Share This Episode
Family Life Today Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine Logo

“My Spouse Doesn’t Want Me”: Differences in Sexual Desire

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine
The Truth Network Radio
February 8, 2023 5:15 am

“My Spouse Doesn’t Want Me”: Differences in Sexual Desire

Family Life Today / Dave & Ann Wilson, Bob Lepine

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1109 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

February 8, 2023 5:15 am

Feeling undesired, unattractive? Researcher Shaunti Feldhahn & sex therapist Michael Systma get real about differences in sexual desire—and how to deal.

Show Notes and Resources

One-year to Get Closer to Your Partner: A 500 hour journey to get closer to your partner.

Listen to Shaunti Feldhahn & Dr. Michael Sytsma podcast, Married with Benefits.

Find resources from this podcast at

See resources from our past podcasts.

Find more content and resources on the FamilyLife's app!

Help others find FamilyLife. Leave a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify.

Check out all the FamilyLife podcasts on the FamilyLife Podcast Network


The people who are connecting less and less and less intimately, their marriage starts suffering, their emotional health starts suffering.

And the reverse happens too, that when they say we have to work on this, you know, we can't let this go, that things start to improve. Welcome to Family Life Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Ann Wilson.

And I'm Dave Wilson, and you can find us at or on the Family Life app. This is Family Life Today. So we're going to talk about a sensitive topic today that if I was a parent, I'd want to know it's rated PG-13, at least, and make a decision as a parent. It's a great topic. Oh, it's a great topic. And here's what I was thinking about this topic, and I've told you this before. I didn't know this about myself as a pastor or preacher, but I have no fear talking about this at church from the stage.

I didn't. It's just like, let's go. I want our congregation to know what God's heart is on sex. I have a whole ton of fear talking about this with Ann in our kitchen or bedroom.

Or even the boys. It was a little awkward for you. It was weird. It was like, why am I so free here? But it was a scary thing to talk about that. And so I feel free here. Well, good. Some things will probably come out that I don't even know about.

Who knows? Do you feel that way? We've got Shanti Feldhahn in the studio back with us and Dr. Michael Seitzma with us, who's a sex therapist. You guys have combined her right. I'm going to say one of the best books I hope ever written.

That's my hope. I know it's yours when you come together, but when we read it, I was like, wow. It's called The Secrets of Sex and Marriage, Eight Surprises That Make All the Difference. Welcome back to Family Life.

Thanks so much. Yeah, we've already previously talked about some of the surprises. One of them that I read in the manuscript before it came out, and I literally last night was sitting with a husband. He's actually a pastor and we were talking about things. I go, hey, here's what I'm doing tomorrow.

I'm interviewing Shanti and Michael. And here's one of the surprising secrets. And I talked to him about your, and we're going to talk about that, the desires that are different. I just shared my little understanding of what you've delved into.

And he's like, oh, my goodness, that is life changing. So I want to hear what you guys say about this. But desire, surprise number three in your book is desire tends to work differently for men and women. In general, for men, desire leads to sex, while for women, sex leads to desire.

So educate us. The basic premise for this, which is why it is so helpful for people, is we don't realize the average person, the average couple, we have in our heads everything that we've seen in the movies or, you know, seen on television. And we don't recognize just how much we think that is what sex is.

And now we know that movies put people in crazy situations. But the process that we think happens is that you have the boy and the girl and they look at each other and there's like sparks that fly. And pretty soon the clothes are off and they're in bed. And it turns out that's only one type of desire. There's another type of desire, that sort of Hollywood type where you feel desire and you pursue it. That's called initiating desire. And these are all Mike's terms.

And these have been used in the field. That's called initiating desire. And I can't wait to hear what you say. But think about this. I bet Anne and I have been talking about this 40 years. Never heard that term before. Never. Exactly. That term.

Mike just says it's been in the field. I'm like, what? Exactly. The average couple doesn't know this. And here's the key that is so powerful for people is to recognize, okay, that is one type of desire. But there's a completely different type of desire called receptive desire, which works almost the reverse physiologically. Where someone who has receptive desire, which tends to be the women, but is not always, I think it's like 74, 75% of women. And older men. And older men.

50, 55 starts to show up pretty consistently. Starts to show up more in men in that way. And there's also some younger men that are in that category. But someone with receptive desire feels it differently where you don't look at the person and automatically have that sense of desire. You decide to get engaged sexually. And then as you do, assuming that it's positive, eventually you start feeling the sense of desire that maybe your spouse felt from the very beginning. And one of the main questions that I would get all the time in our previous surveys is why isn't my spouse interested? Why isn't my spouse interested the way I am? And the reality is you're thinking of interest as meaning one type of desire. Your spouse may have this receptive desire and just the interest comes as you start getting engaged.

Once you recognize that, it's like I'm not broken or my spouse isn't broken. There's all just two different types of desire. Well, Shanti, what you just said is not romantic, according to Hollywood, because you said you will make a choice. Yes. You decide. You decide.

And so I remember saying to someone after we'd had kids and I said, we're so busy, we have to put it on the calendar. Good for you. And the person said, that is the most depressing thing I've ever heard. But it's not really. Once you know that you connect, yes. Look at how many things we put on the calendar that are important to us. And once we begin engaging with them, it's rich. I will often look at people and say, do you do devotions every morning? And a group of them say, yes, I do. Are there not those mornings that you wake up and you roll over and you think, I do not have the time, energy, I am not interested in this. But you make yourself do it because it's the discipline of it. It's who I am.

I know it's important. And five to 10 minutes into it, God has met you and it is rich and you're so glad you did. Yes. That's the similar kind of experience that the husband or wife, he approaches her and he says, you look really cute. It's been a couple of days.

Can we be together? Is that how it goes, Michael? That's one way. And she thinks, you know, I've got five other tasks to do yet this evening, and if I can get those done, that wouldn't be bad. And he really wants her to have this idea of, I've been waiting all day for you to ask.

Yes. You know, she's got other things on her mind, but then she says yes and they begin to engage. What we know is once arousal begins and she assesses that arousal positively, that then the desire turns on.

It's almost like until we began to get engaged, that part of the brain doesn't activate. But once it's activated, we don't want to stop. Now, Shanti made a good caveat in there of saying if it's enjoyable, and it does need to be enjoyable, we can choose to engage and keep the brakes on through the entire process.

And that actually gets counterproductive. It gets destructive to us because if we are only engaging out of fear, out of duty, and we can't figure out how to enjoy it, then it actually becomes counterproductive. So if we can find the, one of my colleagues, Deborah Taylor, says you have to find that peace inside where it feels good, grab a hold of it and follow it on. So we find what feels good and then drink that in and allow everything else to fall away. That's where the receptive desire really kicks in.

And now it's legitimate desire. It's like offering somebody a piece of chocolate cake and they hadn't thought about eating it. But now that you've offered this, you're probably going, yeah, let's do that. One of my frustrations many years ago in our marriage was this very conversation. And we've shared this when we talk about this in our book, Vertical Marriage, and when we do conferences.

But this terminology opened up, oh, that's what our conversation is. I was saying, I don't feel like you want to make love as much as I do. She's feeling like you don't even love me.

There's no affection. And I was like, who cares about that? And it was initiating desire. She has always been receptive, but I had never had categories. I'm like, oh, you really do want to make love. Probably as much as I do.

It just looks totally different. But I felt really guilty about it and I felt a lot of shame toward it. And that doesn't facilitate intimate connection when we step in with guilt and when we step in with shame. And so the invitation is twofold. If you're the receptive desire spouse to acknowledge that.

No, I haven't thought about it in a couple of days. And that is okay. That's how I work. That I need to be drawn into it. And once that happens, it is going to turn on and it is a legitimate type of desire. At that point, I do want to engage with you. And then for the other spouse to recognize they might not have thought about it in two to three days. And we need to ramp up our game, not of putting guilt or pressure or shame on them. Because that's not saying there's something broken, there's something wrong with you.

No, there's not. Your task is how do I create a space that they want to step into? And when they do step into it, it's rich for them. And so the next time I come back and say, hey, you look really cute. You wanna?

And they go, well, last time that worked out really well for us. Yeah, I want to create space for it. So even though I'm not hungry to start, you've created a space that I want to step into. And it's going to be enjoyable when I do.

Boy, that's wisdom. I mean, you know, one of the analogies you use in the book, and I want to say it because you wrote it so well, was like a car. Initiating desire, sort of cars in drive, receptive desire, sort of in neutral. It's not being pulled forward or backward or anything.

Yeah, and it can be pulled. And I think one of the things, and does this great illustration when we talk about this, about the difference between men and women's brains, is I'm initiating desire. We have never used those terms.

We will never not use those terms going forward. Seriously, even reading your book, it's like, oh, we have to reframe even how we talk about this. We have talked about it in bad and harmful ways. But she says, you know, Dave has the desire to make love tonight. And we've had a conversation.

I said to her, you look cute, something like that. But she tries to help men understand this is what a woman's thinking. Well, I said, this is what I'm feeling.

And I'm sure a lot of women can feel like this. He's upstairs waiting for me, but I'm thinking, is there milk in the refrigerator? I need to pack lunches tomorrow.

Did I get the wash done? I need to give the dog some water. My mom's sick, so I have all these things on my mind. Exactly. And Dave, he's ready. It's classic when she says that she puts luggage on her and she's got 18 bags on her. And then she comes in and she goes, so then I go get in bed. And all the women start cheering.

They literally start cheering because they're like, that's it. And you're saying for a husband to understand that? Very much so. See, I thought she's not interested. No, she's interested. She's in neutral.

And I need to help her lift off these bags. Well, and he said, how can I help you move toward me? That's the question.

Yeah. That's the question because many times, you know, let's reverse the roles. Because roughly 27% of the couples that were reported to us, the wife was reported as being the higher drive individual in the marriage. So we'll reverse it for those quarter of couples. Let's say she is the one who's initiating and she's wanting it more.

If she gets critical of him, which I often see, there's something wrong with you, there's something broken in you that you don't want this all the time. And I look and say, that's not seductive. That doesn't draw him out. That is not helpful.

He doesn't want to engage with you when that's your attitude. How do you draw her? For you to ask your wife, how do I draw you?

How do I help? And for you to sort through, well, how can he remove some of that luggage? Yeah, what are you carrying right now?

Right. And what can I let go of? And so that I've created space that you want to step into and you want to engage with me. To look at your husband and say, it doesn't feel like you want me.

What would draw you towards me? How can I help create space that we both want to connect in that space? And that's the task. And that'll be different for each couple.

Well, and there's something really important in there that I'd love to just press on. Because one of the things that comes with all of this that we're talking about, and I know we don't have time to get into it because this is a whole other topic, but there's a lot of emotions that are running underneath the surface in both of these cases. And again, whoever has the higher desire, which because again, it's not always the husband, right?

Sometimes about a quarter of the time it's the wife. Reality is, is that whoever that person is, there's a lot of this emotional, like, I feel like you don't want me. Like, I feel like- You feel rejected.

Yeah. Am I, am I undesirable? And so it's not surprising that when there's this deep, like, ugh, like negative, like, what's wrong with me?

I want you to want me and you don't want me. It would be easy for any couple, for that person to be sending out those signals of pressure. Because it's like, there's such an emotion behind it.

And so the need to understand that goes both ways. This is not just the person who has initiating desire sort of understanding that their partner might be receptive. This is also the receptive person recognizing that for their partner, this is an emotional thing. They feel rejected and it's not, oh, they just, that's all they want. No, usually there's this feeling of, I want to feel desired by you. And we found that we haven't done all the surveys on both men and women on this particular question. But I know for men, that feeling of being desired by their wife, that gives them a sense of confidence in all the other areas of their life. And if they don't feel desired, it's this kind of, ugh, this almost this depressing feeling like, I must be so undesirable.

I can't compete with 18 bags she has strapped on. What do you mean you want to check and see if the fridge is in the, the milk is in the fridge? Like, what are you talking about? Like, I'm waiting upstairs. Surely you should want this. And all of that becomes, all of the emotions on both sides can so easily create pressure. Where one of the things that we think is so freeing about this knowledge is that you go, oh, this doesn't mean that you don't find me desirable.

This doesn't mean that you're somehow locked down. This doesn't mean that you don't care about me. No, like we care about each other. We just didn't know that these things mattered or existed. Because the truth is, and Mike, you could address this, is we never talk about it. So many of us don't talk about it and then it just is stuffed down.

Right. Most of the couples that come to see me have never talked to a typical sexual encounter. They don't know what seduces each other. They don't know what draws. They don't know what creates the setting that enriches it.

They don't even know really what's enjoyable. Why do we do that? I think that some of what Shanti's talking about, the level of fear that we have. If we stick with the stereotype, 52% of the couples, the husband was the higher drive person. So he's more likely to be the initiator. So let's say he initiates and she says, I'm too tired. He's going to be hurt. He's going to be disappointed. He might be a little bit angry. Pouty? Yeah. And she's going to see that as you're being a child.

Okay, none of this is working. He is having a normal human response. He was wanting to connect with his wife and you just told him no. There's nothing wrong with saying no. And it's okay for him to be discouraged and disappointed.

It just means he wanted to be with you and extending grace to each other in those moments and shooting for. But we are a couple that does want to connect intimately. So let's plan at a time that we can. And how do we talk through a better way to initiate with each other? How do we talk through a better way to say, I'm not in the mood tonight, but that doesn't mean I don't like you. You know, can we just cuddle tonight without the pressure for doing anything more?

Because I still want to be with you. And it takes couples talking through that. But we're so afraid of being hurt. We're so afraid of being wounded. We're so afraid of being rejected. And for most of us, we've been taught it's not okay subject to talk about anyways. One of the things that was a huge surprise is just the concept of how often we aren't, it's not even talking. We don't know how to signal that we want to go this direction and that we don't know how to signal initiation.

Like literally one of the reasons people aren't connecting is that they don't have this signal to sort of get things started. This is really important. I would have never thought this is that important.

I will spend sometimes weeks with couples helping them to figure out how to start the process well. Hey, let me ask one quick question before we jump in there. Should we talk about resistant desire?

We probably should. That's important. There's a small little percentage, 3%, 4% who it's almost like the car isn't in drive and it's not in neutral, the parking brake is on or that they're in reverse. And there's a small percentage of people that are just, it's called resistant desire. And they, for whatever reason, maybe they would have initiating desire or maybe they would have receptive desire if everything was healthy in their life, but there's something.

It's there for a reason. The key is if resistant desire is there, and I do want to say a lot of couples come into me and one of them believes that they have resistant desire or believes that their spouse has resistant desire and it's not resistant. It's more the receptive desire that hasn't been unpacked and explored. But for those that there really is a resistant or a reverse type of desire, exactly, it's a signal, it's meaningful. And my invitation to those couples is do you know why?

Because sometimes it's important for a season. If something has been brought into the marriage that's destructive, they may, it may be safe to be resistant or to be in reverse for a while. Or sometimes there's been woundedness or trauma in the past, maybe even in their childhood. And now they're in a safe relationship and they can begin to work on that trauma from the past. They need to be resistant to the current relationship while they heal something from the past that is healthy for them.

Or there may be something physical that's going on. The invitation is to lean in and really understand what is going on that's more difficult to do than it sounds because desire is so complex. We don't understand what raises and lowers desire. We don't understand direction of desire, why some people are attracted to one thing or one type of an individual and why somebody else is attracted to another kind. We don't understand it. We can't change it. So to say, we need to figure out why your parking brake is on, that may be a real difficult journey, but the invitation is to lean in and start that process. Well, I can relate to this, sadly.

I'm just going to be totally real. When Dave and I were really struggling in our marriage at year 10, I told him that I had nothing left. Where I was receptive before, now I was like, parking brake was on. Parking brake was on. She was resistant. I was like, repulsed.

Right. And I felt like it was the flasher on my dashboard of the car saying, something's wrong, something's wrong. And I didn't know how to get out of it.

I just knew that I didn't like him very much. It wasn't a sexual problem. It was a relational problem for us.

And yet if the spouse puts enormous pressure on, that's not helpful. To step back to, how do I help you to unpack some of this baggage so you can release that parking brake again? But then you have to take ownership and responsibility that I've got the parking brake on.

It's there for a reason. I need to figure that out. He can't figure it out. And you step up, and then the two of you begin to work on it together.

Typically, that does require an outside person. Because the emotions are so high, the resentment gets so high that contempt can start into the process. And now we're almost repelling each other. We move into what we would call a polarized marriage. And it takes somebody to sit in the middle who can absorb all of that energy and invite you back to the table. That's all we as marriage and sex therapists do is we invite couples back to the table, getting them talking and problem solving again.

So do we have to fly to Atlanta? No, but you may need to find a trusted individual in your community that can sit with you and help you to stay at the table. I think couples are so afraid to do that, and that is such a helpful thing. Be a wise consumer in who you're inviting into this arena of your life.

But for many couples, they need some help in being able to sit at the table and sort through it. I think one of the very first steps that I took, because I was so desperate in that 10-year mark when we were struggling. My first step was telling God everything that I felt.

It was confession like, Lord, this is where I am. I don't know what to do. I need your guidance. I need your wisdom. You got honest with you.

Yes. And I think that part, like so often, we go all these other places, and I think some of those places we need to go. But that first cry of help, God, I need your wisdom. I need your help.

I need your direction. That, for me, was so helpful because God brought these people in. We started talking to others that were so helpful in our journey because this topic matters to him. Yeah.

Well, it was incredibly powerful once we started looking at the data. We mentioned this a little bit in the last episode, but when we saw the people who are connecting less and less and less intimately, their marriage starts suffering. Yeah. Their emotional health starts suffering. And the reverse happens, too, that when they say we have to work on this, you know, we can't let this go.

Yeah. That things start to improve. I mean, I love Mike's analogy of this, and I'm not trying to make a double entendre with the language, but it's like oil in an engine because it lubricates the friction. And where he's like, you know, the intimate life is like that oil.

It lubricates the rough edges. That every marriage is going to have friction. That's so true. Every marriage is going to have. Like, you're just going to.

You just know that's going to happen. And that that ends up being this really special way that God appears to have designed to smooth out some of those rough edges. And, you know, somebody might get mad at listening to that and it shouldn't be that way. Well, okay, maybe it shouldn't be, but maybe it is. At the same time, you're not saying, you know, we've got friction and problems in our marriage.

Let's get in the bedroom and it all works out. Because so many guys think that. It's so much deeper than that, although this is an important part of it. Right. For some men, it does almost work like that.

It's the reset button for us and what it does to us physiologically. You hear that? I've actually said something like that before. You're like, I feel vindicated.

Now it's confirmed. And I'll have wives that are really upset at that. And my invitation to them is recognize the power that was given to you.

But it's still not your job to reset him. You know, it's our job as men to step up and manage ourself. But when she learns that it has that power, that can be really good.

And it can for her as well if it's a good experience. The goal is to get to the end of this and to lay there cuddled next to each other going, yeah, I do like you. We do enjoy being with each other. We feel good together and to relax into the comfort of the moment. Well, if there's been a lot of pressure or demand or coercion or anything, we're not going to get to that point anyways. And it's counterproductive.

It's destructive. But if we can keep in mind the vision, the goal of us intimately connecting and bringing pleasure to each other, not about getting to this primary experience, but of deeply connecting with each other during the process, then that really enriches relationship, pours a ton of energy into it. And, okay, you did something stupid, but you can make me feel really good, so I think I'm going to overlook it this time. You know, there is power when we're connecting well. It seems to make it more likely for us to have grace with one another, basically.

Yeah, that's true. You're listening to Dave and Anne Wilson with Shanti Feldhahn and Dr. Michael Seitzma on family life today. Shanti and Dr. Michael have written a book called Secrets of Sex and Marriage, Eight Surprises That Make All the Difference. We'd love to send you a copy as our thank you, along with an online course from Family Life called Nearly Complete Guide to Better Married Sex. Both will come to you as our thanks when you give online today at, or you can give by calling 800-358-6329.

That's 800, F as in family, L as in life, and then the word today. All right, now, if you've enjoyed yesterday and today's conversation, then Dave's got some exciting news about a new podcast series coming up. The podcast is called Married with Benefits, and you can find it wherever you get your podcasts, or you can get the link in today's show notes at

Go ahead and subscribe now so you'll get the new episodes as soon as they come out. And until then, you can go back and listen to the first two seasons of Married with Benefits. Well, I mean, you guys have been so helpful.

We've barely scratched the surface. I mean, really. But you're doing a podcast called Married with Benefits season three. Is the whole season going to be on this topic? It's just on this topic. Wow. It is.

Because it's so crucial. So it's called, because the seasons one and two are questions every wife is asking and questions every husband is asking. This is going to be questions every couple is asking about sex.

Oh, great. Yeah, you can find that on our Family Life podcast network. So something we often forget to ask is, where are my priorities right now?

Well, what if I asked your spouse or your kids, would they say the same thing? Well, tomorrow, Dave and Ann talk with Lisa Whittle about checking in to make sure Jesus above all is guiding and influencing your life. That's tomorrow. We hope you'll join us. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I'm Shelby Abbott. We'll see you back next time for another edition of Family Life Today. Family Life Today is a production of Family Life, a crew ministry helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-10 06:44:22 / 2023-02-10 06:56:33 / 12

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime