August 5, 2017 Office Hour Recording
Full recording of the questions from the August 5 office hours for themes related to the course content of The Art of Desire and Enhancing Sexual Intimacy.
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For listeners who prefer to browse -- to read the questions and selectively listen to their responses -- the individual questions in the above recording have also been extracted into separate segments below for easier browsing.
Note that there is no question in the above full recording that is not also found below, and vice versa. They are recordings of the same office hour.
I'm hoping you can help me make sense of a dynamic in my marriage. My husband is actively trying to heal from an abusive childhood which resulted in low self-worth and a tendency to perfectionism and constant self-castigation. It's been a rocky road but I admire his efforts to try to heal and change. The process is a painful one and brings up a lot of intense emotions for him. Every couple of weeks he gets really intensely depressed/upset and spends an hour or two telling me everything he is feeling- how he is worthless, he is a failure in his life, how no one respects him or wants to listen to him at work, how the church is set up to govern by guilt, how he can't stand the pressures of work/home/church, etc. He is never mean or abusive towards me but he can get really upset and exaggerate everything. I've learned to just listen. Long years of this have taught me that nothing I say will make any difference - he won't believe any evidence I give to contradict his irrational conclusions. And I've finally learned the hard lesson that I am not his therapist and can't 'fix him' nor am I responsible for his happiness. Once he has dumped all this emotion out, he often feels better the next day and sees things much more rationally.
Here's my problem - I want to be able to be there for him when he is down. I want to be able to realize that he isn't being rational when he is upset and not take anything he says seriously. I want to feel happy for him when he begins to feel better. But I don't. I usually end up feeling depressed myself for at least a day or two after one of these sessions. It's hard not to remember the extreme things he says when he is upset, even though often he doesn't remember saying them. I feel resentful that he is dumping all this on me and angry that afterward he feels better. I feel discouraged that he is still struggling with this. And I want to distance myself from him him emotionally and sexually. It's a huge desire killer.
I can't tell if I am withdrawing/punishing or if I am just sensing that it is not good judgment to step toward someone who is acting is unstable ways. There is always this sense that I can't trust him to be functioning well because I never know when or why he will go into one of these depressive spirals.
For his part, he does not want to burden me but journaling or thinking things out on his own don't work for him to process the emotions. He needs to be able to talk about them and doesn't have anyone else in his life that can fill that role for him. And he is confused as to why I can't just listen impassively without getting emotionally drained by it.
How do I deal with this better? How do I allow him to go through this healing process and not let it affect my desire for him and my willingness to be 'all in' in this marriage? I don't want to see him as broken.
I am a faithful member of the church but I now feel a great deal of resentment and suspicion towards a church culture and towards (mostly local) church leaders that seem permissive or indifferent in allowing tradition, myth, conjecture and shame to be the predominant tools to discuss sex. I am now very suspicious of what leaders tell my children because I want their experience to be different from mine. I am careful in how much I think about past experiences because I get angry. I regret that I missed out on years of greater intimacy with my wife and at times hated myself over my God-given sexuality. Do you have any suggestions on how to get past this anger and resentment? How have your clients successfully dealt with this in the past?
1. In a marriage that was to the brink of divorce, now in therapy and working hard to rebuild, what steps would you suggest related to rebuilding desire when we are beginning from a position of disengagement, and struggling to be vulnerable? We are starting from a negative position, rather than a neutral position.
a. Husband thinks everything should be great now because he is trying so hard. To him, not having great sex means rejection. To her, the brain says, you have hurt me for years, I do not trust you and I cannot open myself up to more hurt. How do couples balance this while trying to rebuild?
b. How do couples enjoy the middle steps of intimacy without the commitment to make love? Right now it is an all or nothing approach to being intimate.
Two callers ask about reconciling differences in sexual desire.
I'm the lower-desire partner in my marriage of 5 years. I've never climaxed, and I've only experienced arousal a handful of times in my life. I don't associate guilt with sexuality largely because it's never been something I've felt the need to suppress - I rarely have sexual thoughts.
After taking your Art of Desire course, I've been carefully considering whether I tend to disown or disconnect from my sexuality, and I don't think I do. I think I've internalized some of the negatives about sex from being raised LDS (virginality was central to my religious identity) but I've processed a lot of things in healthy ways, too.
I've got a pretty healthy body image. I don't regularly resent my husband for anything. We have a pretty awesome relationship - he is everything I didn't even know to wish for in a man. My husband and I communicate frequently and frankly about most things, but he rarely brings up sex. I know he would like a lot more of it (we've had a few discussions about how his desire is full-force again on the fourth day after intercourse, so a couple times a week would be his preference, instead of once or twice a month), but he almost never initiates it. He doesn't want to pressure me or add one more thing to the list of things I already am obligated to do. He feels sad and a little bit guilty that he can't produce the same response in me that he always finishes with. We both want the unity and joy that sex is supposed to bring. I would really, really love to experience predictable arousal and eventual orgasm. I feel sad and a bit guilty that I can't give him the satisfaction of knowing he's given me orgasm. I feel a little guilt knowing he's not getting something most healthy marriages reportedly get more of, and that he infrequently expresses wanting more of.
Intercourse was frequently a little painful for the first couple of years, then super painful after our first child. Pelvic floor therapy solved the pain problem, but intercourse still doesn't feel particularly good. My husband and I read "Slow Sex" together and tried the exercises, but I found them to be irritating to my clitoral region. After session 4 of the Art of Desire, I think I must be particularly sensitive - most touch feels better with a layer of clothing on. I don't like being naked because of all the raw nerve exposure, and also due to fear of vaginal infection (I had frequent vaginal yeast/bacterial infections for a couple decades). My poor husband leans toward joining LDS nudist groups, so there's marital divergence for you. Massage feels good, although not arousing, over most of my body, but in areas of high nerve concentration it's irritating/tickles uncomfortably..
I've tried reading steamy romance novels to see what lights a fire for me. I sometimes do find arousal reading about the character’s excitement/physical response. I want to feel that! That's what I enjoy most about sex with my husband, too - I like feeling his excitement build and knowing that I can produce that response in him. When he tries to pleasure me sexually, I get bored (because the touch produces no arousal, although I wish it did - I'm pretty open to it) or physically irritated quickly. I enjoy cuddling and kissing (although tongue doesn't do much for me). The few times I think I've felt genuine arousal during sex (foreplay or intercourse), it's been fleeting. I can't figure out how to get it to stick around and build. I've tried taking moments by myself to see what feels good, but I get bored quickly in the same way as with my husband - things feel good but not arousing. [DEVELOPMENT UNDER PRESSURE]
Other notes: I'm currently pregnant (second trimester). I've been on anti-depressants (mostly Prozac) since age 18 (half my life), and I've tried cognitive therapy, lowering dosages, stopping all drugs (on accident several times over the years), experimenting with other drugs (Lexapro, Zoloft), etc. but I respond best to Prozac. I have no history of sexual trauma.
My question: How do I develop arousal? It doesn't seem to be physically driven for me. If it's an issue in my headspace, I don't know where to start. [check hormonal issues with m.d. Psychological: low sexual development, if you desire to do it, create it.
My question concerns an unwanted connection between sexual arousal and images and experiences of violence that come from childhood experiences of physical abuse and some early adolescent exposure to violent pornography.
I really, really hate the connection between violence and sex that seems deeply a part of me. I've never had any trouble with achieving orgasm--my problem is rather that sexual arousal is very related to violence for me and at times I can get aroused only by thinking about violent sexual imagery. I hate this connection and want to find ways to associate my sexuality with tenderness and intimacy instead.
Your classes have been good (we think) in that it took our marriage from generally "meh", to some higher highs and lower lows. Often the lower lows relate to the wife's anxiety around novelty (like "101 Nights" type stuff), and the husband's resultant frustration around the lack of novelty in the relationship. When the husband suggests/encourages it, it seems to result in more anxiety for the wife, so it ends up becoming something best not discussed. We are fairly sure it's not "good girl" issues, but aren't quite sure where the anxiety comes from. The wife thinks it might just be that the relationship isn't in a "good enough place" yet to do higher exposure activities, and we just need more time developing our relationship in a broader sense. There has been some progress to support that hypothesis.
What is the best way for the husband to act in this case? Don't suggest it at all, and wait for the wife? Or is there a way to encourage or suggest it, that doesn't create counterproductive anxiety?
What is the best way for the wife to identify the cause of the anxiety and grow past it? Is it best to confront it head on, or wait for the relationship to progress until it's no longer uncomfortable?