couples counselingmarriage/monogamysex

Being In A Sexless Marriage Is As Bad As Being In An Emotionless One And Your Therapist Should Agree

One of the many aspects of couples counseling that frustrates higher-libido partners is that therapists often collude with the lower libido partner, saying that the higher-libido partner should continue to be kind and loving and emotionally open to the other, which may lead to sex, but not saying that the lower libido partner should have sex, which may lead to emotional closeness. Yet, both are equivalently true.

It used to be understood that there was a marital contract where people agreed to have sex with one another regularly in addition to being kind and loving to each other.  This is no longer a given.  Sex has been elevated into something that should only be done under the most idealized circumstances, while emotional closeness is supposed to be de rigueur.  In a worst case scenario, the lower libido partner outright condescends to the other’s need or desire for physical touch.

A partner who asks for emotional closeness is supported by most therapists and society in general, and thought to be something that everyone is entitled to, while the partner who asks for more sex is considered to be asking for something above and beyond that nobody is entitled to. This viewpoint which denigrates the physical love language at the expense of the verbal one is even, astonishingly, endorsed (implicitly or explicitly) by many couples counselors.  This is why a lot of men understandably hate couples counseling.

Yet, when sex and/or physical affection are denied to someone who needs these to feel loved and whole, it is just as hurtful and cruel as if a spouse denied the other one a smile, interest in listening to their story about work, or saying “I love you.”  For someone who thrives on hugs, kisses, and sexual intimacy, there can be no emotional generosity without physical love. This is also the one need they cannot get met outside the relationship, as I discuss here.

When the higher libido/physical-touch-focused partner is repeatedly told to be more emotionally available in order to possibly get the chance for their spouse to respond to them sexually, they feel frustrated and gaslighted. After all, nobody tells their partner (except some more conservative authors/Christian therapists and me) to have sex with them more in order to increase their chances of getting emotional closeness.  BUT BOTH ARE EQUALLY TRUE.  The relationship between sex and emotional closeness is bidirectional.

If you are seeing a therapist who continually puts one spouse’s need for physical intimacy as a distant second priority to the other partner’s need for emotional validation or availability, you need a new therapist.  Over time, the higher-libido partner will feel just as invalidated and ignored by the therapist as they do by their partner, and they will emotionally and/or physically check out of treatment entirely. 

You need a therapist that acknowledges that all love languages are valid and necessary.  Denying one partner hugs or sex is not a healthy response to feeling emotionally disconnected, just as denying one partner kindness because you’re not getting sex/physical touch is not healthy.  Two wrongs don’t make a right. And denial of EITHER partners’ needs is EQUALLY unhealthy.

Share with your partner, especially if you have ever felt couples counseling made you, the higher-libido partner, feel less-than or unheard in this way.  See what discussion points come up.  And till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, You Wouldn’t Deny Your Child A Hug.

For therapy, go here for Dr. Whiten and go here for other clinicians in her group practice Best Life Behavioral Health. For coaching with Dr. Whiten, go here. Order Dr. Whiten’s books, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage and How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family, and listen to The Dr. Psych Mom Show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts.

This blog is not intended as medical advice or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a medical professional. If you try this advice and it does not work for you, you cannot sue me. This is only my opinion, based on my background, training, and experience as a therapist and person.

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8 Comments

  1. Marble Chops
    December 28, 2021 at 1:40 am — Reply

    Wow. Just unbelievable. A psychologist who sees the feminization of her own profession (and society at large)

    Samantha you rock. You and Venker are like diamonds amongst a ton of coal,

    There’s not a single post I haven’t liked. Great work.

  2. Rebecca
    March 18, 2022 at 11:05 am — Reply

    Oh ok so forget getting to the underlying issues of why one partner (usually the woman)wants less sex. Just suck it up and get penetrated whether you want to or not because “needs.” Forget being sovereign over yiur own body. Forget autonomy. Gross.

    • Fl
      April 1, 2022 at 1:41 am — Reply

      When you marry you give up that autonomy. If you feel like that you should stay single. If there are issues that make a person. It want sex having to committed themselves to their partner, they should sort the issues out, not conserve their ‘autonomy’.

      • imppress
        August 22, 2022 at 8:21 am — Reply

        Dear Rebecca’s future husband,

        Have an affair.
        With your emotional/physical needs met, you’ll have a much easier time trying to find a way to resolve the “underlying issue” causing the hostage situation you’re now in. You won’t be distracted by hormones and resentment.

        You may have half as much money by the end of things, but you’ll still be much happier long-term, either way.
        I hope you and Rebecca patch things up. Really, I do. Keep the phone number handy, though. I don’t see Rebecca pulling this shit only once.

        Pre-nup next time. Live and learn.

  3. Eckardt Campos
    March 21, 2022 at 5:23 pm — Reply

    Unfortunately for us all, communication is just NOT enough to solve that. As evidenced by some of the predictably flustered female responses, women will not allow the outside world, reason, religious, emotional or other moral convictions of what “is best” for a mutually fulfilling relationship -to tamper with or even regulate the degree to which she feels any sexual desire for her partner. Most women live their lives stubbornly unaware and unwilling to understand the principles that predict the fostering of natural, organic, sexual arousal by men. They seem to be perfectly content leaving that as an unsearchable, inscrutable aspect of the feminine mystique, that is equivalent to “the voice of God/or fate” once an eligible male is able to stole her flames or is deemed unworthy of it. We end up in a scenario well-described by the Red Pill principle that “one cannot negotiate into true desire”. Not men. Not women. It resists efforts by our conscious, reasonable, frontal cortex to regulate it. This is why men over the eons have developed a pragmatic approach to come to an accurate appreciation of what works. In street slang called -game. Game is a set of behaviors men can tap into that have the power to tap directly into female desire and sexual arousal. However, a lot of the behaviors are generally frowned upon by the greater societal powers that be and by multiple aspects of a broadly gynocentric social order in which our world currently finds itself in.

  4. ILIASM.org
    August 24, 2022 at 9:41 pm — Reply

    Been there, done that. Joint and separate with multiple “sex therapists” for years trying to work on libido mismatch, and it always distilled down to the lowest common denominator – the higher libido partner must compromise. Onus is on them to find satisfaction from all the other aspects of the relationship.

    My theory is that those therapists were turning the only knob they could – or that society would allow. They had no tricks up their sleeves to motivate a low-libido patient, so they resorted to the lazy option of vilifying the high-libido spouse rather than admit to being out of their depth.

    In contrast, if a person was in therapy because of issues with laziness, horrible hygiene, drug abuse, etc. the answer would never be for their spouse to just be more tolerant – they would be expected and coached to change. Yet sexuality is viewed as behavior that “just is” and must be blindly accepted at the expense of their partner. The treatment of sexual dysfunction seems to be about as evolved as medicine was in the days of leeches and bloodletting.

    • September 1, 2022 at 7:31 am — Reply

      I second this. I have been told on numerous occasions that if I only did X, Y, and Z then maybe she would be more interested in sex. So the best I can hope for is a maybe? She’s supposed to get all her needs met before she’s expected to even consider meeting mine? That’s not what I signed up for when I got married. We’ve been nearly celibate for the whole marriage and nothing I can say or do will ever change that. No amount of therapy can turn an asexual person into a sexual one, especially when the person refuses to admit it to himself/herself.

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