By Corinne Farago
I recently got hooked into a reality show on Netflix called Married at First Sight.
It followed four couples who agreed to arranged marriages, meeting for the first time on the day of their wedding.
Three relationship experts paired them from a large pool of applicants. The show follows these four couples for two months, from the honeymoon to sharing an apartment for eight weeks while they work and live their day to day lives as a married couple.
At the end of the series, they can all decide if they want to stay together or get a divorce. Crazy right?
As a sex and relationship coach I found it fascinating to watch these four couples do their best to be happy together while they have cameras on them a considerable amount of time during their waking hours. The challenges for each of the couples were different, but by the end of the series, for all four couples, sex had become a problem.
Within a couple of months of being married these four couples had already established some unhealthy patterns that were leading to disconnection.
For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to talk about two of the couples who were dealing with a similar sexual dynamic. They were both struggling with sexual resistance, a dynamic that I come across often with my clients.
Sexual resistance can be defined as a developed pattern of sex avoidance.
Let’s take a look at these two couples. I promise, no spoilers. ☺
The first couple, both in their late 20s had a lot in common except for the fact that the woman was a 27 year old virgin, saving herself for her husband, and the man was more sexually experienced.
I’m sure I wasn’t the only person fascinated with this scenario. Here was a woman who, nearing 30, placed great importance on not having sex before marriage and she was marrying a stranger and living with her new husband for 2 months.
It was painful to watch the tension she held in her body with any offering of sensuality or sexuality. She looked terrified to give up control and engage in intimacy of any kind. I felt badly for her, that she now had to undo years of being in sexual shutdown, with no learned skills on how to now access her own desire and show that desire to her husband.
And I felt badly for him, that he was having to deal with an emotionally and sexually inexperienced wife who had an extreme amount of resistance to his patient advances. Even given the unusual circumstances of living with a camera crew, the signs of their struggle were obvious, and the individual interviews supported that.
The second couple had a similar dynamic, in that the 29 year old woman had not been in a relationship for 10 years since college. She struggled with being vulnerable and deflected his compliments and affection, even though she described him as her perfect match. This resistance created a lack of sexual polarity between them.
The man, like the first couple, was also very patient. He would tip toe around the edge of her comfort zone, hoping she might emotionally and physically open up to him or at least throw him a few scraps of validation. He was constantly met with his wife’s guardedness and awkward tension around intimacy and vulnerability.
Both of the women had their foot planted firmly on the brakes when it came to sensuality.
It was difficult for them to trust, not only their new husbands but themselves as well. It was difficult for them to feel their own inherent desire. They didn’t know the path to get from no to yes, within themselves.
When we have our foot on the brakes, but we want to be a yes to sex, our partners can certainly help in setting the stage for us to open, but it’s also true that we’re responsible for our own turn on.
1- When we know how arousal works for us, we can proactively create the conditions for desire and arousal to awaken in our minds and bodies.
Both men didn’t really know what to do to change their situation. They lacked the skills to tenderly seduce their women in a way that worked for them. They also seemed to lack the confidence to lead. They didn’t know how to set the sensual stage in order to help melt the resistance their wives were feeling.
2- We’re not all born being master seducers. Seducing someone is a skill that can be learned.
The men were frustrated and looked defeated at their wives responses, as they would shake their heads in disappointment and turn out the lights. Their wives were left in the dark feeling guilty, frustrated, and stuck in their own quagmire of emotions.
3- The root of the power struggle often starts with a difference in desire.
This is the way sexual resistance gets set in place in relationships. It starts off as a desire discrepancy, but quickly leads to a power struggle that undermines intimacy. This is often how it plays out.
4- The lower desire partner or the one who is feeling resistant holds the power, even though they may prefer not to.
They struggle with guilt that they’re not meeting their partner’s needs. They resent feeling pressured to have sex, and they dislike feeling that every gesture of affection they get from their partner is only a bid for sex. The power they hold over their partner depolarizes the relationship and ultimately undermines their mutual respect. They’re in the habit of fending off sex and don’t often feel like they have the space to generate their own desire.
5- The higher desire partner ends up feeling disempowered and resentful.
They’re often confused and deeply disappointed that their partner doesn’t share their desire for sex. They want to see their partner initiate more and feel their partner’s desire. They feel deprived of something that is core to who they are.
They start feeling undesired and undesirable. Their confidence is undermined and their emotional relationship to their partner is strained, as arguments about sex erode their connection.
For both partners, intimacy is lost. When they do have sex, they feel emotionally disconnected and unable to fully let go and enjoy themselves.
6- Talking about sex has become a subject to be avoided for fear of the tension and arguments that come with it.
Usually, this dynamic will create walls of protection in both partners that keep relationships feeling superficial. If they can’t talk about what’s happening in their sex lives, feelings will go unspoken and emotions will be suppressed.
When we stop sharing our intimate feelings with our partners, we start feeling like our partner doesn’t really know us and see us for who we are. When we no longer trust our partner with the deepest parts of who we are, secret lives can take hold.
If we can’t find what we need emotionally and sexually in our relationship, we either live in quiet desperation, or we begin to look outside the relationship for someplace or someone who wants to meet our emotional and physical needs. It’s an age-old story we’ve all read about it, watched it in movies, or lived it out ourselves.
This is often the time when couples reach out to me for sex and relationship coaching.
They know that the core of their issues stem from a sexual power struggle that has a strangle hold on their sexual polarity and their ability to trust and be intimate with each other. They just don’t know the path forward.
They’ll often have seen one or more couples therapists, but they may have danced around the subject of sex without really getting to the root of their problem.
7- Both partners are responsible for the creation of this dynamic, and both partners can take action to unwind it. The blame never falls on just one person. It takes two to do this Tango.
And there’s no recipe for this work. Each couple is unique. It’s like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.
As we work together, each piece of the puzzle is a new gesture, a new insight, a new pattern or action and in the end it comes together to reveal a new emotional and sexual dynamic where both partners feel understood and accepted in their sexuality.
One piece to the puzzle may be honest communication. Others may be building trust, non-sexual touch, new sexual skills, sexual polarity, intimacy building , seduction techniques, erotic explorations, and sharing fantasies.
8- Each piece of the puzzle connects to another piece until sex and intimacy is integrated as a valued part of their relationship picture.
I’m not suggesting that these two Married At First Sight couples are destined to live lives of quiet desperation or worse, but the signs are there within the first months of their marriage, and unless they change the direction they’re headed, their power struggles will dictate their sexual compatibility.
By the time the last episode rolled along, I was a little sad to say goodbye to the Married At First Sight couples, and I wish them all the best. I won’t reveal which ones stayed together and which got a divorce.
I hope they all get the help they need to put their relationship puzzle pieces together, and grow into their own unique sexuality with a partner(s) whose willing to join them on that journey.
Stay well and love deeply,
Sometimes we all need a little help with love, sex, and desire…
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