Looking at Jill, the word “perky” comes to mind. When we see her open smiling face, blue eyes, blond hair, and trim body, she appears as the stereotype picture of the happy-go-lucky girl next door.
She had been married for three years when I saw her with her husband, Steve, in my clinic. The problem was, they were not having much sex anymore, since Jill lost all interest. This was a great disappointment to Steve since he remembers on meeting each other how attracted he was, not only to her, but to her wholehearted, enthusiastic participation in physical lovemaking. Those days are long gone now, and their marriage seems to be in serious danger.
At age 29, Jill had a responsible, middle-management job which she thoroughly enjoyed. She felt valued at her workplace and it provided her with challenges she appreciated. The whole situation about their sex life was puzzling for her, and quite frustrating for both of them.
This kind of ‘desire discrepancy’ problem is one that I and my colleagues see now quite frequently. Its resolution or treatment is a great challenge.
The loss of sexual desire is a serious problem, and in particular it is hard to bear for those who one time were very enthusiastic about sex. Their partners are bewildered and often feel cheated. The worry in many of these situations often isn’t that they fear their partner no longer finds them attractive, or that they have found somebody else, but rather that their appetite for close physical intimacy diminishes or evaporates. This puzzling phenomenon occurs with great frequency and I have seen many a man, who was madly in love with his most attractive girlfriend, climbing the walls a few years after marriage when the still sexy partner keeps turning away their mate’s desire for sexual contact. In some of these situations, the problems get worse as the couple, instead of turning to therapy for clues to their predicament, engage in extra-marital experimentation in the hope of “getting it back.”
In reality, when one looks deep within the stories of these individuals one often finds that there is a pattern. Women report that in previous relationships too, they have frequently experienced very intense desire on meeting a new man, quickly jumped into bed, and had a terrific time. This reinforces the rapid bonding of the couple and before long they feel that they may have found their life mate. Unfortunately, after a number of weeks or months of this intense physical sexual activity, a certain degree of cooling sets in, without any apparent external cause. There is also a distancing feeling that starts to occur and as frustration mounts, both start to feel more bewildered, frustrated, angry, and wistful for the high degree of passion which they had earlier. Not infrequently, then, the relationship fades out and then dissolves. Often no wiser, they go their separate ways, saddened by their experience. Although afraid to be hurt, they may find themselves repeating this pattern over and over again. What is wrong? And is there any way to fix it?
The answer is not easy to come by and can vary with the person or couple involved. Jill, for example, related that since she was an attractive teenager, she felt boys hitting on her. While she enjoyed a certain amount of attention, and liked being popular, she formed the idea that the way she looked generated most of the interest. She constantly felt a need to be on guard, since boys would “want and take whatever they could get.”
After much dating, she embarked on married life with Steve, a nice-looking, decent man, and a fine lover. However, as they settled into the long haul of married life, the excitement, spontaneity, and newness diminished, when the demands of daily life at work and home, if anything, increased.
Before too long, Jill started to miss the attention and constant male interest, and the boost to her self esteem this provided. Indeed, some men at work persisted in showering attention on her, despite her married status. This she found strangely exhilarating.
As I worked with this couple, both of them came to realize the inner dynamics of what was happening to them. It was an eye opening experience for them to reflect on the mistaken expectations and real trade-offs involved in maintaining an ongoing couple bond, also called ‘marriage,’ in contrast to a boyfriend-girlfriend dating situation.
In addition, Jill started to see that relying on self-esteem ‘feeds’ from inappropriate male attention exacted a price.
In our therapy, we also intensively focussed on a series of physical, sensual and sexual exercises to help them reconnect. They learned that maintaining the passion in a relationship required some dedicated time and effort. Unlike when they were single or in a new relationship, desire needed to be kindled, and they discovered how their brain, imagination, communication and actions played a very significant role in all this.
To their joy, they found the program empowering and very helpful. Their relationship became reinforced and they began to embark on a more intensely, and personally fulfulling, way of living their life.
– Dr. Frank G. Sommers