Ellyn Bader

Reprinted from San Jose Mercury News (CA)

Pete occasionally writes answers for a Q&A column on relationships in the San Jose Mercury News. This month we're sharing a column he wrote on the common problem of sexual desire discrepancy.

Question: We've been happily married for ten years, but lately we are having a disagreement. My husband wants to have sex much more often than I do. How do we figure out a way so that both of us can be happy?

Answer: This is a problem with very few clues. It's like trying to reconstruct an entire civilization from a few shards of pottery. Or like asking a travel agent, “We don't agree on where we want to go for an important vacation. What should we do and what should we pack?”

Undaunted, I will respond to the clues you offer.

The first clue, your marriage is a good one. Ironically, good marriages are sometimes bad for good sex. The very qualities that can make for a good marriage – predictability, safety, and routine – can make for sex that is predictable, safe and routine. Marriages that are oriented around compassion, caring and politeness often end up with a sexual relationship that is predictable, safe and routine. Over time, even Inspector Clouseau could predict the sexual outcome.

The second clue: ten years married. Time enough to figure out there is rust on Prince Charming's armor. Maybe he doesn't wield his sword (or lance) the way you hoped. Maybe his shield is too protective. Maybe you spend too much time trying to polish his armor and he spends too little time treating you like his fair maiden.

You didn't mention your ages, but maybe there is a change of life process you are going through or increased stress/responsibilities that dampen the fires of eroticism.

You could also ask him if he got better sex would he be satisfied with a little less.

* * * * *
There's rarely time in a newspaper column to solve such a complex problem. So I'd like to add a few action steps that can help bring you closer together and strengthen your bond, even if the problem of sexual discrepancy is not solved immediately:

Set aside time to talk about your partner's desires. Take turns talking and listening without being defensive. I know it's is a tall order to stay non-defensive, but it will be a key component of working this out. Ask lots of questions and keep recapping what you hear. Couples tackle lots of difficult questions, and this one is close to the top of the list for most people.

When you talk, the discussion is going to require taking a series of emotional risks. You will be describing what is sexually important to you and why it is important. This takes patience and reassuring your partner that you appreciate their vulnerability.

It is important you approach this subject without expecting one discussion will solve it. If one talk does solve things, terrific, but don't put that pressure on yourself. Please define success as the willingness to experiment with discussions instead of having to rapidly come up with solutions. Creating a better sexual relationship is trial and error with a lot of patience and tolerance for practicing and experimenting.

Most of all, if you approach the problem with a kind and open heart realizing you want the best for each other, it goes a long way to strengthening the connection between the two of you.

Until next month,
Peter Pearson

© Copyright MMIV The Couples Institute

About 

Ellyn Bader, Ph.D., and her husband, Dr. Peter Pearson, are founders and directors of The Couples Institute and creators of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy.

Ellyn’s first book, “In Quest of the Mythical Mate,” won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including “The Today Show” and “CBS Early Morning News,” and she has been quoted in many publications including “The New York Times,” “The Oprah Magazine” and “Cosmopolitan.”

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