I recently read an article on differing sex drives in a relationship, and while the article wasn’t anything new I thought the comment section was fascinating. In the comments there were women talking about the changes their bodies go through after childbirth and the toll that being a mother takes on their sex drive and desire for any physical intimacy in their relationship – often extending to cuddling, hugging and basic touch.
There were a number of women commenting (at least I assume they were women, you never know online) and a few guys chiming in as well. What struck me was a particular back and forth.
One lady mentioned that her husband wanted sex as part of the relationship, and that she just had no interest any more.
Another lady replied she had been through the same feelings, and she recommended the first lady “just do it”, as from her experience it was something her husband needed and cutting it out completely would put additional stress on the relationship.
The first lady was pretty incensed by this, saying that feeling like she needed to do something she didn’t want to felt like “emotional rape”, and that it wasn’t something her husband “needed”.
I have written in the past about the benefits of sex in a relationship. I have also written about the importance of sex to a relationship (from a guys perspective), and how sex isn’t really about sex. So yes, I’m definitely in the camp that feels sex is an important (and even necessary) component of a relationship – for both the physical and emotional benefits that it brings to the individual and the couple.
That said, I completely understand the first lady’s perspective. She’s right to say that she shouldn’t feel she has to do something that she doesn’t want to. Yeah, sometimes there are things in life you “have to do”, but doing so can breed resentment. Sex is supposed to be a form of connection and communication for a couple, and having it feel like a “duty” can destroy the connection that it is supposed to bring.
But although I believe I can understand her perspective, I think she’s overlooking one very important point.
Sex is not an individual act.
A marriage (or any relationship) is a partnership, and one member should never unilaterally make choices that affect both members of the relationship.
Imagine you are in a relationship and a great job opportunity comes up in another city or country. In a healthy relationship, you don’t just take the job. Instead you probably discuss it with your partner, and try to get their buy in. If you really want the job you try to sell your partner on it. Your partner needs to understand and agree with the move, and see how it benefits either them or the relationship in the long term. If, after discussion they don’t want to make the move you have a decision to make. You either don’t make the move (because although it may be what you want, it’s not right for the relationship); or you do it anyway. But if you do it anyway, there needs to be an understanding that it may cost you the relationship.
This applies to all sorts of things, and really is the primary “limitation” in a relationship.
When something affects both people, no one should expect to just do what they want. The wants and needs of the other person HAVE to matter. If they don’t, it’s not a relationship.
And I’m pretty sure sex affects both people.
So it’s not fair for one person to simply say that sex (or anything for that matter) is something that their partner doesn’t need. They can say that they don’t need it. And they can say that they don’t understand why their partner feels they need it. That’s all.
Differences in sex drive are normal, and are something most relationships find a way to navigate. Usually this results in one person having it a bit less than they would like, and the other person having to “just do it” sometimes when they might not really want to. As long as there is empathy and kindness for each others needs and some kind of compromise can be found, it isn’t a huge issue for most couples.
If a compromise that works for both people cannot be found however, then the relationship is very much at risk of failure.
Fidelity in Relationships
Most relationships have an expectation of monogamy. Personally I feel that’s a good thing; and when people step outside the relationship and have affairs or open relationships, I think they are kind of missing the point of sex. Sex isn’t just a physical act and it’s not just about your own pleasure. It is an act of intimacy, sharing, vulnerability and trust; and is symbolic of a special connection that a couple has.
Casual sex reduces it to a physical act, while in a committed relationship it is something more.
So monogamy is valuable component of a relationship (to me at least). But a sex drive is also a physical urge that differs from person to person. And for many, its presence in a relationship IS seen as a need.
When someone commits to monogamy they are committing to their partner, and from that point on their partner is the only person they will have sex with.
The unspoken part of that agreement is that sex will be part of the deal. It’s supposed to be a vow of monogamy – not a vow of celibacy.
Communicating and Caring
This brings me back to the lady who said that she doesn’t feel she should have to do something she doesn’t want to – especially something like sex.
She’s 100% right. Sex is something that should have connection and intimacy (at least most of the time). So if she’s not “feeling it”, she shouldn’t have to do anything to “appease her husband”.
At the same time, it’s perfectly reasonable for her husband to want and expect sex as part of the relationship.
Both people are right in this case.
This problem has a few layers to it. How big is the gap between what they want? What is the husband expecting? How often does he want/expect it? And how often does the wife want sex?
If one person wants it as a daily occurrence while the other person wants it weekly, that may be a problem they can figure out. If one person wants it daily and the other person want it…
…never. Well, that’s a bigger issue.
And truthfully, it’s probably not even an issue about sex.
It’s an issue of communicating, and listening to each other. And caring about and respecting each others needs. As a member or a relationship, you should care about your partners wants and needs – even when they don’t line up with your own.
That doesn’t mean you always have to meet them. But you do have to meet them sometimes, and you have to find a balance where each of you feel valued and respected.
If someone no longer wants to meet their partner’s needs, then that indicates something has broken down. Either they don’t feel valued and respected themselves so it’s a form of punishment (he/she doesn’t do things for me, so why should I do things for him/her). Or the connection in the relationship has broken down to the point that they simply don’t feel enough for their partner to care about their needs.
Either way, if the relationship has hit that point the question has to be asked – why is the couple still together? If someone either no longer cares about their partners needs, or they feel that withholding affection as a form a punishment is acceptable, then the partnership has broken down.
A relationship has to be about more than just two individuals looking out for themselves.
Meeting in the Middle
A while back I wrote about the three keys to a successful relationship. Love each other, don’t be selfish, and communicate.
If someone wants sex on a daily basis and they expect their partner to meet their needs in that way, I see that as being selfish and not very loving.
However, I also feel the same way about someone saying sex isn’t a need and they should never have to have it if they don’t want it. If there is a large gap in sex drives that stance not very loving and is just as selfish.
If you want to be loving and unselfish, you communicate and find something that works for both people. One person should never be dictating terms of anything that impacts both people.
That’s not what a partnership is about. The couple needs to communicate, show empathy and caring for each other’s needs, and try to find a compromise.
Everyone has their own beliefs and boundaries; and establishing your own boundaries and sticking to them is important. So I understand the idea of never having to do anything you don’t want to.
But when those boundaries put a couple in continuous conflict, something has to give. They either find a way to make their boundaries overlap, or they need to accept that their relationship will not work.
To the lady who said she should not have to do anything she doesn’t want to – she’s 100% right. But that doesn’t mean she can expect things to be her way and also expect to hold onto the relationship. That’s a fairly one sided approach to relationships.
To hold onto the relationship, both she and her husband need to find a way that they can both be satisfied. He could accept things only on her terms (which will likely cause resentment). She could accept things on his terms (which will also cause resentment).
Or they could both love each other, not be selfish, communicate, and try to find a path that works for both of them.
11 thoughts on “What Affects One Person Affects Both”
This is a hard one for me to accept as I see sex as an individual choice because it’s your body at the end of the day, you may be in a partnership but your partner shouldn’t own your body. And to be honest, sex is a completely different process for a woman then it is for a man. Because if you are ‘compromising’ and not entirely into it, it physically hurts, it hurts my body anyway. I don’t think it’s about learning to comprise in the bedroom, it’s about making an effort to do things that keep you attracted and wanting that closeness. Coz if woman ones husband just went to work, barely talked to her and just expects sex without making an effort, then why should she, what is there to be attracted to and why is she the one being selfish? I am also a rape victim, sex can be used to keep couples close but it can also be used as a physical weapon of torture and domination. Just remember it’s still different for men.
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Thanks for the comment, and you make some great points.
I’m absolutely not saying that anyone should have to do anything that they don’t want to. Ever.
And this post isn’t really just about sex. Rather, it’s about the idea that in a relationship one person should never be dictating the terms of something that affects both parties – whatever it is. I use the example of taking a job in a new city/location. Or you could think of something like buying a house, or starting a family. Any time something affects both people, both peoples opinions matter.
We all have our own rules and boundaries. And as a member of a couple, each person at all times can make a choice for what they will or won’t do (again, not just talking sex here). That’s a good thing.
However when those boundaries continuously collide, there’s a problem. And if a couple can’t find a common ground where both can feel respected and happy, then maybe that problem means the relationships won’t work.
I think it’s a huge issue when one person is deciding that things will only be on their terms. When that behaviour is shown consistently, then I see that as a one sided relationship.
You mention a relationship where someone just goes to work, and expects sex without making an effort. You’ve read some of my posts, so I hope you know that I don’t ever condone that sort of thing, and would generally suggest to the woman in that scenario that what’s she’s in isn’t really a relationship (at least not a healthy one).
I see relationships as partnerships, where you support each other and are there for each other. I don’t think one person should ever be putting in the bulk of the effort, at least not consistently over time. And I don’t think anyone is ever entitled to anything in a relationship.
A big issue in long term relationships is that over time, many people fall into this trap of just expecting things without having to continue nurturing and growing the relationship. That’s when things go bad.
If we all try nurturing and growing our relationships, and we all put in consistent effort, I think a lot of couples would be happier than they are today.
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I once had a boss that said ” sex is something I do for husbands sake, I could care less, but he needs it”. It was so sad to me. I thought, if you can’t connect with him intimately, why bother? Why stay married? They were both in their fifties and I felt sorry for the husband. How uncomfortable that must of been to sleep with your wife who is completely uninterested. It just seemed so very disconnected to me. Thank you again for one of your clearly written posts.
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I’m a bit torn on that one. Personally, I think sex is important as a means of communication and a special form of sharing in a relationship. So as you say, sex with someone who is completely uninterested would be disconnected and not very fulfilling.
That said, sex is only a small facet of a relationship and peoples drives will fluctuate over time. Plus in the scenario you mention the lower (or non-existent) drive person seems to recognize that it is something her husband needs, so she still does it. And hopefully it’s at least a somewhat satisfying experience for her when she does.
Where I think it becomes a real problem is when one person says “I don’t want/need X, so we won’t do it”. To me, no matter what X is, that is a very selfish thing to do.
No matter how common a couples interests are, there are always gaps. And when those gaps are things that affect both people they will always require finding a common ground.
Thanks for commenting.
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That particular woman seemed fine with it. I felt bad for her husband because he seemed miserable, then again there could have been a whole host of reasons for his unhappiness with sex only being one of them, if at all. I agree with you that one partner should never make a decision that affects them both. However, I also think many couples are not honest, with each other and with themselves. So many times it seems (myself included) that couples “compromise” only to find that neither is getting what they want or need. Sex seems workable to me as long as the couple has chemistry, if there’s no chemistry then there are bigger problems. How can couples compromise while feeling each of their needs are getting met, maintaining boundaries and not harboring resentment? Curious on your thoughts…
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“So many times it seems (myself included) that couples “compromise” only to find that neither is getting what they want or need”
I think your comment there is 100% true. So, how can couples compromise while feeling each of their needs are met, maintaining boundaries and not harboring resentment?
I think that starts with starting to understand the difference between need and want, as well as an acceptance of one thing – your life is not about you.
Don’t get me wrong, “I” am extremely important (to me anyhow). And my needs/wants definitely matter. I don’t believe in relationships where you continue to give and only worry about the other persons needs and wants – I think that’s a load of crap. So yeah, I matter. But never at the expense of anyone else. My partners needs and wants have to matter to me as well, and not only when they happen to line up with my own.
But I can accept that my needs and wants won’t “always” be met. And in fact, there may be some things I want that will never be met. And that’s alright.
Is my partner trying? Am I seeing consistent effort from her? Am I seeing her showing that she truly does care about me, and that she respects my needs and boundaries. And is what I am getting “enough” for me?
The question of “enough” is a big one. I think we all have things we need or want, and each of those things has thresholds. We may have an optimum level of something that we want. And there is a certain threshold below which something is not enough.
Personally, I accept that things in my life may never hit my optimum levels. But as long as they aren’t dropping below the bottom threshold (often), to me that is “enough”.
And as long as I see someone trying, there’s no reason for me to be resentful.
I think resentment comes when you see someone acting selfishly – ignoring what you need/want while in pursuit of what they want. And in that case, resentment is justified (though it doesn’t help anything).
Communication is important here. Being able to say “hey, this isn’t working because of X”. And if the other person really cares and is trying, they will listen.
It’s all about attitude and effort to me.
Thanks for the comment.
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I like your blog. 🙂
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I haven’t had as much time to write lately due to other commitments, but I have many more posts in partially written states to come.
Thanks for reading.
Monotony and routine are relationship killers and yet it is so easy for couples to get into that complacent “comfortable” role with one another. I think that this routine easily leads into feeling alone and “affection starved.” I think passion and romance and sex and affection are all very important in keeping a relationship going. I just finished a really good book called “Boredom or Love Till the Very End” by author Andrey Rider (http://andreyrider.com/). It is fiction meets self help and its definitely a stimulating and super helpful read. I think it’s a great book to read with your partner and for those looking to have a bit of a sexual awakening or just a boost in the bedroom. The book is about gender relations psychologist Daria and her determination to keep things fresh and interesting in her marriage. Communication is so important and sometimes I find (with my husband) that reading a book or watching a movie that allows us to discuss our current situation often helps. Thanks for sharing this great advice with your readers
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Hi there Karen, I agree 100% with your comment on routine leading to people feeling alone, and how passion/romance/sex/affection important (and I think essential) in keeping a relationship alive.
Take out the passion/romance/sex/affection, and you’re left with roommates. And over time that will destroy most couples.
What I think people often fail to see however is that keeping passion/romance/sex/affection alive is the responsibility of each and every one of us.
Whenever I hear someone say that it’s missing in their relationship, I question – what are THEY doing to put it in? It’s easy to blame your partner for things breaking down, but I think we all play a role when that happens.
Thanks for the info on the book – I’ll definitely check it out.
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