The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

As sex dwindles, spouse feels unloved. Carolyn Hax readers give advice.

Carolyn Hax (The Washington Post)
5 min

We asked readers to channel their inner Carolyn Hax and answer this question. Some of the best responses are below.

Dear Carolyn: My wife recently admitted that she doesn’t want sex as much anymore. Our sex life isn’t terrible if I compare it with some other couples I know, but it’s fairly by the book. I feel most connected to her when we can be truly intimate. It’s not just a physical thing for me it’s much more emotional.

When she doesn’t exhibit interest in me, it makes me feel unloved (although, objectively, I don’t believe that to be true). We’ll have “quickies” every so often, but just doing the act doesn’t really fulfill my deep need to be desired. I struggle to bring some of these things up to her because she often feels guilty which then makes it that much harder for her to want sex. She says that I should let her know when I really want sex. However, I want to BE wanted and not have to tell her that is a thing I need.

How do I handle my feelings in an honest way that doesn’t unfairly blame her for the state of our sex life?

She’s Just Not That Into Me

She’s Just Not That Into Me: You talk about your sex life but not the rest of your life together. I know it’s probably for brevity, but nothing happens in a vacuum. How’s your cohabiting life, the rest of your emotional relationship, and everyone’s health? Problems in these areas can sap desire.

The most stereotypical of these is the wife whose growing resentment in having to do all the chores slowly erodes sexual desire, but this isn’t the only place one part of your life can impact your sex life. Can you take a relationship inventory and see where everyone is happy or unhappy, well or unwell? Even if it doesn’t immediately affect your sex life, it should make you both happier overall and more able to tackle the libido mismatch together.

— Big Picture

She’s Just Not That Into Me: What I’ve learned in my own marriage is that a caring partner can inadvertently make things worse by waiting for the less sexual partner to make overtures. Whether you are hoping to feel desired or just trying to avoid pressuring her, you have effectively put the entire burden of your sex life on the person who is struggling with not feeling sexual. This adds so much more stress and anxiety — the killers of desire.

You and your wife have talked about it, and she’s told you one thing you can do is to let her know when you really want sex. Please do that for her. That might help relieve some of the emotional burden that she’s also carrying with this. Communicating your desire and seeing what happens — gracefully and without guilting her — gives you more opportunities to have sex and takes a burden off her. It also gives you more information about how mismatched your libido really is.

You don’t say how old you are or how long you’ve been married, but keep in mind that age, changing bodies, fluctuating hormones, physical and mental health issues and just general life stress can all affect our sexual functioning. Rarely do these factors affect both partners equally and at the same time. This means that most couples in the course of a life spent together will navigate a mismatch of sexual interest or ability. Your wife might want to rule out health issues with a doctor if she hasn’t already.

Whatever happens, know that you aren’t alone, and a marriage in a sexual downturn is still a marriage. Her sexual function is not the measure of her love for you.

— Don’t Be A Burden

She’s Just Not That Into Me: My ex-husband probably would have written a similar question before we divorced a handful of years ago. My questions for the writer: How is your relationship outside of your sex life? Is it a mutual partnership? Are you a supportive, helpful and loving partner, and do you attempt to connect to your wife in other ways outside of the bedroom? When you do have sex, do you make sure she is satisfied?

I ask because I, too, shared with my ex during our marriage that I did not want to have sex anymore. Outside of sex, he had zero willingness to connect to me. Sex was the only way he found me interesting, and it was an act that filled me with dread and caused me to feel used, ashamed and lonely. This was particularly the case when he “punished” me with coldness and distance if I turned him down. After 20-plus years of this and multiple rounds of marital counseling, he was essentially unable to be a less selfish person and a more loving partner who was interested in meeting my needs, too, so I ended the marriage.

If your wife does not have any medical issues that might contribute toward a low libido, I highly recommend you examine how you show love, support and a willingness to meet your wife’s needs. The relationship has to be good outside of the bedroom for it to be good inside the bedroom.

— Beyond The Bedroom

Every week, we ask readers to answer a question submitted to Carolyn Hax’s live chat or email. Read last week’s installment here. New questions are typically posted on Fridays, with a Monday deadline for submissions. Responses are anonymous unless you choose to identify yourself and are edited for length and clarity.