How much sex makes you happy? Five times a week, once a week, two times a month, or perhaps you are fine going abstinent for a year? (God forbid if your partner can go without for even longer.)
Couples differ in physical intimacy. There’s no ‘one size fits all’, so the number of times you have a sexual encounter is instead based on whether your sexual needs and those of your partner are being met. It is fine if you are both happy with the amount of sex you have, but what happens when one of you has a higher libido and wants to express love through sex while the other would rather just have someone to cuddle with when going to bed?
It’s rather a myth that men want sex more than women. Women need romance, passion, and sexual chemistry to feel that love is alive and well. They need to be loved and cherished, and this is often achieved not just through emotional, but physical connection too. As a psychologist, working with emotional and mental health issues, over the years I’ve had quite a few female clients who have experienced marital problems as a result of differing sexual needs.
Intimacy issues are not uncommon, and they can certainly be difficult to handle or awkward to address. In fact, the lack of communication and loss of sexual intimacy appear to be the most frequent issues in marriage troubles. More often than not, these two building blocks are mutually effective in both positive and negative ways – communication affects sex, sex affects communication. If well aligned and satisfactory, they make the relationship vibrant and strong.
Getting under the sheets
Here’s how one female client Eleanor*, 46, described the intimate side of her marriage: ‘We’ve been married for five years and for the first two years we had a passionate relationship, which I think we both enjoyed. If anything, we definitely had sex at least once a week. Now he just doesn’t show any interest in sex for weeks. Nowadays, he only wants to cuddle up when we go to bed. During the day, responsibilities take over and, in the evenings, he would spend time watching TV and then go to bed with his phone, rather than making love to me. He knows that I’m not really happy with it, but he’s not proactive to make some changes and get out of that routine. Maybe he’s not intentionally trying to hurt me, and maybe he doesn’t realise that he is doing damage with his seemingly self-absorbed behaviour in personal interests, responsibilities, and habits, to the extent that I feel he doesn’t desire me anymore. And for me, it’s not just the act of sex that I am missing. Even the kissing has been restricted to a few pecks on the lips without passion. I am missing the anticipation, being desired, knowing that he wants me, having the intimacy and spontaneity, the fun that we had before. I am afraid that I might end up living in a sexless marriage with a friend when I want a lover too, where my husband thinks it’s OK to brush over this because he loves me and we’re otherwise happy. It’s just so sad because I do like him more when we are intimate. Often, I feel emotionally disconnected with repressed anger and resentment that further affects our communication and intimacy. It’s like a vicious cycle. I don’t have a problem initiating intimacy and I certainly did a number of times but as my efforts were unsuccessful I have stopped because, if anything, they sometimes made things worse. I felt rejected and each time I would voice my unhappiness my husband would become upset and defensive, so I withdraw in order to avoid conflicts. We love each other and although he insists that he still finds me attractive, there are times when I feel lonely and undesirable.’
And when I get that feeling
There’s no denying that sex contributes to long-term relationship satisfaction. A marriage with an active, fulfilling sex life is much more likely to be a happy one. Intimacy is important in maintaining relationships of all kinds. However, it is sex that makes a difference between your relationship with friends, family, or your colleagues.
Romance, emotion, passion, and sex – they are all important ingredients to marriage happiness. For both men and women, the intimacy and connection that sex brings help them to feel loved and in love. Sex doesn’t just elevate the emotional bond between the spouses but it is also great for physical and mental health.
Riding the love tide
A relationship requires attention and maintenance, and the intimate bond between couples will fade if they stop caring for the physical side of their relationship. Sex is never just about sex and sex is not all about penetration. It comes in different forms, and so what we really need in a loving relationship is that feeling of closeness and attachment.
Intimacy doesn’t need to be hard work. It can be a lot of fun if both people are committed to maintaining the spark in the bedroom. Communicating your needs, trying to find a happy medium, making a more consistent effort to be affectionate and caring and open, and going out of your way to love and cherish your partner is what takes intimacy on a different soul-bonding level that makes for a happy marriage.
*Name has been changed to protect confidentiality.
Zana Busby is an experienced psychologist and author, having spent over 20 years studying and practising psychology and psychotherapy.