By Corinne Farago
You can’t argue someone into loving you, yet in effect that’s the conflict that many no-sex or low-sex couples find themselves in on a daily basis. Chronic anger around a couple’s sexuality poisons a relationship and stresses their emotional bond.
If the higher desire partner has taken on a pattern of badgering, guilt tripping, nagging, pouting, bartering or begging for sex, they are unwittingly turning sex into a commodity to be acquired, an argument to be won.
Although these pressure tactics can work in the world outside of the bedroom, power struggles in the bedroom only end in frustration and conflict. It sounds obvious, but couples in long-term relationships continuously get trapped in this destructive dynamic.
This clearly self-defeating dynamic doesn’t happen over night, it develops over time as a toxic pattern in response to a seemingly unsolvable sexual standoff.
It’s a standoff that places trusted partners at odds with each other, setting them up as combatants, both of them fighting for their position and perspective, under the pressure of conflict and disconnection.
It’s a lose/lose strategy that either leads to separation, or resignation that neither partner will find the sex life they desire.
The higher desire partner feels like they have no choice but to push through the lower desire partner’s resistance, in order to win them over, or convert them to the idea that they should have sex.
The request for sex usually comes laced with anxiety, and if there’s a history of refusal, resentment will also be lurking under the surface. Approaching our partner with a request that has anxiety and resentment built into it is not a way to lead them to into being sexual, or sensual, or even intimate, for that matter.
I don’t want to minimize the hurt and disappointment of the higher desire partner. It’s not easy to be continuously rejected when we make ourselves vulnerable enough to ask for sex and affection. At some point, the higher desire partner may choose to stop initiating to avoid the pain of rejection.
Ongoing rejection creates all sorts of negative thoughts and beliefs, such as ‘I’m not attractive’, ‘I’m a bad lover’, ‘I’ll never get what I want and need’, ‘I’m being punished’, ‘the future of my relationship is uncertain’.
All these negative thoughts lead to an underlying stress that permeates the relationship and undermines trust and intimacy – the very trust and intimacy that needs to be felt, for desire to be present.
Both partners suffer greatly in this power struggle. Even when sex does happen, the undercurrent of resentment on both parts, make sex feel mechanical and emotionally guarded. It’s not surprising then if one or both partners lose interest in sex altogether.
Being argued into having sex is like being argued into giving someone your car keys, or a book to use for a while and then return. But, sex is not a thing to borrow, or a favor you do for your partner, to appease their anger and ease the tension.
Sex is a mutual experience, or a ‘space’ you both agree to enter into together, in order to experience intimacy, the intimacy of love and Eros, but you can’t argue someone into loving you.
The only way you can gain an ‘enthusiastic yes’ to sex is to attract your partner into entering that intimate space with you. Unlike coercion, attraction takes more thought, investigation, curiosity and creativity.
I remember, years ago, the words of a male client, suddenly standing up from his chair proclaiming, “I married my partner with the understanding that sex would be in important part of our marriage. I didn’t change my mind about that, she did. I have a right to be angry, and I’ve told her that.
I agreed with his sentiments and his emotions, he had every right to feel like he’s lost something important to him, but it was also clear that he wasn’t going to find what he was looking for, by using anger or guilt to convince his wife into having sex with him.
When I asked what he liked most about having sex with his wife, he finally started to soften. He started speaking about the closeness they used to share in intimate moments. He missed the touching, the connection. He talked about the feeling of escaping the outside world together for a while.
“I miss her”, he finally said, like it was a sudden insight. “If I can’t share that kind of experience with her anymore then I’m just living with a roommate. It’s not what I want, and I don’t think it’s what she wants either.” His anger softened into sadness and disappointment.
Have you told her lately what you love about having sex with her? I asked him. “Have you ever told her that you miss her? This is what she needs to hear, not that she’s wrong for losing interest in sex, or that she should have sex whether she wants to or not.”
If you wanted your partner to swim across a pond to join you on the other side, you wouldn’t throw them a rock to help them make the crossing, you’d more likely throw them a life jacket to make their trip across easier and more enjoyable.
In this scenario, intimacy or connection is the lifejacket you toss out to them to help them make that crossing. Attracting our partner into being intimate with us requires us to first become intimate ourselves, to become vulnerable and honest about the feelings we have that are unexpressed under the anger or coercion.
When we approach our partner with our offensive armor down, our partners can feel more willing to put their defensive armor down. We can ask for a truce in the daily sexual power struggle, so that honest words can be spoken without blame or judgment.
Both partner’s need to speak from a vulnerable place, expressing their own feelings without pointing the finger or blaming the other person for making them feel that way. We are all responsible for our circumstance. The roles of victim and perpetrator don’t have a place in my sessions. There are no purely innocent parties.
Once this dynamic is understood and released, it makes space for some healing and a new dynamic to take its place.
Sex and Relationship Coaching is a wonderful process to help you establish a positive and collaborative way of approaching sexual initiation as a team, rather than adversaries.
If you’re caught in a power struggle over sex, it’s time to explore alternatives to the push and pull. Here are some initial steps to consider.
- Talk about it. It’s easier said than done, I know. If conversations about sex are charged with blame and defensiveness, then you’re going to have wipe that slate clean and agree to come into the conversation with your white flags up. Let your partner know that you want to work on your sexuality as a team, and end the pattern of conflict around sex.
- Take your own responsibility for your part in creating the push and pull dynamic around sex. If you have challenges controlling your anger or criticism, find a coaching program that can give you some tools to use when you’re triggered. It will change your life.
- Speak from your experience with vulnerability and share your disappointment rather than your judgment.
- Be curious about your partner’s relationship to sex and how they feel about your sex life together. If they feel safe from emotional punishment they’ll start to speak honestly about their needs and desires.
- Ask questions with sincere interest, to help them share their deepest truth.
There are many reasons behind sexual inhibition or reluctance; too many to mention here.
- Be patient. If you don’t get the open-hearted response you’re hoping for the first time, stay the course. Entrenched patterns take time to shift. Trust takes time to build. Let them experience the change in you first, so they can find their own change in response.
- Finally, and most importantly, seek help. Your journey back to fulfilling, intimate, erotic sex is much more likely with the help of a sex and relationship coach to guide you on the way. It’s the difference between a dangerous slog through the jungle, or a fun and safe, guided safari adventure.
Next week we’ll turn our attention to the lower desire partner and the steps they can take to unpack their part in this challenging dynamic.
To paraphrase the Bard, ( rather extremely)
All the bedroom’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their fears and their strategies, and one person in their time plays many parts.
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