How to counsel married couples through bedroom problems.
Terry and Tami seemed like the perfect married couple. They were in their 30s, attractive and successful. They’d known Pastor Phil for several years and one day came to him for counseling. As soon as they all were seated behind closed doors, Tami blurted out: “Pastor—Terry and I aren’t having sex!” Pastor Phil’s mind reeled: Not this couple. No way, he thought.
His mind instantly raced back to his Bible-school training. He could not recall any lessons he might have had on “The Sexless Marriage.” In fact, he couldn’t remember ever counseling a couple who didn’t want sex. In the end, all he could say was: “Terry, Tami—you should fast and pray.”
The article you’re reading would have come in handy for Pastor Phil. Couples like Terry and Tami avoid sex for definite reasons. After counseling for almost 20 years, I know. Let’s look at some of these obstacles.
1. Depression. A lack of interest in sex is only one symptom of a depressed person. Others include low energy, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, feelings of worthlessness and more. If you refer either spouse to a physician, ask that he or she discuss with the doctor the side effects of any antidepressant prescribed, as some lower the sex drive.
2. Anger. Some people have so much anger it shuts down their desire to be sexual. In counseling with a married couple you’ll find that anger isn’t always directed sensibly. Your job might be to sort out the legitimate problems from the scapegoating. If the couple’s anger makes them irrational, consider referring them to a professional counselor.
3. Unforgiveness. As a pastor, you know the negative wall-building power unforgiveness can have in a marriage. Most likely you can address the offense one spouse is holding against the other and then move them toward forgiveness. For this I often recommend that couples read The Bait of Satan: Living Free From the Deadly Trap of Offense by John Bevere.
4. Bad sex. There are married people for whom the sexual experience is so negative the act of sex reinforces something unpleasant. Naturally, intimacy is lacking. For this I recommend couples practice intimacy in nonsexual ways—daily they should pray together, share two feelings they experienced during their day and praise each other for two things.
5. Sexual addiction. I suggest, depending on the situation, that you ask the couple about their masturbation and pornography habits. An alternative to sex is probably occurring somewhere. It is especially valid to ask these questions if you’re counseling a young couple for whom sex is infrequent.
6. Sexual anorexia. Sexual or intimacy anorexia occurs when one spouse actively withholds from the other any sort of intimacy—such as love, praise and sex, or sharing their deeper feelings. For this, I offer a DVD, Sexual Anorexia, and I advise referring the couple to professional counseling.
7. Sexual abuse. It’s possible that prior sexual abuse of either partner could be the issue. I advise “cleansing the temple”—an exercise I explain in my book Intimacy: A 100-Day Guide to Lasting Relationships. Being able to release the hurt and anger in a productive manner is beneficial, as is doing forgiveness exercises to deal with the pain from the abuse.
Douglas Weiss, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist and executive director of Heart to Heart Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. For counseling aids on this topic, go to drdougweiss.com
To help believers addicted to pornography or sex, DVD series Freedom Begins Here (freedombeginshere.org) offers practical teaching from Drs. Gary Smalley and Mark Laaser. A perfect aid for personal counseling or recovery group settings.