This is an account of the use of non-erotic massage to help troubled couples explore closeness.
A Surprising Fix
Kathleen and Bob, a couple in their mid 30's with children, had been seeing me for only 3 sessions when a homework assignment I gave them dramatically improved the energy between them and led to their facing each other excitedly in the 3rd session, each eagerly seeking the other.
The back story behind this 10 year marriage is the following: Bob and Kathleen had a good and strong relationship for the first 3 years while they were both working and living in the city. Kathleen's pregnancy and the birth of their 2 children introduced expectable stressors for them, and physically their need for more space than their New York City apartment could provide led to efforts to sell it and buy a house in Westchester.
As the housing market has not rebounded, they have not been able to sell the apartment. Bob's need for more income resulted in his traveling more, and the couple began to drift apart emotionally and physically. Bob carries a certain amount of anxiety from family-of-origin issues, and remoteness, a very useful protection for him, became re-activated by these stressors, and by Kathleen's need for him. She became increasing deprived and frustrated. Ultimately both of them co-created a brother-sister form of relating, friendly and cooperative as parents, but passionless. When they came to see me, they hadn't had sex for 3 years.
About 6 months ago, Kathleen discovered Bob's stash of pornography. Her fury, she insisted, was not a reaction to the material, and that she's was not a prude. She saw him instead being unfaithful to her; not coming to her for release and fulfillment, but being rather with himself.
The homework assignment I gave them was the following: I asked them to make time for each other at night when the children were in bed and they wouldn’t be disturbed, and to create a ritual space with lit candles, music, etc, and for them to engage in non-erotic massage, Bob being the masseur one night and Kathleen the next, and that although they might become aroused, I instructed them to do nothing about that; they were to talk to each other during the massage about whatever was coming up for them, with an eye always on discovering and dissolving what was between them.
At the beginning of the 3rd session Kathleen announced that they had done my assignment, and that it had been tremendously helpful. They conducted their massage with their clothes on, a stipulation of Kathleen's at this point, given her hesitancy and distrust.
Of course there is more work to be done, but this has been a remarkable transformation. I was especially impressed with the novelty and value of this non-erotic massage taking place with clothes on.