A Couple Quits Therapy; What Is “Normal” Desire?

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A couple I’d seen in sex therapy for a month quit last night. I can’t say I blame them. And I admit I was a bit relieved.

They’re in their late forties, attractive and youngish. Here’s what I learned about them in four sessions:

* She doesn’t like the way he touches her
* He feels criticized by her every single day
* She almost never has orgasms
* He feels pressured to get erections quickly, and to make her climax from intercourse
* She doesn’t believe he finds her attractive, although he insists he does
* He feels he must never express anger toward her, because she then gives him the silent treatment for days
* She is angry about how he treated her while she was nursing their baby girl (who is now 16)
* He feels powerless to shape her parenting behavior toward their daughter, which he characterizes as rigid and controlling

The couple’s problem that brought them to therapy? They don’t have sex much anymore, and don’t feel much passion toward each other.

Well, duh.

They dropped out of therapy because we weren’t making much progress on the problem they wanted fixed. Worse (according to them), I didn’t seem that interested in talking about sex—I seemed overly focused on feelings, power dynamics, letting go of the past, and communication.

Yes, of course. Absolutely.

But they wanted to talk about sex, and wanted me to repair their “low desire” for each other. I told them that low desire with someone you don’t like or trust isn’t pathological, isn’t a problem to fix. Instead, I said, we needed to address the toxic environment in which they thought they should be wanting sex.

No, they dismissed my point of view (for which they were paying good money) and demanded I help them with their sex problem—the same way they dismiss each other while demanding what they want.

I was friendly, gentle, patient (mostly). But I either couldn’t or wouldn’t give them what they wanted (they weren’t sure, they said), so they left.

I have no idea what kind of sex they imagine they would have if they somehow desired each other—while disliking, mistrusting, and resenting each other. Whatever kind of sex that is, I don’t want to help people have it.

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