Unhappy pair needs time for intimacy

CAN THIS MARRIAGE BE SAVED?

October 02, 1994|By From Ladies' Home Journal Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"This is our second attempt at marriage," begins Meryl, 35, "but if we're always arguing and never making love, how will it ever work?

"Two years ago, I left Jake -- for a lot of reasons," Meryl explains. "But we've always loved each other, and we have a wonderful daughter, who's now 9." Unfortunately, they're fighting a lot -- usually about sex.

When they first got back together, Meryl recalls, it felt like a second honeymoon. But soon the old problems surfaced. Jake travels most of the week for his job. Meryl resents his long absences -- as well as the fact that he becomes an instant couch potato on weekends. "We never do anything as a family and, except to fight about Jenny's bedtime, we hardly talk," Meryl continues.

Meryl knows Jake loves his daughter, but she wants him to take a more active role in parenting. He didn't when she was little -- Meryl felt like a single mother back then, since Jake didn't seem to know what to do with a baby. "But he doesn't know what to do with a 9-year-old either," she snaps. And she's astonished that, despite their carping and bickering, Jake still wants to make love. "He can't understand why I'm not in the mood!" she says.

Jake, 37, has a different version of what's going on. "I love Meryl, but she's never in the mood for sex," complains Jake. "When you're constantly rejected, you stop trying."

Not that the opportunity comes up all that often, he says. "Meryl lets Jenny stay up until 10:30, 11 o'clock. By the time she's in bed, who has the energy for sex?"

Jake is all too aware of his shortcomings as a father and desperately wants to make it up to Jenny and Meryl. "But I'm scared it's too late," he says. "Meryl has raised Jenny. She doesn't even want to be with me lately; she prefers her friends." Though they honestly believe they're destined to be together, these two remain puzzled about why the sexual excitement is gone.

Stalled sex life

"Meryl and Jake think that their sex life should just 'happen,' " says Arden Greenspan-Goldberg, a marital therapist in New York and Pomona, N.Y. But like any aspect of a marriage, a satisfying love life takes work and, in many cases, is related to other problems.

Some people, like Jake, remain interested in lovemaking despite nonstop arguments with a spouse. For these people, sex may be the only way they can communicate, feel intimate and work through other problems. But for others, like Meryl, sex is the last thing on their mind when they're upset or angry.

Whatever the reason for the sexual dissatisfaction, it's essential to address the issue honestly. If either of you is not happy, don't be alarmed.

But think about why, and what you can do about it -- now. These guidelines can help you focus:

* Talk about sex. Don't be a victim of the mind-reader syndrome, believing that if he loves you, he will know what you like or when you're in the mood. Don't be afraid, either, to express dissatisfaction out of fear of hurting a partner's feelings. Instead, discuss what you'd like, what makes each of you happy and feel comfortable.

* Just talk, period. Converse undistracted by kids, telephones, the TV. If you can't have a conversation, you can't be intimate. Call each other during the day, make a date for lunch or share a glass of wine after the children are asleep.

* Romance each other. Flirt with each other. Tell him how handsome he looks. Back up those words by doing something surprising or unexpected.

* Plan time for sex. The fact that something is scheduled doesn't mean it can't be exciting. For Jake and Meryl, it means discussing and compromising on Jenny's bedtime. Though Meryl resisted -- "It's easy for Jake to say that, since he's never home during the week to deal with her" -- once Jake explained how much he needed time to be with her, she agreed. Jenny now has a 9:30 bedtime, and her parents have time for each other.

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