The sex-starved marriage | Michele Weiner-Davis | TEDxCU

The sex-starved marriage | Michele Weiner-Davis | TEDxCU


Translator: TED Translators admin
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven I’m going to talk to you about sex. To be more precise,
the sex-starved marriage. When I’m done, you’ll know
three things that you can do to prevent it from happening in your life. So first I’d like to tell you a story. For the last three decades, I’ve been specializing
in work with 911 couples, couples who are truly teetering
on the brink of divorce. I resuscitate flat-line relationships. I try to teach couples
what they need to know to resolve their differences
and fall back in love, and put their kids
in bed at night together. It’s not an easy job,
but I didn’t choose my career, my career chose me. You see, I grew up
in an incredible family. Two loving parents who never fought,
two great brothers, a large extended family
with whom we spent every weekend and all of our holidays. Until one fateful day, I was 16 years old
and a senior in high school and my mom called us all in
for a family meeting, and she proceeded to tell us that she’d been miserable
for 23 years in her marriage and she was getting
a divorce from my father. No one saw it coming. I told you, my parents never fought. I remember the feeling of blood
rushing from my body, thinking, “How can this be happening? I’m leaving home,
and my nest is falling apart.” And that’s precisely what happened. Divorce not only ends a marriage,
it dissolves a family. The sadness about the break up
of my family still lingers today. That’s because divorce is forever. Now, my parents’ divorce
affected me in a number of ways. First, it made me incredibly impassioned about learning everything I possibly could about how to have a healthy,
loving, lasting relationship, so I could apply it in my own life
with my own family, and my own marriage. And I’m very proud to say
that one of my biggest accomplishments is my nearly 40-year marriage
to my husband, Jim. And if you knew him, you’d know
what an accomplishment this really is. (Laughter) The other thing the divorce made me do,
is be incredibly impassioned about teaching what I know
to anyone who crosses my path. Now when I say that, I really mean that. I’m not just talking
about the couples in my practice. I do some of my best work on airplanes, or online at Whole Foods, or as a matter of fact,
that’s why I’m here right now. I want to warn you
about the inevitable pitfalls of a sex-starved marriage. But what is that? A sex-starved marriage is one
where one spouse is desperately longing for more touch, more physical closeness,
more sex, more physical affection, and the other spouse is thinking,
“What is the big deal? Would you just get a life, it’s just sex.” But to the spouse yearning for more sex
and more touch, it’s a huge deal, because it really is about feeling wanted,
about feeling loved, feeling connected, about feeling masculine,
or feminine and attractive. When this major disconnect happens,
what also happens is that intimacy on all levels
goes right out the door. They stop sitting next
to each other on the couch. They quit laughing at each others’ jokes. They don’t spend time together. They stop being friends. And it places the marriage
at risk of infidelity and divorce. Some of the reasons
that people have low desire or an insatiable appetite for sex,
are very complicated and deep-seated. But I’m happy to tell you that the primary cause
for a sex-starved marriage is also the simplest to solve. And before I explain that solution,
I really want to go on record for saying that if you’re sitting here, thinking
low sexual desire is a women’s issue, I want you to think again. Women do not have a corner
on the low libido market. I’m convinced that low desire in men
is one of our very best-kept secrets. Having said that, I want to also tell you
about a little talked about fact, that in a sex-starved marriage, the person with the lower sex drive
controls the sexual relationship. When I say that,
I don’t mean that this person is intentionally mean-spirited,
or unkind, or manipulative. I just mean, if that person
isn’t interested in sex, the partner may as well
go take a cold shower, because it’s not going to happen. I find this really curious
on a couple of counts, because when we think about how decisions are made in marriage, we generally think about mutuality: two people decide when to get married, whether to have kids,
have to raise those kids, what to do about finances, the in-laws,
who is going to do what around the house, but conspicuously missing from that mix
is anything having to do with sex. What’s it like, the nature,
the quality, the quantity. I find this incredible. I know couples who have been married
for 20 to 30 years who have never spoken about sex. The other thing that really amazes me,
about this unilateral decision making, is one person decides “no sex”,
and expects the partner to accept it, not complain about it, and oh yes,
you have to be monogamous. This is an unworkable arrangement. Let me tell you
about a couple in my practice. Meet John and Mary.
They’ve been married for 15 years. John’s a real laid back kind of guy,
he doesn’t like to complain about much, except in the last 15 minutes
of my session with him, he finally gets up the courage
to tell me about something that had been bothering him
for a long, long time: that there really is only
a two-hour window of opportunity, on Friday nights between 10 and 12,
where Mary might be interested in sex, and he knows not to bother her
at any other time. Like you laughing, I glanced over
at Mary, and Mary was chuckling, because she recognized herself
in that description. John wasn’t laughing. He wasn’t smiling. So I said to him, “John,
what’s this been like for you?” And he said to me,
“I want to talk to Mary.” He turned to her, took a deep breath. He said, “When I reach out to you in bed,
and you’re not there for me, the only thing I ever think about is: Are you attracted to me anymore?
Do you love me like I love you? Do you want to be with me? And then when you go to sleep, and I’m lying next to you
and staring up at the ceiling, all I can think about is: this is
the loneliest feeling in the world lying next to you in bed.” To Mary’s credit,
her eyes filled up with tears, and she reached out
and grabbed John’s hands. She said, “John, I have to tell you,
in all the years we’ve been married, I never, not once, thought about
what it’s like to be you. I only think about, am I in the mood?
Am I not in the mood?’ I’m so, so sorry. I’ll do better.” John began to cry. I began to cry. For me, it was a magical moment. Because it was the first time
in the history of their marriage that Mary was stretching
outside her comfort zone to try to understand John’s pain,
his loneliness, his alienation, his need to connect with her. And she promised she would do better. It was the beginning
of a breakthrough for them. Unfortunately, for so many couples,
it doesn’t work that way. In fact, very often,
the very thing that couples do to deal with a sex-starved marriage
actually makes things worse. Let me give you an example. So he says: “Honey, do you want
to put the kids to bed early, have a glass of wine and fool around?” And she says: “I have so much on my mind,
I’m not relaxed, and I have a headache.” “You were the one to tell me last week
that women are great multi taskers. Can’t you have a headache
and sex at the same time?” (Laughter) “I don’t think you’re funny. Furthermore,
what part of ‘no’ don’t you get?” “I’m not trying to be funny. I’m furious.
We haven’t had sex in six weeks. I hate this relationship.
It’s just not working.” “You raise your voice,
and you talk to me like that, and then you expect me
to want to touch you? Plus, do you realize
for the last two or three weeks you haven’t been home at all? And when you are home,
you don’t talk to me, we don’t do things together,
you’re angry, and you’re withdrawn. I am not going
to have sex with you like that.” “I don’t want to talk
to you anymore. I’m out of here.” What’s going on here?
I’ll tell you what’s going on. In the early stages of dealing
with a sex-starved marriage, the person with higher desire usually approaches his or her spouse
with open-heartedness and vulnerability, saying things like, “I miss you.
I want to have sex with you,” but when the pleas for connection are met
with unresponsiveness, as they often are, that vulnerability quickly turns
into anger and contempt. Anger is not an aphrodisiac. Anger leads to sexual withdrawal. Sexual withdrawal
leads to heightened anger. Heightened anger leads to sexual anorexia. And on and on. And then both people wait
for the other person to change. That’s how marriages go down the drain. So what are they supposed to do?
Well, here’s what they’re supposed to do. He needs to get a grip on his anger, regardless of whether he feels
short-changed or not. And he needs to spend time with her,
and talk to her, be present in her life. He needs to recognize
that those things will turn her on. And what does she need to do? Well, despite her feelings, she needs to adopt
the Nike philosophy and just do it. (Laughter) Why? For two reasons. The first is obvious, he’ll be happy. He’ll be nicer, he’ll be more present. Mostly, he’ll be more grateful. But there’s another reason. It has nothing to do with him,
and it’s all about her. I wish I had a dollar for each time
someone in my practice said to me, “Michelle, I wasn’t in the mood for sex
when my partner approached me, but once we got into it,
I had a really good time. I had a great orgasm. We enjoyed each other. And then afterwards, we had the best talk
that we’ve had in months.” And when I described that scenario
to a couple in my practice, the husband said, “Yikes, that’s my wife. I wish she would just
write it on her hand, ‘I like sex’, so she remembers it for the next time. (Laughter) There’s actually some science to this. I saw this so often in my practice
that I started scouring the research, and I bumped into the work
of Dr. Rosemary Basson. She took the mystery
out of my observations. The human sexual response cycle
is considered to have four stages. The first is desire. This means that you can be doing
just about anything, taking a walk, studying for a test,
preparing a meal, talking to a friend, and all of a sudden,
you have this random lusty thought and you start fantasizing about sex. Second stage is arousal. You get with your partner,
you get physically aroused, and you feel that sensation inside. The third stage: orgasm. Do you need an explanation? (Laughter) Fourth stage: resolution, your body
goes back to its normal resting state. Well, apparently,
according to Dr. Basson’s research, for millions of people, stages one, desire and two,
arousal are actually reversed. Their bodies have to be
physically stimulated and aroused in order for their brains
to register there is desire. The desire is there, but it’s not
the compelling force to initiate sex. If this sounds like you,
or a friend of a friend, it behooves you to be receptive
to your partner’s advances, even from a neutral starting place,
because once you get into it, you’re bound to remember: “I like sex.” So, here’s the deal. As human beings,
we are hard-wired for connection. We are learning through groundbreaking
research in social neuroscience that our need to connect
with people we love is more fundamental and more basic
than our need for food and shelter. The opposite is also true:
that disconnection hurts. I mean, get this. When scientists look
into the functional MRIs of the brains of people who have just
experienced a recent divorce or that are brokenhearted
because of a breakup, the exact same regions
of their brains light up as in the brains of people
who are experiencing physical pain. And the same is not true
for other negative emotions, like sadness, anxiety, and fear. Just for rejection, rejection is unique. Rejection hurts. So when your partner
comes over to you and says, “I’m looking at this amazing sunset,
and I want to share it with you,” or “I just read this incredible article,
and I want you to read it,” or “Can we just turn off
our cell phones on Friday nights so we can spend some time
together uninterrupted?” or “We haven’t made love for a while, I’d love to snuggle in bed
and make love to you,” if we’re not interested,
if we’re not in the mood, rejection hurts. So what are we supposed to do? Well, here are those three lessons
I promised in the beginning of my talk. Number one. We all have different ways
of feeling connected to one another. We need to know our way,
but we have to become experts in our partner’s way
of feeling connected to us. Number two. If you’re with someone
who’s yearning for more touch, more physical closeness, and more sex,
don’t delude yourself into thinking, “it’s just sex, like scratching an itch.” Sex is a powerful way of connecting
and bonding with somebody you love. And number three, when you get
your partner’s way of connecting to you, you don’t have to fully understand it,
you don’t have to fully agree with it, you just have to do it. And you want to know why? Two reasons. From everything I’ve learned
about relationships, healthy relationships are based
on mutual caretaking. Plus, it’s an act of love. I know that what I’m asking you
to do is really challenging because I’m asking you to put
some one else’s needs above your own. But I truly believe that if more of us
took to heart the very crucial idea that we have to
take better care of each other, and that we don’t have to be slaves
to our own emotions, then we can make this world
a more loving place, one marriage, one relationship at a time. People tell me I’m a psychotic optimist. But I tell them, “That’s OK.
It’s a communicable disease.” Thank you. (Applause)

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