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Michele Weiner-Davis on Better Sex
Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, was working as a marriage counselor when she theorized that couples who divorce actually create more problems in their relationships. Determined to try to save marriages across the country, she published her first best seller, Divorce Busting: A Step-by-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again, in 1992 and created the Divorce Busting counseling organization in Boulder, CO, and Woodstock, IL. She went on to write the popular book The Sex-Starved Marriage: A Couple’s Guide to Boosting Their Marriage Libido—and will soon release The Sex-Starved Wife, focusing women who have higher sex drives than their husbands. Weiner-Davis was honored by the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy with the Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Marriage and Therapy Award and as the Smart Marriages' Impact Award. In this interview, Weiner-Davis explains some simple steps couples can take to improve their sex lives.
As a marriage therapist, what is the most common sex problem you’re asked about?
It’s estimated that one in every three couples feel a desire discrepancy. I should say that it’s not uncommon for all couples to have hills and valleys when it comes to sexual desire. That in itself isn’t abnormal and isn’t necessarily a problem, but when there’s an ongoing pattern of one person wanting to be more sexual than the other—and nothing is being done about it—that’s when it truly becomes a problem.
How do you define a sex-starved marriage?
A sex-starved marriage is when one spouse is desperately longing for more touch, more physical closeness, more physical connection and more physical affection. The other spouse, for a variety of reasons, thinks, “So what’s the big deal? It’s just sex.” But to the spouse who wants more physical closeness, it’s a lot more than just sex. It’s about feeling wanted, it’s about feeling close, it’s about feeling appreciated and it’s about feeling loved. When this major disconnect happens, what also happens is a falling away of friendship. They stop sitting next to each other on the couch and they stop holding each other’s hands. They stop doing things together. They stop laughing at each other’s jokes. And when all of that starts to happen, it really does put the marriage at risk for infidelity—and then divorce.
What are some of the most common mistakes people make when trying to have better sex?
Sometimes the way in which the high-desire spouse reaches out doesn’t hit the mark, which creates additional frustration. This is probably one of the biggest roadblocks. What typically happens is rejection after rejection, which usually leads to people feeling really angry and annoyed and irritable. Instead of talking it out, he or she is yelling about the tricycle that’s left in the driveway or the beer can that’s left in the den. There’s conflict. That’s not an aphrodisiac.
How can someone overcome negative sexual experiences in the first 30 days?
It’s important that couples openly discuss and really take into consideration the needs of both spouses, find ways to compromise and become involved in what I call mutual caretaking, because that’s at the foundation of any healthy relationship.
What are common emotions during the first 30 days of improving your sex life?
The first thing is to expect good things to happen. The second thing is that sometimes, when you start something new, you can feel a little awkward because you haven’t been doing that for a while. It may take a little bit of practice and a little getting used to. That’s perfectly normal and it shouldn’t be a sign that something is wrong.
If sex has not been a priority and it suddenly becomes one, it will probably require some deeper conversations about one’s sexual relationship, which people are very often averse to doing. Couples may notice that they need to begin to openly address their sex lives and talk about what they like, what they don’t like, what they want more of and what they want less of.
There might be another psychological issue that may arise when things are going well. Oddly enough, one of the spouse’s may begin to wonder, “Why couldn’t we have done this five years ago? Why did we have to spend this period of time being unhappy?” That sort of question is a natural one, and I always encourage couples to honor that question and feeling; then, more importantly, just move on. We cannot change the past.
What’s the difference between someone who succeeds in this life change versus someone who just goes through the motions?
You get out of it what you put into it, and if you just go through the motions, you’re not going to get much out of it. You really have to jump in with both feet and say, “Who knows what the results are going to be, but for the next 30 days, I’m going to do this with my whole heart.”
Do exercise and physical health play a role in the process to having better sex?
Definitely. For one thing, I think it is good to exercise: Being physically fit and healthy makes you feel alive, vibrant and more sexual. I’ve worked with a lot of couples where one spouse has not been physically fit and it becomes a turn-off for the other spouse. I help them take a look at their choices and the impact of their choices on their marriage. I think it’s important to not only stay healthy for your own reasons, but also to please your spouse.
What’s the most important thing to do beyond the first 30 days in order to continue to have better, if not amazing sex?
I always ask people to do an inventory of some of the positive results they’ve experienced. What have we done specifically to trigger those positive results? You need to continue to do the things that led to the improvement if you want the improvement to continue.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
Life is about change. In my view, the more comfortable you can be with the knowledge that life is about change and uncertainty, the more satisfied you’ll be with life in general. I try to take comfort in knowing that even though I can’t see where I’m headed during those times, there’s something to be learned.
The best thing about change is...
…it forces you to grow.
What is the best change you have ever made?
Moving from a small Midwestern town to Boulder, CO. I did it about two-and-a-half years ago and I just love it here. It really did transform my life.
For more information on Michele Weiner-Davis, visit www.divorcebusting.com.