The High and Low Desire Dilemma
The issue of low desire for physical intimacy in couple relationship is a fairly common one, but this does not bring much comfort to the couple who are struggling with the stress that conflicts over physical intimacy typically bring. When couples conflict in this area, they tend to become quite reactive to each other, not just in the area of physical intimacy, but in other intimacy areas as well, such as emotional and spiritual intimacy. The good news is that there is real hope to reduce the amount of conflict and reactivity in this area and find that the couple may not be as far apart as they thought they once were on physical intimacy.
Most couples follow a predictable pattern regarding this high and low desire dilemma. The high desire partner may become caustic, sarcastic, demanding or manipulative in attempts to get more physical intimacy. The high desire partner may decide that what they need to do is ‘pitch’ more to up their ‘batting average’. All of these strategies usually just make the lower desire partner backpedal, making the situation even worse. The lower desire partner may criticize the high desire partner for being a pest and not really caring about the low desire partner; only wanting the low desire partner ‘for one thing’. In both cases, the reactions can result in loud arguments or cold shut down of emotions. Both partners end up in deep pain that feels like it cannot be resolved.
It’s important to understand that the high and low desire positions are relative to each other. If each partner was with a different person, they may have their roles reversed. Virtually every couple has differences in their desire for physical intimacy. The reactive process of push and pull will make the couple feel as if they are miles apart on the issue, when in fact, they have always been either high or low desire in the relationship. The couple simply comes to notice it over the course of time and repeated cycles of reaction and counter-reaction. The physical intimacy slowly becomes a weapon (for both the high and low desire partner) to express other hurts and problems.
The ‘cure’ is essentially quite simple to understand, but very difficult to accomplish without hard work and dedication to self discipline. Learning how to calm your own negative thoughts and resulting emotions while in the situation of either initiating physical intimacy or turning it down is key. Reacting and escalating the conflict really never works (haven’t you tried that a million times by now?) Without controlling your own reactions and negative assumptions in the situation, there is no real hope of narrowing the distance between the couple. This takes quite a bit of practice and dedication, not to mention a real belief that it is the only real answer to the problem.
Once reactivity is being managed (by at least one of the partners), there is the chance that one partner will be able to initiate ‘difficult intimacy’. Difficult intimacy is when one person has something important, anxiety producing, and maybe even painful to say to the other person. Regarding physical intimacy, this can range from discussing dissatisfaction with the quality, quantity, or variety of physical intimacy in the relationship to broader and more weighty issues such as one partner’s revealing that they may be feeling like they want to end the relationship if they can no longer tolerate the differences in desire. Once again, the key to forward movement and satisfying resolution is for at least one person to remain genuinely calm. This has the potential to keep the other person calm; keeping this cannot be guaranteed.
If the conversation has successfully entered into the realm of calm difficult intimacy, then real and genuine compromise and progress may be realized. And what compromise is possible? Couples can come to agreement to honor each others position instead of fight against it. First, this means that both partners stop pushing and defending so hard and drops their negative attitudes. A couple can come to a plan of coping that may include so called ‘maintenance intimacy’. This means that the high desire partner gets a greater frequency of satisfaction by the lower desire partner ‘helping out’ without becoming fully or traditionally involved in the physical intimacy. In turn, the higher desire partner challenges themselves to become more tolerant in hearing ‘no’ from the lower desire partner.