Let’s talk about differences in desire in intimate relationships. The topic is so important, that of the 100 or so choices on the symptom list I give to new couples, “differences in desire” consistently gets the highest number of hits.
Sadly, it’s a topic too many marriage counselors avoid. I don’t know if it’s because they’re too embarrassed, they don’t want to embarrass their clients, or because they don’t think to ask about it unless clients bring it up themselves.
Whatever the reason, differences in desire is an almost universal problem in long-term, intimate relationships. When a couple matches up in their desire for each other, the rest of their relationship generally works. But when there is tension around this issue, especially if it’s not being talked about, or if it’s being talked about in a hostile or insulting way, the problem tends to fester. Eventually, this single issue infects the whole relationship.
Today’s Tricky Tuesday post is a guide to using the “Want me to appreciate you more?” card to talk about the cat and mouse game couples play when one person wants more sex than the other. Sarah and Chris are a fictional couple, but the example illustrates how any couple struggling with this issue might begin to talk about it.
Chris is angry. Every time he tries to initiate any kind of physical affection, Sarah pulls away. It’s gotten so bad that he’s afraid to even hug her or touch her in bed.
Sarah is annoyed. She thinks Chris tries to be nice to her because he has ulterior motives.
“He thinks if he cleans the kitchen I’ll have sex with him.”
When a couple’s interest in sex matches up, the relationship generally works. But when there is tension around this issue, the problem tends to fester. Eventually, this single issue infects the whole relationship.
Here’s how Sarah might use the “Want me to appreciate you more?” card to begin to address the problem with Chris.
* The actual checklist has more prompts and lots more choices. And what you see on the right is only the first part of a competed card.
Take a look at each paragraph of the finished card above. Notice how the letter begins by validating Chris’s perception that Sarah hasn’t been showing him a lot of appreciation. Acknowledging the other person’s reality is a critical first step to any constructive conversation. If your first paragraph sounds dismissive or accusatory, you’re likely to put the Receiver on the defensive.
In the same paragraph, Sarah explains why it’s been hard for her to respond in a positive way to behavior she interprets as manipulative.
In the third paragraph, Sarah makes it clear that there are things she does appreciate about Chris. This message is important. It reminds them both that in spite of what she doesn’t like, she is aware of and can describe the things she does appreciate about him.
In the next paragraph, Sarah gives Chris concrete information about what he could do to get more appreciation from Sarah.
In my experience, men are more than willing to give women what they want if they know it will lead to more affection, less rejection, and more frequent sex.