Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to email@example.com.
"He complains about lack of physical intimacy," the young woman said, "but he doesn't do anything to create an intimate environment."
Nancy is a thirty-four year old woman who appears gentle but whose irritability seeps out of her with nearly every word she says. Her husband Brian, a tall, slender man who worked as the Musical Director at their church, sat quietly beside her.
"I think she's exaggerating and dramatic," he said firmly. "I know the whole thing about men being different from women. I'm not like other men. I work at being a good husband."
"That's true Brian," Nancy said. "But you only work at creating a loving environment when I complain, and then only for a short time. I'm tired of being the only one working on our intimacy. You want sex but don't seem to want to work at keeping a close relationship with me to get it."
I watched Brian shift uncomfortably in his chair. He looked at me and then to his wife.
"I really don't understand," Brian said emphatically. "You can't possibly say that I don't work at our marriage. I talk to you. I remember our anniversary. I hold your hand when we go places. C'mon. What am I missing?"
"That's a great question Brian," I said. "What is he missing, Nancy?"
"Well," she said, lowering her voice. "It's more subtle than that. He does do the things he said. But those aren't the things I'm looking for to feel special. I've told him over and over that I want him to sit down with me for dinner every night. He's usually too busy working on music for the church to make time for me at dinner. I also want to do special things on some weekends, where it's just the two of us having a date or something. It sometimes seems like he's married to the church and not me. I want to go on vacations that are special. I just want to feel special to him. Am I asking too much?"
"Yes, I think you are," he blurted out. "So if I don't do all those things, I get punished with no sex. Women can always punish a guy by withholding sex."
"That's not fair," Nancy said angrily. "You throw that at me, and it really turns me off."
"Hold it folks," I said, sensing things escalating. "This is obviously a hot topic and I strongly suggest we take this issue slowly."
Further exploration with Brian and Nancy revealed they had been fighting about this topic for years. That didn't surprise me as it's often considered one of the major issues that couples fight about.
"What do you hear your wife asking for?" I asked Brian.
"I don't know," he said, slipping into silence.
"I don't believe that," I said, looking at Brian. "You're angry. Step outside your anger and your beliefs that she's trying to make things difficult for you. What is she asking for?"
He took several moments to consider my question. Anger often gets in the way of us thinking clearly, and he would have to set his anger aside to really consider the needs of his wife. Unless he truly understood her needs, she would likely withdraw sexually and he would continue to feel frustrated.
"I really don't know," he said, clearly still angry. I offered the following thoughts for him to consider.
First, our mates aren't trying to frustrate us. For as much as we might drift into feeling conspired against, our mates aren't malevolent. They usually want to get along and create intimacy as much as we do. Don't get stuck in feeling like a victim.
Second, our mates tell us what they need. Our mates have usually told us in many different ways. In this case, Nancy has made it clear that she wants special time alone with her husband. She wants to feel Number One with him, even before his ministry. Showing we care about our mate's needs opens their hearts to us.
Third, avoiding problems usually only intensifies them. We cannot ignore problems or deny them. They will only fester and cause greater problems in some other area of our life. In this case, Brian's ignoring his wife's needs impacted her sexual feelings for him. It has been said that a feeling denied is intensified.
Fourth, sexual feelings cannot be separated from our emotions. For many women—and men—sexual connection is dependent upon emotional connection. Intimacy—"into me see" is based on spending quality time together. Sexuality often begins with a heart connection. Feeling appreciated, understood, admired and attended to are critical to feeling sexually intimate.
Finally, attending to our mate's feelings and needs makes them feel profoundly respected. Listening to what our mate needs, not just what we think they ought to need, is critical to a healthy relationship. Attending to their needs is the height of love and respect.
God ordained that marriage should be filled with love and respect, and the two are inextricably linked (Ephesians 5:22-32). When a man truly loves his wife, she will naturally respond with respect. This can occur in your marriage following these principles.
Please give me feedback on this issue, or ask for more information about Marriage Intensives and my clinical practice at The Marriage Recovery Center.
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Dr. David Hawkins, MBA, MSW, MA, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has helped bring healing to thousands of marriages and individuals since he began his work in 1976. Dr. Hawkins is passionate about working with couples in crisis and offering them ways of healing their wounds and finding their way back to being passionately in love with each other.
Over the past ten years, Dr. Hawkins has become a leader in the field of treatment for narcissism and emotional abuse within relationships. He has developed several programs for treatment of men dealing with these issues and the women who love them. Dr. Hawkins is also a speaker & trainer for the American Association of Christian Counselors and writes for Crosswalk.com, CBN.org, and iBelieve.com. He is a weekly guest on Moody Radio and Faith Radio and is a best-selling author of over thirty books.