We recently ran across an article in the Guardian where a man asked:
“I am 63, and have lost sexual attraction for my wife of 45 years. I still love her but this has been a progressive issue. I feel bad because I find other women attractive, and have battled with it since youth. I don’t act on that, but it is there. I’ve tried going off my antidepressant and blood pressure medicine, but the effects aren’t positive. I’ve tried erectile dysfunction drugs including Viagra, but they don’t create attraction. A psychologist affirmed I have generalised anxiety, but couldn’t help with my issue. It isn’t fair to my wife.”
The response from the psychotherapist seemed somewhat helpful but was also vague. She spoke to the idea of enmeshment, a term used to describe unhealthy symbiosis or codependency in relationships, and that certainly is one possible angle to explore. However, as a solution, just creating space and redefining boundaries between the couple will most likely not bring back the lust that creates sexual closeness and a hard cock. Therefore, I decided to blog about how I would address this issue if this couple were present in my office.
This is a common struggle that long term couples may experience at one point or another in their sex lives. I would start by suggesting that both he and his wife share very honestly with each other about what is real about their sex lives in this moment. Even though it can be unsettling, being truthful is the first step towards change. Furthermore, here are some questions for them to explore together:
– How does each of them hold the importance of sexual play in the relationship?
– When is the last time they felt intimate with one another?
– Are they happy with the way things are? – clearly he is not, although we don’t know how she feels.
– Is this how they imagined marriage would look after 45 years?
Allowing for each person to express what is really happening for them will take off some of the stress and lessen the tension. It will also give them a good starting place from which to launch future discussions.
Assuming both people want to be closer, the next step would be to start exploring “core erotic themes.” Jack Morin’s The Erotic Mind is a great place to read more about core erotic themes and learn about your own. When we can truly understand our own eroticism, then we can share it with our partners and see how and where they align. Keep in mind that your eroticism is always evolving, too. What I often see with couples is that one person has a core theme (sometimes I call it a “sexual movie script”) that they have never shared with anyone. They have been holding back about what really turns them on because they feel ashamed and embarrassed about what gets their engines roaring.
Sharing our peak turn ons can be a vulnerable experience. Because of this, most people will hide them from their partners in fear of being judged or they just don’t want to rock the relationship boat. If you are asking your partner to share their turn ons, make sure you listen from a non-judgmental space. In other words, allow your eyes, mouth, and face to soften, get yourself comfortable so you can relax into where you are sitting or laying, and let yourself listen to the story. If your partner is scared to share, they are going to pick up on any hint of rejection from you. If you notice some part of yourself judging, maybe say something like, “Wow, I notice I feel surprised to hear your say some of these things. I did not know that was what/how you wanted me. I hear how scared/hard/excited/turned on you are and I feel nervous/scared/threatened/worried/turned on.” It is ok if their desires make you feel uncomfortable. You do not want to make your partner feel wrong or shameful for having these desires because doing so will only push them farther away. There can also be room for differing core erotic themes in a relationship and remember, there are are no bad desires. Learn how to ask for what you want as well as listen to your partner’s desires here.
Once you get an idea of what has been standing in the way of you and your partner’s sexual connection, you can begin to explore how to change it. For example, a couple I was working with was disconnected sexually and both of them wanted to get back into having the mind blowing sex they had when they met. As we explored each person’s core erotic theme, we found that one person loved romance while the other wanted more rough sex. You can see how these two movies would play out quite differently. Once each person fully understood the other person’s movie, they were both quite happy and easily learned how to fulfill the other person’s desires. They each even found things about the other person’s movie that they wanted for themselves.
The process is not always as simple as that, though. When one partner is really not into the other’s core erotic theme or they have very different desires, things can get a bit rough, and sometimes, yes, this can lead to the end of a relationship. You have to ask yourself if it is better to live a partial truth and stay together, or be yourself fully in the moment and risk losing someone. Each person has to answer that question for themselves.
I think being who you truly are is what the psychotherapist in the Guardian article was trying to impart; it just wasn’t completely clear. Recently, Esther Perel has been speaking to this subject of being different and therefore allowing for erotic energy to be created. I believe that when we are truly ourselves, we are like no one else. This creates more room in the relationship for each person to have their full self-expression and can indeed be one contributing factor to how partners stay close over the decades.
An example of differing core erotic themes is highlighted in the movie Fetishes. In this documentary, you hear from a few different people who came forward with their very out-of-the-norm desires/fetishes/kinks. Their desires are far from what most people would even be willing to admit to themselves. The truth is, we all have things that turn us on that are not thought of as politically correct. Some people know about theirs and are out about them, some know about theirs and hide them, while many others repress them so far down that they will never see the light of day. One man in the movie highlights how he shared with his wife what his kink was. Her response was to tell him to get his needs met outside of the relationship and that she didn’t want to know about it. So, as you can see in the film, he does so, and gets his sexual needs met elsewhere.
The last part of the question that needs to be looked at is reporting “I find other women attractive, and have battled with it since youth.” This is an important area for this man to explore with himself. What about other women does he find attractive? Is it women on the streets passing by, women friends he is close with, or work colleagues? Who is he attracted to and what type of attraction is it? It is normal and healthy to feel sexual desire for lots of different people. What is important to examine is why and how far his fantasies play out. At this point, we are not sure if he has acted on these desires or if they have just been fleeting moments of fantasy.
I think of this idea like winning the lottery. Of course we all want to win the lottery, wouldn’t that be amazing! You could buy anything you wanted, pay off your debt, eat at fancy restaurants, do whatever you want. You probably think more about winning the lottery when things get tough at work and or when money gets tight. There can be a similar effect in relationships; the grass is always greener somewhere else. When your needs seem like they have less and less of a chance of getting met, fantasizing that someone else will be able to offer what you want, is normal.
Looking at your sexual relationship in the way presented above requires putting more energy into the relationship and into your own experience of desires, kind of like working out muscles you haven’t used in a while. You also have to be open to looking at what your needs and your partner’s needs really are, and be willing to start a conversation around them, which will enable you to move towards each other. In my professional opinion, few sexual troubles are fixed by putting your energy elsewhere and spending more time apart.
Featured image of couple courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos