Desire discrepancy or mismatched desire is one of the most common issues couples want to address in Couples Counselling. You might be surprised to hear that it is one of the most common challenges for therapists as well, as most therapists are not trained in sex and intimacy therapy.
Desire problems. Who wants what and when. One partner wants more sex or something different. One partner thinks healthy sex life is once a day, another thinks it’s once a week or a month. One partner wants to flirt and may feel rejected when it’s not reciprocated. One person wants the other to initiate more, the other person has no idea how to do that. One partner pushes, another pulls away.
We try to solve it, fix it, talk about it, make promises, we try and try and try, fight about it, hurt each other in the process, feel hopeless and desperate, and eventually, give up.
Don't give up!
We know it’s common, but do you know that it’s also completely normal? Nothing is wrong.
But it feels like something is wrong!!!
“Normal” doesn’t mean we like it. “Normal” doesn’t make it easy. But “Normal” means that pretty much all of us are gonna deal with desire discrepancy at some point in our relationships.
Dealing with desire discrepancies can help you grow tremendously as a couple and as individuals. It’s a normal part of being married or in a relationship. Nothing is wrong. It’s a part of healthy sexual development.
Easy for you to say, you think, just tell us what we can do about it?
This issue can be so painful and devastating to so many couples, sometime it’s what makes or breaks the relationship - so I don’t mean to take it lightly
In fact, it’s very complex.
The good news, there is hope. There is so much we can do about it.
The challenge - it’s the complexity of what’s underneath the desire discrepancy that makes it very difficult to approach.
Religious background, core erotic themes, core erotic blueprints, physiology, trauma, stress, your values, cultural values, your emotions, state of your relationship, age, hormones, pregnancy or trying to get pregnant, different stages in life, menopause, work or career focus, illness, medication side effects, mental health, kids trouble, in-laws, you name it - any combination of these can play a part here.
Or it could be as simple as different sex drives.
So what can we do?
1. Stop “whose fault it is” game.
No one wins in this game. Everyone loses. Your relationship loses. Your partner loses. It is nobody’s fault. All levels of desire are normal. High desire - normal. Low desire - normal. Putting pressure on a partner to bring their desire up or down is not going to do anything, except create upsets in the relationship.
Pressure creates anxiety, and anxiety is one sure way to kill your desire, connection and sex drive.
2. Find a new way to talk about it.
Find a way to hear your partner without feeling guilty, resentful or ashamed. Find a way to share your desire that doesn’t put pressure on your partner, without trying to fix anything or control anything. Ask each other questions. Try to understand - deeply. What does your partner really want, what’s missing?
Try to understand their desire, their shame (that’s how we can heal it - if we can listen with empathy and compassion). It only gets worse when no one is talking about it. It definitely doesn't help if you are fighting. Have conversations that are intentional and kind, that bring you closer together rather than further apart.
3. Figure out what doesn’t work.
For example, pursue/reject patterns - when the higher desire partner is always the one pursuing, feeling guilty and rejected, while the lower desire partner is always pulling away, saying no (or feeling unable to say no) also feels guilty and resentful.
Couples often stop initiating sex for the fear of being rejected, they also often stop any type of non sexual intimacy for the fear it’ll be misinterpreted as an invitation to go all the way.
4. Find other ways to be intimate that’s fun for both of you.
Throw out the scripts of what intimacy is supposed to look like. Cuddle, touch, have fun, find pleasure in ways that might surprise you, explore sexual as well as non-sexual intimacy.
What if orgasm wasn’t a goal? What if it was more about the journey than destination. (and if you are missing those orgasms - I have 2 words for you - self pleasure. Yes, I know it’s more fun with a partner, yes, I’m fully aware it’s not the same - I just invite you to explore and see what happens when you decide to give yourself more pleasure than you ever thought was possible. I think most of us never learn the depth of pleasure that is available to us)
5. Figure out your Sexual Accelerator and Brake patterns and see how that might affect the desire discrepancy.
Is it possible that what turns you on turns your partner off? Is it possible that nothing is working because your partner’s break is engaged - so no matter how much you want to press on the gas, nothing happens? What pushes your brake button - overwhelm, exhaustion, stress, child care, to do list, emotional disconnect, withholds, resentments, environment (clutter, I'm too hot/too cold, etc), body image, self esteem …. you name it. What pushes your gas button? What about your partner’s? This could be a really fun conversation to have and a really great way to explore.
6. Figure out how you are wired when it comes to sexuality.
How are you similar, how are you different? Celebrate your differences! Figure out your Core Erotic Theme (Jack Morin) or your Core Erotic Blueprint (Jaiya) - your personal and unique sexual wiring. We are often stuck in trying to get our partner to be more like us, to want the same thing - when in fact it’s our differences that creates polarity, desire, complexity - that can make our sex life so much more interesting. Figure out each other’s kinks, your deepest desires, a fantasy that makes you weak in the knees.
Figure out if your desire is responsive or spontaneous. This might also explain the difference in desire.
7. Find help!
When you come for a session we focus specifically on YOU and your partner. My intention for this post was to normalize this problem, to give people hope, to tell you that you are not alone, to offer some suggestions how to get out of the gridlock - but I quickly realized just how complex this issue is, how many variables can affect it. There is no one size fits all solution, but together we can find what works for you.
What started as a problem - (we tried everything we can, we don’t know what to do = problem) can become a fun and exciting project. How much we can learn about each other, how much we can improve our relationship and communication, how much we can grow - together, and how much joy and pleasure we can discover along the way?
I love this part of the work with couples, and would be happy to talk to you about it and answer your questions.
Book your free Individual or Couples Counselling consultation here. I'm located in Calgary, and I offer sessions online around the world.
P.S. For those of you who are relationship geeks like me, here’s a brilliant Wikipedia article that expands a lot on this topic that goes into depth beyond desire discrepancy and into relational dialectics.