Q: I have been with my girlfriend for nine years now. In most every aspect, we have a superb relationship. However, she shows NO interest in sex. We were okay for the first few years, although she was never a dynamo, but it began to dwindle to just a few times a year, then none at all. Three years went by before I confronted her. I was always afraid of hurting her feelings, and questioned whether I should just be happy knowing that she adores me in every other way, but I am a sexual person and the resentment has grown steadily. She denied having a lack of interest in sex, but also deflected some of the blame onto me, making excuses like her history of rape, how she was in pain from a knee injury. She also blamed medication side effects, for high blood pressure and diabetes, which is valid to a point. I suggested we try a variety of things, but her efforts have been unenthusiastic at best. She even tried to pin her problems on "Catholic guilt!" In the past year, we had sex once. I did everything I knew how to encourage her and let her know how pleased I was that she was trying. She SEEMED to enjoy herself. But since then, all I see are excuses and no real efforts at solving this. I feel as though she decided for me that I am going to be celibate. I am torn between wondering if she just does not find me desirable, angry that I am being forced to be celibate and ungrateful because she is wonderful in every other way and I'm unable to be content with that. I'm afraid that what is wonderful about us will begin to erode if my hurt and resentment cannot be hidden forever. -- Tony, 48
Dr. Susan: Clearly, Tony, your girlfriend has enormous sexual problems, and you have major problems with dependency. To help you with this quandary, I asked Laurie Watson, a sex therapist, for her advice. She wondered, first of all, why you would stay in a relationship for years and years with little to no sex when you claim to have sexual desire.
"By my count," she said to tell you, "you waited at least six years too long to confront your girlfriend. The only hopeful thing is that you didn't propose marriage. Yes, she has a terrible trauma of rape, but has she done the work of recovery in therapy? She has medical problems, but has she done the work necessary to control these diseases, perhaps by losing weight? Trust me, lots of Catholics enjoy sensual, erotic sex after surviving twelve plus years of plaid skirts and white knee highs. Some even put the uniform back on just for fun. If she had wanted change, she would have written the letter for help. It is decidedly not wonderful to be with someone who has callous disregard for your sexual needs. But your own callous disregard for your own needs is worse. She has not decided that you are to be celibate. You have decided that."
Both Watson and I understand that your fear of being alone and re-starting the search for a loving and sexual partner must feel overwhelming. But you've traded a mature relationship, one with a satisfying physical element, for a pseudo-bond, and have lied to yourself to boot. "True love fosters growth in each partner, not regression," asserts Watson, who writes a helpful blog, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/married-and-still-doing-it. "Try to imagine yourself at 68, having sex only 20 times in the next 20 years. If you are in despair at that picture, go directly to your partner and tell her it's over."
I would add, "unless she agrees to joint therapy and considering your needs with love and warmth."
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Advice for Her
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Susan K. Perry, Ph.D.
Susan K. Perry, Ph.D., is a social psychologist, relationship expert, and bestselling and award-winning author. Her books include Loving in Flow: How the Happiest Couples Get and Stay That Way, and Kylie's Heel, a novel for adults.
Pamela G. Chollet, Ph.D.
Dr. Pamela Chollet has a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and Master degrees in educational psychology and fine arts. Her passion has been helping people face and get through those times when they feel trapped and unable to move forward.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D.
Anna Charbonneau, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, stress management expert, and author. If you're feeling overwhelmed, stressed out, or struggling to make changes in your life, Anna can help.