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In Sickness and in Health

Just over a year ago, I got married to the woman of my dreams. It was such an exciting time knowing that I was about to marry my sweetheart, but that was not the only exciting advancement for my wife and me. As practicing members of our religion, we abstained from sex during our courtship.

Leading up to the wedding, our friends kept joking about the wild sex lives of newlyweds, and the consensus was that we’d hardly see anything outside the hotel room on our honeymoon. For my wife and me, all the jokes seemed only to build the anticipation.

A few months before the wedding, my wife slowly became more tired with each passing day. I, and many close family members and friends, quickly attributed it to the rigors of wedding planning. Her sudden lack of appetite and other red flags were also easily written off as the effects of stress, so you might imagine my surprise when things didn’t get better on the honeymoon. It turns out that our friends were right, we didn’t see much outside of the hotel room. What surprised me though, was that there was a distinct lack of me having sex, and an abundance of my wife taking naps.

A few months and a handful of doctor’s appointments later, my wife was diagnosed with a few chronic illnesses. As any concerned husband would, I quickly began researching medicines, side-effects and even home remedies to do my best to ease my wife’s suffering. In an odd way, the experience created a strange closeness between us, but that closeness was not a physical one. Though it was easy to feel happy helping my wife, it didn’t diminish my sexual desires.

True, I looked on my premarital abstinence with a touch of pride, but I wasn’t looking to extend that absinence. At first it looked like I didn’t have much of a choice, and it seemed that every time I proposed sex it was quickly overruled on the grounds of fatigue, joint pain, or some other new and exciting symptom. Perhaps the worst part of it was that they were good reasons!

Fortunately, before too long, my wife and I realized that in our circumstances the idea of a sexless marriage was silly. We talked at length about different ways to find a system that worked for both members of our team, and after much trial and error we found a few things that worked for us. I hope that you’ll be able to adapt and apply them to your relationship whether you’re in a similar situation, or everyone in the relationship is healthy, or your circumstances have created much more severe sexual barriers.

Sexual Triage

Triage is a medical practice that prioritizes different illnesses and wounds based on their severity. I know that doesn’t sound very sexy, but it became one of the most important tools we used to change our sex life. When I had sexual urges, I would tell my wife and rate the urge on a scale of 1 to 10, and she would reply with a number between 1 and 10 that indicated how much pain, discomfort, or exhaustion she was feeling. We weighed the numbers and the reasons behind them and came to a decision on how to proceed. It might sound clinical, and again, it might not sound too sexy, but guess what? It led to more sex for us, and I think we can all agree that sex is sexy.

Additionally, it had another benefit for our relationship. It allowed us to more fully understand the other person’s condition. This meant that when we decided not to have sex, it felt less like a rejection on my part. It also meant that I could convey to her more accurately my needs not only for sexual stimulation, but the feeling of romantic closeness that comes with it.

Different Times Call for Different Measures

I mentioned above that the triage led to more sex for us, but that meant different things depending on the circumstances. Even when my wife acknowledged that my sexual needs were more urgent than her need for sleep in that moment, she wasn’t always ready to have fling-you-around-the-room passionate sex.

When we decided to have sex, she would usually tell me what she was ready for. Sometimes that meant that she was willing to have sex if I did all the work, and sometimes it just meant that she would verbally engage me while I did things Han Solo. I would advise that whomever the healthy partner is, that he/she recognizes how much of a sacrifice those small things can be for your partner and receive them with gratitude even if it was less than what you had hoped for.

What to Do When They Won’t Do You

There are times when even staying awake to talk to me while I hammer things out on my own is too much for my wife. Each partnership should discuss what is and isn’t okay for them in situations like this and come up with a plan for the partner left wanting. Not only will it help avoid misunderstandings and distrust, it can also help the healthy partner feel cared about instead of ignored.

Masturbation, for instance, can be a bit controversial—not just for religious couples. Though my wife doesn’t feel that it is morally wrong or sinful, she was uncomfortable at first with the idea of me going to another room to masturbate when sex wasn’t an option. For some couples, it will never be an option, and for others it might be acceptable under certain conditions. Whatever your solution, the important part is that both partners are happy.

Remember that sex is important in a relationship and that the lack thereof can be detrimental to everyone involved. If you decide to use these tricks or not, take the time to find what works for your relationship. After all, isn’t satisfaction in your relationship worth putting in the work?

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