Sex seems to drive them apart

Can This Marriage Be Saved?

August 18, 1996|By FROM LADIES' HOME JOURNAL Los Angeles Times Syndicate

"I can't live the rest of my life bickering over sex," says Lauren, a pretty 30-year-old who makes money by cleaning houses at a fashionable beach resort. "He doesn't talk, he doesn't play with the kids. As if we didn't have enough to fight about, Peter is constantly bullying me into making love."

He's not abusive, as Lauren's parents were -- in fact, she often sees flashes of the kind, sensitive man she fell in love with when she was only 19. But every night, the scenario is the same: Peter comes home from work, snaps at the four kids -- ranging in age from 2 to 8 -- and ignores Lauren. After dinner, he lounges in front of the TV, leaving Lauren to clean up and get the kids to bed. "By the time I drag myself to the bedroom, Peter has awakened from his little nap and is all ready to make love," she reports. "Well, I'm so exhausted and furious, I can't stand to be touched."

Lauren would be content to have sex two or three times a month. But now she feels constant pressure to have sex with a man who never seems satisfied. Often, she pretends to be asleep or claims the proverbial headache. "There must be something wrong with me," she adds. "I love Peter, but I'm just not in the mood."

Peter, 31, a construction foreman, thinks about sex all the time and wants it every night. "The idea of having sex is always there," he reports, "bubbling away on the back burner." While he knows she's tired from juggling work and family responsibilities, he's tired, too: "Tired of having to beg my wife for sex. If I didn't initiate, we'd never have it."

When they haven't made love in a long time, Peter says, "I feel even more isolated, not just from my wife, but from the kids and everyone else." Peter insists that he loves his wife: "I still think she's sexy; I just wish she felt the same way about me."

Getting in sync

"Lauren and Peter are typical of couples suffering from what sex therapists call desire discrepancy -- that is, when one partner has a higher sex drive than the other," notes Patricia Love, a marriage and family therapist at the Austin Family Institute in Austin, Texas.

When Lauren and Peter first came for counseling, they both believed that their problems were Lauren's fault. "Given our society's preoccupation with sex, this isn't surprising," adds Love. "We expect people to have an unwavering interest in lovemaking."

However, what these two, and many others, fail to understand is that many issues are responsible for differences in sexual desire. Psychological and social factors, current life stressors as well as fluctuating hormonal levels can cause one partner to be hot when the other's not.

If your marriage is also marred by bickering over sex, keep in mind the following points:

For the partner with greater desire:

Learn by asking what turns your partner on and what turns her off. The more sensitive you are to her needs, the greater the pleasure for both of you.

Honor any sexual preconditions your partner has. If your spouse prefers to make love at night, don't insist on an a.m. tryst.

Don't confuse lust with love. Your partner's low level of sexual desire may well have nothing to do with you.

For the partner with a low sex drive:

Accept more responsibility for your own arousal. Don't expect a partner to do all the work. What turns you on -- more hugging, kissing, foreplay? Ask in a loving way for what pleases.

Pay attention to your own subtle sexual cues. When you feel even the slightest twinge of desire, follow through on it.

Make room in your life for lovemaking. Many people with low desire admit that once they get aroused they do enjoy sex.

When Lauren and Peter were able to talk without blame about the discrepancy in their needs, they realized they needed to plan for sex. Peter also understood that if he helped more around the house and with the kids, Lauren would feel more loving toward him. She in turn responded to his overtures as the loving gestures they were instead of as bullying.

Pub Date: 8/18/96

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