Dear Bitter Butch,
My wedding was a month ago, and things aren’t going very well. My husband is withholding sex. He has done this before, and I know you are probably going to say I shouldn’t have married someone so childish and selfish. But, I did, and now I just need to figure out what to do going forward.
I’ve given him a deadline to decide to have a sexual relationship with me, or to decide not to. I’ve told him to go to the doctor to see if he has a problem and he refuses, so he must be withholding sex for some reason that he won’t tell me. All I hear are the excuses: too tired, too stressed, etc.
Do you have any ideas for what I should do?
Dear Married for a Month,
I’m going to say this as gently and lovingly as I can, and I want you to imagine me saying it with the compassionate tone that I really do feel for you: he’s not the only one who is being childish here.
You say you’ve told him to go to the doctor to see if he has a problem and he refuses, so he “must be withholding sex for some reason that he won’t tell me.”
That’s quite a jump you just made, there. I don’t see how one leads to the other at all.
You also don’t give me a lot of information to go on. You don’t tell me how long it’s been since you two had sex. A month? If so, that’s not withholding sex. Maybe he’s just really tired and stressed out. A year? This sounds like a genuine, long-lasting problem. You don’t tell me what sex was like when you two first started your relationship, and if that has changed, and how long you two have been together. Is this an enormous change? Did you have sex seven times a day before and then suddenly it stopped? Or was there a gradual slowing down, as is fairly natural in long-term relationships?
Have you talked with him about what is making him tired and stressed out? Have you been a good friend to him? Have you made sex with you seem like an appealing way to connect, or is it just pressure on him to perform?
I use the word ‘pressure’ because of your arbitrary deadline for what is basically a useless outcome. You’re telling him: “You have until February 1 to tell me what I want to hear.”
You say he’s done this before. Did he, after the freeze-out was over, confess that he was actively withholding it? What was the issue? Or did he just go through a period of not being in the mood and you labeled it “withholding sex?”
I think the main problem here, if it’s only been a month, is not sex but communication. You are making assumptions about what is going on in his head, and he’s telling you he is tired and stressed and you are not taking these things for a real answer. Maybe you have good reasons for this. Maybe he’s hidden his real feelings behind vague excuses before. I don’t know.
Marriage is really hard. The first year, in particular. My advice to you is to drop your silly deadline and ask him to start couples counseling.
You need to learn how to fight fair. It sounds to me, from what little you’ve given me, that you are like me: a charge-into-things, making accusations sort of fighter, and he is like the people I tend to be attracted to: avoidant of conflict and turning away. While this is a particularly difficult combination, it is not insurmountable.
You two need to learn how to communicate and deal with conflict. He needs to learn how to speak up about what is really bothering him, and you need to make it safe for him to do so. You need to learn how to listen and he needs to learn how to be honest with you.
If you can get those things down, you can have a good foundation for a decent relationship. Otherwise? Go find someone who wants to screw you already, and cut him loose.
But I warn you: if you can’t figure out how to listen, communicate, and fight fair, you’ll find yourself in the same situation with someone else in a year or two.
BITTER BUTCH aka Haddayr Copley-Woods is a queer, a cripple, a nerd, a mom to two kids with neurological differences, and has a truckload of opinions on everything including sex and relationships, parenting, disability issues, family relationships, work dynamics, gender/sexuality issues, and etiquette. You can reach her with all your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org