Can You Save a Sexless Marriage?
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At this point she can say how she feels about this subject, and the roles will be reversed. He listens quietly and then repeats what he thinks she’s saying, and they clarify until both people feel heard.
Karen may then say, “I miss the connection too, and I really miss my libido. I don’t know what happened to me. But every time I say ‘no’ I feel so guilty, and I know you’re upset, and that makes me feel worse, and then I really don’t want to have sex.”
Sean then repeats what he thinks she’s saying. The couple continues this pattern until they both feel more resolution. The key here is to just try to understand what your partner is saying. Don’t judge and don’t defend. Just explain, listen and clarify. Those three words will get you where you need to go.
If anyone starts to feel really angry, the best thing you can do is walk away for 20 minutes with a reassurance that you want to try talking again in 20 minutes. As Dr. Cloke points out, once a person’s blood pressure starts to rise and they feel evoked, it’s hard for them to remain reasonable and stick to the guidelines of the communication model. And the goal isn’t to dump anger on someone, it’s to move through and past the issues that are making us angry.
Once you have a really good understanding of what’s happening inside each other, you can move on to the final steps of finding ways to avoid the problem in the future by doing things differently.
I know it seems really forced to keep repeating each other’s words. No one wants to follow a script to talk to the person they’ve been with for years and are in love with. But the script is just a tool, like any other. You wouldn’t try to cut down a tree with a kitchen knife. It may get the job done, it may even be what you’re used to, but it’s far from the best tool for the job. If someone can offer you a saw—or better yet, a 316E Husqvarna chainsaw—you should at least give it a shot.
Finally, I have to address the people who actually do purposefully withhold sex—the ones like the woman with the Prada bag in the caricature I referenced in the very beginning. Those people are jerks. Sex is not a tool. It is not a weapon to be wielded. And unless you’re a sex worker or client, it is not a commodity to be bartered.
There may be traditional relationships where this works, I can’t say for sure, but in my mind, sex should never be used as a tool for manipulation. In a famous scene in the Bravo home remodeling reality series Flipping Out, a wife tells lead designer Jeff Lewis that he can’t go over budget because she’s all out of sexual favors, which is the only reason her husband allowed her to do the renovation in the first place. It’s a joke, we all laugh, but in truth this is probably a pretty unhealthy model for a long-term relationship.
In this scenario, she may feel like her voice, wants or opinions don’t matter unless attached to her sexuality, and he, in turn, may feel like his desirability has nothing to do with his value to her as a human. Without his wallet, he isn’t good enough to be found desirable to his own wife, and that’s obviously a recipe for disaster. If one partner doesn’t eventually leave the relationship, it’s likely one (or both) of them will find an outsider whose sex and affection—or respect and partnership—comes without a price tag…sexual or monetary.