At some point in a relationship the lack of sex and intimacy is desired and no one wants to talk about it. On the other hand one partner feels pressured to have sex by their partner.
Here is what I usually hear in my therapy sessions:
“He always wants to have sex. He seems like an Ever-ready bunny. I have no desire after a full day’s work. I can’t just drop everything and give in.”
“I don’t understand this and am embarrassed to talk to my friends. They are always complaining about how their husbands are always in the mood for sex or continually bribing them for sex. Yet my partner seems uninterested. He would never do anything if I didn’t ask. I am tired of the rejection. Am I doing something wrong?”
The two most common challenges I see in therapy is where one partner continually declines the request of sex and where the other partner feels rejected and that their sexual and intimacy needs are not met in the relationship. At some time or another, almost all couples will encounter this experience. The good news is that this experience is normal. It is expected, especially. if couples are in a long term relationship. They have not yet figured out the skills to help them navigate through this challenge.
The bad news is that this situation can get frustrating for both partners. Left unchecked this could cause resentment or sometimes lead to blame or even to looking outside the relationship to get their needs met. When couples experience this intimacy dance, one partner could be considered a high desire partner and the other a low desire partner. (Snarch and Snarch).
The Myth And The Reality
This sexual intimacy pattern can be found in almost any relationship. I just want to point out that being a high desire or low desire partner does not mean there is a problem with intimacy; it simply means that one partner has a preference or style for sexual intimacy that differ from their significant other.
I saw a couple in therapy where the wife wanted to have sex three times a day, and the husband wanted sex once a day. The wife was considered high desire and the husband the low desire partner. This was a perfectly healthy and normal relationship. There was nothing wrong with their intimacy.
To compare, I worked with another couple where the husband preferred sex three times a week and his wife once a week. In this case the husband was a high desire and the wife was a low desire.
High desire or low desire is a personal preference. The person with the high desire in the relationship usually pursues the partner with the low desire. After repeated rejections for intimacy, they get frustrated and start to make new meaning about their partners and what sex means for them in the relationship.
The partner with the low desire unfortunately controls sex. Though you may not like to think or believe so, that is just the way the dynamic works here. The partner with low desire does not usually want to control sex or be in the power position. However, through repeated rejection of their partner, they send a message that they are not ready at that moment. This message usually appears in the form of rejection in the eyes of the high desire partner.
When one partner controls the sexual interaction, specifically when and where they engage in sex, trouble and challenges for sex and intimacy begin in the relationship.
Fortunately there is a way to help both partners so that their needs for sex and intimacy are not only met, but so that their intimacy gets deeper and grows. If this area has been a source of concern for you, then I would strongly recommend that you first seek to understand your partner’s intimacy needs. This will allow your partner to also understand your needs as you talk through the issues.
The way you do this is to first talk about your intimacy desires. Your partner may say, “I would like to have sex more often. That is how I feel connected with you.” You may say, “First, I need some emotional contact like hugging, kissing, or finding out about my day and meeting some of my emotional needs. That is what will get me to wanting physical intimacy.”
But that is not enough. The problems are not solved here. The high desire partner has to understand that the low desire partner is not physically rejecting them. This understanding is key, but it may take some time for the high desire partner to get there. The low desire partner should make every effort to communicate that they understand the high desire partner’s want for more frequent intimacy rituals. The high desire partner should feel that their needs are heard. This is an emotional response.
Frequently in a therapy session I would use a tool called, sensate focus, to help the couple rebuild sexual intimacy and desire. This is a treatment method that uses touch, or contact in a non-threatening safe way, to reconnect sexually irrespective of the person’s sexual intimacy style. You can work with your partner to do this on your own, specifically where sexual intimacy needs are a challenge. Once you respect both the high desire and low desire intimacy style and see that both fulfill a purpose and need in your relationship, you are well on your way to healing your sexual challenges.