When you’re pregnant with your third child, sex isn’t usually high on the priority list. Sleep and chocolate are. But one strange day when I was about 13 weeks pregnant, I was actually looking forward to some romance on a Friday night. Earlier in the day, my highlight had been devouring pita chips and garlic hummus.

I changed my clothes and got ready for my evening of romance. My husband, James, walked in, and as he drew close, he stopped dead in his tracks.

“What is that smell?”

It took two seconds to figure out it was my beloved garlic hummus.

“I can smell you and that garlic in every room,” he moaned.

I apologized and winked.

He hesitated and replied, “I don’t know if I can handle your breath.”

You probably know what happened next. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. My breath was the deal killer. After he talked himself into plugging his nose and taking the plunge, I was no longer in the mood. Romance dies quickly after any kind of confrontation involving Listerine.

Whether it’s bad breath, a headache, that time of the month, or hot flashes, something often gets in the way of romance. Sometimes it’s your spouse; sometimes it’s you. How can a couple overcome these roadblocks to intimacy in a respectful way that doesn’t offend either partner?

I don’t really have a headache

It’s the classic bedroom scene of the couple that’s been married for a few years. The husband inches toward his wife in bed and gives her the look. She sighs and says, “I’m sorry, dear. I have a headache and just don’t feel like myself.”

From a wife’s perspective, she’s thinking, Please leave me alone. I just want to go to bed. It isn’t meant to be an insult to her husband.

From what I’ve heard, many men are thinking, You’ve been having a lot of headaches lately. I don’t think you care about me anymore.

Radio talk show host Dennis Prager, in an article titled “When a Woman Isn’t in the Mood: Part 1,” encourages the wife to rethink the axiom that if she’s not in the mood, she doesn’t have to make love to her husband.

Women need to recognize how a man understands a wife’s refusal to have sex with him: A husband knows that his wife loves him first and foremost by her willingness to give her body to him. This is rarely the case for women. A man whose wife frequently denies him sex will first be hurt, then sad, then angry, then quiet. And most men will never tell their wives why they have become quiet and distant. They are afraid to tell their wives.

If your husband became quiet and distant, wouldn’t you want to know what was going on? And if he told you he was upset about the lack of sex in your marriage, how would you respond?

Too often women blame their mood when it comes to making love. If you wait until you are in the mood to go to work, head to the gym, or change your baby’s diaper, you might be sitting on the couch for quite some time. Every day, you decide to behave in ways that go against your mood. Yet somehow when it comes to sex, mood trumps everything else.

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Sex in boots

I sprained my ankle badly last year and wore a big black boot up to my knee. I wasn’t bathing every day, and on one particular day I had greasy hair because I was planning to get a haircut later that day. My kids had gone over to my parents to give me time to write. Three words described my state: gimpy, greasy, gross.

In walked Casanova with a dozen white roses. It was such a sweet gesture. A little bit later, James walked up to my desk and asked if, you know, we had time for “wink wink.” I could have said I felt too gross. I could have reminded him that this was the first time I had been able to write in days. But instead I said, “How about in a half hour?”

Did I feel sensuous wearing my clunky black ankle boot? Did I want to have sex instead of getting some work done? Not really. Did it make sense to make time for sex? Definitely. It had been a long time since we were alone in the house without the kids. I found out that if you do the right thing, your mood will follow your behavior. Besides, don’t people say black boots are sexy?

It’s not the boot, it’s …

What’s killing your love life lately? Since it’s probably not garlic or a big black boot, maybe you’re struggling with one of the following.

I am hurt by something my husband said. While it’s true our husbands can say things that require a grand apology, many times they unwittingly hit a hot button or say something small that gets blown out of proportion. When James asks, “What have you been doing all day?” that makes my blood boil. I have to learn how to snap out of the defensive mode and answer the question calmly. (By the way, I have instructed him not to use this question anymore.)

I am exhausted, really. You have pressures with your work, caring for family members, and keeping your household running. Those nights when you can barely brush your teeth, let alone make love to your husband, will come. Do your best to carve out time each week for lovemaking when you’re not so tired.

I am preoccupied with all I have to do. When your head hits the pillow, you’re not thinking what would feel best sexually. You’re thinking of how you’re going to deal with that difficult person at work, what you’re going to wear to the party, and how you’re going to get to the grocery store tomorrow since the schedule’s so tight. A place to jot your thoughts down before bed may help silence that nagging to-do list.

From duty to decision

Should a wife have sex with her husband out of duty or obligation? In a personal interview I conducted of Joyce Penner, sexual therapist and co-author of The Gift of Sex, she offered a helpful answer to this question.

We like sex best when we have the desire for it. But there are stages in life when we won’t have the desire for it, like when the kids are young and we’re exhausted. Duty sex and demand sex never work. When you do it out of obligation, it may work for tonight but not long term. But sex by decision can work, and there’s a big difference.

Duty says, “I know he needs it. He’s a man. It’s been seven days. But I’m tired and I don’t feel like it.” That’s duty sex, and it’s not going to work. Sex by decision says, “You know what, it’s been seven days. I know I need it, and I know we need it. Let’s make a plan for how we can make it the best for both of us.” It’s got to be as good for her as it is for him if it’s going to work for a lifetime.

Wives need to design life so we can get with the program sexually rather than saying I need to put out even when I’m exhausted because he needs it. That will never work.

When you make the decision to honor your marriage bed, both you and your husband will benefit sexually. So the next time garlic, stress, mood, or anything else threatens your love life, make the switch from duty to decision and go for it.

Taken from 31 Days to a Happy Husband Copyright © 2012 by Arlene Pellicane. Published by Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR.  Used by permission.