Marriage #101: Can sex get in the way?

Much of what I learned about relationships came from my favorite author Nora Ephron. She was such a brilliant writer, and her ability to understand the complex nature of romantic relationships never ceased to amaze me. The characters in When Harry Met Sally encapsulate the way two people can turn a relationship into a process. In the movie, the classic question is raised: “Can men and women be friends?” To which the answer is still one of my favorite lines from a movie: “No, cause the sex part always gets in the way.”

Despite my love of this quote, I don’t entirely believe this and I also have had some pretty great friendships with men and the sex never got in the way, but I will tell you what. Sex does get in the way sometimes with husband.

Overall, it is pretty typical in most relationships that one partner has a higher sex drive than the other. In our relationship, it’s me. As my female friends lament their husbands’ constant desires and their required “duty” to make them happy, I sit and think about sex with my husband. In their defense and based on societal data, one out of every four women have been molested or sexually assaulted by the time they reach 25, so many of my friends have suffered at the hands of strangers or even men they loved. My view of sex is skewed by my having a life that has gone basically untouched by these things. This is not to say that I haven’t had men try things, coerce, guilt or even shame me sexually, but I have never had a man force himself on me in the ways they have described.

Instead, I grew up in a house with an emotionally distant father and a dysfunctional family where I learned early on that sex gets you a lot of attention. It wasn’t long before I started to believe that this attention translated into the love I have always sought. Fast forward to my current relationship and you have a woman who believes that if my husband doesn’t want to have sex with me every minute of the day, he doesn’t love me. Now logically, I know this is not true, but when he refuses my advances or tells me he is too tired, I want to cry. The shame and the betrayal I feel is palpable. Through these emotions I know a nerve has been hit.

My initial reaction is to freeze him out. Cold shoulders are my go-to move. In my mind, I start to plan for our sexless future where I shoot him down the next time he wants to be intimate. It’s right around here that I remind myself what I am doing. I am searching for love and affection through sex. I am looking for validation and belonging from my husband as opposed to finding it from within. I am placing the blame for my hurt and pain on the one person who had no hand in helping to create my foundation.

So I regroup. I remind myself that these feelings are the signposts for the childhood wounds that still need to heal.

“Wow,” I think to myself. “How long will it take to heal?” I roll up my sleeves and allow myself to feel the pain. Not the pain of his rejection, but the buried pain of rejection from so long ago. Even as I write these words, tears spring to my eyes. My mother’s rejection when she left. My father’s daily rejection and withholding of affection. The six year old me who wanted so desperately to be loved.

When I begin to soften as the emotions process through me, I start to also soften towards my husband. His love for me is endless and kind. His desire to make me happy drives almost all of his decisions. Sex to him is to be enjoyed, but there is no strong desire in him for it to be all the time. He knows his sexual desire for me is in no way a reflection of his love for me.

I breathe.

So what does all of this have to do with Nora and her fabulous writing ability? I guess it’s about connections and the twists and turns relationships can take. Perhaps there are problems that can be solved when each partner chooses to look within as opposed to out for a solution. As humans we are often tumbled and turned by our emotions, and an easy way out is to look at the person laying next to us and blame them for these emotions. I have learned the hard way from one failed marriage that this way of thinking is dangerous and often futile, so I will continue to do soul searching when I am tousled. Isn’t that what Harry and Sally do at the end of the film so they are able to find their way back to the other? Accepting themselves as well as the other? Either way, my favorite line from the movie has nothing to do with relationships and everything to do with sex. It’s when Harry and Sally are discussing orgasms and Sally insists that many women are actually faking them during sex. Harry finds this information disturbing and untrue to which she replies, “Nothing. It’s just that all men are sure it never happened to them, and all women at one time or other have done it, so you do the math.”

Love and Light!