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Dear Christine, ZJ in Jackson

| June 18, 2018

Hello Dr. Cantrell,
I have a question that I am sure will lead to the answer that therapy is a great idea. For three years, we (my partner and I) have discussed this over and over again. Her lack of action is leading me to asking you about this. My partner and I have been together for 8.5 years and we love each other. I can count the number of times we have been intimate on one hand and there are no health reasons for it. I have given up the hope that we will be intimate after discussing a number of alternatives or go to therapy. I am very sad as she emphatically denies there being any reason for her lack of interest in intimacy. Being celibate just makes her happy. It drives me nuts, but she is content.
I don’t want to be with anyone else and she says being intimate with others makes her very unhappy. It is not that this is a relationship breaker. I refuse to leave her over something that seems so adolescent but it won’t stop bugging me. I just feel more like a close room mate than anything else and we should consider changing the “status” of our relationship. She tells me I’m a freak and there’s nothing wrong. I, on the other hand, just want to know what the deal is as she says she’s attracted to me, but never displays it. So we’re at a stand still and I have given up, much to my chagrin. Any ideas that might help? Thank you, ZJ in Jackson

Dear ZJ in Jackson,
Now, you know, as a psychologist, I agree that therapy is always a possible answer…. I agree that you have a problem, however, your partner doesn’t agree. Therapy can help so long as you both agree on the definition of the problem(s) in your relationship, and on the goal(s). Both of you knowing what you must have and what you can’t have in a relationship is critical for an attraction to turn into a long term relationship. Falling in love is wonderful, but it sometimes sets people up to be in an unsatisfying relationship with someone who have needs that directly conflict.
For example, if I need to be in a smoke-free environment because I’m allergic, then I really shouldn’t get involved with someone who is a smoker. Stopping smoking is a very difficult challenge, and the smoker needs to do it for themselves, not for me. So, if I fall in love with a smoker, we are going to have conflicting needs and the relationship will be rocky at best. Needless to say, I have friends who smoke, but I’ve never dated anyone who is a smoker because I know that need in myself. It’s not fair to request someone to give up their need for yours.
So, I suggest you both list your own needs and deal-breakers, and then share them with each other. If there is any room to negotiate, it will be because your needs are not in conflict with each other, even though your wants may be. You may request your partner to meet a need, but if she can’t or won’t, it still is your responsibility to take care of, not hers. And vice versa.
If you can get your intimacy needs met through affection, emotional closeness, talking together and sharing your lives with each other, without sex, because she has a need to not express her love through sex, then perhaps you can still work out a relationship. But if you need sex with her, and she can’t give that to you, then there is a set up for disappointment for both of you. Therapy can help you clarify your self-awareness of your needs vs wants, and help you to communicate those needs and wants clearly.

As is the case I have a question that I am sure will lead to the answer that therapy is a great idea. We (my partner and I) have discussed this over and over again and her lack of action is leading me to asking you about this. My partner and I have been together for 8.5 years and I know we love each other. I still adore her and don’t want to be with anyone else and she says the same thing. However, I can count the number of times we have been intimate on one hand and there are no health reasons for it. At this point I have left the thought that one day we may be close that way alone and I have given up. I am very sad about this as she emphatically denies there being any reason for her lack of interest in intimacy. I feel like she just doesn’t want to be as we have discussed a number of alternatives and she has never carried out anything she said she would. I offered a great many alternatives and being celibate just makes her happy. It drives me nuts, but she is content. I asked her to consider going to see a therapist and she said she would. After 3 years of saying that she would, I have now given up on this as well. Yet I remain desperately wanting to be more intimate with her. It is not that this is a relationship breaker but as time goes on I just feel more like a close room mate than anything else. And have mentioned that maybe that is just all that we are and maybe we should consider changing the “status” of our relationship. She tells me I’m a freak and there’s nothing wrong. I, on the other hand, just want to know what the deal is as she says she’s attracted to me, but never displays it. It’s a real mess over here and I don’t know what to do. We don’t argue about it because that does no good for anyone or anything, I refuse to leave her over something that seems so adolescent but it won’t stop bugging me. And the thought of being intimate with others makes her very unhappy. So we’re at a stand still and I have given up, much to my chagrin. Any ideas that might help? Thank you, Z.J.
Hi ZJ, Thanks for writing to my column in G.O.A.L.! I was out of the country when your question arrived, so I’m just getting to it now, and it will be published in the next few weeks. Of course, therapy is always an answer…. as long as you both agree on the definition of the problem(s) in your relationship, and on the goal(s). Knowing what is “non-negotiable” in a long-term, committed relationship is critical. Sharing those non-negotiables with each other will let each of you know if your expectations and needs (not just wants) overlap enough to work on the relationship or adjust your expectations, or leave.

Christine C. Cantrell, PhD
1026 W. 11 Mile Rd,
Suite C
Royal Oak, MI 48067
248-591-2888

Click here to email Christine.

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