Shelby and Roger
I had a couple come in because of the lack of sex in their relationship. They both sat on the couch, Shelby sitting up strait and angry with Robert looking annoyed, sunken into the couch.
“He won’t have sex with me unless I’m on my period and I refuse to. It’s not comfortable then and it just causes a mess. When I’m ready any other time he just has no interest in me.” Shelby explained right after our greeting.
When someone immediately comes out with their issue with such passion, it is easy to get caught up in that passion and the content of the words. You could follow that Roger has some type of fetish or aberration for period sex. This is usually a trap though. The trap is to have the analyst cooperate with the resistance. If an analyst cooperates with the resistance formed by both lovers in the relationship, we’re just as blind as they are.
That session there was an agreement that we would meet for couples every other week and I would see both of them for individual the weeks they’re not in couple’s. Shelby was always there, talking and on time. Roger was late, would call to cancel and had a hard time speaking. Shelby wanted none of the lateness and absence so she made sure they both drove together for their individual analysis so he had no excuse.
“What’s happening now with the travel arrangements?” I asked Roger the first day Shelby drove both of them to their individual session.
“I can’t have a feeling about it. I just wish she would let me be me long enough so I could do the right thing myself. I always have to be what she thinks I am to be and how I am to be. I’m closed and don’t really want to open.”
With both individual and couple’s analysis there was the discovery that, unconsciously, they both were avoiding sexual intimacy with each other. Roger understood that Shelby had always been critical of her body, much because of both of her parents being critical of her and her body her whole life, but he loved it. Roger felt himself to be less than a man because of his work situation and he felt paranoid that this would show up in the bedroom.
Roger, with his conscious idea that he wants Shelby to understand she is never disgusting to him, tried ferociously to have a sexual relationship with Shelby while on her period to show she is beautiful always. This was a guaranteed no from Shelby. This is how he avoided intimacy with her. Behind the conscious idea of “good intentions.”
Shelby had the fear that Roger would leave her if they had sex while she was on her period. There was a haunting of her mind where she could not get the ideas out of her mind of how disgusting and worthless she was. She saw Roger as a good man who does well for both of them and had always felt she had married up and was unworthy. She loved Roger and wanted him, but was too scared to have him and be taken.
Both desired intimacy. Both wanted to get close and express their sexuality to each other, but both unconsciously agreed to put physical boundaries between each other as to ease their psychic struggles.
Why do we Avoid Sex with Our Lover?
Dr. Zeitner (2012) explains that the absence of sex shows a, “significant limitation in closeness and frequently negative feelings about the self and about the physical body. Unconscious conflicts in one and usually both partners often abound, even when the ejection of sexuality from the relationship has become an unconsciously agreed upon solution to attenuate intimacy and sometimes anxiety in the relationship (pp. 82).”
This is always a good place to start and vastly the most common reason. How this avoidance of intimacy manifests itself is unique to each couple and the struggle is to untangle oneself from that unique web is uniquely difficult.
Izzy and Rufus
Rufus shied away from sex due to his continuous unconscious belief that he was no good for Izzy. He went through a few years in his late 20’s where he felt he had peaked out professionally. He had received a doctorate in his degree and felt aimless, without a life drive. He realized he was depressed. He would have bursts of getting into shape to eating junk food all the time, hating his body. He would have burst of working hard towards his goals of owning his own business to just sitting in his garage working on his car doing absolutely nothing and getting maybe 3 hours of sleep at night for months at a time.
Rufus didn’t pursue sex with Izzy as he once had and blamed his weight, health, body and felt that it was “rude” to ask for sex. Izzy was working hard on her degrees and building her own career so he didn’t need to disturb her.
Rufus wasn’t leaving Izzy alone to work on her career just because he was depressed. Rufus had an unconscious need to be taken care of. The once ambitious, yet quiet, man ran out of gas and invested everything in making Izzy as successful as she could be. From the outside he looked like an extremely supportive husband, which he was, but it was also serving an unconscious relationship agreement between Rufus and Izzy.
Their relationship started as a friendship where Izzy could confide everything in Rufus and Rufus learned to speak and be alive with Izzy. Their transference to each other, as lovers, were lovers who helped each other thrive. They both worked for the life drive.
In their late 20’s where they both sacrificed fun for their future careers, their transference changed and their unconscious motivation for the transference changed. Izzy wanted to focus hard on her studies and work. She started financially supporting their household in their late 20’s when she first started making more money than Rufus to allow him to make his own business. Rufus supported Izzy’s climb of the professional ladder as Izzy supported Rufus in trying to open his own business, but unknowingly was supporting Rufus support of her in her career so he could be taken care of. They both knew it was no mistake Izzy was becoming a therapist herself.
All relationships have unconscious agreements. These aren’t the cultural “roles” that we were born into, but a development between two people on how they will function with each other. We saw that there was the unconscious agreement to not get “too close” with each other with Shelby and Roger. We also saw with Rufus and Izzy that they unconsciously agreed to fulfill Roger’s need to be taken care of and Izzy’s need to be the one to save him. Izzy had felt saved by him and wanted to return the favor. The idea was noble of Izzy, but not constructive.
Most of the time the unconscious agreements we make in relationships are for the better. We don’t have to talk about every single action or we would spend our whole lives planning and never acting. Destructive agreements can be made and this is when we have to have just enough energy to be able to handle them with our lover or find someone to help the relationship overcome them.
Zeitner, R. M. (2012). Self within marriage: the foundation for lasting relationships. New York: Routledge.