Understanding Midlife Male-Female Relationships (or, What the Hell Happened to My Sex Life?)

The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones
The Beguiling of Merlin by Edward Burne-Jones

I decided to write this because I know a number of men my age who are genuinely puzzled at the decline of sexual intimacy in their marriages. These are good men and good husbands who sincerely love their wives, but they cannot figure out what has gone wrong in the bedroom. I’m hoping my experiences and perspective can help shed some light on this for them. Of course, no two women are the same, but hopefully this will give you a place to start.

First, it’s important to understand that what has happened isn’t “wrong,” per se. It’s partly biology. So let’s start there. Everyone knows, men in particular, that they are hardwired to want sex. Well, women are, too, particularly in their younger, fecund years. But while men’s wiring may not change all that much over time (unless prostate problems enter the picture), women’s wiring does change, and it’s important to understand this before you can begin to resurrect your sex life.

“She’s changed.”

Yes, your wife has changed. People change over time as they grow and mature. In addition to that, women can enter perimenopause as early as their 30s, but more often in their 40s. By the time they get into their 50s, they are probably experiencing full-blown menopausal symptoms. Perimenopause can last 10 years or longer. What happens?

The hormones that flowed so regularly and evenly in her 20s are now flowing spottily, and she is more likely to experience a serious surge of hormones—an overdose, really—once or twice a month. These surges are “above and beyond,” you could say, and yes, they can change her personality temporarily. Never underestimate the power of hormones.

During a hormone surge, she is likely to feel more touchy, more nervous, more easily stressed, and generally as though she is about to crawl out of her skin. Guys, you would, too. Trust me on this. During these times, she is going to be more testy than normal, or full-on bitch, from your perspective. From her perspective, her mood is not something she can control; it’s just how she feels. She does not want to be bothered. Ideally, she’d like to sip red wine in a spa somewhere until this thing blows over, but she probably doesn’t get that option.

Men, I’m guessing that when your wife appears to react as though you were the creature from the black lagoon, you take it personally. That’s normal, but stop and consider that sometimes it’s just her body chemistry talking, not her. If you need to give her some space and drink a beer in your man cave for awhile, then do it. But before you consign yourself to the mood swings, know that your wife can get some relief for them if she is motivated to do so. I was tired of being a bitch once or twice a month, so I went to an herbalist, who gave me something for it. And it really does help. Now, I don’t need to tell you that you will need to find a loving and supportive way of encouraging her to help herself, right? (Maybe you could even show her this blog. It could be the start of a healthy discussion.)

“Why won’t she sleep with me any more?”

This is probably the number one thing that bothers men in their relationships. Part of the reason is because they genuinely crave sexual relations with their wives. There’s nothing wrong with that. And the other part is that the wife’s seeming lack of desire feels like rejection, and that is dispiriting.

The female sex drive can decrease with her hormones. While she may get surges that make her cranky, the rest of the time, she may be experiencing a trickle. Again, some herbs may help. It’s also a good idea to consult a western doctor, too, to make sure that there are no other problems that may be interfering with her sex drive. But it’s also important to understand that the desire for sex is not just about hormones, and this is where you have some homework, guys.

Intimacy does not equal sex

Most of the men I know equate sex with intimacy. It isn’t, not to a woman. Yes, it is surely an intimate act, but intimacy is what occurs the rest of the time. Let me repeat:  True intimacy is what occurs when you are not having sex.

If you have buried yourself in your job (because “bringing home the bacon” and taking out the trash fulfills your marital duties), then you are not being intimate with your wife. If you spend more time talking about how you feel with your buddies than with your wife, then you are not being intimate with your wife. If the bulk of your conversations with your wife concern the dinner menu, the children, your taxes, or tiling the bathroom, then you are not being intimate with your wife.

Men, you have deep feelings and insecurities, but you may feel uncomfortable expressing these things to your wife. But if you want to create a truly intimate space—one that will enhance your sex life, too—then you need to start getting real with your spouse. This also means listening to her deep feelings and insecurities, and supporting her. Women are more outwardly expressive of their emotions, while men tend to keep them inside. Learn to let some out occasionally, and you will find that you are creating fertile ground for a deeper relationship. Talk to your wife—and not just about sports.

When you create an emotionally intimate environment in your relationship, sex will more easily and naturally spring from that place of trust. On the other hand, if the only time you approach her for “intimacy” is when you would like to ejaculate, she’s not going to feel very loved or valued for herself.

Foreplay does not begin at 10 p.m.

When your wife was 21, before children and a career, sex could happen any time, any where, at the drop of a hat. But you are no longer living a 21-year-old lifestyle, and it’s time to acknowledge that. If you begin to initiate sex the moment she drops into bed at night, exhausted from her day and with the alarm set for the next one, then you have waited too long. At that point, she is tired and just wants to sleep. She might throw you a bone occasionally, but she probably won’t enjoy it (fake it), and she’ll resent it. That’s not good.

It’s culturally popular to think that sex isn’t “romantic” unless it’s “spontaneous,” but that’s a load of malarkey. In nearly every Hollywood sex scene, the couple run at each other, embrace hotly, and they’ve both tumbled into bed and come within 5 minutes. In a scenario like that in the real world, the guy might come, but the woman definitely did not. And she’s keeping score.

If you really want to have an intimate moment with your wife, you need to think ahead. This will show that you are aware of what’s going on for her and what her stresses are. Does she have a big event or obligation the next day? Or is her schedule fairly relaxed? Think about it. And then start your foreplay before dinner. Seriously.

Bring home some flowers or a bottle of wine. Help her with dinner and dishes. Talk to her about her day. Start the cuddling on the couch. Whatever you do, do not wait until she is so exhausted that the last thing she wants to do is have sex.

Relationships change over time, so you have to change with them

The main thing to recognize is that you cannot compare your current relationship with the way it was 5, 10, or 20 years ago. It has changed; it will change. If you’re committed to it, you will work with your wife to figure out how to respond to each other’s changing needs. Yes, your wife should want to meet you half-way in the bedroom. She may not know how. Be helpful and loving, not judgmental or hurt. It isn’t really all about you, even though it feels that way. Talk to her so that you can understand where she is today. Tell her where you are today. Let her know how much you still value the relationship—and her. Just showing this level of commitment is an aphrodisiac.

Good luck, men! We need you. Don’t give up.

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