Couples in Crisis: Mismatched Sexual Desire

Tree big factors in Marriage or Relationship Crises

Last week I commented on how the area of mismatched sexual desire is one of the big three factors common in marriage or relationship crises (the other two were finances and parenting).

This week I’m introducing Michele Weiner-Davis, director of The Divorce Busting Center and author of several books, including Divorce Busting (1992), The Sex-Starved Marriage (2003) and others.  In 2014 Michelle shared her insight into mismatched sexual desire in a highly acclaimed TED talk titled The sex-starved marriage.

Like me, Michele believes that the vast majority of divorces in our countries (Australia and USA) are unnecessary because most relationship problems are solvable.

Mismatched Sexual Desire

To quote from her blog as reprinted in Psychotherapy Networker (Jan/Feb 2016):

“I was trained, like most therapists, to believe that when a marriage is rocky and the couple’s sex life stinks, you have to solve the emotional problems and the rest will fall into place. But I discovered that doesn’t always work, so I needed a new way to work with couples, especially when one person was more interested in having sex than the other—a sex-starved marriage.

When I talk about a sex-starved marriage, it’s not about the number of times per week or per month people are actually having sex. After all, unlike vitamins, there’s no daily or weekly minimum requirement to ensure a healthy sex life. Instead, the sex-starved marriage is one in which one spouse is longing for more touch, more physical closeness, more sex, and—here’s the rub—the other spouse is thinking, “What’s the big deal? It’s just sex.” But it’s a huge deal because it’s really about feeling wanted, loved, and connected. Couples who experience this kind of sex–desire gap stop spending time together, stop watching TV together, don’t laugh at each other’s jokes, and quit being friends. It places the marriage at risk of infidelity and of divorce.

There’s a misconception that what I’m talking about is the typical scenario of a man who has a permanent erection and is more interested in sex than his wife is. Often it’s the woman who has the higher drive. Another misconception is that sex-starved couples present their sex life as their primary issue when they come into couples therapy. The reality is that it’s typical for these couples first to come in talking about differences in parenting styles, in how they handle money, or in how they take on chores around the house. But if they give me any clue—maybe because their body language seems cold and distant—to suggest they’re leading parallel and separate lives, I’ve learned to just jump right in and say, “So tell me about your sex life. How’s that going?” I’m very direct about it these days. In fact, more often than not, I ask about it in the first session.”

You can watch and listen to her TED talk here: