What’s a husband to do when passion runs cold and his patience has run out?
John: “Honey, I’d like to make time for lovemaking this weekend.”
Jane: “Maybe. We’ll see.”
John: “I think what you meant to say was ‘That sounds great baby. It’s been too long hasn’t it?’”
Jane: “Ummm…no, that’s not what I meant.”
John: “And that seems to be the problem. You’re more comfortable keeping our intimate life in limbo than you are in acknowledging the obvious. We need to fix this.”
Jane: “I know that you want to fix this and I’ve asked you to be patient. I can make myself have sex with you, but I can’t make myself want to. Why can’t you just be more patient?”
John: “That sounds like a reasonable plan up front but after a year, I’m running out of patience. I can’t see you doing anything that is moving us toward a solution. I’ve made the all changes you asked me to make.”
Jane: “A lot of women go through this. You just need to be more patient.”
What’s a husband to do when he’s had a version of this conversation at least 100 times?
How much patience is required of a good man and husband?
How long must a spouse wait for the other to figure out their lack of desire?
What if the lack of desire is really a symptom of something bigger?
Spoiler alert: I don’t have pat answers for those questions. Every situation is unique and my coaching varies greatly depending on circumstances. But I want to share some thoughts I’ve learned from unhappy husbands and wives I’ve worked with.
To keep this in context, let’s assume there isn’t any serious abuse going on in either direction. And let’s assume there hasn’t been any affairs or addictions or major illnesses involved.
Here are some situations I find frequently.
“I Just Don’t Know if I Can Trust You Anymore”
Men hear this a lot when intimacy has dried up. It’s usually around marriage year 15 – sometimes much earlier – sometimes later. He’s had a long run of doing things that, from her perspective, have created a huge hole in her ability to see him as trustworthy. He has hurt her feelings, disappointed her, disrespected her or minimized her in ways she now finds irreversible. She can’t feel safe and sexually attracted to him. The validity of her concerns is a source of constant arguments between them.
As he gets older and more mature, he starts seeing some things differently. Maybe she wasn’t totally wrong. Now she wants to talk about separating. He experiences the most fear and pain he’s ever known. He falls on his sword. He seeks professional help and learns he could have been a better husband. He begs forgiveness and sets out to prove to her he can change – he wants to change. And she sounds like broken record for the next few years with “I just don’t know if I can trust you anymore”.
He wants her more than ever and she acts like she can’t imagine being close to him. Even after he says his patience has run out, he stays the course for another 5 years. Sometimes they turn it around and sometimes they don’t.
“I Just Don’t Know if He’s The Right One For Me”
This conundrum can strike a woman the day she gets engaged or on her 30th wedding anniversary. It happens to men too, but it’s not as common. Sheryl Paul is an accomplished counselor who specializes in life transitions with women. Her writings in the area of Relationship Anxiety are riveting. Just reading the comments women make on her articles make my clients say, “holy cow, my wife could have written that word for word.”
Sheryl describes two brands of anxiety. One starts with the question, “Do I love my partner enough or at all?” Prior to that thought, their relationship was text book wonderful. But later, as the feelings of “in loveness” fade, she begins to panic about trying to get those feelings back.
Sheryl describes the other brand of Relationship Anxiety as more of a slow burn that may have started at the very beginning of the relationship. It’s can be described as pervasive feelings of doubt, lack of attraction and being stuck as “just friends”. And because society helps her believe that those “in love” feelings are the leading indicator of having the “right partner” she panics and starts moving away from him emotionally and physically.
Women who choose to stay and fight their fears typically ask for patience. Sheryl calls them “fear warriors” and they work hard to overcome the anxiety causing their fear and inability to get close to their man. Sometimes her man has enough patience and she wins her battle and saves the relationship. Sometimes he doesn’t and neither does she.
“This Happens to All Women at This Stage”
Many husbands hear this from their wives somewhere between the birth of their first child and age 75. And reasonable men know there are a lot of good reasons for it. Simple Google searches give a guy enough smarts to develop some serious empathy for what is going on with her. And patience is again the prescription for dealing with it.
Patience is easiest to come by when both partners are openly communicating and working together. The realities of parenting, sleep deprivation, stress, overwhelm and exhaustion are best navigated by a well-oiled team committed to a shared goal. In this environment being patient is easier as well as finding time and desire for sex.
But patience is more difficult when a man feels like he’s on the outside. When his wife begins to battle with menopause he’s powerless. He can’t help her. He’s not a team member anymore. While he may understand the chemistry behind her lack of desire, it doesn’t help his chronic feelings of rejection, undesirability and disconnection. Patience without a game plan feels pointless. Patience without her expressed desire and effort to “fix things” feels like a waste of time.
Patience Isn’t Your Only Option
Patience isn’t your only option because sex isn’t your only option.
Yes, sex is grand. Sex is wonderful. Sex is necessary. And, in marriage, sex is expected.
But when it comes to mustering patience during difficult times a man needs to be honest with himself. His lack of patience is usually related to pent-up resentment and anger over something else that is missing – and it’s not sex.
I ask my guys, “What are the deepest, most meaningful feelings you get when your wife enjoys sex with you?”
The most common answers include:
- Feeling a loving connection with her
- Feeling desired and wanted by her
- Feeling accepted by her
- Feeling capable of pleasing her
- Feeling validated as a man and lover
- Feeling like everything is okay with us
Then I ask, “Would it easier to be patient about having sex if she was able to create those feelings for you in other ways besides sex?”
The most common answer: “Sure, but she doesn’t do that which is why I want sex to get those feelings.”
“So, if she was more skilled and intentional about creating those feelings in non-sexual ways, you could breathe a little easier?”
“Yeah. I could breathe a whole lot easier. And it seems to me that fixing THAT would probably fix the sex stuff anyway.”
Sexual intimacy can take a nose dive for many reasons in your marriage.
Sometimes the causes are deep and complicated requiring time, serious work and professional help. Patience may be the key to surviving and sometimes no amount of patience will help.
But sometimes the only thing missing during temporary lulls in passion is the conscious intention to purposefully love one another.
By choosing to consciously and intentionally show your appreciation, connection, desire and acceptance of each other on a daily basis, sexual intimacy can’t help but find its way back into your relationship.
And if you both understand and believe that, patience becomes a cake walk.
I wrote a free e-book to help men learn how to lose their fear and be more bold in their marriage to create the love and connection they want. Get The Hard to Swallow Truth About Saving Your Marriage HERE
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Photo Tina Franklin/flickr