Ask Anne-Marie: How Do I Rekindle Sexual And Emotional Intimacy With My Husband?
This article is in response to a question posted to the Ask Anne-Marie global forum. A place where we co-explore burning questions across multiple topics of leadership, erotic nature, power dynamics and relationships.
Welcome back to Ask Anne-Marie and this week’s sincere question. As always, there are many pathways to explore through such a big and important inquiry.
How do I rekindle sexual and emotional intimacy with my husband, when it feels there is such a big gap between us right now?
I’m somewhat recently married (with two small children that I stay at home with during the day), and I can’t help but notice that my sex drive has taken a nose dive. I’m not interested in my husband sexually hardly ever, I’m easily frustrated with and irritated by him, I feel like he doesn’t really see or hear my needs — and, to make it worse, I’ve been having very—*ahem*— compelling... dreams about other men, mainly my exes, and frequently. Like I can tell I’m getting sexually frustrated and there’s an untapped pool of energy inside me, but there’s just too much of an emotional gap between me and my husband right now for me to want that with him... I’m new to this long-term relationship stuff, and I need some guidance on how to foster and nurture our relationship while we are in seeming emotional valleys...
What a beautiful and heartfelt share. What you describe is quite common in intimate relationships. When couples begin to domesticate often the erotic charge can shift and sequence through diminishing cycles. And, from my experience, what also happens is that differences in communication, attachment styles, emotional availability and so on can fog our sexual desire channel too.
I recognize this experience that you describe related to dreaming about ex-partners and fantasizing about other people when things with a partner, or lover, feel compromised or disconnected in some way.
For me, I’ve leveraged this kind of material as fuel to study what’s going on inside of me. To tap the reservoir of what may or may not yet be in my conscious awareness about my needs.
For example, I might ask:
What need am I not expressing to myself (and/or my partner)?
What resentment is building and why?
How can I bring the turn-on I feel from fantasizing, back into my partnership? Do we need to clear some emotional tension and feel our vulnerability together again? If so, how will I take leadership with this?
Do my partner and I know what turns us both on and how these fantasies intersect with one another or are in conflict right now? There is a whole process of identifying our core erotic themes that can be helpful on this front. In short, Core Erotic Themes (CET’s) are based on the fundamental imprint each of us learn early in life about the needs we seek to meet through intimacy and sex. Which I feel is also related to our attachment style and learned patterns related to belonging, safety and feeling celebrated and seen for our unique value and presence of being. A good, but dense, book to explore this further is called, “Your Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment” by Jack Morin. You can also learn more about your authentic channels of arousal in my blog post, Sexual Sovereignty: Embodying Your Authentic Sexual Expression
The alternative is to slip into emotional states of guilt, shame or to follow the fantasy impulses towards pursuing new connections outside of our partnership agreements. You aren’t alone with this and I want to normalize it and invite you to consciously choose how you want to relate to the material and the deeper wisdom it’s revealing to you.
A few questions for you to go further with this exploration:
1. How Clearly Have you Expressed Your Needs & Desires for Emotional Connection?
You mentioned that you’re getting frustrated because he doesn’t hear or see your needs. Have you expressed your needs and he doesn't understand them? Or does he understand them, but doesn’t know how to meet them?
For example, I have a high need for emotional intimacy in my relationships, but due to socialization and cultural conditioning, sometimes men are not as versed or aware of how to tap into this intelligence as my women friends. Yet, I don’t think this struggle is gender-based. It’s a human dilemma of how to ride the waves of how big and expansive some emotional states can feel. To be emotional is to embrace our vulnerability as our power. This is why meditation can be such a potent practice of learning to embrace and ride the waves without a need to fix or react to it all.
If people I’m dating are not interested in deepening in this way, then I accept that our differences in our relationship values are too big to satisfy either of us.
If partners want to build their emotional intelligence muscle, then I must practice patience by supporting their process of learning and helping them to deconstruct conditioned beliefs that they shouldn’t have emotions (often men get the brunt of emotional repression socialization). I can model safety, self ownership and vulnerability with my emotions in a way that creates deeper connection.
2. Have you read or listened to, Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel?
Esther speaks to some of the challenge of balancing domestication (attachment) and erotic connection (sexually), which can be supportive in navigating the feelings you describe in long-term relationships. You can watch her TED talk here.
The power of integrating attachment needs with individuation
In your question you shared:
I’m not interested in my husband sexually hardly ever, I’m easily frustrated with and irritated by him, I feel like he doesn’t really see or hear my needs..
…but there’s just too much of an emotional gap between me and my husband right now for me to want that with him
The following segment is from my journaling this morning. It feels relevant to your questions about the nuanced and complex way in which emotional intimacy relates to how open we feel sexually. This varies from person to person and across gender orientations based on socialization and learned patterns.
Many sex and intimacy challenges are emotional and attachment-based. For example I feel a lack of desire when I’m not feeling connected to my own creative and authentic expressions in the world; when I’m not pulsing with my life force and sovereignty. I have learned that I need to take responsibility for fueling this part of my life, so that I can bring it to my partner rather than expect the other person to be the only source of my turn-on.
I think most relationship challenges are a combination of attachment dynamics not being consciously seen, understood and discussed as a couple. If revealing and embracing our attachment patterns is left in the shadows then partners often operate subconsciously through protective behaviors that create disconnection with oneself through self-criticism and shame, as well as unintentionally towards our partners through blame and shaming.
This is one reason why I have found studying and experimenting with the balance between two primary components of intimacy:
Attaching: seeking connection and the need for security, safety and belonging
Individuation: the need we have to be authentic and free to express our most authentic selves.
Studying our engagement with both is an essential ingredient to both fueling intimacy with our own erotic nature and igniting this fire in connection with another. It’s a very dynamic and shapeshifting process to learn, grow and take mutual responsibility for the relational patterns at play. The expectations we bring, and the patterns we co-create are gateways to evolving together.
Couples, friends, business partners, parent-child relationships all create unspoken dynamics that are based on these two components: attach and individuate.
Hyper-attachment habits can lead to resentment and feelings of entrapment
It’s natural to want to attach to other people and to feel the safety and security of a relationship structure. It’s satisfying to feel special and important to something bigger that holds us through both our divine and human connections. Attaching is a form of belonging and it’s wired in our brain and entire nervous system to do so. Beyond the essential survival components of food, shelter, clean water, we need to belong. We’re here not only to survive but to thrive and evolve together.
The rules of attachment that are created in relationship are often designed to keep us safe but can start to become in direct opposition to cultivating an authentic connection in which we have room to be who we are and not who the other person needs us to be. For example, if we’ve been taught that connection and love are based on how much time we spend together, or that our partner should be there for us every time we need them as proof of their love and loyalty, then we often end up suffering and feeling disconnected.
This internal dilemma, of going in two directions at the same time, can feel confusing and anxiety-producing. From a simultaneous YES and NO, our nervous system will be activated and we’ll likely pick one of three responses:
Freeze: We may feel shame about an inner conflict of yes/no and tell ourselves unfriendly things about who we are. Or we may put our head in the sand by distracting from our feelings and complying with a yes (when we feel no) because it’s easier than rocking the boat of connection. We may habitually comply and override our authentic need and not even be aware of this until later when we feel angry and resentful; maybe even victimized.
Fight: We may unconsciously survey the relational landscape for reasons to blame the other person for how we feel, instead of speaking up about our differences and having a real and vulnerable conversation.
Flight: When we say yes and mean no, it often results in withdrawal, procrastination, avoidance, etc. In essence we sabotage the agreement because we were never a full yes leaving others to feel misled and let down.
If attachment agreements (conscious or subconscious) require us to forfeit our authenticity to ensure the other person doesn’t go away, then we are stirring up the pot for a shit storm of resentment and disconnection. It’s courageous to acknowledge what we’re actually longing for, and to take responsibility for the ways we protect by not speaking up, blaming others, shaming ourselves and complying to avoid conflict.
Hyper-individuation can lead to distance and loss of intimacy
Expecting our partners to meet all of our needs all the time can be a lot of pressure on both people. At the same time, becoming so individuated and focused on our independence, and not engaging in the vulnerability of what it means to attach and need someone, can exacerbate the traditionally labeled anxious-avoidant patterns of attachment. It’s tricky because as I mention above, forfeiting our own needs to stay in connection (attachment) with our partners eventually can build resentment and disconnection also. It’s helpful to watch the patterns of hyper attaching (co-dependency) and hyper independence. (lone wolf syndrome)
To become individuated and connected we are well-served to pay attention to where we put our energy and to familiarize ourselves with what happens in our body when we feel disconnected or resentful. Not everything can be sorted out with our partners every time we feel activated or impacted. That’s a big ask. Especially in lives that are full and spinning in multiple directions. For most people energy is spread so thin throughout the day with family, work, and self-care (if we’re lucky), which decreases our levels of resilience and our capacity to be open-hearted and to listen deeply to our partner’s needs. It often helps to have personal practices (meditation, journaling, mindful movement) and supports systems (friends, coaches, mentors) that you can rely on to sort through your experiences and process aloud before you bring it to your partner.
The dance of integrating attachment and individuation
Some key components of finding a sustainable and dynamic balance between attachment and individuation is:
Accepting our partner will never meet all our needs (nor will we meet all of their needs), so we must build networks of support within ourselves and with others.
Learning to embrace disappointment while staying connected with each other. Hearing impact without trying to fix the discomfort so quickly.
Staying connected to the stories we create about ourselves and our partners that cause harm and disconnection.
Standing for what we value the most in our intimate relationship by taking ownership for how and where we invest our energy with friends and lovers
Emotion is not rationale and linear. Emotions are a waterway of rivers and tributaries that lead us to look deeper into the medicine they offer us.
Emotions invite us to investigate and embrace our full and gritty human experience. Such as our need for belonging and independence; our vulnerability and protection patterns; crossed boundaries within ourselves or boundaries we’ve allowed to be crossed by others; and the deliciousness of finding a sweet spot of attaching and having freedom to be loved for exactly who we are rather than who others want us to be.
We’re not alone. We all have unique needs and longings. My wish is that we all curate a wellspring of trusted allies who allow us to be exactly as we are while we study and integrate exiled parts of ourselves back home.
We heal together, in relationship, baby step by baby step, through the courageous lion-hearted presence of our being.