Doug and Sandra are a hard-working couple in their late 30s. They met in high school and married shortly after she turned 20. Soon, two children came on the scene and they immersed themselves in the usual preoccupation of young couples, such as building a home, settling into jobs, and looking after children. Predictably, their previously exciting sexual life went down the drain.
Sandy and Doug are not unusual and there must be thousands and thousands of couples like them. When they met, they both were quite emotionally, not to mention sexually, needy. Their happiness was complete in finding somebody they could really “talk to.” The good sexual interaction, everything but intercourse, since they were good Catholics, was a bonus.
By the time their second child was born, the couple was already heading for trouble. Doug was working late hours trying to establish himself and the business, and Sandy was attempting to be the perfect wife and mother. Since neither of them had any real sex education to speak of, it was really a situation of the blind leading the blind, so to speak, when it came to their intimate life together.
Doug had, and has, a rather strong sexual appetite, and one of the things that he found appealing in Sandy was her willingness to be flirtatious and sexually available. However, eventually they found themselves more and more in disagreements, especially over Doug’s frustration about his unmet sexual needs. Eventually, the more Doug pushed for sex, the more Sandy resisted. This then became a vicious circle and when I got to start treatment with them, they reported that they had not had sexual intercourse for more than a year.
This marriage was in crisis.
While treating a couple like this, I am particularly mindful of the reality of the two children they are raising. Should they break up, no matter how smoothly the breakup goes — and it never really is a hundred percent smooth — those developing kids will be at the receiving end of some very unpleasant life lessons. So we’re all trying to make an extra effort to try to remedy the situation, but how?
In this couple’s case, we started by understanding first of all what influences or controls their sexual life on a physical level, and then proceeded to explore emotional complements which enable physiological mechanisms to either work well or perhaps not at all. For example, how men become erect and women wet.
In this regard, a couple’s ability to communicate in an emotional, meaningfully heart to heart, eye to eye manner is critical. What often unfortunately tends to happen is that unless everyday irritation, frustration, annoyance or anger components of daily life are dealt with maturely by the couple, there is a real danger that resentment will develop. Once resentment sets in, desire flies out the window! You don’t really want to be intimate and close with someone you resent. But many couples find themselves in a bind, and in this state they have no idea how to get out of it. It’s like “you’re in a swamp,” I tell my patients.
Fortunately, there is good news. With careful guidance and attention to some very specific communication skill training, we were able to drain the swamp which this couple’s inability to communicate has created, and got them to dry land. Thus they could begin anew. This time, armed with knowledge, which truly is power, they are able to deal with the inevitable ups and downs that are present in everyone’s life, especially if they are working and trying to fulfill conscientiously the roles of parent and loving spouse.
This couple has made great strides in being able to discuss Doug’s strong sexual needs and his belief that he can obtain great relief by having an orgasm at the end of his tension-filled day. (Anyone else feel this way?) However, Sandy’s job is also quite demanding and makes her eager on getting home, not for sex, but for some time just to herself.
With goodwill a number of options can be explored, and this couple is now starting to discuss their need for private time at the end of the workday, and ways to meet each other’s sexual desires. They’re becoming aware that not all sex necessarily leads or proceeds to intercourse, and not all intercourse needs to become a drawn-out prolonged ‘banquet-like’ affair.
Adjusting to their daily routine, they are now finding productive alternatives to fighting and anger. Doug and Sandy are a couple headed for success in resolving a rather difficult, and potentially dangerous, toxic marital situation. It is important for all couples to recognize that the sooner they resolve these problems on their own, or seek assistance from qualified professionals, the sooner they will get on the road to a much happier and fulfilling life.
– Dr. Frank Sommers