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The High and Low Desire Dilemma

Updated on July 24, 2013

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.


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      Robert E Smith 

      4 years ago from Rochester, New York

      I loved the hub and also Dashingscorpio's comment. Marriage is a mesh of all of the highs and lows of two people's worlds colliding. I, having been married twice, and having been a counselor for some years, have seen the good and bad of both extremes. It is most often the male partner that is the high drive person in my experience and the woman who has very different ideas of what is "normal" for her. But I have known women that have a very high sex drive but they are usually very verbal about their needs because they are aware that most men have a hard time keeping up with them. A man thinking that would be the woman of his dreams may be in for a shock when he can't keep up with her. I say all of this as pertains to drive only. There should really be more than just sex drive between marriage partners.

      I believe that sex in marriage is a sacred commitment to the other person. Though I am there because I have needs, my primary goal is to satisfy her. I am there to fulfill my wife and she is there to fulfill my needs. Therefore, in my mind, I am not permitted to say no to her. I never have. Ideally, on an average day that would occur but on those days that my body is not up to the task, she still will be satisfied in some way by me, if possible. If she needs me I am there, I am her husband. Neither of us demand from the other but it is the understanding that needs be fulfilled.

    • anupma profile image

      Dr Anupma Srivastava 

      5 years ago from India

      Interesting hub.

    • dashingscorpio profile image


      5 years ago

      Voted up and interesting!

      I honestly think it is (very) important to choose a mate whom you are sexually compatible with. Whether one has a high or low sex drive you don't want anyone making you feel bad because of it. We are who we are!

      If it is at all possible (avoid saying no to intimacy) with the one you love. Also keep in mind there are multiple ways to please a partner sexually if one does not desire or have the energy to "pull out all of the stops" every single time. There is nothing wrong with using manual/oral techniques or toys to please one's mate. In fact more often than not once you start doing something you are likely to find yourself getting in the mood!

      Whenever two people are not sexually compatible they are likely to have major issues mainly because they are both seeking to change what is "natural" for the other person. If one of them wants sex 4 times a week and the other is happy with having it 1 time a week, over the course of a year you'd be looking at 208 times vs 52 times! (That's a major red flag). This could lead the person with the high sex drive to consider cheating. The goal of every cheater is to hold onto all that is good in her/his primary relationship while addressing their other needs on "the side".

      I suspect the reason why it is such a challenge for people to find a mate who is their "equal" with regard to sex drive is because (most) people start (new) relationships with high sex drives! It's not until several months down the road and after there has been an "emotional investment" that we see their "authentic sex drive". It's highly unlikely anyone would tell someone they just met that they could do without having sex forever or once a month is more than enough for them. However it is that kind of honesty that would save everyone time, frustration, and potential heartache. One man's opinion! :-)


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