Dr. Love,My wife and I have been married for two years this June. We have not made love or even kissed passionately since we’ve been married. I understand that I should have patience with her dealing with her problems, but this is wearing me thin. I consider myself a very compassionate and understanding person and I have been told the same by others.Yes, she grew up in abusive relationships, and always managed to find more abusive relationships. I know that she was raped the first time at age four and it continued over several years. She has since devoted herself as a Christian, but I feel she has never confronted the acts against her.Now, I, her husband, want to make ‘love’ not ‘have sex’ with her and she has been denying me for nearly two years of marriage. The hugs and pecks are nice, but not fulfilling. Back in October we began going to counseling, and have gone once a week since, but I’m not seeing any major changes in her attitude towards me. I feel like she’s using the counseling as another ‘detour’to actually going through with anything. Believing that miraculously after X number of sessions all will be well.Well, I’ve rambled on. I truly hope you can offer some words of wisdom from your experience.
You are a compassionate and patient man. But, patience does wear thin. At this point, I can see why you feel that your chain is being jerked–and not in the way you had in mind!!!Apparently your wife is using these joint sessions to avoid sex. At this point, it sounds like its time to gently confront this fact by asking a question. ‘Why do I have the feeling that our therapy is becoming an avoidance tool?’ When you are asked why you feel this way you can say,’Because no matter how much we discuss the problem, we never seem to come closer to a resolution.’ At this point, I would ask if your wife and the therapist agree that you are not moving forward.Just as an aside, I wonder if the right questions are being asked in your joint sessions. For example, you said that she had sex with you prior to marriage, and that she began refusing sex after marriage. Has anyone asked her why felt able to have sex before marriage? In other words, what is it about marriage that makes her feel sexually blocked? Has she been asked how she feels when she thinks about having sex with you (scared, angry, etc.). What does she think will happen to her when she has sex (she will be terrified, injured, vulnerable)? Has she been asked what objection she has to being afraid or vulnerable, but have sex with you anyway. And, finally, when she thinks about having sex with you, what memories come into her mind (does she have flashbacks of the previous abuse)? Has she discussed these memories and worked through the feelings associated with them.Once you make sure that all the right questions have been addressed, what else can be done?Research shows that, when it comes to abuse, talking therapy alone may not be sufficient. Why? When a person has been traumatized, his or her mind automatically creates negative associations. For example, if a person nearly drowns while swimming, he will develop fear of water or fear of swimming. The only way to break such a fear is to form a new mental association. In the above example, the person must learn to associate water with comfort or relaxation instead of danger.Now, back to you and your wife. Your wife associates sex with danger, pain, etc. We need to modify these associations, and, it doesn’t sound like talking is sufficient to modify her negative associations.So, what else can be done? I think we need to take action and permit her to receive numerous positive sexual experiences (to form positive associations through experience). But, here’s the catch. Since she’s so scared to have sex, how can you give her positive sexual experiences when you can’t even kiss her.Here’s where a technique called’Sensate Focus’ comes in handy. With Sensate Focus, you can help your wife learn to associate touch with pleasure instead of pain or danger.Before you conduct the exercise, create a safe atmosphere by telling her that you will not touch her genitals or her breasts. Explain that you simply want her to experience good feelings. If she likes, use massage lotion or oil and touch her first in the most neutral zones, like the hands or feet. Keep talking to her and have her talk to you. Let her tell you how your touch feels and let her tell you what she likes and doesn’t like. Encourage her feedback so that she learns that she can be in charge of the contact she receives. Ask permission before moving up her legs or arms. This way she will realize that you will never violate her.Make sure that you do not ask for any form of sex. In fact, it would be a good idea for you to masturbate before you do this exercise so that you are sure to be in control.After you have conducted this exercise several times, she should feel more at ease with your touch. Then, with her permission, you can move into deeper and deeper waters.By the way, she may develop feelings of fear as you touch her. If this happens, get up from the bed and move into another room. Let her talk about her fear or memories, and, reassure her that you won’t hurt her or do whatever she is afraid of. Your willingness to stop will show her that you are safe. Bottom line, your reassurances should give her the message that you will treat her in the exact opposite way that her abuser did.If the Sensate Focus exercise I describe doesn’t make her feel ready to have sex, you and your wife should see a sex therapist, who will design homework exercises just for you.Healing the wounds associated with early traumas is slow and tedious, but not impossible. So, keep a stiff upper lip and hang in there, at least a little longer. There is still much to be done to heal your wife. Please let me know how your work together progresses.