I’ve been with my partner for eight years and for a long time now he has been complaining that we don’t have enough sex. Every time we try to talk about it we end up arguing, which just makes me feel more distant from him and less inclined to want to have sex. I know this situation is damaging our relationship and I desperately want to find a solution, but I just don’t know how to make things better. I’m at a loss as to what to do to get both our relationship and our sex life back on track. Can you help me please?
What do we do when one of us starts avoiding sex? How can we turn around negative anticipation and thoughts about sex into a more open, curious emotional space? And how do we change the dynamic when one of you is the pursuer and the other one withdraws when pressured? Let me take you into one of my therapy sessions and introduce you to two of my clients – I will call them Claudia and Patrick, and present the process they went through to deal with the problem they had with their sex life:
Claudia says, ‘Patrick never wants to talk about sex.’ I reply, ‘Claudia, if you want to bring up the topic, please do. If you need to know that he’s “on board” ask him if he’ll join you in the conversation.’ Patrick agrees he’ll participate. Claudia adds, ‘The problem is that we never have sex and he never wants to discuss it either.’
I clarify that perhaps the real problem is that once the discussion is saturated with ‘the problem is that he’, and the words ‘never’ and ‘ever’ are used, it guarantees another sexless night. Let’s turn it around. ‘If sex between the two of you was the way you wanted it be, what would it be like?’ I ask.‘First, it would be integrated into our relationship,’ says Claudia, adding, ‘It would be frequent, fun, healthy, intimate and exclusive.’ Then I ask Patrick the same question. He, too, emphasises frequency, play and exclusiveness.
With just one question, they have already established the beginning of a commonality. There is an immediate mindshift. Clearly, positive associations lead to more positive associations. ‘Can you think of an experience where you felt some of these wonderful sexual qualities?’ I continue. It doesn’t take Patrick long to remember a special situation at the beginning of their relationship. Claudia had flown 3,000km to visit him and he was at the airport eagerly waiting for her arrival. He couldn’t wait to see her: ‘You wore a short skirt, and your hair was up and showed your lovely long neck,’ he said. ‘You were beautiful and had such a radiant smile and I felt an intense rush. I wanted to take you right then and there and make love to you. We drove to my house and we couldn’t wait for our bodies to embrace and meld into one another.’
He recalls the intimate bonding. I suggest to Claudia that she closes her eyes while she listens to Patrick’s unfurling memories. I know that she’s seeing the scene as he speaks. So does he. In fact, they’re not only remembering it, they’re reliving it.
When he finishes, Claudia is in tears. ‘I didn’t know you still remembered this. We used to be so close.’
Through the sharing of these intimate experiences, Patrick and Claudia evoke their desires and their loss. They re-sexualise each other, individually and together. Claudia tells of a trip they took to Mexico. They were on the beach, Patrick held her tenderly, she felt completely free and safe, happy to give herself over to him. That day she had her first orgasm. I see through his closed eyes and his facial expressions that he too is right back there with her.
When they both return to the present, they’ve been moved and their senses awakened. Longing has replaced any feelings of blame and frustration. They have momentarily reconnected with the people they once were for each other. Years of bickering about sex are now tamed; the tone in their voice is gentle and soft.
Telling their positive sexual experiences was essential in opening up the possibility for renewed sexual relations. I then asked them about this exercise, and they both said the only problem was that I was in the room. My presence made them feel that the intimate encounter was not exclusive, which they had stated as an important quality of the sex they dream of.
If you’re at a sexual impasse, instead of just discussing the problem, tell each other your wishes and recall ideal moments. One person tells the story and the other listens with their eyes closed, invited back into the erotic world of their partner. Write a list of all the qualities you like in a satisfying sexual relationship. You’ll notice immediately that you’re closer in your desires than you’ve come to believe. Ideal stories of the past will lead to new experiences in the present. Start there.