07/25/2014 01:06 EDT | Updated 09/24/2014 05:59 EDT

Instead of Making a Spreadsheet About Sex, Try Writing a Love Note

Not Tonight Dear, I've Got a Headache

I was making my morning Internet rounds when I stumbled upon a story about a husband who, apparently upset with the lack of sex in his marriage, made a spreadsheet that documented how often his wife had sex with him. The spreadsheet included the date, whether sex was a yes or a no, as well as the excuse his wife used when it was a no. His unimpressed wife then went on to post the spreadsheet on social media for the entire world to comment upon, including yours truly.

Sadly, this story didn't surprise me at all. I've had many clients over the years show me similar lists. Lists like this are made -- and shared on social media -- out of an emotional mixture of frustration, resentment, self- righteousness, a lack of self-restraint and a profound level of immaturity. Often, there are elements of narcissism and belligerence at work as well. Ugly stuff.

To be sure, the issue of disparate sex drives is a common and complex one, and this article isn't meant to be a comprehensive look at the issue. This is merely my snapshot take on what might be going on in this particular case.

I have no doubt this husband feels frustrated and neglected. If he were in my office, I suspect he'd tell me that his wife was all over him before they got married. That she used to initiate sex, wear sexy things, and have more energy and enthusiasm. He might say that he feels taken advantage of, even deceived. He might feel that he is only a "paycheque" to her. He may feel deeply rejected and unloved. He may fear that he is destined for a sexless marriage.

Those are all legitimate complaints. Sexual intimacy is a huge part of a happy, healthy marriage. The problem is, when this husband chose to keep track of sexual intercourse and present it to his wife in the form of a spreadsheet, his behaviour became so obnoxious and infantile that he had no hope in hell of opening a meaningful dialogue.

But neither is his wife a model of maturity. Publicly posting the details of your intimate life on social media is a serious breach of trust and a betrayal of your marriage vows. Trying to solicit online allies to feel vindicated or simply exact revenge is just as petty as the initial transgression. When I see people doing this, I assume they aren't mature enough to be married.

Yet if this wife were in my office, I suspect that she too would have her share of legitimate complaints. Many of her no-sex "excuses" involved feeling unattractive, being exhausted or preferring television. I'm reading between the lines here, but she might say that her husband was more affectionate and patient before marriage. That he used to shower her with compliments, express his appreciation for all she does and help around the house. That he was less critical and more loving. That he initiated sex with more respect and that he paid more attention to her pleasure in bed.

So who's in the wrong here? Well, clearly they both are. But it since it was the husband's "wrong" that came first in this little cautionary tale, (not that it matters whose wrong came first), let's think about how he might have approached the issue differently.

Most importantly, this husband could have taken a critical look at his own behaviour, both inside and outside the bedroom, before pointing the finger at his wife's behaviour. When was the last time he told her she was beautiful? When was the last time he asked what he could do to help make her life easier? When was the last time he took her away for a romantic weekend or brought flowers home? When was the last time he prioritized her sexual pleasure over his own? We live in a society where people are totally baffled by the very concept that they examine their own behaviour before criticizing someone else's.

Instead of handing his wife a spreadsheet -- a ridiculous action that could only lead to hard feelings and confrontation -- he could have told her what was in his heart. That he loved her. That he missed the pleasure of her body and the intimate nature of their friendship. That he longed to feel that their marriage was secure. That he longed to make her feel good and to feel good in return.

Unfortunately, this husband isn't the first man to resort to list-making antics when he feels that sex has fallen off the radar. I've heard from countless wives who say that their husbands whine and pout when they don't get sex, or even make veiled or outright threats to "get it elsewhere."

It isn't that these men have unfounded complaints. As I said, sexual intimacy is incredibly important in marriage. One of the main reasons people marry is for regular sexual access to the person they love. In a happy and healthy marriage, love and sex are two sides of the same coin. But the fact remains, the way a husband expresses his feelings about a lack of sexual intimacy -- and the steps he takes to improve the situation -- will largely determine whether his wife listens to him or not.

When a husband (or wife, for that matter) whines, pouts, threatens or documents a no-sex spreadsheet like this one, he sends the message that he is "entitled" to have sex with his wife, and that his sexual satisfaction is the most important thing in the marriage. That might not be the message he intends to send, but that's the one she hears nonetheless.

So when it comes to sexual complaints, my advice is to stop complaining, stop playing the martyr, stop making excuses, stop blaming your partner. Instead, take the initiative to improve your role in the relationship.

Speak with more loving voice tones. Show more affection and appreciation. Build a fortress of privacy and respect around your marriage. Be helpful, show good humour and having an easygoing nature. Put your spouse's feelings and needs before your own. Listen to your spouse's complaints about you and the marriage, and take them seriously. Prioritize your spouse's pleasure. There are no guarantees; however, a positive approach is far more likely to work than a negative one.

Ah, but here's the question I'm usually asked (often before my advice has been instituted). "What if I try and she doesn't change?"

My answer? Then you end the relationship. If you've truly tried everything -- love, affection, communication, professional help and so on -- and your spouse continues to withhold intimacy, then of course you end the relationship. I would not stay married to a person who, despite my every effort and self-reflection, continued to withhold intimacy from me.

But back to this particular situation and my superficial take on it, which I freely admit is based on nothing more than assumption gleaned from my experience working with couples. When I see cases like this, I don't feel that the real problem is disparate sex drives. It's deeper than that.

To me, the heart of the matter is the kind of self-importance, finger-pointing and lack of respect between partners that runs rampant in too many relationships. It is our tendency to rant rather than romance. It's the way spouses start to treat each other like their enemy instead of their greatest friend and ally. I suspect this couple is no happier outside the bedroom than they are inside it.

So tonight, skip the spreadsheet. Give your sweetheart a love note instead, and see which works better.

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