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Is shame ruining intimacy in your marriage?

Posted April 25

Question:

I grew up in a very religious household and I think it’s created a problem with shame and therefore desire for sex. I simply couldn't care less about it now, which obviously doesn't work in my marriage, so I have a very frustrated husband. I honestly wish I could get into it and make my husband happy, but I’d much rather relax, read or watch TV. Do you have any advice? How does one change that?

Answer:

You are not alone on this one. Unfortunately, when it comes to intimacy, many people are not having the experience they wanted or thought they would have. For many, intimacy has become a source of stress, shame, disappointment, performance anxiety, discomfort or conflict, and with this much fear-based energy around it, who would want more? Many women also find shame around sexuality has also dampened their enthusiasm.

Whether you are in a new relationship or have been married for a long time, these issues (coming from either your mindset or your physiology) can ruin the connection and enjoyment. If you suspect your problem might be physiological, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about your hormones, menopause, medication you are taking or other factors that affect libido. Also talk to a doctor if you experience discomfort.

If your issues are more about mindset, subconscious shame or that sex has become a source of stress, disappointment, anxiety or conflict in your marriage, there are many things you can do to change this. Here are four ideas to start changing your mindset:

1. Change your shame mindset around sexuality

The world we live in offers plenty of opportunities to feel shame around intimacy. Many grew up hearing sexuality was bad and dirty, so the whole thing has a negative energy around it. The battle with pornography and sex trafficking in our world today has brought increased shame for some men around even having sexual desire. Some tell us they feel their natural desire for intimacy casts them as perverted or bad. They mistakenly carry shame around any desire, even a pure and loving desire for more enjoyable or interesting intimacy with their spouses, even though they are wired exactly as they are supposed to be. We are all, of course, accountable for our choices and where we go to fulfill those desires, but our natural desire for intimate contact and connection is nothing to be ashamed of.

Many women were taught as girls to suppress their sexuality completely and see it as dirty and bad, because good girls don’t do that. Then, they get married and are immediately expected to find it, turn it back on and be comfortable with it. This is unrealistic. Subconscious programming around intimacy can be changed, but it can take work and commitment to do it. There is a Subconscious Intimacy Exercise on my website that could get you started on changing some of these shame mindsets.

Some people also experienced sexual abuse as a child (1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys have), and these experiences can skew subconscious mindsets and feelings around sex. Many need professional help and must do some serious work around sexuality to feel differently. Don't be ashamed to seek out help; it is never too late to process past experiences and heal them.

2. Get rid of stress, fear and performance anxiety

Shame around sexuality can also bring fear of failure into the mix. You may have fear of failure around your appearance or gaining weight as you age. You could have fear of failure around performance anxiety or not meeting expectations. This can lead to embarrassment, frustration and disconnection. All of these can create a place where sex is more about fear than love.

Both of you must learn to hold space for each other without any expectations or disappointments. Let each partner's experience be whatever it is and perfect for today. Intimacy should just be about enjoying each other, connecting and relaxing. It is a classroom on love and connection, not a test of performance.

Men, you do not have to be Antonio Banderas and know every move in the bedroom to make your wife feel amazing and relaxed. Women don’t have to be a Victoria’s Secret supermodel to make their husbands feel loved and wanted. All you need is to show up with a willingness to give and receive love and touch.

Women, also remember what men really want is to be wanted by the woman they love. They don’t care how perfect your body is, they only care about how much you want them and love being with them. When you can get out of your own self-esteem fears and focus on giving love and attention, you will enjoy the experience more.

Then, also let your spouse give to you and show his love for you exactly as you are. Receiving love is often more difficult than giving love. Your conscious and subconscious fears of not being good enough may say you don’t deserve it. This can block you from receiving and create a wall of resistance that makes it hard to enjoy intimacy. If this is an issue with you, again, please download the Subconscious Intimacy Exercise and practice getting in a receiving mindset.

It would help if you will practice receiving in other areas of your life too. Allow your husband to spend money on you without feeling guilty. Allow your neighbor to watch your kids so you get a break (without feeling guilty). Small exercises like this shift your mindset to one where you deserve to have your needs met.

3. Eliminate disappointment by dropping expectations

The biggest poison in a marriage, around intimacy, is disappointment. The minute you feel either disappointed in your spouse or (even worse) a disappointment to your spouse, fears of loss and failure take over and drive the love out of the experience. Love cannot happen where there is fear.

To fix this you must drop your expectations and let whatever happens be perfect. Many of us have false expectations because of TV, movies or pornography, but intimacy in the real world never happens like it does on the silver screen.

It is usually somewhat awkward, clumsy, messy and even funny at times. Let go of any expectations around what it should look like and just focus on the joy of touch. Make sure your spouse feels successful every time and tell them often how wonderful they are, no matter what happens, because you had no expectation beyond being together, holding each other and showing up with love.

(If there has been disappointment, guilt, shame and failure in the past, you may need to apologize to your spouse for that. Promise to drop all your expectations moving forward and expect nothing but connection and gratitude for each other.)

4. Eliminate conflict by making the less-interested person in charge of initiating

Make sure intimacy does not become transactional or more about one person’s needs than the other’s. It should not be about getting what you want, it should be about giving to them with no strings attached.

If you are in a negative cycle of the same person always asking for or wanting sex, and the other person rejecting and not interested, switch it up. Make the less-interested person in charge of initiating intimacy on frequent basis. This means initiating intimacy often and making the more-interested partner feel wanted while the more-interested partner should be in charge of making the other feel adored, loved and admired, whether they initiate today or not.

There cannot be a transaction here. You don’t do the dishes so she will initiate later. Instead you just serve and give, asking nothing in return, and trust your spouse to show love and want to be with you. This allows you both to create an authentic love experience where positive energy is created around intimacy.

(If you try this and it doesn't work and the less-interested partner doesn't initiate, which means there is no intimacy, there are other issues in play and you may need to get some professional counseling or coaching to deal with other issues.)

Because you said you are the less-interested spouse, make sure you are seeing intimacy as a chance to relax and feel wonderful with your spouse, not a chore you must do.

Imagine the way you might look forward to a great massage and transfer those same feelings to how you feel about being intimate. If you had the chance to get a massage every night before bed, wouldn’t you want that? Tell your spouse what you need to make intimacy that kind of relaxing, amazing experience for you.

If this part of your relationship is still complicated with fear, lack, scarcity and negative energy, consider getting some professional help. We offer regular Marriage Mastery Retreats or couples coaching to work on the dynamics of fear of failure and loss in your relationship. This is much different than marriage counseling and is very effective for some people.

You can do this.

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