Dear Neil: I understand that being in a relationship often involves doing things for the other person that you may not particularly like. Examples are things like dishes that someone else dirties, giving a massage when you’re tired, spending Christmas with the mother-in-law, etc. I also understand that this extends to sex, even if you’re not in the mood. But how far is too far in terms of compromising sexually? Actually, how far is too far in compromising in general?
Not Always Wanting To in Wellington, New Zealand
Dear Not Always Wanting To: You’re right in stating that being in a relationship sometimes requires us to do things, go places, interact with people and sometimes fight about things that we may not find particularly enjoyable. That is the nature of being in an intimate relationship. But if the relationship asks me to be false to myself, if I am asked to do something that violates me—especially if I am repeatedly asked to violate me—that’s where I will be forced to draw the line and say “no, what you want doesn’t work for me.”
Most people—especially women—have had the experience of saying yes to sex when they were not particularly in the mood. And every once in a while, there is nothing wrong in “taking care” of your partner. It is, after all, a nurturing, caring and loving gift to offer. But you’re in trouble if you get in the habit of doing this, because then you’re going to get angry and resentful, and your subsequent withdrawal or hostility will hurt (or destroy) your relationship.
So to answer your question: if it does not violate you, then by all means you can be a generous lover and occasionally take care of your partner, even when you’re not in the mood. But if that scenario is occurring frequently—or if you’re feeling violated or false to yourself—address this whole issue with your partner, and look more carefully at what you need in order to be happy and content in the relationship. What does he need to do differently? What does he need to quit doing in order for you to feel good about making love with him? Is there any way for him to help you be in the mood? Tell him, and be sure to let him know exactly how important all this is to you.
Then it’s a question of whether he’s responsive and sensitive to what you request.
Dear Neil: My husband and I need counseling, but he will not go. He is defensive, wants to avoid talking about whatever he does not want to talk about, and there is no emotional connection. How can this simple concept be so difficult for men?
Unhappy in Vancouver, Washington
Dear Unhappy: It’s not men—it’s your husband. His defensive response is not about you. It’s his habitual way of protecting himself from feeling inadequate or from being rejected. He doesn’t understand that his defensiveness makes it more likely that you will eventually reject him, because if he remains defensive, you’ll never feel heard, cared about, cherished.
Neither of you are going to be happy in such an arrangement, because when the two of you can’t talk about problems, issues, disagreements, irritations, hurts or angers that are in the way, your emotional connection will grow weaker and more fragile. Tell him that you’re unhappy in the marriage and that you need several changes. Focus in on what you need for a deeper and more intimate emotional connection. If he won’t take in what you’re saying, you’re going to have to decide whether this is the right relationship for you.