Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Thousand Small Unhappinesses

Photo courtesy of Don't I Wish
Recently an odd little item popped up in my inbox: an article titled "Draw Up a Sex Contract." My first thought was along the lines of "Snort, really???" Something about the idea of contractually obligated sex feels weird and wrong to me. Aha, now I see why some people chafe at the idea of marriage *rimshot*.

As much as the idea of contractually negotiated sex rankled me (and mind you, this is not about the sort of contracts that some BDSM practitioners employ; it's along the lines of "per this contract we will have penis-in-vagina sex two times a week for the next six weeks"), it dislodged a memory related to sex that's likely to be equally off-putting to some: the ultimatum.

Somewhere around three years ago D gave me an ultimatum which basically said that within the next X period (maybe it was 6 months, maybe a year) I needed to find a way to get our sex life back on track. Or else. Or else what? Nothing really followed the "or else." After years of trying to negotiate, trying to get me to initiate, trying and trying and trying, he finally gave up and implied he wasn't going to try anymore. I got the message. Or at least, I got a message: that something unpleasant would happen if I didn't get my act together and stop treating him like a roommate rather than a lover. I never asked him to elaborate on "or else." I didn't want to. I didn't need to.

My turnaround wasn't immediate. It took a good six months or so before I mentally adjusted to the idea that prolonging the sexlessness in our marriage wasn't going to cut it. Nothing really changed in the way he related to me, but it didn't have to. The seed had been planted and the "or else" frequently tickled at the back of my mind.

The ultimatum scared me. It came at a time of tremendous transition for us, and at times I was deeply worried that if I couldn't find my sexual self I might lose him. The honest fact is that I probably wouldn't have lost him, but the thousand small unhappinesses would continue to grow and morph into something much larger that we'd never wrest control of.

How did we get to the point where an ultimatum was required? That's something I will explore another time. But we did get there, and somehow the gentle delivery of that demand changed something for me. He'd already told me in myriad ways that he wanted and needed my attention. I had listened, but I never really heard his deep, quiet need until he put it in such terms that all other sound was sucked into a vacuum and only those words rang in my ears.

I'm not sure what the conventional wisdom is on sex contracts, but the conventional wisdom on ultimatums in relationships is that they tend not to work, or at least not in the way we probably want them to. Furthermore, they should only be used when the ultimatum-giver is quite ready to lose the relationship if the demand isn't met. When I asked D not too long ago what would have happened if I hadn't changed my attitude toward sex, toward him, he confessed that he didn't have a plan. All he wanted was to get our sex life back, to be physically connected to the woman he's loved for so long, who he finds beautiful, and for whom he's lusted all these years.

Truth? Had he said that last sentence to me three years ago, I would have listened but not heard him. And nothing would have changed. Perhaps it took a tremendous act to jar me from the rut I'd traveled in for so long.

14 comments:

  1. I wouldn't agree to marriage until he agreed to twice a day sex, with one day (because we all have a bad day) a week where he could just say no.
    It helped me feel like I wouldn't be rejected (a problem in a previous relationship). It helped reassure me that marriage would not change our sex life.
    Glad that he penetrated your thoughts, and I'm sure you both are grateful he never finished that statement.

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    1. Very interesting. I can't quite wrap my head around a sex contract for me, mostly because I chafe at the idea of too much structure. I'm glad this works for you!

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  2. Sexlessness in a marraige is deadly. It is so easy for it to spiral further and further outwards. For me we had sex but it was like the contractual sex. Going through the motions because I felt guilty and for him any sex was better than no sex. I remember lying there sometimes feeling that my soul was being eaten. That I was giving him pieces of me that I couldn't afford to give. All I wanted was to want him the way he wanted me.

    I cannot clearly articulate what happened to change it. I think it is locked in my heart with a lot of other things that I only look at sometimes. I am glad it did change though.

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    1. Gemma, in some ways that sounds so similar. Sex was loaded with unpleasantness for so long.

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  3. Wow, I stumbled across your blog after searching for something similar to my own experience. I just began my own blog to making sex a priority in my marriage. We've been together for 10 years, but only married the last 6 months. I love your blog!!

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    1. www.smallflutters.wordpress.com is my blog. Hope you'll check it out, and perhaps offer any advice:)

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    2. Good luck with your new project! Feel free to email me if you want to chat about blogging. My email is in my profile.

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  4. I hope many women out there hear you in this post. I hear from many frustrated male friends that don't know how to get their sex lives with their SO back on track.
    H and I have played w/consensual non-consent. Meaning during a certain period of time(ours is generally a month at a time) I'm not allowed to say no to sex.
    It may not work for some, but it works for us. I need to know I've got no out, that he's going to take control regardless. And it sets a certain tone for us that works. I think a sex contract tho, is brilliant. I see the individuals in these couples lose themselves. Meaning, without the frequent intimacy they turn into roommates more or less, raising kids, working, getting bogged down with daily stresses. Without that intimacy, they lose touch with each other figuratively and literally.
    If H had given me an ultimatum like yours I would have been scared shitless.

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    1. I like your idea. It's one that takes a ton of trust between partners, though, and it seems as if those of us who wander apart have lost the ability to trust, if not our partner, then ourselves. Something to ponder in another post :).

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  5. All relationships have their ups and downs...some more severe than others. Some of us are lucky to weather them and come out better and stronger lovers because of it. I truly appreciate your honesty on this subject. Several years ago...right after having our son, I went through a crazy hormonal shift and it really looked like we were doomed sexually. It terrified me and tormented me because I was sure he would leave. That, of course, did nothing to fan the flames of desire or eroticism. Like so many who have been through this, I really can't pinpoint what caused the shift for us. But, thank god it worked. And I'm happy that you and yours seem to have weathered that storm as well.

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    1. So glad for you, too, Brigit. Those damned sexpectations get us every time!

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  6. It is strange to read this and the follow up comments. In my marriage of over two decades it was the other way around. Which made me feel I was wrong, entirely, in so many ways. I did the ultimatum. Three years later I left.
    This is an admirable post; simple and honest.

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    1. I am lucky and I know that I have a very patient and special man. He knows how much I love him and how thankful I am that we've weathered this. Frankly, he's thankful, too, which is fab.

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