Every relationship and marriage has its ups and downs. Sometimes the downs can last longer than most relationships can tolerate. However, given tools and resources, couples can learn how to negotiate differences and navigate through the stormy times, often preventing break- ups. One of the most common problems relationships encounter is sexual dysfunction. Sexual dysfunction in women is usually a symptom of another underlying issue that may be conscious or unconscious.
There are several reasons why sexual dysfunction occurs with women. It can be due to intra-personal reasons, whereby the issues lie within the woman and not the relationship; or, it can be due to inter-personal reasons, whereby the issues are due to the unresolved conflicts within the relationships. More often than not, these issues do not arise until the couple has either taken the vows or the relationship has progressed to long term.
In the beginning, the “honeymoon” stage, everybody’s singing tenor and enjoying the best part. Susan Campbell once wrote that each stage of a relationship mimics each stage of human psychic development. In the first stage, when we are infants, we look to our mothers for all our dependency needs. This stage is called, CO-DEPENDENCY. It’s the stage of “falling in love” when we are adults. All the boundaries collapse and we feel nothing but the magic and splendor of the newness with each other. We meet each other’s needs not unlike how a baby and new mother meet the needs of each other. The baby looks into the eyes of the mother. The mother looks down into the eyes of the baby, and the feeling is, they are one; not unlike the feelings experienced in the first stage of a relationship. We have often heard the couple refer to each other as their “soul mate”. This is the title expressed when we are in this first stage of the relationship.
In the second stage of life, called COUNTER-DEPENDENDCY, the child begins to move away from mom and explores the world. This is the beginning of what psychologists call INDIVIDUATION AND SEPARATION. It is part of our normal growth and development. In relationships, we begin to adjust to the same changes. The boundaries begin to pop back up, and each partner moves a little away from each other, noticing the differences rather than the sameness that was seen in the first stage. This is when most marriages and relationships fall apart. This is when the “soul mate” title is often dropped and exchanged to “dog” or “prick”. It’s tough to hang in there and go for a resolution because things begin to happen unconsciously that we are not always in touch with. This is when some of our unresolved childhood issues surface and interface with the issues that are occurring in our relationships. It is the time when each of our pasts, collide with the present and most of us don’t have the conscious awareness, tools, skills, and resources to work it out. Most people are not even aware of how their personal history contaminates their relationships. We grow up in homes with poor role modeling and use that as our frame of reference of how a relationship should be. We bring in our own set of baggage and unresolved conflicts with our parents and unconsciously want to work it out in our adult relationships. So we repeat patterns from the only modeling we knew. Doing what comes naturally, is not necessarily healthy. Without the insight and understanding of all this, we tend to fight it out, often times unfairly, using blaming, shaming and judgment on each other. Most of this behavior we learned in our own homes. This inevitably causes a rift in the relationship resulting in sexual disinterest and/or dysfunction. This is when most couples or individuals in the relationship come into treatment, and this is about the time, it’s too late to repair. However, this is not always the case, and I have found that with discharging the pain, beliefs and hurts from the past, everyone has a chance to make a new start. This of course depends on the willingness of both parties to move forward and if there is enough healthy tissue left to repair.
The third state of human psychic development (according to Erik Erikson, a social psychologist), is called INDEPENDENCE. In childhood, this is when we go to school and become somewhat independent, discovering our autonomy and independence. It’s our first time away from home, and we have to face issues without Mom and Dad there to take care of things. As we learn to do this successfully, we grow more self assured and build our self esteem. In relationships, there is no intimacy without autonomy. When we reach this third stage in our relationships, it can be a threat to our partners, as they are not needed as much as in the first and second stages. Depending on the mental health and maturity of each partner, determines how successful they work through this stage.
The fourth stage, where most couples never go, with 60% of divorces taking place in the second and third stage, is called INTERDEPENDENCE. It takes years for this stage to mature. This is when each partner supports the autonomy of the other and enriches each other’s life, rather than completes or competes with it. This takes, maturity, self esteem, insight into our own stuff, owning our own stuff and becoming enlightened. It was Socrates who said, “A life unexamined is not a life worth living.” Most people require a therapist to help couples get to this stage. The good news, it can be done!
All through these stages, the most common reactions to the anger and hurt that arises in ALL relationships, except of course if two people agree never to disagree, and that is not an authentic relationship, is getting “turned off”. That is when sexual dysfunction raises its nasty head. This can happen to both men and women. Sexual dysfunction is one manifestation of a relationship turned sour. It may not be the relationship’s fault. It may be the folks that live inside the relationship that have not done their family of origin work; that is the unresolved issues that have been dragged into the present from the past.
Most issues that are the baggage people carry in their gunny sack will get played out in the relationship. If these issues included any abuse, whether, physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, or other, abandonment or neglect that was connected with either/or partner, and worse, if both, then the relationship becomes “the killing field”. This is why it is so important that these matters be treated just like a broken bone. If left untreated, they won’t heal on their own and will surely get played out in the relationship, potentially destroying what was once so wonderful.
It is important to note that most of us come into relationships with unrealistic expectations, and when our unrealistic expectations are not met by our significant other, that’s when the disappointment, disillusionment and bitterness is born. Our sexuality changes as these expectations are not realized. So changing those expectations are paramount to a successful outcome. Poor role modeling and unrealistic expectations are perhaps the two most common reasons why most relationships fail.
It might be worth mentioning that with the onslaught of Viagra, Cialis, Levitra and other sexually stimulating drugs manufactured for men with nothing as yet to match it with for the female gender, it widens the gap in the natural process of aging. Men can maintain their sexual prowess with the help of Viagra, and women are left in their natural aging process without chemical support. This has been a pandemic sexual issue in couples in their fifties. Women are slowing down and men, with the assistance of Viagra and other sexual stimulants are still in their twenties, thirties and forties. The aging factor as it specifically pertains to sexuality, no longer maintains compatibility.
In addition, living in the world today, with all its stressors and variables that we cannot control, contributes to the lack of longevity in relationships. What used to be “forever, until death do us part” is less than 60% in marriages today. Our fast world, with high speed technology and high speed advancements, has left the human spirit panting and exhausted just trying to keep up with the times. Our minds and soulful content can’t expand as fast as our technology is moving. We barely speak to each other. Email and texting has become the cornerstone of communication. This leaves us with little time to nurture each other and keep our happiness in perspective.
Perhaps our recent economic crisis might be a double edge blade. It may have provided a time for us to slow down, spend less, work together and develop a “team” effort to move forward both economically and spiritually. This could become a blessing for many couples. It forces us to re-examine what is really important. It makes us become aware of our strengths as well as our weaknesses. Adversity can strengthen our relationships or destroy them. It becomes our choice.
In my last blog, THE LEGEND OF THE LOST LIBIDO, I mention that I would post five stories that would illustrate the thesis of my blog. Instead I have seven stories of how couples worked through the issues that nearly destroyed their relationships and how the healing raised their level of intimacy both in and out of the bedroom. The stories are true with some facts changed to protect the confidentiality. Not all the stories have resolution. Some are still a work in progress. I highlighted sexual dysfunction which is most common to women who are struggling in their relationships. I am sure that you can find yourself in one or more of these stories.
Here is the first of the seven:
WHY I BECAME A SEX POT
Jennifer: I was the hottest chic in town. I had a few nose jobs, a few boob jobs; a pretty face, long, beautiful raven hair that cascaded down my broad shoulders; a hot body and I made men wild. All I had to do was show up! When I married Bob, he thought he had won the lottery! I satisfied every inch of his mind, body and spirit. I sucked his lips, his toes and his cock. We spent the first six weeks in bed which we left only to void, have some coffee and shower. We ordered in food, took baths together, lit candles, drank wine, sucked on cream filled chocolates, danced around the house naked until we fell exhausted into each other’s arms only to do it all over again. And then…….something happened that was inexplicable. My sensual pleasuring and sexual needs diminished slowly, and after about a year of marriage. I noticed they vanished completely. Why? I knew I loved sex before. Why had I suddenly gone dry? Why had Bob been unable to titillate the girl who never had to be titillated? Within a few months after our wedding, the lust and thrill we had once known had morphed into a performance and finally disappeared without warning. What made my sexuality vanish?
Bob hadn’t changed that much. He still had his warm brown doe shaped eyes. He still stood 6’3” in his bare feet. He still wore the same cologne and the same size pants and shirt. Bob looked just like the picture on our wall that was taken on our wedding day, and, so did I. How could one year of marriage change my sexual behavior so radically? I knew the answer, but didn’t want to admit it. I wanted Bob then; perhaps more than anyone I had ever known. He was kind, sexy, rich and madly in love with me. He could offer me a life style that every girl dreamed about. I knew I made him fall in love with me. It was my mission to do just that. I knew I had the stuff of a femme fatale, capable of bringing most men to their knees. Had I really been in love or was Bob just a conquest? Every man I ever dated lusted for me. I drove them crazy and when I won them over, I dumped them. I never married any of them because I waited for someone like Bob to come along. I felt I could be faithful, sensual and make him happy. Boy was I wrong! If I had to be honest with myself, I just wanted to conquer this guy because he was the hottest, most eligible bachelor around. What a trophy husband he would make. Only I didn’t know this about myself. It was only in therapy that I learned I was an addict; a love addict. I needed men like an alcoholic needs a drink. I thirsted for a man who I could conquer in order to satisfy my low self esteem. Now you may wonder why a woman like me, beautiful, sexy, intelligent and classy would have a low self esteem. After all, I had the face, the figure, an alluring personality capable of getting whomever I chose. How could that be a representation of someone with a low self-esteem? With the help of my therapist and long term treatment, I was able to uncover my authentic self. It wasn’t easy. It took a few years, but it was the best investment I ever made. The rewards were more than I ever expected. In fact, once I realized that my need to conquer men was a result of my abandonment issues in early childhood, I was able to not only heal the little girl in me, but my marriage as well. I used my looks to cover up my pain. The sexier I looked and the more I could get a guy, the more I tended my ego. My ego had to protect my wounded self. My ego, although trying to help me feel better about myself, was actually causing more damage that good. It wasn’t Bob who caused me to lose my sexuality, it was my toxic shame and pain from early childhood losses that were carried into my adult life and brought into my relationships. My need to conquer men fed my ego, but only temporarily. I needed more and more. It was an insatiable wound that could never be filled. Once I discovered my wounded child and learned how to nurture her spirit and affirm her, (something I had been missing all my life), my true self emerged. I learned how to love myself, something I didn’t even know I lacked. Once I could love myself, I was able to love another.
I was fortunate. Bob was patient and relentless. He knew there was someone inside me who was very wounded and needed help. He also knew he could not fix me. He encouraged me to get professional help before we threw in the towel. Our marriage was on the brink of disaster and it was divorce or counseling. I chose the latter and we went together. But soon into the couple’s sessions, our therapist uncovered my history and saw the dots beginning to connect. She suggested I come in and work with her alone for a while. As she uncovered my past, she and I discovered that I had been abused by abandonment and left alone to prove that I mattered. I was an adult child of an alcoholic. My mother drank to bury her pain in the bottle. My Dad was physically and mentally abusive to both my mom and brother. For whatever reason, he left me alone. But the pain I felt when I was subjected to his violent behaviors, felt like they were perpetrated on me too. Most of my memories were repressed I guess because they were just too painful to remember. But I learned that brain memories never die; they become repressed, but then, acted out in some kind of compulsive behavior that fools you into forgetting your past. But, sooner or later your wreckage catches up and bites you in the ass.
I used my sexuality to get my needs met, (that was all I thought I had), but that never really worked because I had to learn to love who I was. If my parents couldn’t love me, then how was I to know how to love myself? How was I to feel loveable? It was my therapist who mentored me through my past, guiding me and supporting me with tools and resources that I never knew existed. As I healed, so did our marriage and my sexuality returned.
Today, Bob and I have three daughters and although our sexual life has shifted from what it was to what it is, we are both engaging in a loving, sexual relationship that meets our needs and enriches our lives. My sexual dysfunction was about me and my history. I had to confront my past to repair my present. Once I uncovered my demons, my recovery discovered me, and my present became authentic.
Watch for the second story to be posted next week. Please give me your feedback and reviews.
Joan E Childs, LCSW