Maggie: I thought I was going to go crazy. I hated Michael; I hated his voice; I hated his walk; I hated his smell and I hated the way he chewed his food. Everything Michael did was repulsive to me and sex was the last thing I wanted. Worst of all, we were married, had 2 teenagers and had an upside down mortgage. Michael lost his job soon after the recession started and that’s when I lost interest in sex. He was earning a good living as a manager of a major department store. We both thought he had job security since over the years he had moved up in the company to an executive position. The company paid for our health insurance, provided a 401K and gave us a 3 week paid vacation. In addition to his yearly salary, we enjoyed the bonus he received every year as the store’s earning increased yearly and Michael took home a nice chunk of change. The money was appropriated for a vacation, some of it for house improvements and new clothes for the boys. Within seven months Michael lost his job, his bonus that we had already appropriated for our yearly family vacation and we were about to lose all our health benefits. Two years ago we took out a home equity loan to begin the addition onto the house and this year we were building a swimming pool. All our hopes, wishes and dreams were shattered due to the economic crisis. We were the victims of something we never saw coming. My job was still intact. I was a teacher; however, in order to compensate for Michael’s loss of income, I had to take a second job teaching Pilates three evenings a week at a fitness center. Michael became depressed and his depression infiltrated our relationship. It felt like a malignancy that was gripping us. I became angry and my anger exacerbated his depression and impacted our marriage. We were a mess!
My best friend, Phyllis, a therapist, coached me into counseling. She suggested someone she thought could be helpful and who would understand my feelings. Phyllis felt a professional was exactly what I needed and she couldn’t counsel me due to our friendship. Thank God for girlfriends! I made an appointment and, with more reluctance than hope, I went to my first session. I didn’t know what to expect. The problem seemed so obvious to me that paying money for professional help was irrational and not necessary. Anyone with half a brain could figure out why I was so angry. Not so. Being clueless to the therapeutic process, I thought after he heard my lamenting over our economic crisis, he would say something like, “Save your money, use it to pay down your credit card debt and as soon as Michael finds a job, you will be back to normal.” It was nothing like that. That was the furthest thing from what he presented to me.
Sam, my therapist asked me some questions about myself, my parents, siblings, school, etc. I suppose that’s what they all do on the first session; gather information. Then towards the end of that session he asked what I wanted to achieve from the therapy. “To get my sexy self back in this marriage and feel good about Michael”, I responded without hesitation.
“Good. That’s a positive goal. It’s going to take some time and patience, but, in the end, the results will be worth it.”
In the second session, Sam explored some more of my history. When he asked about the relationship between my parents and how they resolved conflicts, I went back to the same old movie. I heard my mother’s hostile words charging across to my father who stayed silent until he could no longer bear her shrills. Although I had forgotten most of the content, I couldn’t forget her face squinting up revealing her scowl lines between her eyes and ropes emerging from her neck. In that moment I disappeared and morphed into a little girl feeling helpless and scared. I never really understood why she was angry, except that seemed to be her general state as I gazed back thru my rear view mirror in my mind.
“My mother was always angry”, I said in almost a whisper. “ Dad had lost his job. I don’t remember why. It was something about a merger, now that I’m thinking about it. I remember he was out of work for a long time after the company he worked for merged with a company that bought them out. My father had been with them since before I was born. Then without warning, his job was gone, probably replaced by the new company’s staff. “ I went silent for a few moments. I stared into the past. Sam said nothing. He just looked at me as if there was a moment of insight between us. Then I remembered my grandmother, (my mother’s mother) telling me how bad it was when she was married. They went through the Great Depression and had to stand in long lines just to buy bread. She told me stories about the depression that made me feel so sorry for them and so scared that it might happen again. I felt like the movie in my head was giving me hints as to why I was so bitter towards Michael. My unconscious fear had become my rage. It all came to a crashing epiphany. I had carried that nightmare for two generations holding on to both my mother’s and my grandmother’s history shrouded in fear, anger and despair. When Michael lost his job, it triggered my fear and all my family’s history was brought into my present relationship. Michael was the recipient of the collective unconscious of my mother and my grandmother’s history. That was just the beginning of my treatment. Now he had to help me heal those wounds of childhood.
Sam used many different techniques in treatment that allowed me to confront my history and how I felt when I was little and too helpless and innocent to fully understand what was going on. I was only a container for the feelings I heard expressed. Sam had to somehow desensitize my past to liberate my present. His tools were designed more for experiential work by going into my feelings, leaving the cognitive stuff for later. He used methods that were foreign to my friends who had been in therapy. He called it experiential psychotherapy. I didn’t care what he called it, only that it helped me.
In a few months I noticed my behavior changing towards Michael and I felt the tension leaving my body like a ghost. The knot that was living inside my gut left with it. I felt that I had broken the ties with my past and could be free to live my own life. When I looked at Michael, I saw the man I married; not my father or grandfather who so vehemently disappointed my mother and grandmother. I became un-enmeshed from my history. I could now be more patient and supportive to Michael while he was going though this rough patch.
With the therapy and giving back the shame to the people who gave it to me, I learned to accept my situation and trust that Michael would work again, and our family would be OK. I learned that life can sometimes throw some curve balls. So, we have to be ready when they come flying out of left field. But, you can’t get to second base if you have one foot on first.
Jessica: I was the hottest chic in town. I had a few nose jobs, boob jobs, a pretty face, long, beautiful raven hair that cascaded down my shoulders, a hot body and I made men wild. All I had to do was show up! When I married Richard, he thought he 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 6 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 chocolates, danced around the house naked until we fell into each other’s arms only to do it all over again. And then…….something happened that was inexplicable. My sensual pleasuring diminished slowly until after about a year I noticed it vanished. Why? I knew I loved sex before. Why had I suddenly gone dry? Why had Richard been unable to titillate the girl who never had to be titillated? Now 6 weeks had gone by without the lust we knew so well just one year ago. What made my sexuality vanish?
Richard 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. Richard 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 Richard 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 was a femme fatale and capable of bringing most men to their knees. Had I really been in love or was Richard 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 Richard 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. It wasn’t Richard 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 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. Richard 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 was worthy. 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.
Today, Richard and I have 3 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. Once I resolved my past, my present became authentic.