Dear Dr. Darcy:
My boyfriend has informed me that he is not being satisfied sexually. He tells me this after pulling away and being angry that the relationship is failing. He feels like doing things with me is more like an obligation now. Shouldn’t we work out the sex problem so it won’t affect our relationship?
I am so depressed by this news that I feel like even if we work at it, it will never be the same. Now, having sex with him will feel like a chore to both of us. I don’t know what to do now. It feels like my whole world just fell apart.
Ugh. I much prefer when I can fully align with one person in my answer and assassinate the other. In this case, however, I want to shake you both. Thanks for screwing up my jam.
It’s like you both learned your relationship skills from Gossip Girl (or any equivalent thereof).
Here’s the deal: Relationships require skills to succeed. Those skills include (but are not limited to):
Partner One (gently) expresses his feelings when something is bothering him, before resentment sets in. If he has a request for his partner to change her behavior, he describes what he wants, giving her an opportunity to meet his needs. After all, none of us are mind-readers, perfect, or perfectly matched.
Partner Two receives (hears) her partner’s feelings without becoming hysterical/defensive/withdrawn.
Partner Two evaluates the request of Partner One. If she determines that the request is reasonable (in this case, it is), she attempts to meet her partner’s needs – particularly in the area of sex, since (presuming you’re monogamous) he can’t get that need met anywhere else.
Partner One gives his partner time to apply the new behavior. He is patient, knowing that it’s particularly difficult for someone to hear that her partner isn’t sexually fulfilled. He is also reasonable in his expectations, knowing that the nature of compromise means that neither partner will have things 100% his or her way.
Commitment to Consciousness.
I don’t mean you need to commit to being awake. I mean you need to commit to handling your relationship with a heightened state of awareness – both about yourself and about your partner.
Basically, if the way you react feels natural or comfortable, it’s probably wrong. If, however, it required thoughtfulness, a level of self-control, or felt awkward, it was probably right.
Your intimate relationship is no different from a professional relationship. You wouldn’t hesitate to receive feedback from a supervisor (and if you did, you wouldn’t make it far in your field). And if that feedback hurt your feelings (or your pride), you certainly wouldn’t respond in a way that felt natural (and if you did, again, you wouldn’t go far professionally).
The problem is, we have some naïve ideas about intimate relationships:
We want to be accepted ‘as we are.’
We want to be allowed to be ‘real’ with our partners.
We don’t want our relationships to be ‘work.’
Relationships don’t have to be work. But they do require self-discipline.
Just like every other area of your life does.
The only thing wrong with the two of you is your expectation that your relationship should somehow work without effort, without communication, without compromise, and without consciousness.
PS: You are Partner #2, in case that wasn’t obvi.
Gender and Orientation: Female, Straight.