Can You Save a Sexless Marriage?
Continued from previous page
As goofy as the pajama example may seem, this all-or-nothing attitude does a lot of damage to marriages, and ultimately it’s the fault of both partners. As we said before, sometimes the guy doesn’t feel comfortable enough to say, “the lack of affection or sex is really hurting my feelings. I’m starting to feel really bad about myself.” Even if he did, because of our expectations that men are obsessed with sex and are almost animalistic, the woman may not be able to hear the statement without defensiveness. She may be hearing, “You’re an asshole for not having sex with me,” instead of, “I feel like an asshole because of desiring you when you don’t desire me back.”
The version that the woman is hearing is filled with blame, guilt, responsibility and maybe even a threat (of him looking elsewhere to have his needs fulfilled), regardless of whether he intended them to be there. And let me tell you what will kill someone’s libido: guilt.
This guilt is what keeps many lower-libido partners from reaching out for non-sexual affection or non-penis-in-vagina (PIV) sex. If you think you might not want to have intercourse, the idea of reaching across the bed for a snuggle, or intertwining bare legs, or even kissing, becomes guilt-inducing. You think, if I snuggle in and spoon, he might think I want to have sex. Then I’ll have to say ‘no’ and he’ll be mad and I’ll feel like a jerk again. And so that gap between two partners who once couldn’t keep their hands off one another becomes a giant chasm, and both partners are left unsatisfied. Now they’re not only not having sex, they also have lost all physical affection.
So, how do we bridge this gap?
With honest communication where both partners are ready to engage without defensiveness. I like a version of the Imago Therapy model of mirroring, particularly a model set up by Dr. Bill Cloke in his book Happy Together: Creating a Lifetime of Connection, Commitment, and Intimacy. I’ve simplified both the method in Dr. Cloke’s book and the Imago method into a simple bare-bones framework so that it’s a great place to start communicating about sex. I highly recommend reading Happy Together for more ideas and further extrapolation. Also, this is sort of a cheat-sheet to help you get started, but I highly recommend seeing a therapist individually and/or as a couple for more information.
The first step is for one person to say how they feel about something—one simple thought or feeling. This is done without accusation, just a statement of how they feel. The partner listens quietly until the first person is done with the first thought. Then, instead of defending or even responding, the second partner tries to re-state what she heard so that everyone’s clear on what’s being said. It might look like this:
“Karen, I feel like our sex life has really fallen off a cliff lately, and I love you and I really miss that connection.”
At this point, Karen needs to remind herself that she is not to be defend herself, as much as she may want to. Instead, her job is to tell Sean what she believes he’s saying. She could say this:
“What I’m hearing, Sean, is that we aren’t having much sex lately and that you miss having sex.”
And he can correct her here if he wants. He may say something like, “It’s not just the sex, I really miss the connection we have when we’re having more sex.”
Then she can say, “Okay, I get it. It’s not just the sex, it’s also that connection.”