A Couple Quits Therapy; What Is “Normal” Desire?

Some people expect miracles from therapy

Posted Jun 29, 2016

A couple I’d seen in sex therapy for a month quit last night. I can’t say I blame them. And I admit I was a bit relieved.

They’re both attractive people in their late forties. Here’s what I learned about them in four sessions:

* She doesn’t like the way he touches her

* He feels criticized by her every single day

* She almost never has orgasms

* He feels pressured to get erections quickly, and to make her climax from intercourse only

* She doesn’t believe he finds her attractive, although he insists he does

* He feels he must never express anger toward her, because she then gives him the silent treatment for days

* She is angry about how he treated her while she was nursing their baby girl (who is now 16)

* He feels powerless to shape her parenting behavior toward their daughter, which he characterizes as rigid and controlling

The couple’s problem that brought them to therapy?

They hardly have sex anymore, and don’t feel much passion toward each other.

Well, duh.

They dropped out of therapy, they said, because we weren’t making much progress on the problem they wanted fixed. Worse (according to them), I didn’t seem interested enough in talking about sex—I seemed overly focused on feelings, power dynamics, letting go of the past, and communication.

Yes, of course. Absolutely.

But they wanted to talk about sex, and wanted me to repair their “low desire” for each other. I told them that low desire with someone you don’t like or trust isn’t pathological, or a problem to fix. That's actually the way the human brain and nervous system typically work. That's why, I said, we needed to address the toxic environment in which they thought they should be wanting sex.

No, they dismissed my point of view (for which they were paying good money) and demanded I help them with their sex problem—the same way they dismiss each other when demanding what they each want.

I was friendly, gentle, and (mostly) patient. But I either couldn’t or wouldn’t give them what they wanted (they weren’t sure, they said), so they left. They wondered why I had this great reputation as a sex therapist if I was so unwilling to talk about sex.

I have no idea what kind of sex they imagine they would have if they somehow desired each other—while disliking, mistrusting, and resenting each other. Whatever kind of sex that is, I don’t want to help people have it. 

When they figured this out, they decided I had nothing of value to offer, and they left.