Episode 268 – Affection Without Expectation


When I was first married to my first husband, it felt like he ALWAYS wanted sex. If I showed him any affection at all, it had to lead to sex. I, like a lot of women, didn’t want it to always mean I had to have sex. I missed what it was like when we were dating, when we could be affectionate and that’s as far as it went. So, why does this pattern of expectation start and what can we do about it in our relationships? That’s what we’re talking about in this episode. If that pattern is happening in your relationship, let’s work to fix it!

Show Notes:

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Show Summary:

Over the last 5 years, I can’t tell you how many times I have heard about women being afraid, anxious, or even unwilling to be affectionate with their spouse.  Sometimes it’s the wife telling me and sometimes it’s the husband telling me.  And why is this? Because a pattern has been established that if any affection is shown that it will always lead to him wanting or expecting sex.  And women often see this as a problem.  So let’s talk about why this pattern happens and how we can fix it.

I think I’ve shared this story before, but I think it’s worth sharing again.  When I was first married to my first husband at 19 years old, I didn’t know a lot about sex or the sexual dynamic.  We had been married a month or two and I remember going out to a bench in front of our apartment and just sobbing.  A neighbor saw me and came to talk to me and asked me what was wrong and I said “I just don’t understand why he ALWAYS wants sex!”  Before we were married we had been able to be affectionate with each other and that’s as far as it went.  And I had been excited about a sexual relationship but it seems that now that we were married it ALWAYS had to lead to sex, which is not what I wanted.  I wanted to be physically affectionate without it always leading to sex.  I missed what we used to have.  So I pulled away and didn’t even want to be affectionate so that he wouldn’t want sex all the time and I wouldn’t have to do something I didn’t want to do.  Because at that point I felt like it was my job to have sex with him when he wanted it in order to be a good wife.  His expectations led to problems.  And so did my beliefs that I had to fulfill that expectation.

Having an expectation of sex in a marriage can be problematic if it creates pressure, resentment, or a sense of obligation between partners. When one partner expects sex from the other, it can create an unequal power dynamic in the relationship, where one partner feels entitled to sex and the other feels obligated to provide it, even if they don’t want to.

This dynamic can be particularly damaging if the partner who feels obligated to have sex does so out of a fear of disappointing their spouse or damaging the relationship. This can lead to feelings of anxiety, guilt, or shame, and can ultimately erode the intimacy and trust that are necessary for a healthy and fulfilling marriage.

In addition, an expectation of sex can also create unrealistic or unattainable standards for intimacy and physical affection in a marriage. Every relationship is different, and there may be times when one or both partners are not interested in or able to engage in sexual activity. If one partner is not willing to accept this and continues to demand sex regardless of the circumstances, it can create tension and conflict in the relationship.

Ultimately, the key to a successful and fulfilling marriage is to build intimacy and connection in ways that work for both partners, without putting pressure or expectations on one another. This can involve finding new ways to show affection and appreciation, communicating openly and honestly about your needs and desires, and being willing to make compromises and adjustments as needed.

So how can you have affection without the expectation of sex?  Couples need to understand that affection and sex are two separate things, and it is possible to have affection without the expectation of sex. Affection refers to feelings of fondness, warmth, and closeness towards someone, while sex involves physical intimacy.

There are many ways to express affection without involving sex. Some examples include:

  1. Holding hands
  2. Hugging
  3. Kissing on the cheek
  4. Cuddling
  5. Saying kind and loving words
  6. Spending quality time together

It is important to communicate your boundaries and expectations in any relationship, including when it comes to physical intimacy. If you are not interested in having sex, you can communicate that clearly and respectfully to your partner. A healthy relationship should be based on mutual respect and consent, and your partner should be willing to respect your boundaries.  If there is pouting, whining, cajoling, or coercive behavior (anything after a “no” is considered coercive) then your partner isn’t respecting your boundaries and this also needs to be discussed.

So, what should you do if any affection makes your husband want to have sex?  If you feel uncomfortable with your husband’s response to affection and you do not want to engage in sexual activities, it is important to communicate your boundaries and feelings clearly and respectfully.

You can start by having an open and honest conversation with your husband about how you feel. Let him know that you value your relationship and want to maintain a strong emotional connection, but that you are not comfortable with sexual activities at this time. It may be helpful to explain the reasons behind your feelings, such as if you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed.

It is important to approach the conversation in a non-judgmental and non-confrontational manner, and to listen to your husband’s perspective as well. Work together to find ways to express affection that feel comfortable and satisfying for both of you, without leading to unwanted sexual activity.

If you find that your husband is not respecting your boundaries or is pressuring you into sexual activities, it may be helpful to seek the support of a therapist or coach (like myself)  to help you navigate the situation and strengthen your communication and boundary-setting skills.  This is one of the things I teach in my coaching programs.

So what if you are the husband and your wife rebuffs any affection, even if you don’t care if it leads to sex or not?  If your wife is rebuffing any affection, it’s important to approach the situation with empathy and understanding. There could be a variety of reasons why your wife is not receptive to affection, including stress, depression, anxiety, or physical discomfort, or it’s just an established pattern in your relationship.

The first step is to talk to your wife in a non-judgmental and caring way. Let her know that you care about her and want to understand how she is feeling. It may be helpful to ask open-ended questions and listen actively to her responses, without trying to offer solutions or suggestions right away.  Once you have a better understanding of why your wife is not receptive to affection, you can work together to find ways to improve the situation. This could involve finding new ways to express affection that your wife is more comfortable with, such as spending quality time together or doing things that she enjoys.

A couple of ideas that I have seen work for clients is: 

  1. Having a set schedule for sex.  Now this works for some and doesn’t work for others.  But if you have a set schedule for sex then other days you can work on building an affectionate relationship that won’t lead to sex.  This often opens women up to more affection when they know that there isn’t that expectation.
  2. Having a sex fast.  Mike Peterson talked about this in Episode 174.  This is taking sex off the table for a certain amount of time so that you can get back to building an affectionate relationship, like you had when you were dating and engaged, without the added pressure of sex.  It’s a great opportunity to work on building that emotional connection as well.  But both partners need to be on board.  Some couples I see doing this wrong is when they have a sex fast but don’t spend the time working on affection and emotional intimacy.  Then you end up becoming more like roommates, which is the opposite of what we want.

If your wife is experiencing deeper emotional issues such as depression or anxiety, it may be helpful to encourage her to seek professional support.  You can offer to support her in finding someone to work with and even attending sessions together if she feels comfortable with that.

It’s important to approach the situation with patience and understanding, and to avoid pressuring your wife into affection if she is not ready or willing. With time, communication, and support, you can work together to improve your emotional connection and strengthen your relationship, which will hopefully lead to more physical connection.

So how can we build affection in our marriage without the expectation of sex?  Building affection in a marriage without the expectation of sex can involve many different strategies and approaches, depending on the unique needs and preferences of the couple. In addition to the scheduling sex and a sex fast, here are some ideas to consider:

  1. Focus on non-sexual physical touch: Physical touch is an important way to build intimacy and connection in a relationship. Even if you’re not interested in sex, you can still enjoy cuddling, holding hands, giving massages, or simply sitting close to one another.  Discuss this with your partner ahead of time so that both know what to expect.
  2. Practice active listening: One way to build affection in a marriage is to actively listen to your partner when they speak. This means giving them your full attention, asking questions to clarify their thoughts and feelings, and responding in a supportive and empathetic way.
  3. Engage in shared activities: Find activities that you both enjoy doing together, whether that’s taking walks, cooking meals, playing games, or watching movies. These shared experiences can help to build a sense of connection and closeness.
  4. Show appreciation and gratitude: Make an effort to express appreciation for your partner and the things they do for you. This can involve thanking them for small gestures, complimenting them on their strengths and qualities, or simply telling them how much you love and care for them.
  5. Prioritize quality time: Set aside dedicated time to spend together without distractions, such as phones or TV. This can be a time for talking, sharing, and simply enjoying one another’s company.

Remember, building affection in a marriage is a process that takes time and effort. It’s important to communicate openly and honestly with your partner about your needs and expectations, and to be willing to make compromises and adjustments as needed.

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