In marriage, it’s common for one spouse to initiate sex more often. But if you’re the one every time, it can easily lead to resentment, frustration, and feeling undesirable or unwanted. If you’re there, it is not your fault. And it may not be your spouse’s fault either. Let’s take a look at steps you can take to get to a more balanced place in your marriage.

Identify any barriers.

There may be reasons your spouse doesn’t initiate sex. Here are some questions to consider. These aren’t to be taken lightly, either.

  • Are there any underlying physical issues that make sex difficult? When is the last time your spouse has seen a doctor for a checkup?
  • Does their view of themself make them feel less desirable?
  • Are they under increased stress from work demands?
  • Is this stage of parenting exhausting them?
  • Do you two have differing views of when and where sex should happen?
  • Is there sexual or physical trauma in their past?
  • How was sex viewed in their home growing up?

The answer to all of these can help identify if there are barriers to your spouse initiating. They may want to initiate more often (as the previous research indicates many men and women do), but there may be a barrier that has nothing to do with you or your marriage. 

Some of these barriers may require the help of a therapist or counselor. If your spouse is open to discussing these roadblocks with you, be supportive. Offer to walk with them in whatever way possible to help them find healing. We all want our spouses to be their best selves.

Have the right conversation.

Let’s proceed as if there aren’t any traumatic barriers. If you want your spouse to initiate more often, you have to tell them.1 I know this seems obvious, but sex isn’t always the most comfortable conversation, even for married people. Think back to those barriers; maybe your spouse grew up in an environment where sex was a taboo topic. Perhaps you did, too. 

And maybe you have already  tried to bring it up, and nothing has changed. Keep in mind, if your spouse isn’t a natural initiator, it will take time to make this change! Keep trying. And maybe try a few of the conversation starters below to get the right talk happening.

Ask your spouse…

“What is one way you like to show me you love me?”

“What’s your biggest turn-off and turn-on?”

“When I initiate sex, does it make you feel desirable?”

“What is one thing we can do to increase emotional intimacy in our marriage?”

“Do you ever feel like one of us should be taking the lead when it comes to initiating sex? Why or why not?”

Invest in a lifestyle of intimacy.

Did you know intimacy is about more than sex? Sexual intimacy is just one expression of an intimate relationship. There is also emotional, intellectual, experiential, and spiritual intimacy. Living an intimate lifestyle means focusing on all of these. It’s about growing each type. A great starting point is “The Five Love Languages” by Gary Chapman. We all speak a love language, and knowing your spouse’s language builds intimacy in your relationship.

When you invest in the other types of intimacy, sexual intimacy grows. You also feel more desired, seen, and loved when there is a holistic approach to intimacy.

Schedule sex.

Yes, schedule it. My wife and I are extremely busy with work and other commitments. Add two kids with their own schedules, and sex can easily take a back seat. Scheduling sex doesn’t make it boring; it can actually enhance it by building anticipation. Agree on how often you both want to have sex and put it on the calendar. You can also determine who initiates, so the pressure and guesswork are off. This gives you both freedom to express yourself.

Set realistic expectations.

Every marriage goes through seasons. And in some seasons, sex may be difficult for one or both of you. Be gracious with your spouse. If both of you are committed to an intimate marriage, you can navigate those times when sex isn’t feasible. Focus on those other areas of intimacy and be there to support one another through difficult times. When you walk hand in hand, helping each other through the ups and downs of marriage, your passion will grow.

Take other possibilities into account.

It’s very possible that your spouse really never does initiate sex. But it’s also possible that they initiate differently than you! Are their cues so subtle or different that you have missed them?

There are two types of sexual initiation: direct and indirect. Direct is, well, direct. This could be telling your spouse you want to have sex or physically touching them. Indirect is less obvious. Maybe it’s kissing them or complimenting their appearance. Research finds that indirect initiation is more common than direct.2 But, guess what! Direct is more effective. Maybe your spouse utilizes indirect initiation and it’s not as easy for you to recognize.

So, what do you do? You gotta talk about it. I know, I know, I’ve already said that. But communication increases connection.

Sexual intimacy is a vital part of your marriage. Protect and nurture it. Keep the conversation going in your marriage. 

Additional reads:

How to Talk About Sex in Marriage

Be a More Supportive Spouse – First Things First

How to Talk About Sex With Your Partner

Sources

1Curtis, Eddy, L., Ashdown, B. K., Feder, H., & Lower, T. (2012). Prelude to a coitus: Sexual initiation cues among heterosexual married couples. https://doi.org/10.1080/14681994.2012.734604 

2Gonzalez-Rivas, & Peterson, Z. D. (2020). Women’s Sexual Initiation in Same- and Mixed-Sex Relationships: How Often and How?  https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499.2018.1489489

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