The Sex-Starved Marriage
Michele Weiner Davis
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The Sex-Starved Marriage: A Couple's Guide to Boosting Their Marriage Libido* online

The Sex-Starved Marriage: A Couple's Guide to Boosting Their Marriage Libido
Michele Weiner-Davis
Simon & Schuster
224 pages
January 2003
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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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

  1. Describe what you want to change about your life, rather than what you're unhappy about.
  2. Describe your goals in clear, action-oriented terms.
  3. Make your specific goals into small, do-able (short-term) behavioral steps.
And, of course, follow through and see what behavior works best for you and your partner.

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.

© 2003 by David L. Johnson, Ph.D., for Curled Up With a Good Book

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