly where warmth, respect and closeness are concerned.
Of all the various topics involved in marriage, sex is probably the most difficult to generalize about. For such a relatively simple and uncomplicated behavior, sex carries a wide variety of meanings for different people. Furthermore, whatever meaning it had for you when you (and your relationship) were younger, may well have transformed over time.
There is a familiar saying While women need a reason to have sex, men only need a place. While perhaps a little crass, this thought carries with it a good deal of truth: while sex may mean one thing for you, it probably means something else for your spouse. Any appreciation and understanding of these differences will go a long way in defusing possible painful and protracted misunderstandings.
It is probably safe to say that for men, sex is about a discharge, a physical sexual release that is the ultimate aim of the gradual buildup of sexual tension. Sex also often carries strong proprietary connotations, a statement such is This is my mate, I’m staking my claim, me Tarzan, you Jane much as you might see demonstrated on wildlife programs on the Discovery channel. On an ego level, the male is asserting his dominance, not so much over the woman as reassuring himself, here again, much as a male lion might proclaim himself by roaring into the darkness.
For the male, when things are going well with the sexual aspect of the relationship, other areas are less problematic. But when he feels sexually rebuked or spurned, it is liable to be a lot more threatening and unsettling to him than the mere loss of orgasm. He may perceive a large piece of his identity as being at stake.
While physical orgasm is important to the female as well, the sense of physical and emotional closeness and connection generally plays a much more important role. It is probably safe to say that for most women, a sense of being reassured that they are wanted, needed and cherished features prominently. The physical contact mimics and supports a highly prized and desired sense of emotional connection. It reinforces a sense of security and stability in the bond between the partners. More so than slacking lust, sex serves to reinforce commitment and strong emotional ties.
When things start to go bad in the relationship at large, women are more likely to want to address the threat to these bonds directly. Until they are satisfied as to the strength and legitimacy of these bonds, they may be less desirous of reinforcing them sexually.
When men detect a threat to the sexual connection, they may attempt to gloss it over by reasserting themselves sexually, just at the time when women may be experiencing serious misgivings. While each may seek to accommodate in some fashion, the seeds of doubt have been sewn and are not likely to disappear until confronted directly.
Women may often seek to avoid increasing marital stress by adopting a veneer of sexual complacency. While quietly submitting to their husband’s sexual initiatives may serve to blunt the worst of a potentially explosive situation, in the long run it only leads to deepening a sense on contempt, deceit and betrayal.
Pronounced sexual problems are the marital equivalent of the check engine light illuminating the dashboard of your car. Something needs to be examined and resolved. It is usually the woman who gets the ball rolling, as she is the more likely to respond to emotional distress than is her husband.
It doesn’t have to be the end of the world. When this happens (and it will from time to time) it is important to bear in mind that what sex and the interruption/loss of it means to you is probably not what it means to your spouse. Resist the temptation to imagine you know what is going on with your spouse. So doing will most likely only lead you immediately down the wrong path.
The only way to find out what it is your spouse is going through is to ask him/her and try to listen hard to what they are telling you. Just because you may not agree with it doesn’t mean they are wrong. Utilizing some careful listening techniques is often helpful at this time.
Keep in mind that talking about sex, sexual needs, sexual inhibitions, etc, can be a very ticklish process. The emotional roots of sexual behavior spread far and wide and can encompass a wide variety of issues and meanings, some of them very deep and powerful. Pride, acceptance and a strong sense of self-worth are often powerfully bound to the sex act.
A common misperception during sexually stressful times is that everyone else is having a healthy and fulfilling sex life while you two are the only ones having problems. Believe me, these things go on all the time and no couple, however happy and content they may appear on the surface, escapes them. Prepare yourself to be a little vulnerable, treat each other with respect and maintain an intention for arriving at a constructive outcome and you’ll be surprised at how much can be accomplished.
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