Question

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Question

Q

My lesbian partner and I have been in a three-year relationship. We got married in Vermont two years ago. We have a house, two dogs and a cat. For the most part, life is good. We are best friends and have the same interests and loving friends and family. But we haven't had sex in a year and a half. I've tried every sort of approach with her

Answer

As a relationship counselor, one of the most common complaints I hear from couples of all sexual orientations is, "We have a great life, we love each other, we are best friends, but we don't have sex anymore." In our culture, we expect a lot out of sex when we are going through the courtship phase of a relationship. Our hormones are flying high, and we've idealized our new love so much that we find it easy to lust after and pursue them. But we don't have a lot of role models for continuing to keep the sex hot when that cools down. It can be difficult to keep eroticism alive when we are starting to see more of our partner's flaws, work drains our energy, and the tasks that are needed to keep a household running are also intruding. Another factor here is that we know our partner is also more aware of our flaws. That puts a crimp in one's style.

Of course, you can address this. There are many couples who continue to have good sex throughout the course of their lifelong relationships. There may be occasional hiatuses or changes in what they do or how often they do it, but desire can definitely be kept alive. These couples tend to have really good communication about their sexual fantasies, and they are compatible as well as honest with each other. If you can tell your partner what images are getting you hot, and your lover tries to give you what you want, even when it changes, the two of you have a never-ending source of sexual excitement.

Unfortunately, some women (and men!) seem to feel that once they have gotten a commitment out of their partner, they can let go of their sexual obligations. For some people, ceasing sexual activity is a relief. This may be because they were not that comfortable with sex to begin with, or it may be because they are depressed, or they are actually unhappy in the relationship and unwilling to bring their conflicts to their partner. There are also differences in the individual level of libido. In most relationships, one partner wants sex more often than another. But if that difference is too extreme, or if neither partner can compromise, lovemaking becomes an area full of conflict and mutual resentment.

The bottom line is that you can't work on this alone. If your partner won't come to the table and join you in resuscitating your sex life, there is nothing you can do to force her. As things stand right now, she's only giving you negative options: an unhappy live versus an affair or a divorce. But you can go to her with an ultimatum. It is unreasonable for her to expect a healthy woman of 35 to quietly and happily quit having sexual release and intimacy with the person she loves. She may be lying to herself about the fact that all of the outcomes are unhappy ones if she continues to simply refuse to have sex or work on the fact that she has no desire. Tell her, in a loving but forceful way, that you will either separate yourself from her and wall yourself off behind a wall of hostility, or you will have an affair, or you will leave her. There is no way that this can be good for the health of the relationship. If any of these things happen, she will be as unhappy as you are. She is sabotaging the commitment that you expressed when you got married. If she's angry about something, that needs to be aired. If she is afraid or ashamed of her own sexuality, ditto. And if she is depressed, well, that's no way to live. Medication and therapy can help. Child abuse or violence she's suffered from as an adult can cause enough trauma to flatten out the libido. But why should she let anyone who might have hurt her take away the juice and joy in her marriage?

Your wife is probably in denial about the serious consequences of her celibate choice. You need to tell her that if she does not confront this issue and help you to solve it, the relationship will end. I hope she comes to her senses. If she does, there are several resources I can suggest. One of the best books about this issue is unfortunately full of heterosexual bias, but all of the exercises and communication techniques the author suggests are applicable to same-sex relationships as well. Michele Weiner Davis is the author of the Sex-Starved Marriage: Boosting Your Marriage Libido (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003). I also recommend David Schnarch, Passionate Marriage (New York: Holt, 1997).

If the two of you decide to work with a couples counselor, be sure to find one who is sex-positive and familiar with lesbian culture. Some therapists believe that sex isn't or shouldn't be that important to women. Unfortunately, far too many mental health professionals are biased against same-sex couples and don't see any reason to educate themselves about their own homophobia. Don't waste your money on such a person. Ask potential counselors how much they charge, what their qualifications or license is, where they got their degree(s), how long they've been working with lesbian clients, what their position is on gay marriage, and how comfortable they are resolving sexual difficulties. If you don't like the answer or the attitude, keep looking until you find someone who is better qualified.