Michele Weiner-Davis, an experienced marriage counselor and author of seven books on
marriage and relationships, focuses three
chapters respectively on the high-desire spouse and the low-desire spouse in The Sex-Starved Marriage. She
examines briefly physical (e.g., hormones, childbirth, fatigue, illness, medicines)
and psychological (e.g., self-esteem, body image, sexual/emotional abuse,
depression) factors that often disrupt marital relations. Using many quotes
and interesting anecdotes from counseling cases to explore typical problems of
intimacy and relationship issues, she finds relationship issues can evolve from
low self-awareness, self-absorption, abuse, and fears of being perceived as
abnormal, unmanly, cold, unlovable, unapproachable, and unworthy.
The book deals primarily with how to have more realistic expectations, goals, and
behavioral indicators so each partner can recognize and work together on positive
signs of marital progress and personal growth. She focuses advice on mutual problems
of communication that can underlie each partner's feelings of rejection, frustration,
isolation or controlling, blaming, and arguing behavior. She offers couples ways to
relate to each other about sex, kissing, touching, foreplay, and expressions of physical
and emotional closeness, novelty, and "gift-giving." Davis looks at "more of the same,"
or what has not worked repeatedly first, then follows with guidelines and "solutions"
that may hit positive buttons at the right time for accepting, sex-starved partners.
Her goal-setting model starts
And, of course, follow through and see what behavior works best for you and your
- Describe what you want to change about your life,
rather than what you're unhappy about.
- Describe your goals in clear, action-oriented
- Make your specific goals into small, do-able (short-term) behavioral steps.
The author takes the latest cognitive-behavioral position: she asserts that one's
willingness to engage in more emotional conversation and physical contact with the
partner can stimulate more amorous interests and sexual foreplay. Many of the author's
clients seemed to move dramatically in more satisfying directions when they directly
approached and talked honestly about their feelings and tried to connect in other
ways. Some ways may have been recalled from a distant past and others emerged
naturally when the couple discussed frankly long-held ideas and desires never disclosed
or enacted before. If both partners can forgive each other and give up perceived hurts,
failures, criticisms, and defensiveness to relate differently, then sexual desire and more
interest in sex with the marital partner will emerge and can flourish. In other words, if
you don't use it, you will lose it. The author cautions the reader to not get caught up in
a "see-saw" trap where one partner tries to aggressively do more while the other partner continues to do less and less. Ideally, both partners should be fully engaged and working
on complementary roles and mutually reinforcing goals.
Chapter Eight -- Can We Talk? -- offers four basic communication rules and provides a set
of sound principles for relating to a marital partner in order to facilitate closeness and relationship-building. For examples: start on a positive note; be specific; talk about what
you want, rather than criticize or complain; use I messages ("I like it when you speak this (specific) way...."); if you start to get angry, take a time out, and come back later in the
day to talk; stay in the present; accept that feelings are not right or wrong, but just there;
don't try to mind-read, and so on.
Chapter Nine (Sex Talk) repeats the communication rules and principles discussed, but the
focus is on the topic of sex -- that is, each partner's wants, goals, and suggested behavioral activities in the relationship. The author describes her marital difficulties and a satisfactory resolution in the concluding chapter. This chapter serves to ground, close, and add hope
for realistic marital bliss that can flow to any couple open to learning how to communicate
and use the guidelines with empathy. A short, but excellent bibliography and recommended readings appear at the book's end.
The Sex-Starved Marriage is an easy-to-read and understandable work with specific real-life examples of what happens when couples do not communicate effectively. When unmet sexual needs go unrecognized, partners can pull the relationship apart which may lead to infidelity, divorce, and worse. I highly recommend this book with or without professional counseling
as a key first-step for persons serious about assessing the depth, quality, and stability of their marital relationship.