I’ve been with my boyfriend for three and a half years, and we moved in together a year ago (after spending most of our relationship doing long-distance varying from living across the country from each other to living a couple hours apart). For the first couple of months of cohabitation, we had exciting, frequent sex. But then, I started a very stressful job as a teacher.
With all of the exhaustion and pressure, I mostly just want to cuddle and go to sleep at night, reducing our sex to once or twice on the weekends. Though I sometimes wish I had the energy and drive to have sex more (and I’m actively trying to find ways to de-stress to improve our sex life), I feel like sex once or twice a week is fine (especially considering that at one point we used to only see each other once every couple of months). But my boyfriend does not agree. Over the past year, he has confronted me a few times about this, angrily accusing me of making excuses, of being difficult to seduce, of managing my time poorly.
These confrontations just make me want to have sex less. Now I view his sexual advances as more stress and pressure, and even worse, I feel like he’s selfish. I might not have sex as much as he wants, but I’m still cooking, cleaning, and spending lots of quality time with him. In most cases, he’s very considerate and caring, but when it comes to sex, he can say some pretty hurtful things just to get his way. How do I get him to see my perspective? Or, do I need to just buck up and find a way to have sex more frequently?
Oh, honey. Your letter makes me want to whisk you away for a low-stress evening of wine and reality television on my living room couch. It also makes me want to track down your boyfriend and shake him until he realizes how selfishly he’s been behaving. From what you’ve revealed, your boyfriend seems incredibly unsupportive, and I especially don’t like the sound of this particular line: ” … he can say some pretty hurtful things just to get his way.” It makes me wonder if there are deeper problems in your relationship … things that perhaps you weren’t aware of before moving in together. And it makes me wonder if his manipulative ways make him a less than ideal match for you, especially considering the fact that you seem desperate to perform better just to please him. What is he doing to please you?
But maybe I’m way off base. Maybe I’m reading too much into your letter, in which case you can tell me to back the eff off. After all, this could all be traced back to the gender divide. I recently read Judy Dutton’s Secrets from the Sex Lab (a fascinating read) and, among other things, learned that while women become less interested in sex if they’re depressed or stressed out, men actually turn to sex as a means of improving their mood. Dutton goes on to write, ” … for men, sex is the ultimate cure-all. They reach for sex like they’d reach for a beer.” Perhaps your man is so baffled by the downturn in your libido levels because your reaction to this new, stressful job is so far off from what his own reaction would be?
He’s also told you that you’re managing your time poorly. Perhaps this is true? Based purely upon stories I’ve heard from teacher-friends of mine, teaching seems to be one of those professions in which it’s near-impossible to leave your work at the “office,” due to the necessity of grading homework assignments, creating lesson plans, and performing other tasks that are impossible to perform during your normal work hours. Is there a way you could create clearer boundaries between your work life and your personal life? Perhaps you could spend an hour after school grading papers, and then cut yourself off. Perhaps you could incorporate a new routine into your day that allows you to “switch” between the professional and the personal … something like stopping at a coffee shop or taking a yoga class.
But don’t stop there. He’s not off the hook yet. Sex life issues are a couple problem, not a personal problem, and he should be working just as hard to find a way to improve your intimacy. Consider performing a reflective listening exercise in which you each tell each other how you’re feeling, then have your partner repeat your statements back to you, in his own words. An exercise like this forces the both of you to really listen to each other. Perhaps it will help him better understand both your sources of stress and your methods of coping. Perhaps it will help you better understand why he’s reacting too strongly when it comes to your sex life. And the better you understand each other, the more easily you may be able to work toward some solutions. For example, are you doing all of the cooking and cleaning? If your boyfriend better understood how the stress from all of your responsibilities adversely affected your libido, he might be willing to help by taking on some of the household chores.
You should also consider the fact that sex itself could help you reduce stress, while simultaneously improving intimacy. Knowing this may help you make sex a larger priority. And … bonus! The more you have sex, the more you actually want it! (This is also why it’s so easy to slip into a sex rut when you’re feeling stressed; because the converse is also true: the less you have sex, the less you actually want it.) In this way, I’ll (begrudgingly) admit that men may be onto something when turning to sex as a cure-all.
Still, your boyfriend should at least realize that you’re not exactly in bad shape, sex-wise. It sounds as if you’re having sex at least once or twice a week, and that’s pretty darn good. So he should ease up
a little a lot.
Don’t start playing the blame game by punishing yourself for a lackluster sex life. You’ll only stress yourself out more. Follow my tips above and — if you need me — my couch and my extensive wine collection will be here.
Before signing off this week, I wanted to share a response I received from the married woman who was frustrated with her sucky sex life. Aside from giving her tips to communicate to her husband how best he could please her, I asked: Do you love him? Happily, the answer was yes and, happily, they’re now doing great.
Hi Steph, I sent you a question about a month and a half ago about my lackluster sex life with my husband. Your answer was spot-on, as were the reader comments. You pointed out how deeply connected sex life and communication problems were, and how they were feeding into my relationship fears. You also asked me the question I was afraid to ask myself — essentially, did I really love my husband and want to make the relationship work?
After I emailed you, I realized that I needed to take matters into my own hands (both literally and figuratively). The first thing I did was visit my local sex shop to buy a vibrator. I had my first orgasm within an hour of getting home. Second, I went to see a therapist to talk about my fear of communication — something I’ve needed to work on for a long time. I’ve gotten to the point where I can talk to my husband about our issues. We’ve had some groundbreaking conversations about our marriage, our roles in the relationship, and even sex. Turns out he does want sex — and he wants a lot of it! Woo-hoo! He didn’t know I’d never had an orgasm with him and was blown away that I’d never had one at all before buying the vibrator. He also admitted that he didn’t really have a ton of pre-us sexual experience and had his own performance fears. Now he is on a mission to — as he puts it — “get me O’d up.” We’re having a good time working on it.
So, I actually started solving a lot of issues before you posted your answer. But you forced me to think about the big question I had been avoiding: Did I love my husband? When I wrote you I might have answered “no.” There were too many layers of resentment and I couldn’t imagine things improving. All the work we’ve done has changed things tremendously. I do love him. I enjoy the time we spend together now; I look forward to our future. And, I feel incredibly empowered knowing that I can ask for (and get) what I need emotionally, sexually, and otherwise.
Thanks, again, for all the help!