Sometimes libido differences can send you on a negative spiral, where both of you are constantly feeling rejected.

In about 7 weeks (yikes!) our manuscript for The Great Sex Rescue is due in at the publishers, so I’m frantically writing. I would have been doing that regardless, but it means this COVID-19 thing hasn’t changed a whole lot for me personally, other than the fact that I keep checking updates and praying constantly.

But the big question we’re asking in that book is, “what teachings in the evangelical church have hurt couples’ sex lives, and how can we see Truth instead?” And so we chose the 15 best selling marriage books, and the 5 best selling sex books, to read and rate on a 12-question rubric that we developed. We looked at 12 different teachings and created a scoring rubric to show whether, on each teaching, the books were harmful or helpful.

A lot of books so far have scored quite poorly, but last weekend I read two that scored really, really well! Intimate Issues by Dillow and Pintus and The Gift of Sex by the Penners both are great books! And that was really, really a relief to read two that gave accurate teaching that was helpful for women’s sexuality.

In The Gift of Sex, the Penners talked about a negative cycle of libido differences that I thought was quite interesting.

I’ve talked about something similar before, but they put it into such great words that I thought I’d quote them on it and then give some commentary. They call this the approach-avoidance pattern:

Gift of Sex - The Terrible, Awful Downward Spiral of Libido Differences

From The Gift of Sex

One typical problematic initiation pattern that develops is the approach-avoidance game. One person sees it as his or her responsibility to get sexual activity going, so he makes frequent approaches to the other—using sexual overtures, dropping hints, or making direct suggestions. He feels as if he has to mention it eight times if it’s going to happen once. So he is anxiously suggesting sex far more often than he really wants it. His wife would like him not to bother her and feels that she never even has an opportunity to suggest getting together sexually because he wants it all the time. She feels bombarded and unable to get in touch with her desire. So she resists or avoids his approaches.

You can see how the pattern perpetuates itself: The more she avoids, the more anxious he becomes, so the more he makes advances. This increases her feeling that demands are being placed on her that don’t allow room for her desire to build, and so the pattern continues.

After this section the Penners give two examples of couples where this may happen–one with a woman with the lower libido and one with the man, which is helpful to not have it all one way.

I’ve also seen this dynamic happen not only when sex isn’t happening, but also when it is but it feels like “duty sex.” So she (typically it’s a she in this scenario) has sex because she feels that she has to because he needs it, but she gets very little pleasure from it even when her husband would like her to experience pleasure. She rushes him through, and he can tell that she’s not into it. That increases his stress that she doesn’t really want him, and so he wants to reassure himself by suggesting sex again. She takes that to mean that he can never be satisfied, and he’s just a sex fiend.

Those of you who have studied the psychology of attachment will recognize a common dynamic here, that often pops up with insecure attachment in children.

They need to reassure themselves that their parent actually loves them, but the parent finds this annoying and so withdraws further, and makes the problem worse.

So essentially this dynamic creates something very similar to insecure attachment. One spouse feels like they’re not truly desired, loved, or wanted, but the other spouse interprets this to mean that they’re having all kinds of demands placed on them. It’s easy to see how this can go downhill quickly.

But what is the solution o the approach-avoidance cycle with libido differences?

The Penners suggest agreeing on a set time when the higher-libido spouse WILL NOT initiate sex at all, and then having the lower libido spouse agree that at least once during that time period they instead will initiate sex.  That gives the lower libido spouse time for desire to build, and helps them get in touch with their own sexuality. And it helps the higher libido spouse see that their spouse actually does desire sex.

So talk to your spouse about this if you think that you’ve developed this pattern. And then agree that this week, one spouse won’t initiate sex, suggest sexual things, grope their spouse’s body, or anything like that. They’ll back off and trust the lower libido spouse to take the lead.

Thoughts if you’re the higher libido spouse in a marriage with libido differences:

I understand the desperation that you feel both to have sex, but also to feel as if your spouse wants you. The problem is that what is happening now isn’t working, and may even be worsening the situation. The lower libido spouse may be afraid to say yes ever, because it seems that you can be insatiable (that’s not true; but that’s how it feels). And the lower libido spouse can feel as if your attempts at initiating are intrusive.

Talk to your spouse about this dynamic, and see if your spouse would be open to that suggestion–you back off for a time, but then, at some point during that time, your spouse agrees to initiate.

If your spouse doesn’t, you can still take steps to change this dynamic yourself by pulling way back on initiation. Stop with any sexual jokes and innuendos. Kiss without expecting it to go anywhere. Above all, do not grope your spouse sexually, because that especially feels intrusive to the lower libido spouse. Pull back for a few weeks if you have to, just to hit the reset button. And then, when you do start initiating again, try to confine it to only one or two times per week at first to see what happens. It could be that if you pull back, after a while your spouse will pick up the slack. But don’t expect this to magically happen after just a few days. Give it some time to give your spouse some space!

Navigating Libido Differences - The Terrible, Awful Downward Spiral of Libido Differences

Thoughts if you’re the lower libido spouse in a marriage with libido differences:

One of the biggest dangers I see in this approach-avoidance cycle is that the lower libido spouse may start to believe, “I’m not sexual and I don’t want sex at all.” Because your spouse “bugs” you about it so much, and often makes sexual jokes/innuendos or even grabs you sexually when  you’re not thinking that way, it feels like sex is always an intrusion in your life. It’s something unpleasant that throws you off.

If this is you, please don’t allow yourself to think this way. Don’t reject sex altogether, and don’t start thinking negatively about sex. Realize that the problem is that you’ve never had the chance to get in touch with your own desire because sex has become something you’re always saying no to. Realize that sex is still something for you that helps you and has benefits for you and is still awesome–even if you don’t want it as much as your spouse. Realize that you can jumpstart your libido and sex can be an important part of your life, too! For women, my boost your libido course was created to help you do just that!

Are you TIRED of always being too tired for sex?

GettyImages 482032047 - The Terrible, Awful Downward Spiral of Libido Differences

Do you yearn to actually WANT to make love–and figure out what all the fuss is about?

There is a way! And in this 10-module course I take you through what libido is (it may surprise you!), what affects libido, and how we can reclaim the excitement that God made us for.

But also, please hear me on this one: Sometimes we think there’s no point in even trying sexually, because our spouse will never be satisfied. He wants it all the time, and even if you do have sex, it doesn’t seem to dull his libido. It just increases how much he asks for it!

However, in these situations, couples have often found that if the lower libido spouse starts initiating and decides to allow themselves to feel good, then the higher libido spouse backs off a lot. When they know that they are wanted and that sex is enjoyed, then they don’t have that same need to reassure themselves.

So if you can start initiating sex every so often, and then allowing yourself to enjoy it, you may just find that your spouse’s constant sexual requests get far less frequent. When they feel confident again, they’ll go back to a normal equilibrium.

Here are some posts that can help you initiate sex and feel sexy! And, of course, don’t forget my sexy dares, either. 🙂

And now, if you do want your spouse to back off and give you space, then use some of these suggestions! Pick a night and initiate. Follow through. Be enthusiastic. And you may find that the dynamic really does change!

Final thoughts for navigating the libido difference negative spiral:

If you do try this idea–backing off, and then letting the lower libido spouse initiate–this should be a reset plan, not a permanent plan. This helps you get back to normal, but it’s not fun if, in marriage, only one person ever initiates. That person then feels a lot of pressure on their shoulders, and also doesn’t feel desired anymore.

So try this for a time to reassure the higher libido spouse that they are desired and loved, but then, after that, talk about what your new normal can look like. And if you do find yourself in a situation where only one spouse is ever initiating for an extended time, then it may be time to rethink this again!

Libido Differences Approach Avoidance - The Terrible, Awful Downward Spiral of Libido Differences

What do you think? Have you ever experienced this negative spiral with libido differences? Let’s talk about it in the comments!


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