NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out The Differences in Their Relationship to Have a Happier Sex Life - Part 2

In Part 1 of this article about sexual pursuers and withdrawers, I described the dynamics in a relationship where one partner, the sexual pursuer, tends to want and pursue more sex than the sexual withdrawer.  I also provided steps that each person can take, as either the pursuer or the withdrawer, to improve their relationship.  In this article I'm providing a clinical vignette to illustrate the dynamics that I discussed in the previous article.

How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out the Differences in Their Relationship

As I mentioned in Part 1, an emotional pursuer in a relationship can be a sexual withdrawer in the same relationship and an emotional withdrawer can be a sexual pursuer in the same relationship.  

Also, both men and women can be either sexual pursuers or sexual withdrawers. However, when it comes to emotional pursuers and withdrawers, most of the time women are the emotional pursuers and men are the emotional withdrawers.

Clinical Vignette: A Relationship With a Sexual Pursuer and a Sexual Withdrawer 
Amy and John, who were in their mid-40s, were married for 15 years and they had two teenage sons who lived with them.  For the last six months, Amy, who was the sexual pursuer in their relationship, was complaining to John, who tended to be sexual withdrawer, because he often wasn't in the mood for sex.  

Whenever Amy attempted to initiate sex with John, he told her that he was too tired and stressed out from his new job at a corporate law firm.  He worked very long hours, and he was also expected to work most  nights and weekends, which left very little time for the couple. 

Amy loved her job as a director at a major New York City museum.  Whereas John often came home feeling exhausted and depleted, Amy usually came home feeling invigorated by her work.  She would come home feeling inspired and she wanted to talk about her day, but ever since John started his new job, he came home anxious and irritable, and he still had several more hours of work to do after he got home.  

Amy felt lonely and sad because John was so immersed in and exhausted from his work.  Before John started at his new job, they usually spent time in bed on Sunday mornings while their sons were at soccer practice.  This used to be their private time when they cuddled and made love.  

However, since he began his new job, John preferred to sleep late on Sundays.  Even at the beginning of their relationship, he tended to take longer to get sexually aroused as compared to Amy, who, as previously mentioned, was usually the one to initiate sex.  

A year into their marriage, Amy suggested that John have his testosterone level checked and, sure enough, his testosterone level was low, which helped explain why he often wasn't as sexually aroused as Amy and he usually didn't initiate sex.  Even though it took him longer than Amy to get sexually aroused, he was usually responsive to Amy's sexual initiation, and they both eventually accepted that she was the sexual pursuer in their relationship.  

But since his workload and stress increased, John had almost no interest in sex, and the things that Amy used to do that got John turned on no longer worked.  Moreover, whenever Amy tried to talk to John about it, he got angry and told Amy that she wasn't being understanding.

During this same time period, Amy hired a new consultant, Bill, for a six month her museum.  Amy and Bill began to work closely together on a museum project, and they were spending a lot of time together, including afterwork dinners.  

Since John hardly ever wanted to hear about what was going on at her museum, Amy was happy to finally have someone to talk to about her projects.  She also liked that they had so much in common and he shared her enthusiasm for the work. 

Bill was very handsome and charming, and Amy realized she was attracted to him immediately, and she realized that he was attracted to her too.  But she wasn't worried that she would cross the boundary from colleagues to lovers.  She knew that in 15 years of marriage, neither she nor John had ever been unfaithful and she had no intention of getting involved with Bill.  

Then one night over dinner and drinks Bill confided in Amy that his relationship with his girlfriend was on the rocks and he felt lonely.  He told Amy that his girlfriend, who lived with him, never wanted to move to New York City when he was offered the consulting position with the museum, and he thought they were headed for a breakup.  

Amy listened compassionately.  Then she confided in Bill that she was also concerned about her marriage to John, and Bill reached over and held her hand.  At that point, Amy realized that they were crossing over into potentially risky territory, and she tactfully removed her hand from his.

The next day when Amy was in her therapy session, she told her psychotherapist that she was worried about the mutual attraction with Bill.  After Amy described the situation to her therapist, her therapist told Amy that it appeared she and Bill were on the verge of having an emotional affair (see my article:  Are You Having an Emotional Affair?).  

Amy's therapist recommended that Amy set better professional boundaries with Bill.  She also recommended that Amy and John attend couples therapy to deal with their nonexistent sex life.

Two weeks later, Amy and John began Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples.  After a while, they began to have a better understanding of their relationship dynamics.  Their couples therapist did an assessment of each of their sexual histories as well as their sexual history as a couple.  

When asked, John explained that he still found Amy attractive, but he just couldn't muster the energy to have sex. He said that when Amy told him that she wanted to attend couples therapy, it was a wake up call for him and he didn't want his marriage to fall apart.

Listening to John talk about his work stress and anxiety, Amy felt a new sense of empathy and compassion for him.  Her attitude towards him softened and she reached out to touch his arm to comfort him.

During their sessions, John acknowledged that his libido was low due to his low level of testosterone, and, whereas he had been unwilling to take medication before, he now agreed to take medication.

John also made an important decision that, although he liked the fact that he was earning a lot more money on his new job, he didn't feel the extra money was worth the negative impact it was having on his marriage.  So, he approached his former boss, who had told John that he could return to the company if things didn't work out at his new job, and told his boss that he wanted to return.

In addition to taking the medication to increase his libido and returning to his old job, which was much less stressful, John began to initiate sex more with Amy.  Although she was still the one who got turned on more easily, she was patient with John and allowed him to take the lead more often in their lovemaking.  

A few months later, their couples therapist suggested that they had made progress in therapy and they no longer needed to attend sessions, and John and Amy agreed.

It's not unusual for there to be differences in sexual arousal, desire and willingness to have sex between two people in a relationship.

Whereas the sexual pursuer is usually the one who is more easily aroused sexually and tends to be the one who initiates sex, the sexual withdrawer often takes longer, for a variety of reasons, to get sexually aroused and initiates less often.

The sexual pursuer is usually the one who wants to work on their sex life (and, often, the relationship, in general).  Unlike the vignette above, sometimes, if the sexual pursuer pushes the withdrawer too hard, the withdrawer will retreat even more and then they get stuck in a negative cycle where each person's actions exacerbates the other person's emotions and behavior.

If both people are willing to work out these issues in couples therapy, they can learn about their relationship dynamics and make changes to improve their sex life.

Getting Help in Therapy 
If you and your partner are having problems in your relationship and you have been unable to work out these issues on your own, you could both benefit from seeking help in therapy.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (also known as EFT) is a well-researched and evidence-based therapy.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an EFT couples therapist so you can have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.