Does Your Partner Avoid Emotional Intimacy In Your Marriage?

Love, Heartbreak

Coping mechanisms of spouses who feel trapped in an emotionally empty marriage.

The number-one complaint I’ve received from both husbands and wives for over 40 years is trying to survive a loveless marriage. In every instance the person has been vocal with their mate in trying to solve the problem. Their relationship may get better for a little while. Then when the pressure is off it reverts back to the way it was.

I have observed a different effect on men than women who have suffered for years and even decades in a loveless marriage. Over time a woman’s emotional nature changes as she loses her ability to cry over her husband’s rejection. A man reacts entirely different and cries easily when his wife makes him feel like a sexual beggar. However, his wife may never see his tears of devastating emotional pain. These are survival techniques of loving spouses who feel trapped in an emotionally empty marriage.

"My Spouse Is Perfect Except for Sex"

In nearly every one of these desperate marriages, the person has said to me, "My spouse is perfect except for sex." Then the person lists all the good qualities of the spouse. But the emotional devastation the person suffers is heart wrenching to people with healthy emotions. Yet the "perfect spouse" hardly seems touched by the mate’s overwhelming loneliness and feeling unloved.

I reject this notion that the unloving spouse is perfect except for sex. It’s a lie loving husbands and wives tell themselves to survive an emotionally and sexually bankrupt marriage. It’s a fantasy emotionally deprived mates believe because they falsely think nearly everyone is a good person at heart—just like they are. It’s a fictional story that hurting husbands and wives invent to motivate themselves to keep working harder and harder to turn their marriages around.

In truth, Dr. Douglas Weiss' books "Intimacy Anorexia: Healing the Hidden Addiction in Your Marriage" and "Married & Alone" illustrate how unloving spouses deliberately inflict emotional and sexual pain on their mates. They are experts at making comments and picking fights to ruin special moments of intimacy. They do this to emotionally distance themselves from their mates.

Dr. Weiss describes in the "Introduction" to "Intimacy Anorexia" how in 1995, he and other psychologists, who specialized in treating sexual addiction, were baffled by a particular kind of client. They noticed that many male clients (back then they worked primarily with men), who were in recovery up to a year or more, weren’t having regular sex with their wives. Some of the men neglected their wives for weeks, months and even years.

The psychologists realized they were dealing with something new—a different disorder than sexual addiction. Dr. Weiss finally grasped that this dynamic had more to do with "avoiding intimacy" than with "avoiding sex." Today more counselors are beginning to understand this emotional disorder.

Dr. Weiss' books "Intimacy Anorexia" and "Married & Alone" are not about sexual addiction. They strike at the root of anorexics' efforts to love starve their mate. Their choice manifests itself in many ways of which sexual addiction is only one. In such marriages, the loving mate becomes more and more emaciated as the anorexic withholds emotional love and touch from him or her.

Dr. Weiss cites numerous examples of how intimacy anorexics are devious and deliberately punish their unsuspecting mate. He treats as many women as men. The main difference is that as many women don’t act out their emotional defect through sexual addiction as men do. Women are better able to turn off their sexual desires to starve their mate than men are. Yet these sexless women share many characteristics with sexual addicts.

Instead of being perfect, they perfect their own brand of cruelty to emotionally starve their husband.

As the marriage ages, intimacy anorexics’ delusional blame and mistreatment of their spouse increases. It seldom gets better until the root problem is addressed. A love-starved person probably can’t read either of Dr. Weiss’ books and continue to make the statement, "My spouse is perfect except for sex."

One wife explained to me how her husband sabotaged their time together. "My husband and I were getting counseling for our marriage. We were supposed to spend special time together each week. We set up a time for later in the week when the kids wouldn’t be home. All week I looked forward to our date. We sat down on the couch to talk about our assigned topics. My husband sat on the edge and turned toward me. He put his hand on my knee like he was showing me affection. Then he began to ask me how I felt about Susan, a woman he worked with and had an affair with."

The wife hesitated to gain her composure and continued, "I thought, 'Why is he bringing that up?' But I answered his question. Then he asked me another question about Susan. I answered him so we could get on with our evening, all the while wondering what was going on. He continued to grill me about my feelings toward Susan until I was quietly crying. Still he didn’t stop his onslaught of dredging up his unfaithfulness. He totally ruined the evening. Instead of a romantic time together, we finished the evening watching television sitting in separate recliners."

Her voice hard, she looked me in the eye. "Later I looked at his pocket calendar. He had written, 'We were supposed to get together to do our homework, but Jane talked about Susan and cried for 45 minutes.'"

Her anger flared, "He was timing how long he deliberately made me cry!"

"Wow! It was a nice touch when he put his hand on your knee."

"Yeah! Sucker bait! And I fell for it hook, line and sinker. When I read that, I knew he wasn’t really trying to save our marriage, but was setting me up to spoil the evening and make it be my fault. I can look back and see that he pulled this stunt many times over the years."

In spite of the anorexic’s deliberate efforts to inflict pain on the spouse, Dr. Weiss offers hope for these marriages. But first, the myth must be debunked. "No, your mate is not perfect except for sex." And once you open your eyes to what needs to be done to heal your marriage, it has a chance … IF your mate is willing to work toward being a genuinely loving person.

In fairness, I have seen some spouses who really were perfect except for sex.

In those rare instances they weren’t like the intimacy anorexics in that they were just misinformed about sex. When introduced to the concept that the Bible teaches that sex is for the enjoyment of both husbands and wives, they readily grasped God’s truth. They joyfully embraced loving their mates. I’ve witnessed these husbands and wives changing quickly as a result of studying the Scriptures about lovemaking. However, intimacy anorexics resist studying about lovemaking and making lasting changes.

King Solomon Was Perfect Except for Sex

Solomon’s 140 wives in the Song of Solomon could have easily said, "Solomon is perfect except for sex." I’m fortunate that during the rewriting of my material on the Song of Solomon that I read Dr. Weiss’ books on intimacy anorexia. I recognized Solomon as the perfect embodiment of a spouse who doesn’t know how to love his mate emotionally and sexually. Additionally, both the Shulammite Maiden and her Shepherd boyfriend demonstrate the qualities of a truly loving couple.

For example, one nearly universal characteristic of intimacy anorexics is that they don’t pay compliments—they criticize. In fact, the spouses of anorexics are as starved for genuine compliments as they are for love. Every time Solomon compliments the Maiden whom he’s trying to make wife number 141, he admires only her body. He never recognizes her as a person or cares about her dreams.

In contrast, the Shepherd boyfriend praises not only the Maiden’s appearance, but also her personality and maternal qualities. He’s certain she’ll make a wonderful mother. He calls her his "sister," a term the Jews used to describe the special intimacy of siblings (Song of Solomon 4:9-10).

Children who grow up in loving homes openly express affection to each other and share secrets. Although love-starved brothers and sisters can be affectionate, they lack the depth of feelings love-nurtured siblings display. Many people who’ve shared their pain with me not only talk about how emotionally frigid their in-laws were, but also about their siblings. Often the siblings manifest the same emotional disorder and inflict great misery on their own mates.

Basically, the Song of Solomon love triangle is about how to choose an emotionally mature and affectionate mate for a lifetime of passionate lovemaking. The book reveals how the Maiden and the Shepherd promoted emotional intimacy during their courtship. At the same time Solomon totally ignored establishing an emotional bond in his obsessive courting of the young virgin.

Dr. Weiss’ material opened my eyes as I looked back over 40 years of being the confidante of both husbands and wives. I highly recommend if you’re in a loveless marriage that you read both books. Start with "Intimacy Anorexia" as it gives clearer insight into anorexics. "Married & Alone" is primarily to help readers heal from years of trying to survive marriage to an emotionally defective person.

The Bait and Switch Technique

The workbook for "Married & Alone" will help you heal and work through options for your marriage. It teaches how to hold your spouse accountable for his or her actions. The "Bait and Switch" exercise asks you to list promises your mate made during courtship only to do something different in marriage. Nearly every person who has confided in me about being love starved has shared how their spouse made promises during courtship only to steal love from the marriage.

One young woman couldn’t keep her hands off her boyfriend during courtship. The last thing he expected in marriage was for her to slap his hands and tell him, "Quit groping me!" She forbade any kind of playful flirting after their nuptials.

A young girl’s fiancé told her, "I can’t wait to marry you and show you how much I love you by making love. The first thing I’m going to do is kiss you 1000 times." Soon after marriage he declared, "French kissing is germy." He prevented any lingering smooching with quick pecks on her lips. Sex with him turned into a mechanical ordeal instead of an expression of love.

Dr. Weiss says anorexics often like sex, but they withhold their emotions from the act. As a result, the sex becomes unsatisfying for the loving mate. Essentially, anorexics let their partner use their body while they go somewhere else emotionally. Many are masturbators or unfaithful because self-stimulation and affairs don’t require the emotional investment of a spouse.

King Solomon practiced "Bait and Switch." Almost word for word he recited one of his long speeches he had used to praise his numerous wives to describe the Maiden’s perfect body. Then he promised her his number-one wife position if she’d marry him. Solomon went on to marry 1000 of the most beautiful women in the known world which included princesses, peasants and slaves. Since he reused his "You’re so Beautiful" speech twice with the Shulammite, we have to wonder how many times he promised the number-one wife position to each new virgin.

Doing the math for Solomon’s 40-year reign shows he spent an average of a little over two weeks with each wife from courtship, to marriage, to honeymoon, to dazzling the next unsuspecting virgin. The three-day courtship of the Shulammite Maiden adheres to this time table. Solomon was a royal intimacy anorexic who didn’t know the first thing about loving a woman emotionally and sexually.

If you’ve ever made the statement, "My spouse is perfect except for sex," I hope you’ll read Dr. Weiss’ book Intimacy Anorexia. The future happiness of your marriage may well depend on you opening your eyes to see what is really going on in your marriage. Read my YourTango article "Some Battles in the Home Are Worth Fighting."

You may also like my video "Is The Brain The Most Important Sexual Organ?"

This article is adapted from my introductory chapter "Is the Brain the Most Important Sexual Organ?" in my book The Song of Solomon Love Triangle: God’s Soulmating & Lovemaking Guide to Prepare You for a Lifetime of Passionate Sex. You might enjoy my video "Is the Brain the Most Important Sexual Organ?"

Readers describe Patsy Rae Dawson as the most outspoken Christian woman on sex, referring to her frankness and comfort talking about sex. Her unique ability to unlock the scriptures and challenge traditional views makes her a popular speaker and writer.

Check out Patsy's latest book, The Song of Solomon Love Triangle, God's Soulmating & Lovemaking Guide to Prepare You for a Lifetime of Passionate Sex. She's also the author of God’s People Make the Best Lovers and God’s People Appreciate Marriage  (which includes a verse-by-verse study of the Song of Solomon). 

She has CDs on The Song of Solomon: God's Sex Education for Ages 11 to 99  and Challenges in Marriage: What to Do When Sin Inhibits Love. Sign up for her newsletter called Embarrass the Alligator where Patsy talks about the good, the bad, and the ugly of marriage so we can enjoy a literal taste of heaven. and


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