[Apologies for such a long-winded post, especially with it being my first.]
I've been frustrated with my sex life with my wife for years now and things have become really awful over the last year. After spending a lot of time the last few weeks reading over posts on this forum, I've realized that while my wife definitely has not held up her end of things (and has age, grief, stress, and body image issues that are also nerfing her libido), I'm not the innocent victim of a cold sexless shrew that I've long convinced myself I am. I've done a ton of stupid things that have made the situation far worse than it should be and have made it much harder to turn things around. My actions and attitudes have taken a lot of things that should have been in-the-moment frustrations or temporary rough patches, and turned them into full-scale disasters.
The main issue is that I haven't given her any room to breathe when it comes to the problems in our sex life (FWIW, everything else between us is good-to-great and we've largely gotten past the point where the problems with sex have affected how we see other things between us). For example, I've whined and pleaded to try to get more sex, even in circumstances where it was obvious that my wife had perfectly legitimate reasons to not be interested in feeling sexual. I've made her feel like sex is something she has to do for me, rather than something we are free to enjoy together. I've made her feel like she doesn't measure up to the horniness and adventurousness of women I was with before. I've made it so that, automatically, her first thought in the morning is that, yet again, she's guilty of denying her husband sex the night before and, yet again, she'll be guilty of denying her husband sex that day, too. I've made her feel like she can't show me any affection or respond positively to my displays of affection, out of fear that it will inevitably lead to a situation in which she's reminded about all the tension between us about sex. I've made her feel crowded and harassed, rather than understood and respected. She sees everything I do as ultimately directed at getting into her pants and thus she feels guilty about every nice thing I do for her, even when it should be obvious that I've acted for other reasons. And, while she clearly finds me attractive and has sexual feelings for me (and she definitely knows and appreciates that I'm very attracted to her), she has every reason to not feel motivated to initiate anything with me or to develop a desire to be physically close to me, because all I've been doing is pursuing her and putting her on the defensive about sex. If you add to that all the other stuff that's dragging down her libido, it's obvious that this is just a mess.
Basically, between what I've learned from both reading posts on this forum and a lot of gut-wrenching, all-over-the-map talks with my wife, I know I have to turn the temperature down. A lot. Not to send a "get with the program" message, but rather to create space to re-connect in some basic ways that allow us to build on all the positive things in the relationship, without the tension about sex getting in the way. My wife has developed some reflexive responses to my behavior that have to be unlearned, if we're to ever get back to having a satisfying sex life. My basic idea is to take the thermostat and "soft 180" concepts and apply them, as appropriate, to my situation. Until my wife works through the other stuff that's affecting her sex drive, things won't be at the level I'd like them to be at. But if this tension and resentment just keeps sitting there, she won't ever be able to do that and things will not only not be where I want them to be, they won't even get to some minimally acceptable level that we can get by with until (hopefully) her libido picks up again.
I've been trying this for about a month now. I did great the first week and there were very noticeable improvements right away: more affection towards me, more fun times just sitting around together after the kids went to bed, some quality time spent doing things away from each other without any guilt or resentment on either side, and just a generally better feeling about things. Then we hit a rough patch for about two weeks where I was still trying, but my horniness kept getting in the way. I was horny and feeling a lot more of a connection with my wife because of how things went the first week (which she was feeling, too), which made it difficult for me to keep the temperature under control, despite my wife telling me that she wasn't yet past the old tensions. Arguments flared up and, while things weren't as bad as they were before, it was clearly a setback in the effort to reset things. I felt like I had totally wasted that first week's gains and things seemed hopeless.
I finally managed to get my mind in a place where I could recognize that things were getting better from turning down the temperature, but that there was still a ways to go before my wife was going to be less affected by the mindset she had gotten into with how things have been. She's just not the kind of person who can decide to totally change those things over night. So, I've resolved to keep my attention focused on the improvements that take place and to not get distracted by thoughts of what isn't yet happening. And the last week has been great again. And, of course, now that we're connecting so much better, the same overwhelming desire to be physically intimate with her is flaring up. I'm handling it much better this time, but it's still a struggle. And since there's no known schedule for this, that makes it even more difficult to deal with. That sort of unknown - whether things will eventually turn around and, if so, when - is something I do not deal well with. I like known deadlines, orderly plans (however difficult or complicated they might be), and being able to analyze or barrel my way through any unexpected problems that come up. This isn't like that. At all.
The reason I'm posting is that I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions about how to deal with a situation in which a lot of old walls have to be torn down. Especially when it's one person who has the walls up and the other person who is trying to change his/her behavior to allow those walls to come down. I don't want to move things along too fast - I've already seen what damage that can do - but I also don't want to move things along too slowly or be too passive. I realize a lot of this depends on how well I read my wife's cues; unfortunately, my perception of those kinds of things has never been good. But I'm wondering if those with experience with this sort of thing - on either side of it - have any advice to offer that would help make it more likely that this succeeds.
I can't believe that you're doubting your abilities. You are doing AWESOMELY! SERIOUSLY. I'd give that post about 30 likes if they'd let me.
I think you have completely understood the problem... or at least the first one or two layers of it... enough at this point. I think you've already demonstrated that you have the courage, honesty, and strength to do that which needs to be done. This whole post just REEKS of it. Your wife saw it too. You don't seriously think she forgot, do you?
Yes, steps forward and steps back is the order of the day for any difficult challenge. You're not exempted from that nasty rule of life. And yes, as strong as I think you are, you're still never as strong as you'd like to be. That sucks an awful lot too in my opinion. Yet another thing I'll be taking that up with God... along with mosquitoes... when I die.
Now you just need to get stronger. Yup, that stinks also. But in my experience life doesn't give us the challenges we wish it would. So sink or swim. Put the sex away for a while. If you were single you'd survive. Go back to doing what actually worked. Don't think about "when am I going to get mine?" Just focus on rebuilding the fundamentals.
I know it's hard to deal with... I know it from deep and painful personal experience. But for what it's worth you have my real respect here and my sincere belief that you can "man up" in this situation... which to me means "letting her have what she needs for as long as it takes without strings."
Sure... eventually you'll need to make some decisions if you don't start getting your needs fulfilled. But eventually is not today. In this case, I think the much sought after "alpha" move is "giving her everything she wants to the best of your abilities indefinitely." In this case, the control I'd be exercising would be over myself not my partner. The boundaries I'd be setting would be for me, not Carol. And my expectations of absolute conformance to those boundaries would be equally strong. I expect Carol to toe the line... I expect at least that much out of myself.
Let me just say this again... I am impressed. I personally don't doubt your abilities here. So suck it up and get back to swimming again. The sinking part sucks.
By the way, you're not being passive here. You are executing to a plan and it's a GOOD plan. The plan happens to call for a significant amount of time and space for your wife right now. That's not passive. That's patient.
Thanks for the encouragement. Tonight wasn't a great night - not awful and no big fight or anything, but some crossed wires made things more tense than they should have been. But, no need for me to feel like I'm walking on eggshells or like I can't be frustrated at times. Plus, constantly taking the pulse of things and thinking that every single thing means something important, is not a healthy or productive way to be. Just gotta keep moving forward with the plan as best I can and wait to see how it turns out. Posted via Mobile Device
What encourages me... and should encourage you if I've got it right... is that your wife in fact responded to your previous efforts. Go read about 90% of the other threads on this site where it is abundantly clear that the wife just plain doesn't care.
Honestly, this looks to me like you got a machine of some sort, read the manual very carefully, reached out and pressed the red button and the light came on... exactly as you expected and the manual said it would. You just didn't hold the button down long enough.
It took time for you two to dig yourselves into this hole. It'll take time to dig out again. But so long as she's trying too, then you win.
I am in step lock with you, I am turning down the thermostat in my marriage, get a few encouraging signs but nothing to really celebrate. In fact I am finding sometimes it's a battle of wills now, I seem to be winning the majority of them
Plus, constantly taking the pulse of things and thinking that every single thing means something important, is not a healthy or productive way to be. Just gotta keep moving forward with the plan as best I can and wait to see how it turns out. Posted via Mobile Device
You are close here Tigerman, but there is more.
1. You were suffocating her. Excellent insight!
2. You are still suffocating her. "wait and see how it turns out" is the wrong mental orientation.
This whole notion of "constantly taking the pulse" is the ultimate libido killer. You are only responsible for you, your desires, wants and libido. Whether your wife is happy, sad, sexy doesn't make a damn bit of difference to your state of being. This is really hard for nice guys. Robert Glover calls it "detaching the emotional hose". This is the key to your sexual happiness.
3. Many nice guys use sex as the ultimate way to get reassurance that their wife/SO is OK with the relationship. Is this "desire for connection" a balm or a celebration of your relationship. I find it hard to believe, given all of her resentments, that it can be the later.
4. Many of us use sex/masturbation as an anxiety reducer. It took me a while to feel the difference between sexual urges and a desire for a little dopamine fix to soothe my anxieties.
5. It doesn't sound like you are taking 100% responsibility for creating this problem, but it is worth reiterating that you are only 50% responsible. She is an adult and could have called you on your behavior. As M. Scott Peck says, you can only "clean up your side of the street." Get over there, stay there and clean up the mess. Once your side is all clean, every neighbor on the block will want to play in your yard.
On a personal note, I eliminated porn/masturbation as a part of a similar journey. It probably merits a separate post. Anyway, without the dopamine fix, I found myself with "extra" energy and/or anxiety. I have tried to deal with this "excess" as follows:
a) some of it is anxiety and I just sit with it. A good, very smart friend of mine told me that anxiety is the other side of excitement, mixed with fear. I like that and use it.
b) some of this energy is life energy and I invest it in my career and hobbies. This is the gift that keeps on giving because I end up with more energy.
c) some of the life energy goes to the people I love - wife, kids, friends. With my wife, I just love the hell out of her, flirting, acts of kindness, taking in her wonderful essence. I expect nothing in return because I have a huge reservoir of excess energy and I am happy to share it with people I love.
6. Given the history, I would consider a sexual moratorium. Dr. Glover talks about this in No More Mr. Nice Guy. Right now, your wife holds the "keys" to your sex life. A couple's sex life is a shared asset. If you haven't read the book, consider reading it and the moratorium. I think you could accelerate this healing.
There is gold at the end of this rainbow so keep marching down the path.
FNG, I think you're right about there being something mixed-up in how I view sex with my wife. Some of it is just plain horniness and high libido. Not unhealthy at all, but I need to keep that in check for now. My own view is that masturbation is helpful in dealing with this part of things, once it's recognized as just plain horniness, but I can see why someone might benefit from not not going that route.
Because of how bad things have been, I have also been looking to sex for that occasional reassurance. That has to stop. If I want to know whether things are getting better (even if slowly) so that I can determine whether the things I'm doing (or not doing) are on the right track, the evidence is there in the things I've already noticed. However, I shouldn't view sex (or anything else) as a reassurance that things are okay, getting better, etc. Collecting evidence in my efforts to do things right is one thing, needing reassurance is something quite different. I'm pretty well aware of this now and it's not all that difficult to deal with, once it's seen for what it is.
However, a lot of it really does have to do with wanting/feeling the deep connection and that's why the recent improvements have made it hard to resist the urge to up the temperature. If my wife and I spend a great week together - having fun, joking around, sharing affection, balancing parenting and household work, feeling good about ourselves as individuals and as a couple - the impulse to up the temperature, even a bit, starts to kick in. This caused the problems last night. Inspired by the fact that my wife did something that morning to bump up the temperature a bit (she popped in the bathroom while I was showering to chat a bit, gave me "goo goo" eyes, and ended up helping me dry off), I started moving the needle up a little further (the whole time having a battle raging in my head about the risks) and my wife quickly read that as me trying to lead right up to sex or being impatient with her (I wasn't trying to push things very far at all, but those old responses still kick in pretty easily). We awkwardly stumbled through the ensuing tension - no arguments, but the old pressure was definitely there - and she ended up suggesting that we have a quickie. We did that and it was not exactly my best performance (we're not talking "over before it started" here, but I'm apparently out of practice when it comes to holding off, which I'm normally very good at) and she wasn't very enthusiastic (but not a cold fish, either). So now I'm left dealing with both a bit of embarrassment about finishing early (which I'll get over) and, more importantly, feeling like a weak idiot for creating the context in which all that stuff could occur. Just another nice night around the house like the previous ones would have been great. Instead, I got a bit greedy and lost control, and the whole thing spiraled out of control.
Everything was fine between us the rest of the night and this morning, so I'm just going to chalk this up as a very useful lesson. I think the sexual moratorium idea is appropriate here. At a minimum, I will not be taking any steps at all to up the temperature (even in response to her steps to increase the heat) and will wait for my wife to take the initiative on how high the heat gets. While it sounds like I'm turning over control to her in taking that approach, I think of it the opposite way: since I have no expectations and am no longer in pursuit mode, it's up to her to start developing the feelings (etc) on her end that put the control over our sex life in better balance. I have to be super-vigilant about keeping the desire to up the temperature completely in check during this. Yes, it feels cruddy to not be able to act on what is a normal impulse to have toward someone I love, am attracted to, and am having a good time with, but that's just how things are right now. But keeping control is a good thing and my inability to do that is a big part of why I'm where I'm at. So, now I have a project to work on by myself, which is a useful way for me to think about things. The wife and kids are away visiting family for the holiday (I have to work), so that should give me a good opportunity to totally focus on other things for a bit. And I have plenty of hobbies and other activities that normally keep me busy anyway. So, I definitely have outlets for the extra energy and attention this will leave me with.
Thinking about this a bit more, the anxiety FNG talks about has been more an issue with the conversations I've had with my wife, than with sex. It's now apparent to me that a whole lot of the conversations (arguments, etc) my wife and I have had about these issues (over the years and recently) from my end basically amount to, "Tell me everything is okay." That has to feel suffocating for her. Time for me to be more aware of that and to head it off before I open my mouth. The idea of channeling that anxiety into productive energy to be used on other things is a good one.
I also like the idea of this being about me cleaning up my side of the block. It isn't as though there aren't things my wife needs to do (in addition to unlearning the old automatic responses), but I can't control any of that and shouldn't be worried about frequently checking to see how things are going on her end.
One last reply to myself: I really have to commit to believing that what matters is fixing up my end of things, not fixing the relationship or my wife. And part of that is not thinking that I'm fixing myself in order to fix the relationship or to fix things with my wife. I need to be focused on fixing myself, period, although I clearly want things to get better in my marriage and I believe that's only going to happen if (but not just because) I take care of my own business. Easy to say, easy to think I really believe it, but it's actually a hell of a big thing.
One last reply to myself: I really have to commit to believing that what matters is fixing up my end of things, not fixing the relationship or my wife.
And part of that is not thinking that I'm fixing myself in order to fix the relationship or to fix things with my wife. I need to be focused on fixing myself, period, although I clearly want things to get better in my marriage and I believe that's only going to happen if (but not just because) I take care of my own business. Easy to say, easy to think I really believe it, but it's actually a hell of a big thing.
Just finished No More Mr. Nice Guy. While I disagree with what he says about abundance being all around us, all the really substantial stuff was on target. It was actually painful to read at points, because it held up a mirror to some things about myself that I didn't want to believe are true, but I know they are. I'm a classic enmesher who has his emotional state driven by how his wife is feeling and rewards all kinds of behavior that I do not like. I'm also real good at all the passive-aggressive crap and making my wife out to be a victimizer instead of simply standing my ground and dealing with the consequences. Time to throw away the emotional hose and to stop worrying about how everything that I do affects my wife's mood or sexual availability. Thanks for recommending the book. Posted via Mobile Device
Tigerman we may live 1000's of miles away from each other but we are both in very similar positions (as I am sure many men are) I am following you every step of the way,
I made the mistake of actually arguing with her about sex last night, we were out watching a band and out the blue she said to me (without a word of a lie)
"You look absolutely gorgeous tonight, but I have to be up early for work so I don't think I could do it justice tonight"
Me rolls eyes, and say well nothings changed in 20 years has it
Her, Are you angry
Me (Lying through my teeth) No just resigned to the fact anyway I would prefer good sex to the bad sex we have have been having lately
Cut to when we get home:
Me stomping about the house like a wounded moose
Her:Why are you so angry
Me: I am not angry
Argument/Discussion ensues in bed
Same old crap, me telling her how hurtful it is to me, her telling me she has no desire for me or anyone else, but really enjoys sex when she gets going but can't can't find the motivation to get going
Oh, a couple of old ones I have not heard for a while
You have really upset me, I was going to wear sexy underwear tomorrow night and was looking forward to a very passionate session and now you have ruined it you can just **** off now (like at could read her mind
Why don't we just end it all sell the house and move on, she used to say that a lot till I reminded her it did not really show much commitment every time we argued