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.