Avoidance dealing with sexual problems is one of the most common sources of hurt and distrust among couples I see in my practice.
Of course, it’s human nature to wish to avoid psychic or physical pain. It makes us feel vulnerable to believe we are flawed or defective.
And it’s frightening for most people to seek out medical or psychological help for a problem. We imagine that the problem is insoluble. Maybe it is. Probably it is not.
One thing is sure, however: If you are in an intimate relationship and you have a sexual issue that you are not actively addressing, you are courting relationship disaster.
Every person in a relationship wants to feel special to and loved by his or her significant other. We hope that our partners will be one of our best friends, someone who is on our side and who cares for us.
For the vast majority of us, our partner being able and willing to give us sexual pleasure is a significant measure of whether we are valued. Therefore, once we speak up and say that we are unhappy with a sexual dysfunction in our partner, we measure our value by whether or not he or she partner tries to address that sexual problem.
Many sexual dysfunctions can be solved or worked around. But I’d be lying if I said they could all be solved.
However, each of us measures our worth by whether our partner attempts to address a sexual problem we repeatedly mention is giving us distress.
In a solid couple, attacking a sexual problem together with a good therapist is a source of bonding. In therapy, we figure out solutions, or at least work-arounds. We explore hurt feelings and increase empathy.
One of the saddest experiences I have a is consulting with a couple to solve a problem that could have been solved years earlier, but now one of the partners actually has a foot and a half out the door.
For instance, I saw a young couple once in which the wife had had vaginismus — a condition that can make sexual intercourse painful or even impossible. They were unable to have intercourse, which disappointed the husband very much.
Vaginismus is a condition that can be successfully treated. Unfortunately, she had avoided evaluation of it for their entire marriage.
I almost always see each member of a couple once alone, after our initial couple session. In this case, when I saw the husband it was clear that he was angry, hurt, and “fed up.”
Once the wife began treatment, she rapidly began improving. But after a few weeks of successful treatment, just as she was coming to understand the process of mastering her fear, the husband asked for a divorce. He told her that in the last few years, he had stopped seeing her as a sexual person. He had gotten used to being just roommates, and he had stopped having sexual interest in her.
And now that he saw that it had been relatively easy for her to make progress in overcoming her vaginismus, he was even more hurt than he had been previously. He wanted to start over with someone new. He could not be dissuaded. And so they divorced.
So here is a cautionary tale. Don’t avoid your sexual problems.
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