How to Do It

My Wife Sets a Horrible Trap for Me Every Time We Have Sex

I’m tired of getting caught up in her stupid game.

A man is caught in a trap.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Christophe Bourloton/iStock/Getty Images Plus. 

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!

Dear How to Do It,

My wife has put on a fair bit of weight since we were married a couple decades ago. She went from quite slender to somewhere in the borderlands of overweight/obese. Im not complaining. Ive put on weight too, and I still find my wife very sexy. The problem I have is in how to respond when she complains about her weight when were about to get intimate (which she always does). When she used to ask me if she is fat, Id say no, and shed call me out as a liar and get upset. I was lying. More recently Ive been saying I really enjoy her extra jiggle and find her very sexy. Both are true. She now accuses me of calling her fat or being a creep who is into fat women. Otherwise our marriage is perfect, but Id like to improve it with your advice on how to help my partner get over her weight hang-ups and enjoy the pretty good sex these insecurities are mucking up. If she wants to lose weight for health reasons, Im fine with that. If she wants to stay where she is or put on more weight, cool with that too. But Ive said these exact words in a multitude of different contexts when she brings up weight and they dont seem to help.

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— Not a Weight Watcher

Dear Not a Weight Watcher,

It might be time for a meta-conversation. You’ve told her she isn’t fat. You’ve told her you like her body as is. You’ve told her you’re fine with her losing weight. You’ve told her that you’re ok with her maintaining her current frame. But have you told her that none of these positions seem to make her happy? Have you told her that you feel at a loss? Have you asked her why she continues to engage you in a conversation that inevitably leaves her unsatisfied? The key here, I suspect, is that these discussions are an outlet for her negative feelings about her body. There is indeed nothing you can say to improve things, by design. Unfortunately, her catharsis is directed at you ultimately. It doesn’t sound like she ends up feeling better—the primary outcome is that you feel worse.

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I would level with her and tell her these conversations are unproductive and draining. You can offer to tell her what she wants to hear, should she be interested in providing a script, but you can also tell her that you’re no longer interested in engaging. You’re sanguine about her body; she is not. This is her issue to deal with and overcome. I get the sense that you’ll be entirely supportive of however she pursues happiness here, whether it’s counseling, a fitness plan, both, or something else. But she has to pursue it. These endless conversations may give a false sense of working through issues, but they’re actually just the spinning of wheels with no apparent caloric deficit. It’s time for her to take a new tact. Encourage that, and make sure she understands that she has your full support.

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Dear How to Do It,

I’m a woman in my mid-30s. I’ve been out of the dating game for a while many reasons—big moves, career changes, etc. I’m finally in a place in my life where I’m ready to get serious in a relationship, and this guy walked right into it. I met him where I live, but he actually lives about 700 miles away in another state. He has shared custody of his kids, so while he wants to move here, it’s going to be about four more years before they’re adults and he can do that.

This guy is amazing. He’s kind and funny and smart. He’s gorgeous. I met him through a dear friend, and I’ve done all the background on him. He checks out, and he is the real deal. He is everything I’ve been looking for, and then some, and we’re absolutely crazy about each other. But I don’t know how to do long-distance relationships! I’ve never done one before. I’d love some advice for fun and engaging ways to keep the spark alive in between visits, especially to build and maintain intimacy.

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— LTR Trouble

Dear LTR Trouble,

Congrats on finding an amazing guy … and on your long-distance relationship. That’s not sarcasm; distance can do wonders for a relationship—at least for a period of time. A 2019 Atlantic article (that I highly recommend you read in full) reported that common in research on LDRs is the finding that “people living in different places than their partner tend to have more stable and committed relationships.” In this 2013 study that contrasted hundreds of people in long-distance relationships with hundreds in geographically close relationships, the authors found that “greater distance apart predicted more intimacy, communication, relationship satisfaction, and sexual communication.” People in long-distance relationships often place great value on their time together—it is, after all, scarce. There’s less opportunity to take each other for granted.

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There is a but, though. The Atlantic piece points out a paradox in the research on LDRs: When couples do start living in the same place, they’re more likely to break up than couples who were in close proximity through the duration of their relationship. This could be a result of several factors, including that thing our minds tend to do in the absence of hard facts: make stuff up. When you’re only getting so much of a partner, your mind tends to fill in the rest. Then, when reality takes over, your partner may not live up to the fantasy you’ve crafted. The cited 2013 study also mentions other tendencies, like “cognitive dissonance (i.e., convincing oneself of positive outcomes to justify engaging in a challenging relationship type) or idealization (i.e., focusing on positive relationship traits while ignoring negative traits).”

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One remedy to this could be what the Atlantic piece refers to “background Skype,” in which the partners turn on their video chats and leave them running for hours, interacting intermittently while going about their individual lives. The idea is the exposure to the quotidian existence and minor details of a partner’s life may give you a greater sense of who they are and stop your brain from doing its pesky fill-in work.

Other suggestions from that piece include communicating over a variety of platforms so that whatever downsides of each can be counteracted, making time for routine check-ins, and strategizing optimal ways to have difficult conversations. According to the 2013 study, “less certainty about the future of one’s relationship was consistently related to poorer relationship outcomes,” which is true for short- and long-distance relationships. But research suggests that couples are less stressed if they have an idea when their relationship will cease being long-distance—you cannot underestimate the power hope has on general emotional well-being. The feeling that you’re working toward something—i.e. a relationship in which you are both together all the time—is crucial.

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Stay engaged. Write letters, make each other playlists, send each other gifts and/or cards. “I saw this and thought of you,” is all the justification you need for a care package. Intimacy can take place on screens. There are remote-controlled sex toys that, via app, can be controlled from miles and miles away. Say the authors of the 2013 study: “Because agreement on actual and desired sexual activity is related to relationship satisfaction … it would be ideal to problem-solve and facilitate conversations that would bring partners closer to agreement about the nature of their sexual relationship.” Just talking about this stuff could be useful. Try it—and don’t skip individual counseling, either, if you find it necessary. What’s good for one is good for the whole. Good luck!

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Dear How to Do It,

Im a 38-year-old woman whos been with my boyfriend (30), for five years. When we first got together, nothing was off the table sex wise—toys, positions, parts. It was pretty hot and heavy, like thirty times a week or more. Then about two years ago, I started noticing the frequency was going way down. I can understand that—life gets to you—but what is really throwing me for a loop is that he has suddenly become a prude. No more oral, no more anal, no fingering, he doesnt even really French kiss anymore. The most I will get is a bit of boob squeezing. Its like suddenly being with a young virgin, repertoire-wise.

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I have tried to talk to him about it. I am pretty sex positive, and I dont think I would react badly if it was something like hes gay now (swears he isnt) or if hes having sexual dysfunction (was on SSRI for a while, which Im sure affected desire, but swears thats not it). The most I can get out of him is that he just doesnt want to.” We started seeing a therapist, and he told him that although he enjoys having sex, that it is monotonous.” But he doesnt want to do anything but like two positions! He is otherwise very affectionate and loving toward me and seems to always want to be with me.

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Im baffled. I am seeking advice on if this is common or weird, what a reasonable explanation is, and if I should leave just because someones preferences have changed, even if otherwise its all good? I dont want to force anyone into anything they dont want to do, but I also dont feel satisfied, and I am kinda angry that he gets to have sex on his own terms but I cant on mine. I feel like either he did a lot of things he didnt want to do enthusiastically for years and now is not willing to keep up the charade, or theres something hes not telling me.

— WTF

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Dear WTF,

I agree that this situation could quite possibly be irreconcilable, especially since you’ve enrolled in therapy and, thus far, it doesn’t seem to be moving the needle. Unfortunately, his explanation to your therapist as to why he’s uninterested in sex does not square with your perception of a no-holds-barred sex life when things were active. A lot of couples find their sex waning over time, but what you describe does seem drastic. If he’s not going to give you dick with any regularity, the very least he could give you is clarity as to why.

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This is what I see as the most pressing issue: the lack of communication. Here is the canary-in-a-coal-mine nature of sex that Esther Perel talks about. Sex here is a proxy for a bigger problem in how you’re relating to each other. Explanation could make all the difference. Complicating things is that most men are, by and large, socialized to be less than forthcoming with their feelings. That could be contributing to his seeming inability to explain himself. It’s something more (or different) counseling might help uncover, if you can afford the patience. If he is affectionate and attentive, it’s probably worth trying for a bit longer—but not forever if you don’t see improvement, either in sex or communication. If he’s not going to work with you, why should you continue to work at the relationship?

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Just a minor note moving forward: Working through this may require you to loosen up your idea “his own terms” versus yours. This isn’t a battle, but a collaboration, and the importance of consent makes it so that sometimes one person’s terms are the relationship’s terms. Some people have harder boundaries than others; their partners need to accept that or move on.

Did you write this or another letter we answered? Tell us what happened at howtodoit@slate.com.

Dear How to Do It,

My husband always suggests a threesome during foreplay, and we have a male friend in mind. I have a strange worry about this: My husband is not very intimate. He stopped passionately kissing me years ago, and he finishes fast during sex. If we actually go through with this threesome, I suspect that the guy will be more intimate with me than my husband, and probably outperform him. What if we kiss deeply? What if I respond differently to his abilities? Is this a silly worry?

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— Unsure

Dear Unsure,

Your worry is not silly; it’s exactly where it should be. The level of consideration your letter suggests is crucial for successful group play with your partner. Threesomes (and moresomes) can be kind of a mental balancing act—you want to get into that flow state, where things just seem to be happening, while also doing what you can to make sure your partner is having a good time (because if he’s not, that could disrupt the flow). While you have no idea what your partner’s reaction to watching you have sex with someone else will be until it happens, you can relax a little here based on some assumptions. He’s the one who’s bringing up this threesome idea, so it will be his own fault if he ends up having a problem with what goes down. Also, he likely realizes that your male friend is, in fact, his own person and not merely a clone of your husband. As such, he is likely to have his own style of sex-having, which may involve kissing you deeply and doing you well and for a while. You’ll have to play it by ear, but at least go into this with the idea that getting lost in your third is on the table. You’re going to click differently with different people, and the possibility of that is inherent in the very notion of a threesome. You should also ask your husband ahead of time if he has any boundaries he’d like you to honor, or flat-out hard nos. If he can’t produce any, all is fair game.
Dive in head first.

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— Rich

More How to Do It

I’m a 33-year-old man. I admitted to myself that I was bi after I first started dating my now-wife seven years ago. I have discussed this with my wife and have told her honestly that it has no effect on the way I feel about her, which is that I am deeply committed to her and to our relationship, that I am excited and fulfilled by our sex life, and have no need to date or have sex with other men. We are very happy, and very monogamous. But maybe every two years or so since, I have signed up for Grindr for a few days and used it to chat with guys, share pics/videos (never face), and to remotely jack off together over video chat.

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