Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Is My Sex Life "Normal"?

Lately I have gotten a few questions about sex--mostly about "what is normal" referring to frequency.

"Peggy" writes:

"We have sex about three times a month. I am fine with this but my husband is not. I have to admit that I do turn him down quite a bit and this has frustrated him to the point where he will stop asking. We do have a good relationship--but just not in this one area."

Statistics show that in about one of three marriages one spouse has a considerably larger sexual appetite than the other and this often is a problem. As each couple is unique and what works for one would certainly not work for another, there is no requirement for the number of times a couple has sex per week. However, studies have indicated that most couples who consider their sex life and their marriage in general happy and healthy have sex about 2-3 times per week. Michele Weiner-Davis, a well known marriage therapist has found that a marriage can be considered "sexless" when the couple is having sex ten or fewer times per year. What is more common than the sexless marriage is the "sex starved" marriage in which one spouse is longing for more sex, touch and physical affection and the less interested spouse doesn't understand the significance of this for the high desire spouse which goes beyond just sex and is more about feeling desired, attractive and emotionally connected. In order for the high desire spouse to continue to work and perform as a motivated and interested husband or wife, he or she has to feel that his or her sexual needs are being met. When advances are rejected, intimacy on all levels (not just sexual) seem to drop off. This is when the risk of feeling like "we're just roommates" comes in and places the marriage at risk for affairs and/or divorce. A cycle is started--the high desire spouse needing to feel physically connected in order to give more emotional support to the low desire spouse who usually needs to feel emotionally connected to the high desire spouse in order to open up sexually.

So...who breaks the cycle?

Michele Weiner-Davis tells the low desire spouse to "just do it" even though you may not be in the mood at the time--most people enjoy it once they get started. How many things are we not in the mood to do everyday (exercise, cook, clean, tend to the children, go to work, etc...) but we "just do it" because we want the long term results and the satisfaction that we usually find afterward.

If we have the ability to do something for our spouse that will make him or her happy and feel more loving to us, why would we withhold it?

Another thing to consider is that the low desire spouse usually controls the frequency of sex and this isn't fair. There becomes an expectation that the high desire spouse must accept the "no sex verdict" and not complain about it and remain monogamous. The aforementioned marriage expert states, "After decades of working with couples, I can attest that this is an unfair and unworkable arrangement. This is not to say that infidelity is a viable solution to disparate sexual interests. It isn't. As with all relationship conflicts, being willing to find middle ground is the best way to insure love's longevity."

This is also not to say that if you a low desire spouse you should have sex everytime your high desire spouse wants to, but have a heart to heart talk and compromise so that each feels that that their needs are being met. You don't have to feel like you need to "perform" each and every time, yet you can still be a willing, loving participant.

Just because you may have conflicting needs in the sex department, does not mean that you are incompatible as a couple. How about a compromise and find ways for each to feel loved, respected and emotionally connected despite the differences in this one area?

Some excellent books to read about sex and marriage are written by the therapist I quoted--Michele Weiner-Davis.

Next time: What Can the High Desire Spouse Do?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Those Pesky Thinking Errors - Part III

Have you been able to identify your most common thinking errors? Lots of readers have reported that now they can name their thinking errors, but aren't sure what to do with them. 
The first step to more realistic and rational thinking is to identify and lable the initial errant thought. So if you have practiced doing that, you are prepared for the next step which is to challenge that negative irrational thought and substitute it with something more positive.  We saw an example of that in the last blog (June 23, 2010-example 2), but let's practice some more. 

An easy formula to remember is  "ABCDE" (developed by David Wexler, Ph.D., The Prism Workbook: A Program for Innovative Self Management), which looks like this:

A = Event
B = Self Talk  (ususally negative - involves a thinking error)
C = Feelings and Behaviors
D = New Self Talk
E New Feelings and Behavior

Here's an example:

A: (Event)- Husband comes home from work and turns on the TV (again!)
B: (Old Self Talk) -"Here we go again, I wanted to go for a walk tonight. I guess this is how my life is going to be--stuck in the house with a boring, lazy man."
C: (Feelings and Behaviors) - Feeling depressed, mopey, angry, watching TV with him when you don't want to,feel like giving  up.
**********************STOP RIGHT HERE!********************
Now go back to B and identify your thinking error(s) and your negative self talk (fortune telling, jumping to conclusions, black and white thinking...).
Stop these thoughts in order to bypass C and go straight to D.
The new feelings that result (E) will likely be more positive.  You may still  have some concerns, but you realize that you cannot control your husband's behavior and you do have a choice as to how you spend your evening.

D: (new self talk) - "He may want to watch TV tonight and that's his choice. I think I'll go for walk by myself and then go get ice cream. If he wants to join me, he's more than welcome."
E: (New feelings and behavior) - Feeling energized, motivated, using your choices and options and feeling less resentful because you are not letting his choice control your choice.

Another Example:

A:  Overeating one evening after being particularly good sticking to your dietary plan.
B:   "I am so stupid--I'll always be fat so why even try. All those days of being good were for nothing."  (minimizing, all or nothing, blaming, down-putting...).
C: Overeating some more, feeling depressed,feeling sluggish and bloated.   (STOP!)

D: "Opps...well, I'll allow myself this one. It's OK. I'll get back to my program right now--one slip up in 7 days doesn't mean I'm on a downward spiral. I'm proud of myself for the seven days of effort that I've had."
E: Feeling OK, forgiving of self, learning from "mistake", moving on with confidence, knowing you are capable and strong, more likely to realize your goal.

Our days are full of "events"...most of the time, just small ones--brushing teeth, eating lunch, answering a phone call, driving our car, having a basic conversation, etc...but the meaning and the thoughts we attach to these events lead to the way we feel and the way we act.  Any event large or small and how we preceive it can determine our daily and subsequently long term behavior.  If you find yourself feeling depressed, anxious, angry or in any mood that is self destructive, pay attention to your negative thoughts and self talk and see if there is a more realistic, evidenced based way to refute them!