Relationship Advice Through a Broader Lens
Do you find yourself wishing you wanted more sex, but you just can’t get excited about it anymore? Do you find once sex gets started you can enjoy it, but no matter what you try, you just can’t get yourself to initiate it? If you said yes to either question, you are part of a very large pool of married individuals. But what do people do about it other than “just get through” sex or stop having it at all? How do we even define the problem?
Many a physician or pharmaceutical company define the problem as physiological or mental – either hormones are off or you have depression. Many a therapist define the problem as a lack of safety or love. Both of these
approaches have merit, but they do not consider the entire picture, and they may lead couples to dead ends. When people can begin to define the problem in the context of a kind of emotional machine – with multiple moving parts, each one impacting every other – progress becomes more possible.
Here are 5 things to consider when you’ve lost that loving feeling:
- Change can’t be forced: You can’t make yourself want to initiate sex, nor can you make yourself enjoy it. It just can’t be done. The vast majority of people have tried everything they know to force the feeling or the action, with little positive or sustainable result. When spouses try to force change – and when it predictably doesn’t work – they easily move into a blaming stance – either of self or other. Consider the wife who, after having tried to get herself to initiate sex for over 20 years, finally gave up. Both she and her husband blamed her for “lack of effort,” but neither considered that trying to force a result actually created its own set of problems. Try taking the stance that forcing change can make seeing other solutions extremely difficult. What would it take for you to let go a bit, step back, stop blaming self or spouse, and consider there’s more to the story?
- The Problem Is Not “Low Desire”: One person having “low desire” is a symptom of an emotional pattern that takes two to perpetuate – the problem being the emotional pattern rather than the “low desire.” Here’s how it works: Emotional systems (families) are governed by emotional forces – kind of like gravity. You can’t see gravity, but you can see and feel the impact of it all around you. Any level of heightened emotion is just such a force. It has a way jumping automatically from one family member to another, squeezing people into one tight pocket or another – often times into locked positions. A common pattern for married couples, for example, has one of you locked into being the one who “always wants sex” while the other is locked into “never” wanting it. But these are simply positions – patterned ways of handling heightened emotion. The trick is to stop defining the problem as one of desire, but rather as a symptom of a much larger emotional machine – one that subtly pressures members into this or that corner. Once you can begin to think of your or your spouse’s stuck-ness as part of a larger pattern, then you can begin to slowly discern what the roles are in that pattern – and which ones you play.
- The Role You and Others Play: What is your particular emotional pattern? The most common pattern generally has one person following while the other leads. With sex, this looks like one person subtly or not so subtly holding a stance of “authority” or “knowledge”, a stance of dominance, which can look like either “perpetual desire” or “perpetual low desire.” With one of you as “leader,” the other naturally falls in as “follower,” taking on a stance of “inadequacy” or defensiveness or self-blame which can look like either “perpetual desire” or “perpetual low desire.” Each person gets stuck in an emotionally sticky posture, making it difficult to see the problem from other angles. For example, the person in the more “inadequate” stance perceives the other as having confidence. When looked at more accurately, the one in the more dominant stance has no more real confidence or independence sexually than the “inadequate” one as is marked by his or her constant emotional reactions to the problem – whether those reactions are characterized by avoidance or conflict or desperation or giving up. Both are caught in a reactive pattern – neither one functioning any better than the other, but it often looks like one person is the “healthier” individual. When a person is able to slow an interaction down enough to be able to see each individual’s emotional dependency, the playing field is leveled. Generally a sense of mutuality improves communication and problem solving. This can be a difficult first step but can be helped along by marriage counseling.
- Sibling Position of You and Your Spouse: Whether you are an older sister of sisters or a younger brother of brothers (or any other sibling position) has more impact on your life and relationships than you may think. The effects of sibling position and gender play a profound role in personality formation and orientation or stance toward spouse. For example, if an older sister of sisters marries an older brother of brothers, she may experience resentment for his natural orientation to be appreciated for being the lead provider and caretaker of his family. He may experience resentment for her natural orientation to be in charge. Each sibling position has its own personality profile with remarkable accuracy, and each pairing has unique challenges. When people begin to observe their conflicts through this lens, they can begin to strengthen their natural assets and improve their natural limitations or blind spots. For example, an oldest sister of sisters may learn, over time, to slow down, resist her need to be right, and value her spouse’s opinions more evenhandedly. Her oldest brother of brothers spouse may learn, over time, to not be quite as sensitive to the complaints of others, to resist his urge to do for others what they can do for themselves, and to view his counterparts more as equal, contributing members of the family. These kinds of changes can work wonders for a person’s sex life.
- The Level of Either Distance, Conflict, or Dependency with Parents and Siblings: And now we come to it. Yes, your current relationship with your family is having an impact on your sex life. The roles we play in our marriages are derivatives of the roles we play with our parents. Gravity reaches into the bedroom despite our best efforts! Consider the middle sister of sisters who, under the parentage of an especially domineering and religious father (who was an oldest brother of brothers) struggled with her admiration of male “strength” and her wish to be granted the legitimacy or validity, generally not afforded her sibling position, but naturally and automatically granted to an oldest sister. Her reactions to her husband, also an oldest brother of brothers, were characteristic of her reactions to her father – belligerent one moment and submissive or dependent the next. Resolving her emotional ambivalence toward her father went a long way in resolving her ambivalence toward her husband (and men in general) and toward her sexual relationship with him.
This last part about resolving relationship stuck-ness with one’s parents is so impactful on peoples’ lives it requires more study. I can recommend Roberta Gilbert’s books: Extraordinary Relationships and The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory as a great place to start.
When it comes to married couples and sex, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Problems in sex tend to take on a life of their own. Emotion just takes over, which makes it more difficult to see and then separate from the patterns you are stuck in. Make an attempt to slow down the thinking and feeling process this week, and consider these 5 points! Then let me know what you learn!