Can you both support a spouse’s mental health and improve your sex life?
I haven’t previously introduced myself here, but I am Bill. My wife and I have been married many years. She has some emotional/mental health issues (it’s complicated and I won’t get into the details, but basically mild depression and anxiety). We also don’t have a great sex life. We do have sex, but with much less frequency or variety than I would like, and I would really like to improve things for us in the bedroom.
We have had some good counselling and I have sought out every resource I can (including this great site) on how as a husband I can support my wife in both her mental health, and improving our sex life.
My issue, and my question, are whether you can do both. Because resources on supporting a spouse’s mental health rarely touch on sex, and resources on sex don’t address issues of mental health much. Instead, the advice is pretty much OPPOSITE to each other. Like:
Mental Health: Give your spouse space. Respect where they are at. Don’t load obligations on them. Never make it about ‘fixing’ them.
Sex: Communicate openly and honestly. Express how you feel. Tell them what you want for your married sex life.
Mental Health: Never ambush them. Do not bring up difficult subjects casually. Give them lots of space to process things.
Sex: Keep it casual, light, and fun as much as possible. Keep trying new little things and be creative. Surprise them!
Mental Health: Look after yourself (‘put on your own oxygen mask first’). Love them unconditionally but don’t get sucked into their emotional whirlpool yourself.
Sex: Give yourself up completely to your spouse and place your sexuality entirely in their hands.
Am I wrong in feeling these are going in two opposite directions? Of course I will always put her mental health first, but it feels like I am then giving up on ever improving our sex life. I can hope that prioritizing the first will eventually also lead to improvements in the second, but it’s been a long road already. Does anyone else experience this?
Regardless, thanks for reading.
Thanks for sharing, Bill.
A very interesting topic you raise. Thanks for your insights on how the areas of mental health and sexual intimacy often are treated so separately.
It would seem to me that they are inter-related, as you suggest in your last paragraph. And improvement in one will positively impact the other.
The thought that came to me is this. Perhaps it is a good strategy to (also) focus on the spiritual, that is intimacy with God through Jesus, the Word, the Spirit, the Faith Community. Might that be a helpful approach to this topic? Because our relationship with God and His people will impact our mental health and also free us to love more deeply, even as we are loved. It seems to me the degree to which we are intimate with God impacts the depth of intimacy we can have with our spouse – and even with ourselves (in our self understanding, self acceptance, etc.) It might be that if one focuses on spiritual health, wellbeing, and intimacy, one may be blessing both the mental health and sexual relationship in one’s marriage.
Such a challenging dance! My wife struggles with anxiety and at times depression, and it certainly impacts our sex life. I work to mitigate triggers in her life, knowing that the less she is experiencing anxiety, etc., the more interested she will be in sex. The real sticking point for me is that right now, we both are having a lot of anxiety over the upcoming school year (I’m a teacher and we have school aged children). For me, sex relieves anxiety and reassures me emotionally. For her, anxiety kills her libido. We’ve had some good open and honest conversations about it—often in the course of other conversations. By being vulnerable and sharing my feelings, she trusts that she can do the same, even when her feelings are that she’s not feeling up for sex.
Tough questions Bill and I’m glad you felt comfortable sharing. From what I see, some of those concepts are easier to coordinate than others and “mental health” issues can vary on significance and complexity so advice needs to be taken with care and depending on the issue. It may need to be unpacked with the spouse’s therapist or counselor. It seems to me you can carefully communicate desires and respect with a spouse is at, along with not ambushing them. Those are appropriate for all marriages.
Admittedly, I’ve only dealt with depression and anxiety in myself and/or with my spouse but I still go by my previous thoughts about the depth or breadth of a mental health issue may mean pursuing outside help with a therapist/counselor to deal with spouse to read the spouse’s fragility and receptivity to the discussion or difficult topic and to prepare the spouse to have a productive discussion.
Thanks for the replies – greatly appreciated. (I am enough of a newbie that I can’t respond to individual posts).
One_woman_man, you are absolutely right about the spiritual being the foundation of everything else and the importance of investing in that part of our marriage. I totally agree. My issue is more about the next steps; how to build on that foundation practically from day-to-day.
Working on the mental health may eventually end up strengthening our sex life. I guess my point is that I’ve already been hoping that the one will lead to the other for many years. She is definitely doing better mentally and emotionally. But despite all the counselling, some of which has focused on sex, it doesn’t feel like there’s been much progress on the sex part. And following 90% of the sex tips and advice out there only leads to conflict and setbacks – believe me, I speak from experience.
It leaves me feeling pretty powerless about our/my sexuality and unable to do anything directly about that.
Thanks again for the supportive replies.
@Bill most of posts replies to people like this, rather than a comment. At least on mobile, the comments don’t show by default.
I very much feel your pain and feelings of powerlessness. I was in that place for much of my marriage. Pray regularly, continue the dialogue with your wife, and hang in there. Things in my marriage suddenly changed one day, when my wife started feeling spontaneous desire for me/sex. Might have been from quitting hormonal birth control (her “awakening” came about a year after stopping the pill), or might’ve been hormones related to aging. Hard to say for sure, but I went from viewing sex from a scarcity mindset to thanking God for being blessed by abundance. We’ve had ebbs and flows since then (things have been a bit slow lately due to COVID stress), but the initial change really opened the door for us to talk a lot about our relationship and sex, and now we talk about sex regularly. A few years ago, DW would have refused to have those conversations or said “why is that all you want to talk about?” Now she starts the conversation part of the time.
Bottom line, there is hope out there brother. Im praying for you and your marriage today.
Thanks for the inspiration and hope, luvabug. I would dearly love for us to move from that first type of conversation, which is where we mostly are now, to being able to talk regularly about sex. Right now it is usually a high-stakes conversation every time, no matter how I approach it, and I know exactly why because I understand this comes from her overall emotional struggles. But perhaps someday!