The Intimacy Dilemma
Justin sat on the couch watching TV and looked up when Nicole came into the room. He wondered, “Is she open to having sex tonight?” When Nicole gave him a glance and then walked away, Justin turned back to watching TV, disappointed. He thought, “She just doesn’t care. She’s always busy with other stuff.” Justin turned the TV up and continued watching.
When Nicole walked into the living room and saw Justin watching TV, she was disappointed. “Why can’t he just shut the TV off and talk to me for a while? I’d like to find out about his day, but he isn’t interested in me enough to spend some time with me.”
Justin and Nicole are caught in the intimacy dilemma. Both of them want a connection with each other, yet they find themselves in a pattern that separates them.
Men tend to want sex to feel close. Women tend to want to feel close to have sex. When they don’t get what they want, they feel rejected. Justin’s reaction is to shut down emotionally and stop investing in the relationship. Nicole feels starved for communication. She feels overwhelmed, underappreciated, and resentful.
The pattern continues to feed on itself, and both of them walk away feeling disappointed and disconnected.
What Men Want
The popular opinion is that sex is just something physical for men. People think that men just have a biological need for sex that is devoid of an emotional connection. Nothing could be further from the truth!
Men want to be wanted and desired. One study found that 97% of men want more than physical release from sex (Feldhahn, 2017). They want to feel wanted and desired by their wives. Sex with their wives creates emotional closeness. The study found that men don’t want sex for a physical need but rather to feel loved by their wives.
Sex, for men, helps them to feel close. When men do not have sex with their wives, it can lead to feeling rejected, insignificant, and abandoned. Eventually, this can lead to depression.
What Women Want
Women tend to want emotional closeness to have sex. One study found that 73% of women would respond sexually to their husband’s increased emotional attention (Feldhahn & Feldhahn, 2016). Women respond to having their husbands listen to them. They want to have little gestures throughout the day that show love and interest.
Women respond to the feeling that there is a connection and a bond with their husbands. This bond may include doing chores and cleaning around the house. That type of caring demonstrates love in a practical way.
I have found that couples get into a self-destructive pattern. Someone feels rejected, so they disconnect. The feeling of disconnection builds up resentment. So, there is no sexual intimacy, which increases the disconnection.
Justin and Nicole were stuck in the intimacy dilemma. Justin wanted sex to feel close, and Nichole wanted to feel close to have sex. Obviously, both of them need to recognize that they are contributing to the pattern.
When we mentor couples, we want to help them to understand their patterns of disconnection and connection. What works and what doesn’t work?
We work to identify the pattern. Is there a rejection or a feeling of abandonment? Is there a sense of disconnection? We will often ask what it looks like if there was a fly on the wall watching them. What is the actual behavior? Then, we ask each person what they are feeling when that behavior happens. What are the emotions underneath the behavior?
Then, we ask couples what would help them to feel more connected.
When Justin and Nicole discovered that they both want a connection with one another, they could find ways to connect. For Justin, that meant talking to Nicole and helping her around the house. Nicole wanted to feel valued and loved.
For Nicole, that meant understanding that Justin’s desire for sex is also a way to feel emotionally connected to her. Nicole needed to work to make sex a priority in their relationship.
I sometimes wonder if God created us this way intentionally. Did God give men more testosterone to fuel a greater sex drive, yet the way to satisfy that desire is to demonstrate love and emotional support? Jesus came to woo his bride, the church. Did God create it so that men would woo their wives?
Tips for Mentors
- Ask about differences in sexual intimacy – Mentors can help men and women to understand that they may be wired differently. Yet, sexual intimacy is part of feeling close and connected.
- Help recognize the pattern – Mentors can help a couple to identify their patterns of desire and rejection. Being aware of the pattern is the first step to making new choices.
- Brainstorm what works – What might help? Setting aside time to talk? Helping with chores? Making time for physical closeness? Do more of what works.
Feldhahn, S. (2017). For women only: what you need to know about the inner lives of men. Multnomah Books.
Feldhahn, S., & Feldhahn, J. (2016). For men only: a straightforward guide to the inner lives of women. Multnomah Books.