I’m pleased to present a guest post from Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson, authors of the recent publication, Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory, and Optimistic Open Relationships. This new book is a terrific resource for people interested in deciding what relationship structures work best for them. Thanks to Mark and Patricia for writing a great piece! xoxo
I Love Her but Our Sex Life is Dead: Getting Laid When Divorce is Off the Table
Discrepancy in desire is the top reason couples seek sex therapy. While a partner’s lack of interest in or ability to have sex can be challenging, there are ways to arrive at a satisfactory solution. Couples do this all the time. In fact virtually all couples, even happy ones, will experience some form of sexual discrepancy. In many instances, these are minor or temporary, but when the issues are significant or enduring, finding ways to work around them is crucial.
If you have found that your sexualities and/or sex drives are truly irreconcilable and have exhausted all means of reviving your erotic connection, you can still have a long-term fulfilling and loving relationship; you just need to come up with your own guidelines and rules. If divorce is truly off the table, it’s much wiser to find ways to remain both emotionally connected and sexually satisfied. It’s profoundly unfair for one party to impose his or her sexuality on the other––whether that imposition involves demanding that the person who desires sex forego it or insisting that the one who doesn’t want must engage in it. The former can be cruel and is, at best, a form of pleasure deprivation that is likely to breed hostility. The latter is tantamount to rape. Neither is conducive to maintaining civility, let alone caring, in a long-term relationship.
When sexual discrepancies are truly irreconcilable, consensually opening a relationship is one way to avoid throwing away years of goodwill, financial security, and familial bonds. For some, having affairs is the answer, but there are ethical issues and clandestine behaviors can often be corrosive, even if they’re never discovered. Some may opt for a “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach, but in many cases, an open and transparent approach involving explicit understandings and agreements is best. The options are many and varied; for some, casual encounters may be the way to go; others may feel more comfortable with a more polyamorous approach in which they actually get to know the outside partners.
Talking about it won’t be easy, but not talking about it will be costlier in the long run. We recommend that you have as many conversations as you need, striving to be kind and loving, even when things get difficult.
There’s more to any relationship than sex, so it’s best to begin discussing solutions by identifying those areas in which your bonds are strong. Be clear and specific about the ways in which you are truly happy together. Your connection may be intellectual; your bond may be premised on maintaining a home together, community service, or raising your children. Going into detail about what you love will build goodwill and make it easier to think about ways to address the sexual imbalance.
Focusing on the positive and expressing appreciation will make it easier to begin discussing sexuality, which is difficult for many people even in the best of times.
Begin by recognizing that there’s no right or wrong way to be sexual (leaving aside abuse and non-consensual activity) and that neither one of you has the “correct” or “normal” sex drive or erotic interests. Promise not to shame each other about any aspect of your sexuality. Recognize that you are making your own rules, and ignore the endless stream of advice, pat forumlae, and artificial rules coming from popular media. You are individuals, and your circumstances are unique. The point is to find what works for you, to create a set of rules that are mutually acceptable and that can be revisited and reexamined in the future, as circumstances demand.
Strive to find points of agreement and to create consensus. There’s a five step process for doing this:
1. Ask questions until you fully understand what’s being proposed.
2. Don’t make assumptions or snap judgments.
3. Remain calm.
4. Allow the idea to settle in.
5. Take as much time as is necessary before deciding on a course of action.
Where you arrive will depend on your specific individual circumstances.
There’s a word that may be unfamiliar but that can be of great value in this context. That word is compersion – taking pleasure in another’s pleasure, including a partner’s sexual pleasure with somebody else. Think of the person whose primary pleasure in cooking comes from the enjoyment of others. This is an emotion that can be cultivated, and it can be a way for the partner who is not interested in sex to become comfortable and even happy with the idea that sex outside the marriage is happening. It’s a great skill to develop in any relationship, but especially for those who are no longer having sex but are determined to stay together.
Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson, co-authors of Designer Relationships, are a devoted married couple. They have been creative collaborators since 1999, and their critically acclaimed titles have garnered numerous awards. Michaels and Johnson are the authors of Partners in Passion, Great Sex Made Simple, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment, and The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. They are also the creators of the meditation CD set Ananda Nidra: Blissful Sleep. www.MichaelsandJohnson.com
Designer Relationships: A Guide to Happy Monogamy, Positive Polyamory and Optimistic Open Relationships
By Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson
Foreword by Kenneth Haslam, MD
Published by Cleis Press
$15.95, Trade Paper
208 pages, 5” x 8”