man-woman-talkingA frequent point of conflict between husbands and wives is the meaningfulness of conversation and the quality of sex. Stereotypically, the wife feels like the husband is not fully engaged in conversation and the husband does not feel like the wife is fully engaged in sex. In both cases, even if the activity (i.e., conversation or sex) is happening, someone feels disappointed.

There are many factors that could be in play. For this post we will ask one question (two ways) that is intended to generate more empathy and understanding from the spouse who is “present but not present” during conversation or sex.

  1. To the husband whose wife is disappointed in his level of engagement in conversation, “What if your wife was only as participatory in sex as you are in conversation? Would you be satisfied?”
  2. To the wife whose husband is disappointed in her level of engagement in sex, “What if your husband was only as participatory in conversation as you are in sex? Would you be satisfied?”

The skeleton of this question is, “What if your spouse was as engaged with your high-level interest as you are with their high-level interest? Would you be satisfied?” We now see that this common disappointment-turned-argument is a derivative of The Golden Rule, “And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them (Luke 6:31).”

Don’t let that turn into a guilt-trip or a Sunday School “wa-wa” answer. Instead, realize that if Jesus said this was one of the top two rules of life – love God and love each other; Matthew 22:37-40 – (and he did), then it makes sense that its implications would show up in our common life challenges.

Let’s go back to our original points of conflict and consider the implications for both conversation and sex.

What makes for meaningful engagement in conversation?

  • Eye contact and smiling
  • Verbal feedback of appreciation and encouragement
  • Non-verbal indicators of interest
  • Words or actions that reveal you remember what the other person likes (or doesn’t like)
  • Being fully present; not distracted

What makes for meaningful engagement in sex?

  • Eye contact and smiling
  • Verbal feedback of appreciation and encouragement
  • Non-verbal indicators of interest
  • Words or actions that reveal you remember what the other person likes (or doesn’t like)
  • Being fully present; not distracted

Do you notice something? It’s the same list. You might add a few things to either list, but these “core five” areas of engagement greatly enhance both conversation and sex.

Why is that? Because both conversation and sex are about bonding and connecting; feeling close, wanted, understood, and valued.

What happens when we feel criticized in either area? We focus on performance (i.e., how many details of what you said I can remember or claiming the frequency of our sex life as adequate) instead of bonding. When we focus on performance, we can do what our spouse wants but our spouse doesn’t experience the benefits of our action – we feel cheated (not given credit) and they feel neglected (not cared for).

Hopefully this reflection has revitalized your perspective on what your spouse is requesting. Your spouse wants to feel close, wanted, understood, and valued (just like you do). The action they’re asking you to be more present-engaged in (sex or conversation) is a means to that end. Allow this to freshen your motivation to engage them like you want them to engage you.

If this is an area you want to grow, I would invite you to attend one or more of the upcoming Creating a Gospel-Centered Marriage seminars. Dates, times, location, and RSVP are provided at this link.

If this post was beneficial for you, then consider reading other blogs from my “Favorite Posts on Marriage” or “Favorite Posts on Sex and Sexuality” posts which address other facets of this subject.