“I love him/her but I’m just not IN love with him/her anymore.”
“I have no sexual desire.”
These are words I hear at least a half dozen times in my office each week, equally from males and females. Some have been married a long time; others not. Ages most often range from anywhere in their 30’s through their 60’s.
What very few people realize is that it is normal to have sexual desire problems and normal in healthy marriages/relationships. That alone should not dictate whether the relationship is “over” or not. Too many people take it as a death sign, when really it is more a normal process in the relationship and it offers an opportunity for the relationship to grow and deepen.
I’ve received some excellent training for working with couples on the issues of desire and intimacy from Dr. David Schnarch, a licensed clinical psychologist in Denver, certified sex therapist and author of numerous books on the subject. I highly recommend his book Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship.
He discusses how in every relationship there is “always a low desire partner and a high desire partner. They are positions partners take in every relationship, whether about sex, intimacy, doing household chores, or visiting relatives. The low desire partner always controls sex.” His main point is that how you go through desire problems makes a huge difference in how you come out…including whether your relationship comes out intact.
Obviously maintaining a satisfying and healthy sexual relationship with your partner is a strong tenant of a healthy, enduring marriage. Yet it is difficult to “make yourself” have sex with your partner if you are the low desire partner. Which is why the low desire partner “controls sex,” or the lack thereof. So what can you do?
Acknowledge and talk about it with your partner by keeping communication open , honest and kind.
Seek assistance by agreeing to see a marriage and family therapist who can guide the communication process.
Know that you are not alone and it is a normal part of a relationship’s growth to have up’s and down’s in sexual desire. There is nothing wrong with you.
Know that it often is possible to come out of this stronger and better, ultimately with a more satisfying marital relationship.
Practice healthy, mindful self soothing behaviors to regulate your mood so you don’t overreact to your partner’s moods or anxiety.
Be aware of your own emotional self awareness so you can stay clear in who you are, especially, as Dr. Schnarch says, “when your partner pressures you to adapt and conform.”
Above all, tap into what Dr. Schnarch calls “Meaningful Endurance” (p. 72, Intimacy and Desire).
He defines this as…”being able to step up and face the issues that bedevil you and your relationship, and the ability to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth.” (I love the way he discusses this in relationship to how all of us animals seek pleasure and not pain, but “what makes humans adaptive and successful is our capacity to forego immediate gratification and endure hardship. This allows us to pursue long-term goals and values we hold dear. Being able to endure the pain and heartache of relationships makes marriages, families, parenting and caring for others possible. That’s not easy. But it’s easier to tolerate when your pain and heartache is meaningful, when it serves some purpose you value or something good might come out of it.” P. 73)
Just remember that the natural emotional development and growth process of a relationship make sexual desire problems inevitable for the normal, healthy couple. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t address the issue. Putting your head in the sand about it will have negative impact on the ability to effectively resolve it.
So have the courage to look at it for what it is and to respect your partner by skillfully talking with him/her about it. It’s a sign of strength to seek assistance if it is needed….and the sooner the better.