Ignoring sexual complaints from your partner can be costly to the relationship. Here's why:
Ralph and Sonya came to couple therapy after Ralph left his corporate job to begin a new business. He worked from home to keep expenses down but the financial burden placed a huge stress on their marriage, causing frequent arguments about money. Ralph felt resentful that Sonya was critical of him at a time when his self- esteem was low. Sonya, who had not been in favor of Ralph's leaving his job, was concerned about their finances but even more upset that Ralph had gained thirty pounds in the last year and had completely neglected their sex life.
Indeed, Sonya was in far greater distress than Ralph seemed to realize. He seemed to want to discuss only their financial disagreements. Whenever Sonya brought up their lack of intimacy, Ralph heard it as another complaint about their current financial stressors and his decision to leave his job. Sonya tried repeatedly to get back to the topic, but Ralph just could not hear her. By the middle of the second session, she seemed to stop trying. I was concerned their marriage was drifting into dangerous waters. It was important Ralph not ignore Sonya's complaint when next she voiced it. I steered the discussion away from finances and brought up the intimacy issue myself. It allowed Sonya another chance at her complaint.
"I get home and you're still in pajamas in front of the computer screen," she said. "At least you shower before you go to sleep, but... do you realize you bring a pint of ice cream to bed with you almost every night?"
Ralph immediately stiffened. "Sonya, you know what I'm going through with my business right now. Why can't you be more supportive? I'm trying my best to get this company off the ground and you're counting my calories? Ever since I left the firm, all you do is criticize me!"
"But that's not what I'm saying!"
"You keep harping on anything I do that gives me a little comfort. So I eat some ice cream in bed, why is that so terrible?"
"Because, Ralph," I interrupted, "ice cream is not what Sonya's been asking you to eat in bed."
Stunned silence filled the room. Sonya turned red. Then she snorted with laughter. Ralph got much redder but he chuckled as well. Yes, I made the point extremely crudely. However, once an issue has been ignored for too long, subtlety, tact, and even my laying things out often do not work. Ralph heard what Sonya was saying, he was not denying their sex life was bad; he was denying the emotional importance of their sex life's being bad. Being crass and vulgar with a couple who were both far from crass and vulgar themselves was the best way to make my message one Ralph could not ignore.
Of course, once I had his full attention, I conveyed in politer terms that Sonya's desire for intimacy and sex was as important as his desire for comfort foods. I suggested if she had more of the former, she would allow him more of the latter. I also mentioned that having a better sex life would provide them both with a nice boost to their marital satisfaction as well as their individual self- esteems.
Managing sexual complaints is always emotionally uncomfortable, and that prompts many of us to shunt them aside. However, few of us can voice repeated complaints such as Sonya's and not feel rejected or even unattractive to our partner when they are constantly ignored.
When our partner expresses a complaint about our sex lives, we should man up (or woman up), put our discomfort aside, and listen with an open mind. More often than not, we have sexual dissatisfactions of our own that need to be voiced, and doing so can make the discussion much more productive for each member of the couple.
*The above is an excerpt from Chapter 6 in The Squeaky Wheel
Read Complain to your partner without starting an argument here.
Read The affiar warning sign you should never ignore here.
Copyright 2012 Guy Winch
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