“Scott, I feel like we’re living the same story every night.”
Ryan and his wife Sophia sat across from me during their first session. I asked, “What do you mean by ‘living the same story,’ Ryan?”
“We’re going a million-miles-a-minute all day long. You know we both work full-time, and our nine-year-old seems to be involved in every extracurricular activity that’s ever been offered, and we’re trying to sell our house, and Sophia’s parents aren’t doing great health-wise, and—”. He paused and took a breath. “By the time Sophia and I fall into bed, we’re exhausted. Sex hasn’t really happened in, I don’t know, a while.”
Sophia echoed Ryan’s frustration. “We want to. I know Ryan really wants to, but there just never seems to be time for it. Or when there is time, I am not in the mood or it takes me a while to get in the mood. Obviously, this is an issue or we wouldn’t be here talking to you.”
I replied, “I think it’s important to know that you’re not alone. I see a lot of couples in your same predicament. Fortunately, there are solutions, but it may require work from both of you. From what I’m hearing, it sounds like Ryan wants sex more often than you, Sophia? Do I have that right?”
With a slight grin, Sophia looked toward Ryan and then looked at me and said, “Yes, you’ve got it right.”
I replied, “I’m not sure if you know, but most every married couple has one partner who has a higher desire for sex than the other. And it’s not always the guy who has the higher desire. About thirty percent of the time, it’s the woman. It’s important to keep in mind that the lower desire partner, in most cases, not only initiates sex with their partner less often, but their sexual desire usually doesn’t show up until the couple is well into the foreplay of the sex.”
Ryan quietly asked, “Then, what’s the solution?”
“There are several good solutions, but here’s one to keep in mind: If you want to have sex more often as a couple, it’s important to increase anticipation.”
“How do we do that?” Sophia asked.
“Mental preparation throughout your day.”
Ryan sat back and looked a little puzzled. Sophia nodded her head, conveying that she got it.
I continued, “Sophia, I wonder if you’ll agree that at the end of the day, not only are you tired, but your mind has been on hundreds of tasks, from taking your son to all of his activities to ensuring your parents are doing OK to even the smallest of errands that need to be run. Not to mention your job as a dental assistant from nine to four every day. I wonder if all of these things in your life crowd out the mental and emotional space you have for your relationship, and specifically for being more sexual in your relationship.”
Sophia nodded again. “I’ve never heard it phrased like that, but that’s true. I don’t feel like I can be in the right frame of mind for sex because I’m either tired or have my mind on so many other things.”
“Here’s what I’d like for you to try. Sophia, do you have down moments at work or between your errands?”
“Not many, but I’m sure I have a few.”
“Use those moments to mentally prepare yourself to have sex that night. Try to think about hugging and kissing Ryan. I know that might sound weird, but anticipation can help create more desire as well as more meaning for when you two do get in bed. If you’ve been thinking about sex with your husband for a few minutes at least a few times that day, you might be surprised at your increased desire for him that night.”
“That does sound strange, but I’m willing to try it.”
“Ryan, how often do you think about ways to connect with your wife when she’s not around?”
He paused, thought for a moment, and gave me a bit of a blank stare.
“In the same way that I’m asking Sophia to visualize what she’d like to do, I want you to think about how you can better connect with her on a relational level. When you know that you’re going to have a date night, or even just a few uninterrupted minutes together, use your moments of downtime during the day to mentally prepare yourself for that time. Ask yourself, ‘What are some ways I can really connect with her? What do we need to talk about to catch up on each other’s lives?’ If you’re going a million-miles-a-minute, are you at least going in the same direction? Ask her how she’s really feeling about her parents these days. Don’t let a date night slip by where you just eat, see a movie, fail to really connect, and flop into bed. The partner with the higher desire for sex often is the lower desire for emotional connection and sometimes forgets how important this kind of relational connecting is prior to sex—and that happens as you go throughout your day, not five minutes before you take your clothes off. Would you both be willing to try this for one week?”
The couple nodded in unison, thanked me, and then rose to leave.
Sophia grabbed Ryan’s hand as they walked out.