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Ask Katie: How Do I Navigate the Intimacy Roller Coaster?

Question: I am interested in better understanding how to handle the lack of intimacy with my wife. Sex for her has become a chore, and she has lost interest. I am still interested.

Answer:  I have given a great deal of thought to this question. First, it is important to point out that I am not a doctor, but one potential answer would be for your wife to have a physical in general. There are potentially some hormonal imbalances that exist that a doctor can help with. Generally speaking, I think it is important for men to understand the roller coaster that women go through when it comes to balancing an intimate relationship with our significant other and the rest of our lives (working, children, friends, etc.).

roller coasterIn the beginning of a relationship, there are actual chemical changes that occur in the body, attracting you to a new lover. Most people, regardless of age, will report that in the beginning of a relationship, it is impossible to keep your hands off of your partner. That part of a relationship lasts for different periods of time, but there is a honeymoon phase, and many people fall in love during this time and make commitments (even marriage) during this time. Like all good things, this chemical phase ends. There are two ways it can end up. One is that sex stays sex and becomes less interesting to one or both partners and the relationship changes or even ends. The other is that the relationship becomes deeper and a different intimacy develops that isn’t just physical in nature any longer. There is deep trust, and passion takes the place of lust. Not all relationships get to this deeper connection, and the roller coaster of trying to understand what happened to the sex life in a relationship begins.

The Roller Coaster Ride Begins

From a woman’s perspective, I can say the first time I truly realized that I was going to have to really understand the difference for men and women and sex was when my first child was born. I was changing his diaper when my husband walked up behind me and grabbed me flirtatiously. I remember turning away from the disgusting smelling diaper and looking at my husband thinking “yep, you nailed it buddy. I was just sitting here with baby poop on my finger and all I could think about was you naked!”  The dilemma of motherhood and being a wife crushed me like a ton of bricks in that moment. I can’t speak for all women, but when I had young children, I was constantly touched all day long by children needing hugs or kisses or just clinging to me. By bedtime, I just wanted to go to sleep. What I really needed to hear from my husband was that he understood that I was wiped and wanted to be sure I got a good night’s sleep. I was too young to even communicate that, and sex did feel like an obligation some of the time. That marriage ended after 10 years mostly because we were too young when it started to address these important issues.

Being single in my early 30’s was a challenge, as I didn’t want to be out dating when I had three children at home. I would go out when my kids were with their dad, but I wasn’t 20-something and wasn’t looking for a one-night stand. I wanted to find something meaningful, so those were some challenging times.

I got married again at 35, and we had six children between us. Again, like most women, I was balancing children, step-children, work, friends, and a new marriage. This time was different though, as I was able to communicate my needs for my life — and a better understanding developed between my husband and me about all parts of our relationship. We then decided to have a child of our own two years ago and went back to diapers and sleepless nights. We understood the importance of weekend getaways, and we joked about the intimate life that we knew would pause once in awhile and play other times. There wasn’t pressure, and it helped. This year, I had to have a total hysterectomy, and now hormonal changes are a reality. But again, there is healthy conversation.

Finding Balance

I’m not trying to just explain my life in this answer. I’m trying to help men draw a parallel between their situation and mine because ultimately, we all deal with similar issues. I think most women struggle with balancing being a mom or grandmother with being a lover. The more we are reminded that we are failing at it, the more stressful it becomes, and the more likely we are to pull away. We don’t pull away out of a lack of love, but instead, we just want to remove one thing from our list — even though rationally we know it is just causing a problem. I think the best thing a man can do is truly understand the different phases of our lives. Women do understand that men want sex, and that doesn’t change as much for men as it does for women (drawing from years of conversations with both genders in that statement). I’m not trying to simplify it, but we have spent our lives being looked at or even touched by men inappropriately (a hug that is way too tight, or a smack to the rear that is uninvited). We all have at one time or another just felt like a body rather than a soul, and it does have an impact on our feelings about sex.

The best thing our partner can do is understand us, rather than reminding us that we are failing them in this area. Such supportive ideas might include:

  • Ask us what you can do to help take things off of our plate.
  • Listen to us rather than trying to just solve everything.
  • Allow breaks from intimacy if that is what we need without making a big deal out of it.
  • Recognize the different times in our lives when we may struggle with our role in our own life (are we a mother or a wife?).

What Happens if Intimacy is Gone?

Ultimately, a lack of intimacy can lead to an end of a marriage or an affair. If the intimacy is gone, a couple needs to sit down and talk about why it is gone. If there aren’t any physical issues that can be treated by a doctor, then the relationship is off track and needs help. Sadly, there are times when a couple will just become friends and nothing more. If that works for both partners, then it is fine. If it doesn’t, then the partner looking for more may have to consider ending the relationship. I have heard of open marriages, but I think those two terms together don’t work. Maybe patience is the answer. Try telling your partner that you aren’t going to bring it up for three months, and at the end of the three months, sit down and talk with one another and see if anything is different. Be a good friend during that time, trying to understand all of the ins and out of your partner’s life and how you can help her.

Passion is built on trust, and I think also requires energy. Helping your partner find some energy could be the answer.


About Katie Coombs

Katie Coombs
Katie Coombs is a native Nevadan that calls Reno home with her husband Chris and their blended family of four boys, three girls. By day, she’s a small business owner and financial advisor, but has recently added radio show host, RGJ columnist, blogger and newborn mom (again) to her résumé. Her radio show, “Uncommon Sense,” column and blog focus on family values and parental leadership through the simple use of common sense. When she is not working on her radio show, fulfilling her duties as a business owner, or raising the small country that is her family, she enjoys camping, cheering for her kids at their sporting events and watching the Giants and the 49ers.

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