Some of the most common questions we get are variations of, “how do I talk with my spouse about sex?” So here are a collection of tips, both positive and negative. I won’t elaborate much on each one, but I’m happy to answer questions in the comments.

  1. Pray first. Either together or separately, pray that God will bless your marriage and your sex life. Ask for humility and gentleness towards your spouse. Pray that God will help you to understand and love each other the way He intends.
  2. Be honest and gentle. Remember that your goal isn’t to manipulate your spouse into a certain behavior, it’s to grow in intimacy together. Be brave enough to be honest, and be humble enough to receive honesty from your spouse. Agree together that it’s safe to be honest with each other, and then discipline your own emotions before you react to honesty from your spouse.
  3. Pick the right time. When you and your spouse are in a good mood, when you’re feeling connected, when you have time for an intimate conversation. Talking about sex after you have a great sexual encounter can be wonderful, but avoid it after a disappointing encounter. Even if the conversation is urgent to you, respect your spouse enough to be patient. If you think your spouse will be resistant to even talking about sex, you might want to give him or her a heads-up that you’d like to have a conversation sometime in the near future.
  4. Set a purpose and expectations. Clearly explain your purpose for the conversation at the beginning. Talk about the most important thing first, and try to focus on one topic at a time. It’s easy to get distracted by side issues, especially if communication has been poor for a while and there are a lot of pent-up frustrations. Recognize that you may need to give your spouse some space to vent, but try to keep your contributions to the conversation as focused as possible.
  5. Stay positive. Express your love, admiration, and gratitude for your spouse. Don’t complain, but instead talk about how passionate you are for a great sex life. You don’t need to be pointlessly cheery, but using positive language helps avoid hostility and defensiveness. Consider the difference between “we hardly ever have sex” and “I’d love for us to have an exciting sex life together”.
  6. Ask questions to understand. Make sure your questions are sincere and loving. It’s very tempting to use questions to disguise accusations and frustrations, but your spouse isn’t a fool and will quickly grow to resent these passive-aggressive attacks. Focus on “what” and “how” questions instead of “why” questions — “what would you like from our sex life?”, “how do you feel about oral sex?” “Why” questions often make people defensive at having to justify or explain themselves. You want to understand what and how your spouse feels, but you don’t need to dig into why.
  7. Be specific and explicit. Your spouse can’t read your mind. Your spouse can’t read your mind. Get it? Your spouse can’t read your mind! If you want something specific, you have to use actual words to say so. I know it’s more “romantic” if your spouse just knows what you want and does it without you asking, but that’s not how real humans work. If you don’t know exactly what you want then it’s fine to express a general desire, but then be prepared to discuss it and nail down some specifics.
  8. Reach a conclusion. Before you’re both exhausted, revisit your purpose for the conversation. Have you accomplished your purpose? If so, declare victory and conclude the discussion. Great job: you successfully talked about sex! On the other hand, if your conversation has meandered endlessly make an effort to refocus yourselves and reach a conclusion.
  9. Actionable agreement. At the end of your discussion make sure that you each know what actions you’ve agreed to take. Don’t settle for a vague understanding that something will be different from now on — make your agreement specific and explicit. “Yes, I will try XYZ”“Yes, I will plan at least one date night each month”.
  10. Follow through. Now that you’ve made a specific and explicit agreement, you actually have to do it. If you find that your spouse isn’t living up to what he or she agreed to, you’ll need to have another conversation.“It really meant a lot to me when you agreed to plan a date night for us each month. I can’t wait to spend that time with you. Will we be able to do it soon? I’ll make it worth your while….”

I’m sure there’s a lot more that can be said… hundreds of books worth… but these are the main points I find myself writing to people over and over. What do you think? Share your ideas or questions in the comments!

We get hundreds of emails asking for marriage and sex help, and in almost every case the second step of our advice is to talk with your spouse. (The first step is to talk with God through prayer.) Most emails include a disclaimer like:

I’ve already tried to talk to my wife about this, but she just won’t listen.

So… you want advice that doesn’t include talking to your spouse? Well, you can’t just skip past that.

There are a gazillion books you can read about how to have productive conversations, but today I want to share one of the most important tips I’ve learned: stop asking “why?” so much. If you have kids, you know how annoying it can be to constantly hear “why? why? why?”. This question seems to crop up around age three, and never stops. Hopefully as adults we don’t smother our spouses with “why” so often, but the question can often do more harm than good.

Oftentimes a husband (especially) will want to hammer away at “the problem” and “fix it”, so he asks “why?” over and over, hoping to discover the knob he can twist just the right way to make his wife do/feel what she “should”.

Sound familiar? Wives do it, too. It’s no surprise that conversations like this aren’t effective for building intimacy. “Why?” can be a powerful tool for gaining understanding, but it isn’t the right tool for every job! Here are a few ways it can backfire.

  • Passive aggressive. You know this one. Even if you aren’t trying to be passive aggressive, these kinds of questions can be received that way. But be honest: oftentimes, you’re being passive aggressive.
    • “Why didn’t you take the trash out?”
    • “Why are you late?”
    • “Why don’t you want to have sex?”
  • Interrogation. Trying to nail down your spouse with words. You make it appear that you’re just trying to understand the truth of the situation, but what you’re actually doing is forcing your spouse into the corner until he admits some mistake or failure. These are often “why… but…?” accusations.
    • “Why did you say you were getting Christmas cards for my family, but then not mail them in time?”
    • “Why did you say you want more intimacy, but then every time I want to have sex you’re too tired?”
    • “Why do you not feel the way we both agreed you should feel?”
  • Digging. Sometimes your spouse doesn’t know the answer, or there isn’t an answer, but you keep asking “why?” anyway. You rephrase the same question over and over, sure that if you keep digging you’ll eventually find gold.
    • “Why don’t we have more sex? Why don’t you want to have sex? Why has our sex life stalled?”
    • “Why do you feel that way? Why don’t you feel this way?”
  • Rephrasing. “Why?” is often a fine question to ask once, but using different words doesn’t make the question more helpful.
    • “What makes you feel that way?”
    • “How did this come to pass?”

When you’re starting a difficult conversation, stay away from “why” and instead focus on “what” and “how”.

  • “How do you feel about our sex life?”
  • “How do you want our sex life to make you feel?”
  • “What is your favorite thing that we do together?”
  • “What do you think is missing?”

Accept the answers without comment or judgement. Asking “why?” will make your spouse defensive, literally — you’re asking her to defend her answers with a reason that’s good enough for you to accept. It can be difficult to hold back your opinion, but usually that’s your pride prompting you. Your pride says things like:

  • “She shouldn’t feel that way.”
  • “I deserve a husband who does XYZ.”
  • “I can convince her…”
  • “That’s not fair.”
  • “His answer shows that he doesn’t love/respect/understand me!”
  • “How can she possibly think that?”

These comments are unlikely to be helpful, but your pride insists that you say them anyway. Your pride tells you that your feelings are right, justified, and logical, and his feelings are wrong, mistaken, or cruel. It’s so obvious, right? He’s sure to realize the error of his ways if you just ask the right “why” question.

Don’t feel bad; we all fall into the pride trap.

So, before you ask “why?”, consider: will my question enhance intimacy, or irritation? If you mostly care about being right, then by all means, hammer away with “why?” until you smash everything in sight. On the other hand, if you mostly care about intimacy with your spouse, use “why?” very judiciously and give her the space and respect to think and feel without having to justify herself to you. Your spouse will feel secure and respected, which are key building blocks of intimacy.