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When a Woman Isn’t in the Mood: Part I

Tuesday, Dec 23, 2008

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Given our preoccupation with politics and economics, it is easy to forget that for most of us micro issues still play a greater role in our lives. So here are some thoughts that, as heretical as they might sound, have been found extremely helpful, sometimes even marriage-saving, from listeners to my radio show, which features a “male-female hour” every week.

The subject is one of the most common problems that besets marriages: the wife who is “not in the mood” and the consequently frustrated and hurt husband.

There are marriages with the opposite problem – a wife who is frustrated and hurt because her husband is rarely in the mood. But, as important and as destructive as that problem is, it has different causes and different solutions, and is therefore not addressed here. What is addressed is the far more common problem of “He wants, she doesn’t want.”

It is an axiom of contemporary marital life that if a wife is not in the mood, she need not have sex with her husband. Here are some arguments why a woman who loves her husband might want to rethink this axiom.

First, women need to recognize how a man understands a wife’s refusal to have sex with him: A husband knows that his wife loves him first and foremost by her willingness to give her body to him. This is rarely the case for women. Few women know their husband loves them because he gives her his body (the idea sounds almost funny). This is, therefore, usually a revelation to a woman. Many women think men’s natures are similar to theirs, and this is so different from a woman’s nature, that few women know this about men unless told about it.

This is a major reason many husbands clam up. A man whose wife frequently denies him sex will first be hurt, then sad, then angry, then quiet. And most men will never tell their wives why they have become quiet and distant. They are afraid to tell their wives. They are often made to feel ashamed of their male sexual nature, and they are humiliated (indeed emasculated) by feeling that they are reduced to having to beg for sex.

When first told this about men, women generally react in one or more of five ways:

1. You have to be kidding. That certainly isn’t my way of knowing if he loves me. There have to be deeper ways than sex for me to show my husband that I love him.

2. If this is true, men really are animals.

3. Not my man. He knows I love him by the kind and loving way I treat him.

4. You have it backwards. If he truly loved me, he wouldn’t expect sex when I’m not in the mood.

5. I know this and that’s why I rarely say no to sex.

Let’s deal with each of these responses.

1. You have to be kidding. …

The most common female reaction to hearing about men’s sexual nature is incredulity, often followed by denial. These are entirely understandable reactions given how profoundly different – and how seemingly more primitive – men’s sexual nature is compared to women’s.

Incredulity is certainly the reaction most women have when first being told that a man knows he is loved when his wife gives him her body. The idea that the man she is married to, let alone a man whose intelligence she respects, will to any serious extent measure her love of him by such a carnal yardstick strikes many women as absurd and even objectionable.

But the question that should matter to a woman who loves her man is not whether this proposition speaks poorly or well of male nature. It is whether it is true. And it is true beyond anything she can imagine. A woman who often deprives her husband of her body is guaranteed to injure him and to injure the marriage – no matter what her female friends say, no matter what a sympathetic therapist says, and no matter what her man says.

(Very few men will confess to the amount of hurt and eventual anger they experience when repeatedly denied sex).

Of course, there are times when a man must simply refrain from initiating sex out of concern for his wife’s physical or emotional condition. And then there are men for whom sex rarely has anything to do with making love or whose frequency of demands are excessive. (What “excessive” means ought to be determined by the couple before the refusals begin, or continue.) But the fact remains: Your man knows you love him by your willingness to give him your body.

2. If this is true, men really are animals.

Correct. Compared to most women’s sexual nature, men’s sexual nature is far closer to that of animals. So what? That is the way he is made. Blame God and nature. Telling your husband to control it is a fine idea. But he already does. Every man who is sexually faithful to his wife already engages in daily heroic self-control. He has married knowing he will have to deny his sexual nature’s desire for variety for the rest of his life. To ask that he also regularly deny himself sex with the one woman in the world with whom he is permitted sex is asking far too much. Deny him enough times and he may try to fill this need with another woman. If he is too moral to ever do that, he will match your sexual withdrawal with emotional and other forms of withdrawal.

3. Not my man.

Many women will argue, understandably, “My husband knows I love him. He doesn’t need me to have sex with him to know that. And this is especially so when I’m too tired or just don’t want sex. Anyway, my man only enjoys sex with me when I’m into it, too.”

The importance of mutual kindness to a marriage is impossible to overstate. But while necessary, it is not sufficient. Women can understand this by applying the same rule to men. Most women will readily acknowledge that it is certainly not enough for a man to be kind to her. If it were, women would rarely reject kind men as husband material. But as much as a woman wants a kind man, she wants more than that. If a man is, let us say, lacking in ambition or just doesn’t want to work hard, few women will love him no matter how kind he is. In fact, most women would happily give up some kindness for hard work and ambition. A kind man with little ambition is not masculine, therefore not desirable to most women.

Likewise, a kind woman who is not sexual with her husband is not feminine. She is a kind roommate.

Furthermore, a woman who denies the man she loves sex is not kind.

4. You have it backward.

Every rational and decent man knows there are times when he should not initiate sex. In a marriage of good communication, a man would either know when those times are or his wife would tell him (and she needs to – women should not expect men to read their minds. He is her man, not her mother.)

But, to repeat the key point, rejection of sex should happen infrequently. And it should almost never be dependent on mood – see Part II next week.

5. I know this and that’s why I rarely say no to my husband.

This is a wise woman. She knows a sexually fulfilled husband is a happy husband. (At the same time, men need to recognize that complete sexual fulfillment is unattainable in this world.) And because a happy husband loves his wife more, this cycle of love produces a happy home.

In Part II, I will explain in detail why mood should play little or no role in a woman’s determining whether she has sex with her husband.

I conclude Part I with this clarification: Everything written here applies under two conditions: 1. The woman is married to a good man. 2. She wants him to be a happy husband. If either condition is not present, nothing written here matters. But if you are a woman who loves your husband, what is written here can be the most important thing you will read concerning your marriage. Because chances are the man you love won’t tell you.

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