Attention = Desire Disorder (Part 2)

In the last post I wrote about the connection between attention and desire and explained that when a man pays attention to his wife, it builds desire in him. As human beings we want or desire what we give our time and thoughts to. It could be a shiny new car that you keep driving by the lot admiring or the big piece of chocolate cake that you continuously look at sitting on the counter! Then I explained how this applies in marriage—mostly from the man’s point of view—trying to get women to understand this connection between attention and desire in a man’s brain. If you haven’t read it yet, you may want to check out Attention = Desire Disorder (Part 1) first.

Now, I didn’t say that every time the guy gives his wife a little attention she needs to fulfill his immediate desire (as some readers assumed). Rather the intent was to explain why some men stop paying attention to their wives. If time after time a man gives attention, causing his desire for his wife to grow, and then she constantly stiff-arms him and pushes her husband away, the dude is going to stop with the attention. He will do it if for no other reason than to keep his arousal and desire in check and limit his own sexual frustration.

If you have read my book, Laugh Your Way to a Better Marriage, watched the DVD of the seminar or attended one in person, you have heard this. But for those who have not, here is some advice for men in the “attention = desire” department.

One important thing that men must understand is that they don’t need to have sex every time they feel the urge. Sadly, too many guys are like that. Whenever they feel the buzz of desire, they assume they must have sex and reach for their wife with such lovely and romantic sentiments as, “Hey, baby! Come here and help me out!” or “Ya wanna have sex?” Not the most conducive to romancing the girl!

What you men must realize is that when that desire stirs in you, it’s God’s way of reminding you: Be nice to the girl. Pay attention to your wife. Spend some time with her. By doing so, you drastically increase your chances of not being shut down later. So what if you don’t feel like spending time talking with her. Who cares if you don’t want to take her shopping? What difference does it make if you don’t like to go for walks with her? Seriously guys, you have to give to get. If you think that she is going to fulfill the desires of your heart—or loins as the case may be—when you give her little to no time and attention, you are simply delusional. Most women just aren’t wired that way. Find out what she likes, what you can do to fill her need for attention. Maybe it’s your time, your help, your conversation, your touch.

And, gentleman, may I also point out that not all touch needs to be of the sexual nature or the first step to “hitting a home run.” Sometime you can give your wife a hug and that’s it. Or try giving her just a kiss and then walk away. Do you ever simply hold her hand or put your arm around her? How about giving her a backrub and then let her go to sleep instead of trying to score! If every stinking time you touch her, the expectation is sex, it’s going to grow old real quick for your wife and she’s going to be hesitant to have you touch her at all.

At the end of the day, the fundamental problem for both men and women in this area is that as selfish, egocentric humans, we want what we want and don’t care all that much about giving the other person the things that he or she needs. Men want sex and don’t see why they have to jump through the hoops of putting any effort into giving their wives attention. Women want their husbands to pay attention to them, but don’t think that they should have to participate in sex to get it.

But what if God intentionally designed males and females differently in this area just to knock the selfishness out of us? What if it was the very purpose of this difference? It’s the perfect system to kill the self-centered nature in us, but most people don’t get it. They say, “I’ll only give my spouse what he/she wants after I get what I want.”

I guess you have a choice. You can sit there being mad and feeling bitter because “he won’t pay attention to me,” or “she won’t have sex with me,” or you can stop focusing on what you want and follow the words of Jesus when he said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And don’t be surprised if once you stop worrying about what you want and actually start giving, you get back in return. Give and it shall be given to you… God’s economy is funny that way.

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32 Responses to “Attention = Desire Disorder (Part 2)”

  1. Beth Stiffler says:

    Coming up on 42 years of marriage, I have to agree totally with your Attention = Desire Disorder teaching. However, it took about 10 years and accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior for both of us to even begin to understand the truths you expressed. However, the last 30+ years have been great. Of course there were trying times, but we are able to understand the desires and needs of each other. Praise God that we are made to compliment each other in our relationship.

  2. Diana Vaughn says:

    Yes, this is wonderful what you are saying about how to be nice to your woman and don’t expect sex everytime. It’s just now in our marriage of 33 yrs it has diminished to where we don’t sleep in same room, (snoring) and haven’t had sex for at least 8-10 yrs. And now he’s an alcoholic, which is the biggest turn off for any woman that doesn’t drink.

    • Susannah says:

      Wow. You need to listen closer to what Mark is saying. All husbands snore. And maybe he has turned to drink to cover up his pain. It seems that perhaps you are listening to the devil’s lies, telling you that your husband is a bad person and not worthy of you. Resist the devil, and make him flee. Read God’s Word and fill your heart and mind with His promises. I have been there, thinking my husband was the worst– but God showed me that he was like Jacob, who seemed to be such a trickster and a scoundrel, but he became a “prince with God.” Our marriage has been in the pits more than once, but God reached down and lifted us out, and He can do the same for you. Look UP, and believe in Him.

  3. shelly says:


    While I completely agree with this GENIUS synopsis…Im curious how this applies in dating. Clearly to me it is really just about total control. Because him NOT payng as much attention to me while we are dating is completely unacceptable to me. Is my thought process wrong and does that seem fair? I KNOW what God says about sex before marriage and Im not trying to get a free ‘pass’ if you will, but if the concept is his desire for me only builds more if he pays attention to me then it would seem the responsible thing to do would be cut down on the time spent together. And if that isn’t the answer then why is it only fair that my needs are met during dating not his?

  4. Colleen Christopher says:

    Wow! I never thought of the selfishness in our differences. I know
    exactly how to push them away, but not to draw men close. I think
    it’s a two way street and we’re both driving on the same left side,
    slamming into traffic & fearful of not getting what we need. When I
    was married, I never got a walk, or talk at dinner & when we went to
    the movies, he didn’t even sit with me!!! Talk about miles apart! Thankfully, we are happy (but divorced). Colleen
    PS– Trust me, I will be more careful in the future.

  5. Beryl says:

    Yes I love what you said about giving before receiving, but sometimes one partner can be doing that all the time and the other just rewards it by giving less and less. I do all the giving and always did, and now my partner inexplicably won’t have sex with me, has always been utterly selfish and is using witholding sex and outings and even meals together at home, to get what I don’t even know what he wants. I never refused his affection, but now I’m beginning to not want it because it hurts so that he doesn’t desire me sexually. All I get is sweet nothings. And I mean nothings.

  6. Becky Harmon says:

    Well, my first observation is all the comments so far are from women. Would love to hear what the men have to say as it helps balance things out:)
    Secondly, I believe Mark’s seminars are practical, funny and are a great resource. I have referred to his seminars in my newsletters! With that said, I coach many women who have done all the practical things neccessary to have a successful marriage. They are struggling with alcoholic husbands(or they are starting to medicate themselves) with food or wine) like the previous post or other destructive and sabotaging behaviors from their husbands. (Anger,porno,etc) It is at this point when all else has failed that you must realize that your marriage is either going to go to the next level with you learning how to couple militant prayer with practical strategies or you are not going to navigate the sabotage with a passionate heart still engaged with Christ and your husband. Let me say for the record, YOU CAN DO IT! DON’T GIVE UP! I have see miracles routinely. God is in the business! What Mark is saying is don’t settle for being a victim, do the work neccessary to get healthy which for 90% of women is learning your true identity in Christ. Affirmation from anyone else but Christ is going to leave you frustrated and bitter!

    • Eldee says:

      I am happy to read what Becky had to say. The Lord has given me hope to hang in there and trust that He will supply what I need to be victorious. There are many challenges in our household…but God knows that and still wants us to take hold of every resource He has made available to us so that we can be more than conquerors. I am praying that I will eventually see Him as way bigger than these “little foxes”…I hope it is soon. The effect that our quarreling and polarizing has had on our household is significant.
      Your prayers are greatly appreciated.
      God bless you all!

  7. st says:

    OKAY from a guys perspective, yes Mark is correct. I have been to his seminar, read his book, completed his workbooks and have a shelf full of other “self-help relationship” books. Yes I am a guy, trying for the past 5 years to save a 23 year old marriage. And yes I shared the information, books and even attended the seminar with her.
    We drifted to a point of separation about 5 years ago. We got back together about 2 years ago but no matter what I try, how much attention, what love language I speak, or how much I deposit into the love bank, although she admits to being happier and content, I get nothing physical or emotional in return from her. So I have done a good job, kept the fine thread of the relationship going but after years of being shutdown I am losing the desire to continue.
    So yes I do agree with Mark. More so, I believe a healthy relationship SHOULD be like a perpetual motion machine, the effort put into it is reciprocated which in turn is reciprocated which in turn is reciprocated… So if you are not getting out of it what you want, try lookig at what you are putting into it. But you need two WILLING parties and one to persevere through initiating the process. If one party stops for any period of time (and we all know there will always be hard times) the other will need to carry it forward… but just not indefinitely.

    • Susannah says:

      Have you tried talking to her about it? Many years ago, when my husband confessed his infidelity, he followed it up for a long time with being very sweet, doing all the right things. But it was never enough. I realize now I needed to talk about it– I needed him to tell me again and again that those other women didn’t matter. He got tired of giving and became bitter and difficult, and our marriage almost completely fell apart. But we worked on it, and did the Love Dare, and by God’s grace, things are much better now. But I still would like to talk things out more. I’ve heard that to a woman an issue is never resolved until it has been thoroughly discussed, and I feel that is pretty true. I have to thoroughly talk it out with God if no one else. Praying for you…

  8. Don says:

    The essence of this, is that both sides need to understand what the others’ needs are, recognize what holding back the fulfillment of those needs will do to their marriage and each others psyches, and stop blaming each other individually for the problems they’re experiencing.

    If a man is being constantly spurned, he will shut down, and his attention will fade.

    If a woman isn’t getting what *she* deems adequate attention (whatever form that takes for *her*) – her wanting to be close to the man, is going to wane.

    Thus, the vicious circle…

    Breaking out of that circle requires recognition from both sides on the above. Period.

  9. Julie says:

    My husband and I (of nine years of marriage – third time for both of us)are so thankful that we went to Mark’s seminar. I belive it is saving our marriage. We both realized a lot about each other and how the other one thinks – neither right or wrong – just differently. We have a long way to go, like living together again in the same house. My husband moved into his mother’s house after her death five years ago stayed at her place ever since. We have set October 1st as the date that we will try living together. At that time my youngest child will begin college. I am concerned and pray daily about the upcoming adventure. Again, many thanks to the truth that Mark shares and the great way he goes about sharing it. We both laughed so much at the all day event in Madison and had such a great time together that my husband wanted to go to the event in Appleton in three weeks.

  10. Joe says:

    I can very much relate to the “If every stinking time you touch her, the expectation is sex… she’s going to be hesitant to have you touch her at all.” I was foolish enough to think that everytime I was aroused, my wife would be just as aroused and want to play around. Like I said, foolish. Never the less, it’s been almost 3yrs since we’ve had sex, and though I’ve learned my lesson in this reguard I still don’t get any hint that she’s intrested in sex anymore.
    The post about limiting your sexual frustraition through limiting the amount of time I spend giving my wife attention is so true… it really helps with controlling the urges. However, it doesn’t prevent the since of loss, hurt, emptiness, and distance I feel between us in our relationship. I know other men turn to destructive attitudes like anger, porn, afairs… and part of me undstands why they feel driven to do these things. I don’t justify any of these actions, but I can understand the why.
    For those women out there who are feeling frustraited with their men, I reccomend a talk at a set time and place (a few or more days in the future), alone with their full attention about one or two issues is key to getting both of you back on the same page again. Make it as fun and comfortable for both of you as possible for best results. Bleive that it can happen and pray to the Lord for his help, and you will receive.

  11. Frank says:

    I agree with Mark; he is a great counselor. I have been married for over 25 years and my wife has NO desire for sex at all. I love her and having committed to her for life have painfully laid my desires aside. It has been very hard at times. I have always tried to be considerate of her feelings and no matter how much time I spend with her, how many flowers, back-rubs, washing clothes or dishes, cleaning the house, etc, she NEVER has sexual desires. I feel she was abused as a child. I do help out regularly around the home and consistently give flowers and cards because I love her; but I must admit I have sexual desires for her and it is difficult at times to understand her, but I pray and believe.

  12. Anonymous says:

    I understand the concept behind this,but in my case, I am at the end of my rope. It’s considered bad to “keep score” but when I provide backrubs,movie time,make dinner,and a multitude of other “attentions” and not even expect sex in return,but a situation more like “Hey,do you mind bringing me a soda from the kitchen while your in there?” and the response is “You can get it yourself.” after a day that is seemingly Me : 27 her : 0 , I can’t help but feel the relationship is entirely one-sided.
    And espescially when the option of sex comes up,I get one of two responses…Either “Stop bugging me” (even if I haven’t mentioned it for months) or the incredibly romantic “Fine,just get it over with though.” (which honestly makes me not want to anyway)

    I will attend numerous family functions for her,adopt a “is there anything I can do for you?” treatment of her, and if there is ANY outing,it’s always what SHE wants to do. I can’t remember the last time we ever did anything I specifically wanted to do,and this includes birthdays.

    So long story short,I’m fed up. I have kids that I adore with this woman,but I’m honestly feeling like if she doesn’t make even a SLIGHT effort towards me, I’m leaving.

    Considering the alchoholics,drug users,wife beaters,verbal abusers,and plain ‘ol inattentive husbands out there, I’ve lost respect for her as an intelligent human being for abusing ME with her lack of attention.

    • Mart says:

      Does she specifically say how she wants to be loved? I empathise with you. My husband does give me the attention I need and so I make an effort to be available to him even when I don’t feel like it. Having laid out all your frustrations and her giving her feedback and when the situation still remains the same, I guess all that is left is prayer.

  13. Sarah says:

    I’m just wondering how many years I should stick into a verbally abusive marriage. We’ve been married 30 years. The first 20 years were wonderful – we had the picture perfect, all American life. Then he started drinking, using drugs and having affairs. (Of course he said the affair was my fault!)It took many years for me to come to terms with the affair. But the thought of him with another women creeps back into my head every time I take the verbal abuse. For 10 years I have stuck with him for “the kids sake”. I work 1 1/2 jobs to support my family while he lays on the couch all day drinking and watching TV. It has been a 10 year down hill slide, leading to bankruptcy. I have to hide the money and check book so he doesn’t spend our mortgage and vehicle payments on alcohol. The only thing that keeps me going is the fading memory of how our life together used to be before the addictions. I married a wonderful hard working person, but I don’t even know this man anymore. I AM SO LONELY! It’s Thursday night and I just got home from work to see him taking it easy, waiting for me to make supper. I made a nice home cooked meal all the while he told me how “stupid” I am and talked down to me in front of our son. (He is correct with the “stupid”) I feel like a dog begging for scraps of attention. No, wait…I think he treats the dog better than me. He’s been in rehab more times than I can count and stays sober long enough to drive to the first liquor store. I’ve given up on rehab. He doesn’t want to be fixed. Financially I CAN NOT leave. He has destroyed our credit so bad, no one would ever think of renting to me. And financially its a complicated situation. I would only be hurting myself and my children more financially if I left. Why should I have to move out of my home? I’m the one making the payments. I am a well educated women with many years of experience in the business world and respected by my co-workers. I say this with humility….I am a terrific mother and a man couldn’t ask for a better wife. My children have grown into respectful young adults and I couldn’t be more proud of them. I believe God created a man to be the leader of a home and the wife his helper. I’ve been praying for 10 years for my husband and strength for myself. But, I’m beginning to wonder if all the prayer in the world will heal him if HE doesn’t want to change. When I come home from Sunday worship he makes a mockery of the joy I experienced that morning. I stopped telling him what the sermon was about because his goal is to break me down into tears Sunday morning. Many of you see me on Sunday morning and I do a pretty good job at putting on a happy face. He has never told me he is “sorry” for anything. The only thing he’s sorry about is getting caught in the act with that tramp! I’m sorry for rambling on and I know my thoughts might not belong in this blog. I have no one with whom to talk and just needed some place to vent. The abuse is beginning to physically wear me down and I’ve had some people tell me they can see sadness where there used to be a jolly, upbeat person. Thank you for reading this.

    • Becky Harmon says:


      Thank you for sharing your heart. You seem like you have been very faithful and longsuffering. I would encourage you to get the support you need so that you can experience the freedom you deserve. The wonderful thing about getting help is it also models to your children what they are to do if they find themselves feeling victimized by others. We are all believing in faith that you will find the right partnership so that your latter days are grer than your former days!

    • Mart says:

      I have the same sentiments as Laurie. I believe my memory serves me well, Mark once said that he is a advocate of separation and not divorce. Separation will bring in some reality, hopefully for the better. Once someone takes something for granted, it needs to be taken away. You never know how valuable something/someone is until you lose them. Your husband needs to see that and I commend you Sarah for your strength to hang on this far.

  14. Laurie says:


    I would say get out! No where are you required to be a punching bag. I am not saying divorce, or find someone else, but get out! You are enabling him. Or better yet, put his stuff out on the front lawn, change the locks and find a very large friend to be there for you when he shows up kicking and screaming. Stop feeding him, stop doing his laundry, stop letting yourself be treated less than you are – a child of a KING!

  15. Nick says:

    I love Marc’s common sense approach to husband/wife relationships. Men and women are different and have different needs just as each individual is different. Men seem to have many of the same needs and as he was saying the more I have close contact(touch) with my wife the more I want to make love. Many times when I am aroused early in the am she wants more sleep. I am finally at an age that I can understand this and not get too frustrated and I realize she still loves me…. just not NOW. I have no need for gifts, but my wife loves when I get her a small gift as it shows her I am thinking of her when she is not around me. This is hard for me since I HATE SHOPPING!!! But it is an effort I have to make. Now if she could just walk up to me and tell me how smart and handsome I am and about all the great decisions I make each day.

  16. TS says:

    I used Mark’s Killing the Spider technique… it hasn’t paid off yet. I made the request “I’d like to be romanced, pursued… until you do this I don’t want to have sex”. We’ve been married 8 yrs and have 4 children between us. I ensured my husband understood that this time… he’s actually going to have to put out some effort. While he has called me during the day a few times, sent me a couple of text message, I haven’t seen any dates or real effort towards romance… I do not consider showing up naked in bed as being romanced. He has made an effort to spend a little time with me… he’s been working late and comes home when I’m going to sleep, in the past he would just hang on he couch and sleep here… now he’s waiting until I fall asleep at least some of the time before he heads out to the couch. I think he is just waiting for me to wear down when my hormones kick in show some interests in sex and then go back to ignoring me until the next month. I’m determined this time to ignore my own physical desires until he meets my emotional desires. He says he doesn’t know how to be romantic or date but our church just offered 3 free books on the topic (which he didn’t get any of them) and I showed him the emails he sent me when we were dating that were often romantic and touching… being data driven I proved to him that he does know how, he just doesn’t want to put the effort out.

    • TS says:

      I wanted to note that my husband is very attentive in bed… that’s not the issue. He knows that my love language is QUALITY TIME and physical touch. Since quality time is his lowest score, he struggles to comprehend what this really means and while he could go seeing me a couple hours a week… I need to be doing something together that focuses on us a a couple frequently. Lastly, coming home and shutting out your spouse because he is stressed from his job doesn’t cut it… if a guy has time to watch t.v. for hours, then he has time to figure out something romantic to do with his wife!

      • Susannah says:

        I agree with Anon. Like Mark says, some people don’t say a lot (or don’t do a lot) because they don’t feel safe. Your husband may be the type who is easily discouraged. If he is putting forth even a little effort, encourage him! Say, “I like that,” or “that feels so good… just a little higher,” or something equally encouraging and appropriate. Text him back enthusiastically, tell him some of the things you would like to do, and when your hormones kick in, reward him abundantly! Applaud his small efforts if you want to see him making great efforts.
        This is my advice on “How to Train a Man”. ;)

    • Anon says:

      So you’re going to totally starve his desires and expect that this will magically make him full on passionate to be emotionally connected to you? let me know how that works out for you >.>

      “If I can only destroy him and all of his selfish desires, then he can finally give me what I want”

      If it doesn’t end up working out, you might want to try re-reading this article (if you even read thru it the first time). And going through the Laugh Your Way seminar is a big help too

      Sorry don’t mean to come off harsh, but everything you put in your post was like every bad example described in the article Lol

  17. Chris says:

    Good point. My wife and I have been going through this for 13 years and we’ve only been married for 14 years. But my question is…how long do I meet my wife’s needs before she begins to meet mine? I told my wife that I want to draw a picture of a thermometer and she can “shade in” the thermometer until it reaches the very top…then I would know she is ready and I don’t have to worry about being “rejected”…she would be ready mentally and participate…will that work? No guessing!

  18. Zoua says:

    I’m in a fairly young marriage of 4 years. I haven’t yet withheld sex from my husband but am planning to if he doesn’t stop watching porn. I feel guilty because I used to watch it with him, but clearly, I’ve changed my mind on the issue because I know how much it affects me. Now, he just thinks I’m being unfair. He’s attentive to me, he helps me clean and cook, and he engages in conversations when I need that quality time. But from time to time, he will sneak away and view porn. He has told me that he likes to watch it in his own time and I’m being a little controlling over his privacy. I would question what is driving him to watch it and he doesn’t give any legitimate explanations. I can’t change his mind nor am I am trying to change him. He says I shouldn’t worry since he’s only watching porn and not engaging in sex with them. But in my mind, he’s stimulated by porn and chooses to be. Am I wrong to want to be the only woman to stimulate my husband?

  19. Todd says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed your posts on Attention = Desire Disorder and I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately people are not in the Word as often as they need to be so they can not reap the rewards it provides us.

  20. mandy says:

    Your “laugh your way” shows used to air in new zealand, and we (my husband and I) loved to watch them. Your wisdom and humorous approach helped us in many ways.
    I have really enjoyed reading these articles today. Understanding each others needs and desire has been a challenge for the entire fifteen years we’ve been married. Talk about lightbulb moment! I’m looking forward to sharing these thoughts with my husband tonight. Thanks!!

  21. Deborah says:

    Amen, brother!!!! I also believe that our Lord created us female and male to be very different. To be made to work together, not seperately. Like you said, to knock the selfishness out of us. God did this with both our minds and our bodies. He wants us to be one with our spouse. And that means giving all our selfish desires away and being able to serve the other in a way the other needs. God has a sense of humor!!!!!! But He sure knows what’s best for us.

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