Originally created 04/01/97

Trust is key to a good relationship



"We can't go on like this. Fights about sex have been a running theme throughout our marriage. I'm tired of hearing that I'm frigid," says Susan, 42, a homemaker and mother of five, who has been married to Rob for 20 years.

As Susan describes it, Rob has always had much greater interest in sex than she has. "I'd like him to take his time, to be a little playful. Even just talking to me first, being affectionate, would be erotic." But whenever she suggests this, Rob gets defensive.

Susan also doesn't understand why every caress or kiss has to lead to intercourse. Right now, she says, they are not communicating on any level. "I've always tried to please Rob in every way, but every issue is fuel for an argument."

Rob, 45, an orthopedic surgeon, is convinced that Susan hates sex, "and if I don't initiate it, we wouldn't have any," he states.

Rob says that Susan's willingness to make love is always conditional. "I feel I'm following a prescription: If I do A, B and C, then I get D," he says. "It's impossible to fulfill her requirements."

Sex after marriage?

"Susan and Rob are struggling with problems typical of many couples," notes David Schnarch, a sex and marital therapist in Evergreen, Colo., and author of Constructing the Sexual Crucible (Norton, 1991). Whether they've been married two years or 20, many couples feel emotionally estranged.

"In reality," he adds, "they're emotionally fused. They depend on the other far too much to give themselves a sense of identity and approval - inside as well as outside the bedroom."

Rob needs Susan to be sexually open and spontaneous in order to feel like a man. She needs his approval to feel like the good wife she's trying to be. The result: When Susan is sexually unresponsive, Rob sees it as an indictment of his sexual prowess and unattractiveness. But the more he pressures her to have sex, the more anxious and angry she becomes.

"Great sex is about trusting your partner enough to be fully open, to express your own feelings and desires instead of blaming your mate or taking a suggestion for change as a personal affront," says Mr. Schnarch. If, like Susan and Rob, you are miles apart sexually, here's how to get closer:

  • Remember that what happens outside the bedroom affects what happens inside. A couple's sex life is a mirror for what's happening in the rest of their marriage. If one person is angry or anxious, that stress will affect interest in sex. Also, in every relationship, levels of desire fluctuate, as do sexual moods and patterns of lovemaking. Knowing this and being strong enough to talk honestly about it strengthens your bond.
  • Sexual intimacy comes from connecting daily with the one you love. With kids and work schedules colliding, and years of marriage sliding into routine, many spouses forget the simple gestures: the value of a lingering kiss, a soft caress, an empathetic conversation. So talk - even if it's just 10 minutes in the morning and 10 in the evening.
  • Take responsibility for your own sexual needs and desires. Stop being afraid and, instead, be in control. If you don't want to have intercourse, if you prefer to spend two hours in lingering caresses, say so. On the other hand, make it clear to your spouse that if you're not in the mood, it's not a reflection of how much you love him or his sexual attractiveness.
  • Climb out of sexual ruts. You can fake orgasms, but you can't fake foreplay; that's why even sexual sophisticates complain of boredom in the bedroom.
  • Also, let go of "shoulds" in all areas of your life, particularly the bedroom. For example, in their traditional marriage, Susan had always assumed Rob would initiate sex. Once she began to make the first move, she felt empowered and sexier.}

  • Just do it. Sexual excitement feeds on itself; the more you do it, the more you want to do it. Force yourself, even if you're tired, even if he has an early breakfast meeting. Forget the idea that sex must follow a prescribed formula, with X number of minutes spent on foreplay, followed by X number of minutes on intercourse.
  • Reprinted from Ladies' Home Journal magazine.