Schlepping Through Heartbreak

Making sense and bouncing back when the one you love leaves

If You’re Married and Your Sex Life Sucks – Act!

Getting help for sexual problems is essential for avoiding divorce.

Be honest. Is sex one of those uncomfortable issues that you and your spouse avoid? Is it an area in your marriage that leads to fights, tears, shut-downs and walk-aways? Is it something that you're trying to minimize or tell yourself that's normal - all couples go through this? Are you waiting till the baby gets a bit older, or work gets less stressful, or till you go on vacation?

Angry couple in bed
As a marriage counsellor, it breaks my heart to meet with couples in the midst of a divorce that could have been prevented it if they'd taken their sexual problems more seriously. But all too often, sexual problems are swept under the blanket.

There are several reasons couples don't get help when they know that one or both of them is unhappy in their sex life:
1. They are too shy or ashamed to talk to a counselor about such issues.
2. They don't believe anyone can help them.
3. They are afraid to be blamed or made to feel inadequate or defective.
4. They are hoping that things will right themselves on their own.
5. They don't know what kind of counseling help to seek.
6. They're worried that talking about it will make it worse and lead to divorce.

Melinda and Peter had been married for two decades. They were busy, busy, busy with jobs and kids in their late teens. Everything seemed fine . . . on the surface. But when the lights went out, a subtle wordless dance ensued that was eating away at the heart of their marriage. Melinda would try to turn in early, hoping that Peter would stay up late and answer emails so she could be asleep by the time he came to bed. He knew the code - she'd sigh and say how exhausted she was and how early she had to get up the next day. When he did finally join her under the covers, her body was still and inert and he knew she was not open to being touched. Yet, he'd look across the bed at her longingly, his body alive and buzzing, and feel hopeless.

Melinda was completely unaware of the loneliness that Peter was feeling. For his part, he felt that talking to her one more time about his wish that they could have sex more often would make things even more uncomfortable. She felt that they had so much in their lives that the discrepancy in their sexual desire was a small problem. He felt that the passionate love he'd once felt towards her had been reduced to the level of roommates. They were on a downward spiral and didn't even know it.

This all too common scenario so often leads to infidelity and divorce. Neither Peter nor Melinda is to blame for the difference in their levels of sexual desire. They just didn't know that with the right kind of help, their sex life could be revitalized to a point that would work for both of them. Help was out there, if they could locate the right kind of counseling.

Most marriage counselors know that the biggest problem people face is avoidance. Many couples don't know how to talk to each other about painful sensitive topics, so years go by with both of them skirting around issues until something breaks and the bitterness spills out.

I often recommend that couples engage in a yearly marriage tune-up ritual in which they set aside time to talk it all through - a kind of marital retreat. They need to openly face the following five issues:

1. Communication Tune-Up - can you talk openly and freely?
2. Financial Tune-Up - are you both comfortable with how finances are managed?
3. Sexual Tune-Up - is your sex life meeting both of your needs?
4. Parenting Tune-Up - do you see eye-to-eye on how the kids are being raised?
5. Household Chores Tune-Up - do you both feel that things are managed equally?

And if they get to a point at which tempers flare and things go off the rails, stop, think and then call someone who can help. It doesn't have to be so hard.

 

Vikki Stark, M.S.W. is a family therapist, educator and director of the Sedona Counselling Centre. She authored Runaway Husbands and My Sister, My Self.

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