ANATOMY OF INTIMACY: When Sex Is Not the Issue in a Sexless Marriage

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Part 2 of the ANATOMY OF INTIMACY Blog Series by Irene Fehr

Tears flowing. Softening. Opening. Reconnecting, letting love flow again. 

This was not the case 35 minutes ago. Laura and George (fictitious names) are sitting in front of me on camera about 3 feet apart, as far as the lens could allow without chopping them off.

You could cut the tension with the knife. 

Looking at me intently and blocking her husband off energetically, Laura persists: 

"He doesn't care about me or my pleasure. It's like I am don't exist. Whatever I ask, he always has excuses against it."

George stares at his shoes without blinking. Finally he announces:

"That is not true. You always make up these stories that I am this evil, inconsiderate monster. I am always to blame. But do you ever look at yourself? EVER?" 

Feeling even more enraged by this comment, she starts up her argument ... only this time, I interrupt them. 

"Do you find yourselves in this pattern often? This same back-and-forth stalemate?"

"All the time. It's the same damn argument. I feel like a broken record. He just does not want to hear me."

"And I feel like I get broken down more and more with each argument. I've got nothing left."

We sit in silence in the discomfort of the gridlock.

.....

When couples come to me, they think they have a sex problem. They claim it's their libido or their body not obeying and wanting to have sex. They blame each other for "not being sexual enough." They question their compatibility. 

As they explain their problem, they get into a familiar dance: one partner gets frustrated that the other is not listening, or participating, or involved enough, so they demand more. The other partner does not like being blamed and pressured, so they withdraw.

And on they go. One pushes more, the second withdraws, enraging the first.

It becomes an endless cycle that breeds disconnect, frustration and most of all — hopelessness — as both partners feel like they're enemies to each other.

.......

And here's the thing: Your partner is not the enemy. Your pattern is.

The patterns they've built up are like walls — and both partners become deaf and blind to each other. Impenetrable.

This pattern doesn't emerge overnight; it builds and calcifies as the pain sets in from small jabs here and there, little snarks and snaps, avoidances, the annoyed comment, the avoided question, touch withdrawn, the push away, the withholds.   

They happen in small doses. They add up to mountains.

Couples who find themselves in these patterns do not have a communication problem. They say plenty to each other when it comes to how the other person is to blame and what they're not getting. 

Nor do they have a sex problem.

These couples have a vulnerability problem. They've become too walled off and protective to be able to connect and actually feel each other. 

Nothing gets through until the pain that created this wall is acknowledged and allowed to heal.

We help our partner heal by acknowledging that we see their hurt.
We break the pattern by owning up to our experience and what moves we contribute to this destructive dance. 

Healing can only happen tiny step by tiny step, in the moment:

"Wow, that time when I said that, it really hurt you, didn't it. You were really suffering. Really struggling. I couldn't see it before; unwilling to see it actually. I was hurting myself and feeling so powerless in that situation, so I lashed out in anger. I didn't have space in me to be compassionate towards you, and I could no longer see your hurt. I am sorry. I am sorry for not seeing your pain."

"It hurts me when you throw jabs at me like that. I feel less and less capable of coming towards you and doing this well for you. And I just want to withdraw, to protect myself. That's why I pull away. I am realizing now how much it actually hurts you when I pull away. I used to see you squirm in pain, but I just didn't know what to do about it, so I withdrew more and avoided looking at you at all. I am sorry this has been so hard for you. I am willing to listen now and hear about your pain. Can you tell me more about your experience?"

Moment by moment, we pour love on each other's wounds.

Acknowledgement by acknowledgement, we rebuild trust in the relationship as we come forward and as our partners meet us in the moment of vulnerability. 

......

As we wrap up the session, Laura leans towards George and looks in his eyes with tenderness — the kind of tenderness they felt towards each other when they fell in love. There is connection in the air. Love is flowing again.

Now the work on sex can begin.

......

How can more trust and acknowledgement benefit your sexual relationship?