"I Can't Stand Sex -- And It's Killing Our Marriage"
The Counselor's Turn
"Sex can be the glue that holds a couple together even in the middle of a crisis," said the counselor. "If the sex works, good feelings spill over into the rest of the marriage, making communication and problem solving easier. But Kiera and Ryan did not have that kind of intimacy. And anyone who lives with chronic pain understands what it does to your mood and the major toll it can take on your sexual desire.
"Kiera's pain was behind a lot of the couple's problems. Over the years, as her pain got worse -- which is common with this disease -- Kiera started having a lot less energy and a shorter fuse. It became harder and harder for Ryan to feel loved when he was being criticized so often and getting so little affection. He coped by pulling away, and then Kiera assumed that meant he didn't love her and was cheating.
"The first thing I focused on was getting them to speak to each other more openly and lovingly outside the bedroom. 'That's generally where lovemaking starts,' I explained. 'Partners are more likely to have a good sex life when they feel safe and accepted. You can't if you're always dodging attacks or choking back hurt feelings.'
"I gave them a four-part structure to use for conversations on any hot topics. Start with your feelings, I told them, without being accusatory. Then explain why an issue is a concern for you. Third, say what you'd like to do about it. Finally, let your partner weigh in. Kiera and Ryan both thought this structured way of talking would be very awkward, but once they forced themselves to use it they found it helped them clarify points and share insights, and it ended their getting into fights.
"When Ryan was 12 his father left the family and Ryan took on the 'dad' role with his siblings. Since he was trying to be strong for his family, Ryan developed the habit of swallowing his feelings and withdrawing from conflict. But with this safer, more structured communication style, Ryan was more comfortable saying what was on his mind. 'We're actually talking with instead of at each other,' Kiera said. As a result they came to an agreement on how to handle Jon's homework rebellion, and Ryan got more engaged in coparenting and in the marriage in general.
"I pointed out that this kind of respectful communication is especially important when your sex life is challenged by chronic pain. 'You can get that piece of your life back,' I assured them, 'but in order to do that, you need to be patient with yourselves and with each other, and you have to be very careful about how you talk about the issue, so that you don't inadvertently hurt each other's feelings or end up getting bogged down by misunderstandings while you're trying to find solutions.'
"Using the same conversation starters, they discussed times of the month when sex was less painful for Kiera. When Ryan suggested experimenting with lubricants, she agreed. And they both decided to concentrate more on foreplay and to try other ways of achieving orgasm, not just intercourse.
"Sharing their feelings and getting their sex life back eased the tension between Kiera and Ryan and they began to enjoy simply being together again. She had no reason to suspect that he was involved with other women. He became much less interested in porn sites since he and Kiera were having sex. Ryan started spending more weeknights with his family and they now plan fun weekend activities that Kiera can take part in without pain. We completed treatment after three months, though Kiera and Ryan know I'm available if problems come up. Best of all, two months ago, Kiera had another laparoscopy to remove scar tissue and, last week, she called to announce that she was pregnant.
"Kiera knows her endometriosis pain will flare up again after she gives birth, but for now she and Ryan are both thrilled and confident that, with their new communication skills, they can get through anything together."