In episode 302, I received a question from a listener who was feeling insecure in their marriage where there has been a real lack of intimacy in their relationship. In this post, I take a look at how you can take steps to identify the issues at play and begin communicating with your partner.
Hey Dr. Duff,
I’m struggling with insecurities in my marriage. I need help coping. My wife and I have been married coming up on 5 years. This has never reared its head with me in the past in our relationship. Things in bed have been non-existent and there has been a real lack of intimacy being reciprocated all around.
That’s rough. I’m really sorry to hear that you are in this spot. I’m glad that you are reaching out and trying to get some help with this issue rather than ignoring it. That’s one of the biggest things that I see cause downfalls in marriages and long term relationships – letting things fly under the radar and hoping that they just spontaneously get better without addressing them. There is not a whole lot of background information in this question, so I will have to be somewhat vague and take some guesses here. This is one of those questions that will hopefully give you some areas to think about and questions to ask yourself rather than a very clear and specific answer to your question.
Are there identifiable triggers?
First off, I want to normalize your concern. It sounds like you have been experiencing both a decrease in sexual interest from your partner as well as a decrease in intimacy overall. I’m imagining that means attention, romantic gestures, non-sexual touch, quality time together etc. You are allowed to be concerned about both of those. Everyone has needs and if your needs are not being met or they way that they are being met has substantially changed, that is totally worth addressing. The first thing I would ask is whether there are any clearly identifiable triggers for this. Is there a change in your life or the relationship that could be causing this shift in interest and intimacy? This could be anything from loss of a job to stress elsewhere in the family. It could be related to physical changes. It could be related to conflict about specific issues in your life together. It’s so hard to say without more context, but of course if you are a bit older, there are bodily changes to consider. If you are going through some sort of life transition together like buying a house, starting a new job, etc. it could also be related to that. Some people are more sensitive to stress when it comes to libido and such than others.
Communicate…even if it’s scary
The next step is pretty obvious, but it would be simply to communicate about it. Even if it’s scary. Especially if it’s scary. These problems often get worse when they are not talked about. Don’t let that happen. It doesn’t have to be a mean thing. A good way of opening the conversation if you have not yet is to say something like, “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems to me like things have been a little different between us recently. We’ve been having a lot less sex and I feel less casual intimacy from you in everyday life as well. What do you make of that?” This would be a very open way to not be accusing of anything in particular, but open up the topic of conversation. I would highly suggest leading with curiosity like this rather than accusations. You don’t want to assume you know the reason behind her change in behavior. You also should take a good look at your own behavior. It can be tempting to blame the other person entirely for the changes that have happened in the relationship, but you need to be honest with yourself about the role that you might be playing as well. For instance, if you are interpreting her as being more distant, even if she doesn’t see herself that way, you might react to that by pulling further away. This is one of the pitfalls of the mind reading thinking trap. It can get you into trouble when you base your behavior on emotional reactions caused by faulty assumptions.
The antidote, as I was just mentioning is communication. So, open up the channel of communication and see what her response is. If she doesn’t think it’s a big deal, you can be more clear about your emotions and the way that it is impacting you. If she explains that it’s something that’s not new for her, hear her out and see if it’s something that can be worked on. If you aren’t getting a lot out of her, or she is avoiding communication, you might talk to other trusted loved ones that know you both to help point you in the right direction. They may need to still value her privacy to an extent and not just dish about everything going on behind the scenes, but they might be able to help you understand if there is something going on with your spouse that could be contributing. Just some external perspective to make sure you are on the right track. If she continues to just carry on as usually and let things shift back to status quo, you can be a little more firm about your needs and insist that you guys talk about it. You can explain that you are not able to carry on in this relationship if you don’t feel cared for in this way or if you can’t work through these things together.
There are resources that can be helpful. There are a number of books that can be worked through to guide conversations and help you reconnect. There is couples counseling, which can be a great resource to approach things in a safe and productive way. If you are religious or involved in some sort of social or spiritual practice, it may be that there is an elder or someone that can serve as a mediator in your discussion as well. Lastly, I would just advise your to be self-reflective. Look at yourself and look at what has been happening between you recently. I would be journaling a lot and considering whether there are blind spots that I am ignoring that could be a part of the situation. Again, this is another area where friends or loved ones might be able to help you. It could be that you ask them about the situation and they are like, “Dude. Do you not see how irritable you have been recently? Ever since you got that new job, you have been difficult to be around.” Again, just taking shots in the dark here, but consider yourselves as a unit and whether there is dysfunction within your little system that could be contributing here.
You can listen to this on Episode 302 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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