Tag Archives: long-term sexual relationship

At the End of Sex and My Marriage

WHOLE-winter

Let me set a few ground rules, as this is a 100% positive blog, sex and sexual dysfunction is a partner thing. It wasn’t her fault. It was our fault. And sex, in my opinion, and the opinion of a lot of relationship experts (though I’m not one), is very important to a marriage.

For me, sex bonds me, it makes me feel connected, close, warm, loving, proud. Sex is like the glow on the relationship. It’s both reward and gift. Sex can be about giving and focused on the other partner. Or sex can be about receiving, and doing your best to shut down the mental rap sheet of expectations and performance. Or sex can be a dance between two people, like a tango, or waltz, or punk rock slam dance.

It’s all good. It’s all about sex, baby, it’s all about you. and. me. Let’s talk about sex.

Early in my courtship sex was magical. The moment my  emerging girlfriend candidate told me, “I went to the doctor today.” She was grinning ear to ear. She knew what she was about to give me. “I got a prescription for birth control.”

The moment we decided, and had newly unprotected sex again, with the intention of bringing a child into the world, well, the sex took on a whole new level of awesome.

Oh my. I might have been hooked in to marrying her from that very second that the warm glow rushed into my body. “We still have to wait about a month, for my cycle, but it’s a start.”

I was thrilled. We were thrilled. She was saying YES PLEASE, let’s do it.

And things early on were just as good as that first rush. Playful. Exploratory. Loving. Fun. And somewhat frequent. All was right with the world, with my sex life (as a man), and all was heading in upward direction. The “Life is Good” shirt applies here, and was worn frequently, as was my just-done-it smile.

Another magical milestone was crossed on our honeymoon. We were getting married in an ancient church in a tiny French town, and the night after a major lunar eclipse, we decided to start having sex unprotected and without birth control. She had been off the pill for two months or so…

We knew what we wanted. But the moment we decided, and had newly unprotected sex again, with the intention of bringing a child into the world, well, the sex took on a whole new level of awesome. It was as if a spiritual purpose had taken the joy and expression of our love to another level.

Onward we sailed into the newly married bliss of frequent and unprotected procreational sex. It sounds like a mouthful. It was heaven.

Our son was born less than a year later. And with a few months of off-limits self-reliance, we were back in the bedroom making up fun stuff to do with her newly arrived breasts. More joy. More interruptions and laughter and coupling. And more unprotected, sure-let’s-have-another-kid, sex. More play, more connection, more fantastic sex.

I’m going to skip the drama around our daughter’s medical issues, and the fact that 9-11 ripped out all the joy from the world. I covered this elsewhere. But the stress of the world took its toll on our joyful sex. We still attempted it, we were told not to go for a third child, and we were okay with a perfect pair, boy and girl. And the closeness was still there, when we found the windows for alone time, when neither of us was too exhausted to do it.

And of course that’s a thing. Marriage, kids, financial obligations and chores really wear down both parents. And it’s typical for one parent to take on the worry and stress more than the other parent. (Often men are picked on for being less responsible, or not growing up, but I can assure you that’s not what was going on between us.) I was 100% present and accounted for. I did the working-for-a-living dance. I mowed the lawn, picked up toys and rooms, did some cooking, and loaded and unloaded the dishwasher, and we were both still tired.

Marriage, kids, financial obligations and chores really wear down both parents. And it’s typical for one parent to take on the worry and stress more than the other parent.

Now, more often than not (a lot more often) any indication of sexual readiness on my part was met with a sigh or an eye-roll depending on her level of exhaustion.

I learned new ways to ask. The playful, “Hey, how about I give YOU a blow job tonight?” The suggestive, “I’d love to give you a back rub as soon as I get the dishes done.” And the supportive, “Is there anything I can do to make things less stressful for you, at this moment?”

But somewhere in her hard wiring, the stress had shut down her sensual response. We went to counseling, but mostly that was about some crisis or another that we needed to work through. We never really addressed the sex thing, I was trying to be a standup and self-less husband in support of his wife. I have no idea what she was doing. But we were doing it together and not “doing it” very much.

And then one last magical thing happened. With the full-insurance of my job, I got a vasectomy. Hallelujah. It was like a new ON switch for our sex life, perhaps not how you might think.

The mechanics of a vasectomy have one similarity to birth control for women. Once you have the procedure (get on the pill) you have several months to wait before enjoying your newfound freedom. In the case of a vasectomy, it’s not time, but ejaculations that count down towards the miracle of unprotected non-procreational sex.

And it was as if my then-wife’s libido had suddenly been jump started back into gear. We didn’t have a schedule or chart or anything like that, but the mental count in our heads, once I was healed enough to be back in action, was like a shining green number above my head. 40 ejaculations. Then you had to see the doctor again, give a specimen and have it examined for viable swimmers.

It was as if the mythical Spanish Fly was being introduced to my wife’s tea and coffee every day. We treated it like a sport. In the shower. BOOM. In the morning before getting out of bed. DING. And any time the kids had dropped off before us. BINGO.

It couldn’t have been more than 45 days and we were making our appointment with Dr. Let’s-Get-It-On again. We leapt into the world of parents with small children who can now do it as often as they like and not worry about having any more kids. It was a maturing process for sure. I was pretty young to be getting a vasectomy. WE WERE INTO SEX, AND WE WERE GOING TO HAVE A LOT OF IT. That’s what I imagined the vaz was saying about us and our future love life.

But…

If I have demanded that my wife find her sexual center again, rather than being so nice and self-consoling, I might have penetrated the fog that had taken her intimacy out of the relationship.

Well, I’m sure you can guess the story. Things fizzled after a few months with no goal. We joked about setting another objective, a milestone to “shoot for.” But it never happened. And, in fact, without going to far into the intimate details, it started to go way South rather than back towards loving, touching, squeezing.

We checked everyone’s meds. I read a few books, tried a few things, asked in more creative ways. Nothing.

Now, the real story, is probably much deeper than the sex. And I have tried to ask, both in real-time while the collapse was happening, and later in therapy when things were really bleak. We didn’t talk about sex anymore, even in therapy, because the “issues” have become seemingly insurmountable.

But I still wonder, if I had protested more. If I have demanded that my wife find her sexual center again, rather than being so nice and self-consoling, I might have penetrated the fog that had taken her intimacy out of the relationship.

Again, please understand, I AM taking responsibility for my part in the dance that began to come apart. And again, I’m really not saying that sex was the primary ingredient that caused us to get divorced.

What I am saying is at the end of sex our marriage was also closing down. The sex might have been a conduit for us to rekindle the loving feelings for one another. The love-making was certainly a part of my DNA (see Love Languages) and the primary way I felt loved. Well, not just sex, but physical touch. And we did have some of that. But when a back rub is the only way you get to be touched by your beautiful wife, even when you are jumping through every hoop introduced, things can begin to get a bit off track, distant, disconnected.

I believe there was some fracture that happened during the course of our financial and medical struggles that broke some trust inside my wife. And while I can’t put my finger on it, and I am merely projecting my hindsight reflection, which is most definitely NOT 20/20, I know she closed down her sexuality. She might not have done it consciously. But as she began to contemplate or imagine life beyond our marriage, it was necessary for her to stop giving herself to me in a sexual way.

The first time when we were making love during this period, that I noticed things were off, I caught her looking out the window, seemingly bored. “Are you okay?” I asked.

She napped back. But the moment was despairing. And we were done. And maybe, in some internal way, for her, we were done at that moment. Done in a much bigger way.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: snow’s back, mark tighe, creative commons usage

Happiness Dating and Joyful Coupling Post-Split

WHOLE-joy-2

It’s not all about sex. But a lot of it is about sex.

I was chatting with a new date on the tennis court the other morning. We were hitting and catching up on our own ideas about life, dating, and sex. She was telling me about a girl’s weekend she’d just been on. “All the married women were complaining. And all my divorced friends who were with someone were talking about the great sex. And the married women wanted to hear about that.”

Why is it that sex is often what dies in a marriage and then becomes part of what justifies a separation and then divorce? What’s so mysterious about sex that we all crave it but we’re so inept at keeping it interesting? How does a man with an amazingly receptive and beautiful wife become more interested in porn, or sports, or drinking with the buddies?

What’s so mysterious about sex that we all crave it but we’re so inept at keeping it interesting?

In my marriage we went through significant ups and downs in our sex life. And that part’s normal. Extended and heightened sexual appetite year-after-year is a myth, or something that Sting might claim, but most of us mere mortals and non-rockstars have to work at. And sure, there are plenty of reasons that sex becomes harder and harder to be joyful about, as the “relationship” matures. But most of those disconnects have to do with expectations and unmet needs, needs, that most often, have nothing to do with sex.

We grow together as a couple. We either have kids or we don’t. And as things mature in our relationship there are certain non-sexual expectations that begin to factor into our desire and sexual lustiness. Here are a few that we all know about.

Tired – when you’re too tired for sex (TTFS) it’s not a sexual problem it’s an energetic problem. Solve for tired and you pick up a lot of potential sexual drive.

Angry – yes, sex is used by both sexes as reward and punishment. Either you are kicking ass as meeting both spoken and unspoken expectations or you are not. If you’re winning the sexual desire may remain high between you and your mate. But when things go off track a little, and stress of many colors enters into the equation, the sexual drive is often the first part of the relationship that begins to show the stress.

Busy – we’re all busy. Most of us are over-busy. And for most of us, busy is an excuse. Sure the clothes in the dryer need to be folded before they wrinkle. Yes, the dishes do need to be loaded into the dishwasher. BUT… that’s no excuse for not jumping at a kids-out-moment and taking a roll in the sack. It’s often the first thing a man thinks of and the last thing a woman thinks of. The woman wants the damn chores done first. The man wants his nookie. We’re at odds often about these “chores” but if you talk, and the desire is still there on both sides, then a compromise and solution is a mater of negotiating. If the desire is not there, the negotiation is often very short. The woman says, “Not now,” to the random wandering husband hand while standing in the kitchen appraising the post-dinner activities.

Okay, so those are the things that turned our marriages into sad, sexless shells of our former glowing and sexually fulfilled lives. Does it have to go that way? When dating you are probably not going to be attracted to a complainer. When the chores and “other responsibilities” come into play too often, and prevent you from even being able to arrange a next date, well, you get the picture of how future negotiations are going to go.

Look for happiness. Find the balance between beautiful and happy, because beautiful and mad is simply not a workable situation. Relationships with complaining or angry people are not fruitful, they are tedious and full of compromise and apologies. We learned how to do angry. We want to learn how to do happy again.

Joy has got to be the biggest turn on there is. You can feel it when someone enters a room and they are glowing with their own inner happiness.

Sex is the same way. If the act of love-making, even in the first few couplings, is strained and controlled, you might question what’s actually going on. If you can talk about it with one another great, but that’s rare. What you’re looking for, even in early sex, is playfulness and a somewhat whimsical approach. If orgasm is the focus, your’s or their’s, you might be entering into something that is more about fulfilling unmet needs, or old resentments, rather than healthy sex.

What is healthy sex? How would I know? But you can tell happy sex from strained sex right away. It’s not a stretch to expect playful and enjoyable sex. In fact, as a starting point for determining long-term compatibility I can’t think of a better indicator of inner confidence and happiness than someone’s approach and enjoyment of sex.

Right, it’s not all about sex. But sex has a lot to do with it. And those women in my friend’s group, longing to hear about the passionate sex of their friends, are a sad lot. They are compromising, or shutdown, in order to remain in their marriages, often for the benefit of their kids. And this is okay, and noble. But it’s not where we “divorced and single” folks are. We ARE looking for greener pastures. And the burden is on us to seek happiness with every fiber of our bodies.

Joy has got to be the biggest turn on there is. You can feel it when someone enters a room and they are glowing with their own inner happiness. If you’ve got the joy to reflect it back to them, then perhaps you are both on your way to joy in life and joy in the bedroom. Now, the keys to keeping this joy on into marriage again, or on beyond the first few years, is still a mystery I am trying to solve for. I got there on my side, but had a partner who exited the joyful bedroom and never returned.

Let’s not do that mistake again. Maybe it’s just a matter of time. Putting in the time with someone. Learning about their rhythms. Riding out the ups and downs and looking for the hopefulness that still radiates even in tough and stressful times. If you find the happy person. And they light up your happy person. Do that. And cultivate that. Then if sex is also a happy and playful act, you might be at the start of something durable and fun. Good luck. Let’s do happy first, relationship second.

Sincerely,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: joy, marina del castell, creative commons usage