Dating the One You Married
Overcoming Sexual Pain and Fear
Willard F. Harley, Jr.
I encourage married couples to try to meet all four of each otherís intimate emotional needs when they go on a date: Affection, Intimate Conversation, Recreational Companionship, and Sexual Fulfillment. They should blend together. But when Roseanne and Ted first came to my office, they were not meeting any of those needs for each other. They were not in love and they had never been in love.
So, preparing them for dating was quite a challenge.
First, I helped them eliminate demands, disrespect, and anger from their conversation, and replace them with the four friends of Intimate Conversation (to inform, investigate and understand each other; to develop interest in each otherís favorite topics of conversation; to balance the conversation; and to give each other undivided attention when conversing). With practice, that enabled them to engage in Intimate Conversation, which helped them make Love Bank deposits and avoid withdrawals when they talked with each other.
Then, I helped Ted learn to be affectionate with Roseanne and she returned the affection to him whenever he expressed it. It not only helped them make Love Bank deposits, but it also helped create an attitude of good will, wanting to help each other resolve conflicts instead of stubbornly wanting their way at all costs.
The next emotional need that I helped them meet for each other was Recreational Companionship. Since Iíve already explained how I helped Sherry and Todd become each otherís favorite recreational companions in Part 9 of this series, I wonít repeat a description of that procedure that I used for Roseanne and Ted. After several weeks of discovery, they found recreational activities that they both enjoyed, and spent part of each week engaged in those activities together.
To get to this point, I had spent almost six months with them, holding them accountable to follow each assignment. While there was always some resistance, especially from Ted, they both completed the assignments and discovered a relationship that they had never experienced before. They were actually getting along with each other. While unresolved conflicts still existed, they didnít argue about them, knowing that I would eventually address them to their mutual satisfaction.
But they were not ready to date yet because they were not meeting one intimate emotional need that would be more difficult for them to meet than any of the others: Sexual Fulfillment. What made it so difficult was that Roseanne had developed an aversion to sex due to the pain that she had experienced whenever she had made love to Ted. She had been willing to go through it early in marriage because she wanted children, but once she was satisfied with three, there was no reason for her to endure the pain again.
Off to a Very Bad Start
Rosanne and Ted began their marriage ignorant about how to create a mutually enjoyable sexual experience. They both didnít believe in having premarital sex, so their first sexual experience was on their honeymoon. And it was a disaster for Roseanne.
Ted's image of a marital sexual relationship was based on his experience with pornography, so he made no effort to help her enjoy the experience. Instead, he used her body as his sex toy, doing some of the things he had seen on pornographic videos. Roseanne's image of sex was to submit to her husband, so she tried to go along with it, assuming that itís what all married couples do.
It was not only very degrading to her, but, because she was not at all aroused and her vagina was not lubricated, intercourse was painful to her. Over time, it became increasingly painful whenever she had intercourse. She eventually developed the reflex, vaginismus, which gave her the most intense pain she had every experienced whenever her vagina was penetrated.
Roseanneís mother had never enjoyed having sex with her husband, and had given her the impression that she should expect it to be unpleasant. It was seen as one of many sacrifices women make in life. But as intercourse became increasingly painful over time, she had come to a point where even the thought of sex made her feel physically ill.
So, when I introduced the topic for the first time, she would not talk to me about it.
Instead of talking, I asked her to read in private the Q&A column that I had written, How to Overcome Pain During Intercourse. In that column, I begin with the premise that intercourse should be completely avoided if it is accompanied by pain, or even discomfort. In other words, Roseanneís assumption that sex is a painful sacrifice for women is terribly misguided. Instead, I wrote that it should be very enjoyable and sexually arousing for women. If a woman does not have that experience, there are lessons to be learned.
From that premise, I went on in that column to describe the primary and secondary causes of vaginal pain. A dry vagina or bacterial infections are the most common primary causes. But if the primary problem is not solved, and intercourse continues, a secondary problem, vaginismus, is a common result. It is a very painful reflex that can persist long after the primary cause of pain is eliminated.
After she read the article, she was willing to talk with me about it. Everything I wrote made sense to her, and she could see how her misconceptions about sex, and her husbandís insensitivity, helped create the excruciating pain that she now associates with sex.
I then encouraged her to follow the instructions I recommended in the Q&A column to help her overcome the vaginismus reflex. Her husband was not to be present when she followed the plan. It involved penetration of the vaginal opening that was slow and gentle enough to avoid the painful reflex. She was training neural pathways in her spinal cord to extinguish the painful tightening reflex of her vaginal opening, and replace it with a relaxed opening when stimulated.
Within a week, she noticed significant improvement, and continued the recommended procedure every day for the rest of the month until she could quickly insert a candle with a one-inch diameter into her vagina without experiencing any pain.
Challenging Her Sexual Aversion
Her next assignment was to read my Q&A column, How to Overcome Sexual Aversion. In spite of the fact that she had overcome vaginismus, the thought of having intercourse, or any other sexual experience with her husband, was repulsive to her. She had developed a sexual aversion.
If you have had bad experiences doing something, you will come to associate them with what you have been doing. Even if the task, by itself, had nothing to do with your bad experiences, the very thought of it will eventually create anxiety and unhappiness, and doing it will make matters even worse. Psychologists call this an aversive reaction.
While itís true that vaginismus played an important role in creating Roseanneís aversion to sex, Ted could not be let off the hook. Knowing that she was in pain, he continued to have intercourse with her until she finally put a stop to it.
I explained to Roseanne that her aversion to sex could be overcome, and that the insensitive husband who had put her through many painful sexual experiences could change. She had already seen how affectionate he had become, and how their conversation had become enjoyable for her. So, she took my word for it that she could actually enjoy having sex with Ted someday.
She followed the method I recommended in my Q&A column.
First, she practiced relaxing while thinking about sex.
Then, she practiced relaxing while thinking about having sex with Ted.
That was a very tough assignment for her, because thinking about sex with Ted brought horrible memories to mind. Even before she had experienced any pain with intercourse, he had forced her to engage in degrading and disgusting sex acts. How could she forget about all of that and learn to think of him as a caring and sensitive lover?
But over time, relaxation helped her change her thoughts from his past sexual abuse to what could become lovemaking. She started to imagine how sex could communicate care, just as affection communicates care. Ted had already demonstrated his care for her as never before, and let her know that he would never again try to force her to have sex that was unpleasant for her. They wouldnít be having sex: They would be making love.
The third step she followed was to think about making love with Ted while he sat in the room with her.
When she was able to completely relax with him present, she went on the forth step by talking with him about making love. She began by talking about romantic scenes that she read about in novels, and then went on to forms of sex that she found offensive, relaxing as she talked. Finally, she was able to talk about making love with him, and how she would like it to happen. She found that she could talk freely about making love without feeling anxious or nauseous. She had become almost free of her sexual aversion.
The fifth step was her final test: Having intercourse with her husband, Ted. It had to be done very carefully, with she in charge of every aspect of the experience. She wanted the lights to be turned off, so I encouraged Ted to take her advice.
Roseanne was in complete control of the first experience. First, she put a lubricating fluid into her vagina to be sure that it wasnít dry. Then, she very slowly inserted his penis into her vagina. He was instructed by me not to move at all, and let her do everything. She had already been using candles to help her overcome vaginismus, and could be somewhat rough with them without any pain. But the reflex can sometimes briefly return under different conditions, so she was careful to go slow. With his penis completely inserted with absolutely no pain or discomfort, she began slowly to thrust, which convinced her that all pain was gone and her aversion to sex was gone along with it.
Up to this point in her recovery, I had not discussed the five stages of the sexual response with her. My goal was to simply demonstrate to her that her vaginal pain and sexual aversion could be overcome. And they were definitely overcome.
Roseanne and Ted had already learned how to be affectionate toward each other. Every morning and evening when they were in bed they hugged and kissed each other. But without my prodding, they began being affection while naked. Nature took it course and the rest is history.
Within a week, Roseanne was wanting Ted to make love to her every morning and every evening. She had discovered enjoyable sex for the first time in her life. At first, Ted thought he had died and gone to heaven, but he discovered that he couldnít keep up with her. It wasnít long before they both decided on a more moderate schedule of lovemaking.
Ready to Date
Youíd think that dating, at this point in their marital development would be irrelevant. They were already making massive Love Bank deposits without it. They were being affectionate throughout every day, they enjoyed intimate conversation with each other, they had discovered recreational activities that they both enjoyed, and they made love often.
But just because they knew how to meet each otherís intimate emotional needs didnít mean that they would schedule time to do it after they stopped seeing me. When they were eventually on their own, and with the demands of their three children, they would be tempted to prioritize spending their free time with them instead of giving each other undivided attention.
I had not yet addressed the topic of conflict resolution to them, and they had planned to continue having counseling sessions with me until they had mastered it. But I wanted them to learn how to date first.
Dating simply guarantees romantic love. By scheduling time each week to meet the needs of affection, intimate conversation, recreational companionship, and sexual fulfillment, a couple avoids letting objectives of lesser importance prevent them from staying in love.
So, I introduced a dating schedule of 15 hours a week to them.
Up to this point, Roseanne and Ted had met each otherís intimate emotional needs in an unscheduled way, whenever an opportunity presented itself. But I wanted them to make it a part of their weekly schedule so that they would never find themselves drifting away from their romantic relationship.
Meeting intimate emotional needs in an unscheduled and impromptu way can also be part of a romantic relationship. But thereís something about unscheduled events in busy parentsí lives that donít get done. And the meeting of intimate emotional needs is too important to be left to chance.
Unfortunately, the schedules of Rosanne and Ted were packed with their childrenís activities. The reason that they were doing such a good job meeting each otherís intimate emotional needs was that it was assigned to them, so they made the time to do it a priority. But it was easy to see how that priority could take a back seat to care for their children after they stopped counseling with me.
Scheduling Dates for the First Time