“If you feel you cannot truly be yourself with your partner and express your fears
If you want some really interesting conversation, compare notes with your wife or partner about the meaning of intimacy. If you are hoping she will connect it to sex, you may be disappointed. For a woman, intimacy more often means safety, the assurance that she can be totally open and vulnerable with you and that you will not exploit that. That she can tell you her deepest fears and concerns and you will not use that against her later in a fight or some other conversation. Good definition, I’d say.
If that comes as a surprise to you, I suggest you look at your own ideas about intimacy and where you got those ideas. It is hard to be truly intimate with another person and maintain a warrior–macho, “tough guy” exterior. If you feel you cannot truly be yourself with your partner and express your fears and worries as well as your happiness and success, something is missing.
In his short, but powerful book Love is Letting Go of Fear, Gerald Jampolsky says all our behavior is driven by either love or fear. Sometimes we refuse to love completely because of our own fear of rejection or hurt. Learning to operate totally out of love (and trust) takes a special kind of dedication but it is worth it.
You Can Change This
In an interview on Men in Balance Radio, Davidson Basketball Coach Bob McKillop says the way we show our care for others is how much we give them these things: Time and Love. How much time do you spend with your partner in real closeness, excluding sexual contact? Do you, for example, spend a few minutes each night or at mealtime decompressing with each other before you go to bed, sharing your day and talking about what is on your mind? Are you comfortable bringing up concerns or worries you may have about personal things? Are you truly willing to listen and engage with her about her feelings about the relationship or other things that may be troubling her?
In our survey, 66% of men said they would like more conversation with their wife, but 42% said they did not know how to have a productive conversation with their partner on sensitive issues. Interestingly, 56% said they would like to be able to open up more with their wife.1
What is in there?
I am troubled by the number of men who are so out of touch with their own feelings that when I ask them how they feel about something, they say they don’t know. It’s as if they looked inside and found nothing there to report. They are what some women label as “locked up.” This is not acceptable. We have feelings and we must make the effort to reach inside ourselves, identify what we are feeling and share that with our loved ones, especially our partner. A teacup at a time if necessary at first, we must dip from that ocean inside us and pour it on the ones we love.
Whatever you may have been thinking about intimacy, this is where it really happens: in being able to be open and vulnerable with your partner and sharing your thoughts, including those that are not very “manly.” This should be the time when you can be emotionally honest with the person who knows you best and is most committed to your success. A time when you can be fully human and fully present in a love relationship, even creating a time of mutual spiritual renewal. And don’t be afraid of your feelings. Feelings are, by definition, fleeting and emotional and can change rapidly.
Does this idea of increasing your openness with your wife seem intriguing to you? Not every man can admit that he needs this kind of time with his partner but I’m convinced that most every man longs for it. If this kind of time is not happening in your marriage, ask yourself why not? If this is something you want, why is it not happening? If you believe the reason it is not happening is that your partner is not capable or not willing, you might reconsider that. Put the request on the table (“Honey, I need more quality time with you, more time just talking and enjoying each other’s company. Would you be willing to help me make that happen? Here’s what I would like…”)
If you feel you have tried this before with no success, I beg you to try again after re-reading this chapter. You will need to start with a clean slate, forgiving any past transgressions of your partner.
If the issue is that you have hang-ups about allowing yourself to be this vulnerable, you are missing some real soul-satisfying moments because of a questionable, maybe even dangerous, belief. Additionally, what do you see as the purpose of marriage if it is not all-defenses-down deep communion with each other? Too often we convince ourselves that our partner is not interested in or willing to meet our needs, so we don’t ask. Or we miss the message she is trying to send that she can’t feel really close to us when our behavior is insensitive, critical, judgmental or looking to place blame. If you are an “empty nester,” you may have gotten out of the habit of simply enjoying each other because of the stresses of raising kids. You can have that again!
What’s Your Problem?
A disturbing tendency I have noticed in men in some of my sessions is this temptation for a man to blame his partner for the lack of intimacy in their marriage. He sometimes describes his wife as cold, insensitive or unresponsive to his overtures. It’s as if she is just being difficult or arbitrary or stingy with her affection. Sometimes he considers or has an affair out of spite, feeling his partner’s behavior justifies it.
Rationally, men know an affair is not a solution and it is fraught with minefields for the marriage, but there is this pent-up anger to get back at his wife for his perception of the way she is treating him. The emphasis becomes totally based around the physical intimacy he needs and little on the emotional and psychological intimacy she may be needing. We may show our anger at the situation but we are not offering a solution or indicating our willingness to pursue one. (Interestingly, according to goodtherapy.com, anger issues are the main reason men end up going to counseling.2
This is immature behavior. If you find yourself in this situation or something similar, here is a checklist to ensure you are “keeping your side of the street clean” before you hurl accusations.
I feel the need to put in a disclaimer. All my suggestions in this book are assuming you are in a relationship with a rational, emotionally mature person, someone who is working honestly to keep the marriage healthy and satisfying. Someone willing to get counseling for her problems if that is required and willing to join you in counseling about the relationship, and someone who is willing to own her own issues. If that is not what you are dealing with, then a different approach is called for. See page 203 for options.
Now the checklist:
- Talk to her honestly and openly, speaking about your emotional needs honestly and unapologetically. “Honey, what I need from you is….”
- Make a straightforward and very specific request about your needs. Focus on behaviors you wish to see or not see. “I would really appreciate it if you would greet me with a kiss when I come home.” This is different from a complaint “You always“ or “You never” do ……”
- Ask for her reaction to your needs. Listen without interruption or challenge or defensiveness. “I really want to hear how you feel about this.”
- Paraphrase back accurately what you hear. “So it sounds like you are saying….”
- Keep doing this until she confirms you understand her point of view. Don’t challenge or bring up other issues! These are her feelings and they are legitimate, not to be argued with.
- Ask her to engage in a discussion about next steps such as trying some new approaches, getting counseling, hammering out an agreement. “What would you like to see as our next steps toward resolving this?”
- Regardless of what she says, thank her for hearing your concerns. Be careful not to follow that with a complaint. “I genuinely appreciate you opening up and sharing this with me. I want to take some time to think about what I heard. Then I will be able to give you a more thoughtful response.”
- Spend some time thinking about what she said and what you have been contributing to the problem. If you can, acknowledge you have been guilty of some bad behavior. Apologize for that and make a focused effort to change. “I need to admit that I have done X or Y and that has not been helpful for us. I apologize for that and I hope you will forgive me. I am committed to doing better.”
There is no guarantee that you will be satisfied with the outcome of this discussion. Remember, you don’t have to resolve issues instantly. Such efforts may take several conversations and perhaps some counseling, but your focus should be on developing a process to resolve differences. That, in my opinion, is what successful couples have learned.
By the way, it is encouraging to hear that, according to Dr. John Gottman in The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, you can have a good marriage without ever resolving major differences. In fact, most major differences will never be resolved. And your marriage can survive even times of shouting at each other in an argument.3 Feel better?
Also, Pat Love says in her book, How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, that you can make real improvements in your marriage without involving your partner. This means just working on your own issues quietly and alone. It’s not a guarantee to keep you out of the counselor’s office, but it’s a good place to start.
Viagra Doesn’t Create Intimacy
There is research to show that increasingly younger and younger men are depending on erectile dysfunction drugs in their marriage or intimate relationships. The research also shows that after a while, these drugs do not solve the problem because the unresolved issues in the relationship are more potent than the drugs (forgive the pun). Our focus on solving a sexual problem ignores the main culprit–our own brain. The body may be wanting physical closeness, but the emotional part of our brain is saying, “Not so fast. I’ve got some issues here!” Sadly, only about half the men in our survey (51%) report having a satisfying sex life at home and over 25% say they have lost enthusiasm for the relationship; 63% say they want more sex than they are getting.4
If unresolved issues are keeping you from feeling at peace with your partner, the hydraulics are simply not going to work. Therefore, finding a way to increase emotional, not physical, closeness is the only option. I’m sympathetic to men about this because most of us have never been taught how to put our guard down and be truly close to our partner. We are sometimes able to compartmentalize sex in a way that separates it from real intimacy, but eventually the soul wants more–it wants integration of our whole self in this most important part of ourselves.
For the future
For those of us who have had to start this journey of leaving behind our outdated views of what we consider manly in terms of emotional expression and intimacy, we know this is not easy. But the rewards are plentiful. Imagine being truly yourself, emotionally transparent with your partner and feeling relaxed instead of stressed about it. Imagine getting rid of any need for defensiveness or protectiveness when you are with the one you love. Imagine feeling the stirrings of an erection just thinking about this person and sensing that she feels equally aroused by thoughts of you. This type of intimacy is certainly worth pursuing, and if your own beliefs or conditioning are making it difficult or impossible to achieve this, it is probably time for some reflection or even counseling. Your partner will thank you for your effort and you will be closer to understanding what true “manliness” can be.
10 Reasons Guys Don’t Get More Sex (in no particular order)
I included this section just because it is so interesting. In one of our sessions, we brainstormed why men aren’t getting the sex they claim they want. Here’s what we came up with:
- Whining about it/the lack of it (vs. talking about our needs)
- Playing it “cool” to see if she will initiate it (vs. initiating it lovingly without worry about rejection). Avoiding rejection is a sure way to avoid getting what you want.
- Acting angry or hurt, hoping for her to “make it right” (vs. making a request or being loving and cheerful). In one of our sessions, a man said, “My wife should know when I need sex—I’m irritable and unhappy.” I responded, “So when she sees you are irritable and mad at her, that should be her cue to initiate sex?” He wasn’t happy with my challenge, but a lot of us have likely tried this approach.
- Not asking directly for what we want (vs. speaking up for ourselves)
- Complaining about what she has done/not done lately (vs. requesting something different)
- Waiting till bedtime to initiate affection (vs. demonstrating affection throughout the day)
- Answering in one-word answers or grunts and groans (vs. engaging in meaningful conversation with her)
- Making sex into a “project” to be completed perfectly (vs. allowing it to unfold based on each other’s appetite)
- Skipping the relaxed conversation, the “I love you” kind of chat (vs. taking the time to learn about her and her feelings)
- Hint: Demonstrating your feelings of rejection is not a strategy nor is “wishing and hoping.” Put the ego away and enjoy her!
BIG question: Are you brave enough to talk about this list with your partner?
As men, sometimes we get confused about intimacy and sex. If we think more deeply, we can understand that intimacy is a special kind of closeness that we need as much as our partner. It involves an emotional trust that goes far deeper than sex and begins with true friendship. To have true intimacy with our partner, we need to better understand her and listen attentively to her concerns, provide her safety in the relationship and make her feel cherished. When there’s an issue we must own up to the part of the problem we created. The rewards for this are a closeness we long for but may never have experienced.
The Balanced Approach
Keep your passion for your partner alive, speak up for your needs lovingly and make her feel safe in the relationship. Remember we more often fail to meet each other’s needs out of forgetfulness, not maliciousness.
- Are you guilty of blaming your partner for your needs not being met?
- Are you willing to re-consider your ideas about sex, intimacy and manliness?
- Are you willing to commit to making some personal changes in order to truly experience intimacy?
- Are you doing everything you can to let your partner know how special she is to you outside the bedroom?
- Are you asking for what you need versus acting hurt?
- Are you making yourself available for simple conversation and listening time?
- Is the intimacy model you have one you would want for your children?
- Can you think of some loving ways to initiate sexual closeness without coming on like an animal?
Action Steps Men Can Take
- Initiate conversations with your partner about what intimacy means to each of you.
- Resolve to openly and unapologetically ask for what you need. Learn to deal with your fear of rejection.
- Get some counseling or do further reading on the topic of masculinity and intimacy.
- Abolish any thoughts of infidelity. Focus all your emotional energy lovingly on your partner.
- Stop blaming and start trying to understand and forgive.
- Renew your vows.
- Watch some romantic movies together and talk about them honestly.
- NEVER say, “I’m just not the mushy type. I am who I am.”
- Don’t harbor grudges. Get issues on the table or dismiss them.
- Look for signs of willingness to reconcile when there is conflict and hints of a need for closeness as well.
- Remember commitment to the relationship is a decision you make fresh every day and it is the same for her.
- Don’t label the situation as hopeless or a standoff when there is conflict. Hang in there and keep showing acts of love.
- Record your commitments on the Personal Action Plan on page 194.
Action Steps Women Can Take
- Examine your attitudes about intimacy and whether you have sent conflicting messages to your partner.
- Initiate or participate in an open discussion of the emotional health of the relationship.
- Reward any open expression of honesty, vulnerability from your partner.
- Seek counseling for your own issues if needed or with your partner if appropriate. See page 203 for options.
- Be on the lookout for small expressions of willingness to change and reward those.
- Tell your partner what intimacy means to you and how you came to that view.
- Learn techniques to forgive and restore intimacy when that is needed, not just “kiss and make up.” Remember forgiveness is not something you do for someone else. It is something you do for yourself.
- Be sensitive to signs of willingness to reconcile in times of conflict. Move toward him, not away.
- If you feel you cannot be heard without an argument, write your feelings in a letter, apologizing at the top for the hurt it may cause.
- If your partner already demonstrates a good model in this area, tell him directly.
|Keeping your balance
On the scale below put a ^ mark where you think you are in your understanding of sex and intimacy and another ^ where you would like to be and will work toward.