Your sex life is the envy of all your friends and there’s no doubt that you and your hubby are sexual soulmates. But you can’t help wondering if sex is the only thing keeping the two of you together. After all, the only time you feel truly happy with your man is when you’re between the sheets.
Otherwise, you know deep down that the marriage is at a dead end, because you’ve both grown apart and things aren’t progressing the way they should. You’ve thought about leaving your husband but you just can’t bring yourself to let him go because ... THE. SEX. IS. TOO. DARN. GOOD. So it’s okay to stay put, right?
Not in Marie’s* case. In the second year of her marriage to Francis*, the 35-year-old preschool teacher realised that she’d agreed to spend the rest of her life with the wrong man. Just months after getting married, Francis got a promotion and grew career-obsessed. In addition to spending many late nights at the office, he also began travelling more often for work, leaving Marie emotionally stranded.
When she tried to talk to him about it, he would get angry and accuse her of not understanding his job. Their constant bickering led to a breakdown in communication, with Francis calling her “needy” and “insecure”. It took Marie another year before she finally left Francis, because she couldn’t let go of the sex. “Francis was very generous in bed and our lovemaking was quite intense,” she says.
“But towards the end of our marriage, I felt like it had become a way for us to release stress and nothing more. I no longer loved him. He proposed marriage counselling, but by then I’d already moved on emotionally after being shut out and neglected by him early on in our relationship. The sex was amazing, but meaningless without love.”
Not surprisingly, Marie, who is not currently dating, misses the sex she used to have with Francis. “When I think of that animal passion between us, the satisfaction I used to feel after making love, I can’t help but wish for the old days,” she shares. “But I don’t want to be with a man who prioritises his work over his wife. I’m hopeful that I’ll meet a man in the future who can fulfil my sexual as well as emotional needs.”
FRIENDS WITH BENEFITS
Another sign that sex might be the only thing that’s keeping your relationship afloat: Your hubby feels more like a friend with benefits – someone you enjoy hot sex with but with whom there is no real emotional connection.
Such was the case with Mabel* and Shawn*, both 33. The couple married just seven months after meeting in 2011 – a decision that Mabel calls “a mistake” and Shawn “impulsive”. Says Shawn, a teacher: “I was smitten with Mabel so I proposed to her after several dates. I thought, if the sex is this good, then we must be perfect for each other. I guess I must’ve confused lust for love.”
Mabel, an administrative assistant, adds: “We were close, like good buddies, and our sex life was hot. But we didn’t get to know each other properly before tying the knot. After getting married, we couldn’t sustain the closeness. We’d have awesome sex but not have much to talk about after. We cared about each other, but our relationship was missing that special something that all solid marriages have. There was no depth to it.”
Shawn and Mabel have separated, but are still friends. They hang out and although they both feel the temptation to hook up when they meet, they know that this won’t help them move forward. “We are friends now, that’s all, and we know that sex would complicate the situation. We don’t have plans to get back together, but never say never,” says Mabel.
IT’S ALL ABOUT THE SEX
But sometimes, amazing sex seems like a good enough reason to stick together, as Jenna* reasons about her four-year marriage with Mike*. The pair don’t see eye to eye on a lot of matters, but in bed, they get along like a house on fire.
The 37-year-old stay-at-home mum and freelance editor says: “He’s always been hot-tempered but lately he’s been blowing up over the smallest issues, like if I’ve bought an expensive outfit for our two-year-old daughter. I really don’t want my child growing up in this kind of hostile environment, but every time I think about leaving Mike, I think about how good the sex is. He was my first lover and one of the reasons I married him was that he treated me so well in bed.” Now, she is considering counselling to keep the marriage together.
Similarly, Sheena Edwards, 38, a manager at a shipping firm, feels like she and her husband of eight years, Sam*, no longer have anything in common. Although she is largely staying in the marriage because of her two sons, aged three and five, she admits that the great sex has made it very hard for her to walk out on Sam.
She reveals: “Sam isn’t interested in my life anymore. We talk about the children and that’s it. I love how he treats me in bed, but beyond that, he seldom talks to me, doesn’t want to be part of gatherings with my family, doesn’t ask how my job is going and avoids any deep and meaningful conversation. He only tells me he loves me after we’ve had sex, which is about twice a week. We’ve grown apart and sex is the only thing that pulls us together.”
Sheena has considered counselling because she feels she and Sam “can fix this”. “I believe we still love each other; it’s just that we’ve grown emotionally distant. Maybe we need to stop seeing each other as Mummy and Daddy and find that spark that brought us together as husband and wife.”
SEX AS A GLUE
It worked for Linda*, a 35-year-old banker. When her four-year marriage was headed for splitsville over her husband Steven’s* anger issues, she found that their still-sizzling sex life helped to mend the marriage’s fault lines. She says: “I know it’s wrong for me to see sex as a reason to stay, but it’s the only time Steven seems to be truly happy, gentle and sweet. He really is a different man in bed.”
To make the marriage work, she is trying to change the way she reacts to his anger. She explains: “I hate it when he loses his temper or raises his voice at me, but I know what we have is rock-solid. He’s just been going through some tough times at work and it’s taking a toll on him emotionally. Now, when he picks a fight, I stay calm and listen to him instead of fighting back. Then when he’s done ranting, I tell him how I feel without losing my cool. Sometimes he apologises and I feel better.”
Similarly, Alyssa*, 37, a stay-at-home mum of two, says she lost her emotional connection with her husband John* when he started travelling more for work. “We used to watch movies and work out together, but when his work trips became more frequent, we had to cut down on those. He would come home for several nights and then fly off again. Whenever he came home, we would have sex, which was always great but after awhile, I began to feel emotionally neglected. I was really craving his attention and it seemed the only time I got a lot of it was in bed.”
Alyssa finally broached the problem with her husband and the couple had a heart-to-heart talk. She says: “Since then, he’s made it a point to converse more with me and do fun things together that have nothing to do with being naked. We still have good sex, but now, making love is not the only way we connect. I definitely feel more treasured now than I have ever been.”
SHOULD YOU STAY OR SHOULD YOU GO?
In a marriage where the sex trumps the emotional satisfaction, think about your values and priorities. “Is sex the most important thing to you, or are there other aspects that are equally or more important, like communication, mental and emotional connection, intimacy and friendship?” says Christina Spaccavento, a sex therapist and relationship counsellor from Sydney.
If you have kids, ask yourself if you’d be willing to put up with a lousy marriage for their sake, even if you were having great sex. If you stay, think how you can repair the parts of your marriage that need fixing.
Says Vanessa Marin, a sex and relationship therapist from San Francisco: “Talk it out with your spouse and listen to each other. You should have some shared values and be on roughly the same page about how you want the rest of your lives to be. You should both be willing to invest time and energy into your relationship and brainstorm ways to make it better.”
If, in spite of all the negatives, you’re still happy to stay because of the great sex, then go for it, says Christina. But be realistic in your expectations of your partner, your marriage, and your future together.
WOULD YOU STAY? GUYS SAY…
“Yes, I’d try to make it work because if the sex is great then it points to the fact that you share something special. And why would I throw that away?” – Gill Chan, 34, real estate agent
“I PROBABLY WOULD STAY BECAUSE I BELIEVE THAT SEX IS ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS IN A MARRIAGE. THE OTHER STUFF CAN BE WORKED ON.” – Carlos*, 32, writer
“No way. Even if I was having the sex of my dreams, I’d be willing to give it up for a happier marriage.” – Leonard*, 31, diver
“No amount of good sex is worth a lifetime of unhappiness!” – Randall*, 38, civil servant
IS BAD SEX A DEAL-BREAKER?
What if the situation were reversed? Hear from women who’ve experienced it.
“The sex has to be outstanding for me. Otherwise, I don’t think it would be a very happy marriage. I have a huge sexual appetite and I need a man who’s as sexual as me. If my potential husband was bad in bed or didn’t care much for sex, I’d definitely get professional help. And he has to be willing to receive help too.” – Jasmine*, 29, copywriter
“I’M MARRIED TO A GREAT GUY – HE’S A GOOD PROVIDER, HE LOVES ME AND HE MAKES ME LAUGH. I WOULDN’T SAY WE HAVE EARTH-SHATTERING SEX, BUT I’M OKAY WITH THAT. NICE GUYS ARE ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO FIND THESE DAYS, SO I’M = STICKING WITH HIM NO MATTER WHAT.” – Judy*, 33, writer
“My husband was a virgin when I married him, whereas I’ve had a few lovers before. We’ve been married two years and still have some way to go before I’d call him ‘very skilled in bed’. It’s all = good, though. We share a strong emotional connection and a deep love, and those are more important to me than great sex.” – Adeline*, 29, nurse
*Names have been changed
This story was first published in Her World magazine January 2013 issue.