Break the cycles that can end your relationshipWritten by Lori Hollander | | firstname.lastname@example.org
When sexual intimacy fades, a couple’s effort to revive it can feel like a steep uphill battle. Many people spend months waiting for hormone test results, reading self-help books, or sampling creams designed to address the issue, but most are disappointed to find these efforts fruitless.
One might guess that couples who experience sexual intimacy difficulties will be more inclined to make extra time for kisses on the cheek or an arm around the shoulder.
While some certainly do, the pattern that I see even more often in my couples and sex therapy practice tells a different story. For a large percentage of couples, when sexual intimacy goes, often the lightest forms of physical affection go with it.
Even more interesting (and contrary to popular stereotypes), it is men who more often report that they most miss holding hands and snuggling. Why? Substantially more women than men report a loss of interest in sexual intimacy (studies report one in three women compared to one in seven men), so the person who wants more sexual intimacy is more commonly a man. And it is the person who wants more sexual intimacy who is usually especially upset by the loss of those sweet kisses on the cheek.
That higher desire person of the couple often feels trapped, hopeless, and/or rejected. He or she might say, “If she would cuddle with me on the sofa or lay close to me at night, things wouldn’t be as bad as they are. I wouldn’t feel so rejected.” A woman might say, “I wouldn’t be left feeling so unattractive,” and a man might say, “I would not feel so terribly guilty that I am continually looking for the next opportunity for sexual intimacy when I know it is the furthest thing from my partner’s mind.”
And here is where things get even worse. The push for even light physical affection from one partner actually serves to keep the couples intimacy problems locked in place. But wouldn’t it seem the opposite? Wouldn’t it seem that efforts to hold hands or put an arm around the shoulder would lead toward intimacy, not prevent it?
On the one hand, yes. It is true that without time spent holding each other, the lower desire partner may become even less interested in intimacy over time.
Tender moments with exchanges of sweet words and touches are helpful in regaining and sustaining desire.
But here is the catch: it only works if that tender moment is free of expectation.
If the expectation is, “I give you a backrub, and that should lead to something sexual,” then the backrub recipient will likely be distracted from the experience of melting into that massage precisely because of that expectation. The implicit message is that if the massage does not lead to something, palpable disappointment or even a fight might ensue. A serious distraction, for sure. And that distraction drowns out the experience that would otherwise naturally occur — loving feelings toward this fabulous partner of mine who cares enough to rub my back and make me feel so good.
Breaking this damaging cycle is a vital step. Creating the room necessary for your natural potential for intimacy to grow rather than trying to “fix” supposed dysfunction or hormones is essential to resolving this issue successfully. Where to start? In future columns I will include steps to help you begin.
Clients who have initially told me that they secretly (or not so secretly) wished that their partner would forget about their sexual relationship often sound remarkably different when putting this perspective into use.
I have heard many wonderful variations of the following story. “I woke up at 3 a.m. and had a desire to stroke my partner’s back. Usually I would never dream of touching him in bed because he would definitely take it the wrong way. But now that we are on the same page, I felt free to do it.
“Wow, I couldn’t believe how good it felt just to caress his back at that moment. He really enjoyed it, too, and days later I actually found myself thinking about him in ways that I haven’t for a long time.”
Lori Hollander is a dual-certified couples and sex therapist at the Center for Intimacy in Ann Arbor. E-mail her at email@example.com.
Tags: Real Intimacy