I need to give you a heads-up: any time a woman tries to change a man, she should expect resistance. Generally men think of themselves as independent, self-sufficient beings and are really quite averse to being told what to do. Now, I know that you’re not telling your husband what to do, but he might see it that way. Most men have radar for anything that even remotely feels like control and will resist it at any cost, even if what you’re suggesting makes perfect sense and would be beneficial to him. And when you heap on top of that the fact that you are addressing his sexuality, his ego might get extremely bruised, and if so, he will become defensive. I will help you approach your husband so that he will respond positively. Here are some tips.
I know how much your husband’s lack of interest in being sexual with you hurts and even angers you. However, if you approach him when you have anger in your heart, you will be transmitting those feelings. Even if you’re not saying you’re angry, he’ll know. Before you approach your husband, you have to center yourself and come from a place of love and caring. Remember that no matter how upset you’ve been about all of this, he’s been upset too. Even if sex isn’t all that important to him right now, the fact that it’s been such an issues between the two of you is wearing him down. Find some compassion, and take a deep breath before you speak to him.
Timing Is Everything
Regardless of what you wish to discuss with your husband, it’s important to choose the right time. I know there’s never a right time to talk about this heated issue, but trust me on this one: some times are better than others. You might begin, “I have something important to talk to you about. Is now a good time?” If he says yes, then let’er rip. If he growls no, ask him when he would prefer speaking with you. Then- assuming he doesn’t respond, “In a decade,” or something equally ridiculous – honor his suggestion.
One of the best ways to avoid defensiveness in others is to use “I-messages.” When you use I-messages, you talk about your thoughts and feelings rather than comment on what you believe your husband is thinking or feeling. Here’s an example. Instead of saying, “I’ve asked you to read a book with me, and every time you say ‘No,’ you’re just being controlling,” you say, “I feel hurt when you turn down my suggestions to read a book together. It would really mean a lot to me for us to do this together.” Or instead of saying, “Since you haven’t gone to a doctor, it’s clear that you don’t care about my feelings,” you say, “When you choose not to go to a doctor, I feel as if I’m not important to you.” Talk about how you feel and avoid accusing, assuming, mind-reading, or diagnosing your husband. Then allow your husband to respond to your comments. He may not agree with your perspective, and that’s okay. Feelings aren’t right or wrong; they just are. Listen and acknowledge what you hear him say. For example, if he tells you that he won’t read a book with you because he thinks that’s a stupid idea, you might respond, “I know that you think reading a book together would be stupid, and maybe it would. But it’s something I would really like to try.” Don’t become defensive or tell him he’s wrong. Just continue sharing your feelings and your request.
Take Ownership of Your Feelings
Throughout your conversation, remember that regardless of how your husband responds, do not blame, criticize, or condemn him. You might even admit that you’ve been overly focused on sex recently because you’ve been missing him so much. Assume responsibility for what you’re feeling rather than point to his inadequacies. Make sure he doesn’t feel attacked. He needs to believe that you are on his side, no matter how challenging that might be.
Next, you should set some solution-oriented goals. Solution-oriented goals are goals that contain within them the seeds for solution. Here are three necessary criteria for developing solution-oriented goals:
Think About What You Want, Not What You’re Unhappy About
When I ask people about their goals, they rarely tell me what they want. If I were to ask you what marriage problems you’re hoping to solve, you might say, “I wish my husband weren’t so into himself and oblivious to me.” Although this might make sense to you, you’re focused on what makes you miserable, not what you want to see happen. A solution-oriented approach might be, “I would really like it if my husband paid more attention to me in the evening. I’d like it if he would flirt with me once in a while. All he has to do is to tell me I’m looking good, or he could grab my butt when I’m cooking.” This response spells out what you want to have happen in your marriage as opposed to what you want to eliminate.
So instead of telling your husband, “I’m really unhappy about our lack of touching,’ you might say, “I love it when you kiss and hug me before we go to bed at night. That feels really good to me. I wish you’d do that more often.”
Make Your Requests Action Oriented
When you say to your husband, “I wish you didn’t ignore me when you come home,” you’re focusing on the problem. In addition, it’s not clear exactly what you’d like your husband to do. No one is a mind reader, and you have to spell out in black-and-white terms what it is that you want and need.
An action-oriented request is, “I would really appreciate it if you asked me to spend time with you in bed in the evenings. We don’t necessarily have to make love; it would just be nice to snuggle once or twice a week.” Here’s another illustration.
Instead of saying, “Why can’t you be more romantic?” you might say, “I would really like it if you asked me out on a sexy date once a month. You would agree to call the babysitter and find a new, romantic restaurant that we could try. I would also love getting e-mail from you once in a while. We used to have some hot exchanges, and it would be fun to get that e-mail again.” Try it, and see what happens.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew. You need to break your ultimate goal down into steps- things your husband can accomplish within a week or so. Too many women ask for gigantic changes that might be reasonable but would take weeks, if not months, to carry out. By breaking goals down into small, doable chunks, success becomes more likely. And nothing breeds success like success. Here’s an example:
Deanne felt that her husband, Vic, was incredibly inhibited when they made love. He would consent to be sexual only when the lights were off and if they made love in the missionary position. And no kissing, please. Since they had been married for over fifteen years, she felt that their lovemaking had become stale, and she was increasingly upset by this. When Deanne realized that she was starting to fantasize about another man at work, she knew it was time to do something constructive about her marriage, so she decided to confront Vic with her unhappiness.
Deanne told her husband that she wanted more variety and intimacy in their lovemaking. She clarified that by saying that she wanted to kiss him and take at least fifteen minutes for foreplay where they fondled and caressed each other. She also said that she had purchased new lingerie and wanted him to see her in it. This would necessitate keeping the light on.
Fortunately, Vic was open to hearing Deanne’s requests and even shared some of his sexual hang-ups. So far, so good. But then Deanne told Vic that he didn’t need to feel uncomfortable – that they could be experimental and try lots of positions in the upcoming weeks. That’s when their conversation headed downhill because Vic felt overwhelmed.
When Deanne had approached Vic, they were having sex once every two weeks at most; now it sounded to Vic that Deanne was going to initiate sex more frequently than usual. Plus, it appeared to him that she was going to insist that they experiment with novelty each and every time and that kissing – something they rarely had done together – was going to be a routine part of their lovemaking from then on.
While all this sounded great to Deanne (and probably you too), Vic got scared: although he was willing to change, it sounded like too much, too soon. Instead, it would have been helpful for Deanne to say, “Vic, I enjoy having sex with you. I would just like it to be a bit more creative. Here are some thing we could do that will make a big difference to me [and list the action-oriented changes]. We don’t have to do all of them at once time. Why don’t we start off by agreeing to keep the lights on the next time we make love and start off with a few kisses?”
This approach sounds less threatening to a man who, for whatever reasons, is cautious in the bedroom. Ultimately he might need to talk to a therapist about his sexual inhibitions, but starting slowly is the best way to go, no matter what the problem.
And one more thing. When you’re deciding what you’re going to ask from your husband, make sure it’s something he can do in a relatively short period, such as a week. Ask yourself, “What will be the very first sign that things are starting to be on the right track?” Accomplishing small steps is important because nothing breeds success like success.
Michele Weiner Davis is the creator of the Divorce Busting Centers, learn more on how you can solve marriage problems and stop divorce. Follow me on Twitter @divorcebusting, add my Divorce Busting Facebook Page, and subscribe to the Divorce Busting YouTube Videos for more advice and upcoming marriage saving events.