Why Marriage Kills Sex
David Schnarch, Ph.D. is co-director of the Marriage & Family Health Center. He is a licensed clinical psychologist, world-renown sex and marital therapist, and international best-selling author. He is a Certified Sex Therapist (Diplomat status) by American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT). He chaired the Professional Education Committee and served on the Board of Directors for eight years, and received the first AASECT "Professional Standard of Excellence" Award. Dr. David is also a Clinical Member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), serves on the editorial board of AAMFT Journal of Marriage and Family Therapy. For seventeen years he was an Associate Professor in the Depts. of Psychiatry and Urology at Louisiana State University Medical School.
Topic: Sex and marriage
David Schnarch: The way that the human race has evolved, it is virtually guaranteed that sex is going to die in emotionally committed relationships, and you can either bail out or tell yourself you picked the wrong person, and if you just found the right person they'd love all your flaws, and no matter what you did they'd just think that you're the bee's knees. And that's the picture most of us have -- we're supposed to have -- in childhood. But that's not marriage. Marriage -- people get fed up with you leaving your socks on the floor and having all your little habits. And they get tired of telling you that you're wonderful and propping you up, and they want you to stand on your own two feet and be a whole man or be a whole woman. And we usually get angry about that kind of stuff. It doesn't fit our picture, you know. We sort of have the picture of while we're single I have to take care of myself; once I get married you have to take me any old way I am. That's known as loving me. And one of the things sex and marriage and intimacy will teach you is, love is not accepting you any old way you are.
When people get married, you get married for better and worse, in sickness and in health, but that's not an excuse to screw off, get sloppy, get fat and not take care of yourself and not be an interesting person. So sex invariably dies. And we move on to your next question. That's really the answer to why sex dies. All around the world, where rape is not allowed, and women are allowed control of their own body, all around the world from time immemorial it is the low-desire partner that always controls sex. Now, you might think God's passive aggressive, or Mother Nature has a sense of humor. Maybe what she should have done is made the person who wants sex the most the person in charge, and the high-desire partner says, let's have sex, and the low-desire partner says, aye-aye, sir -- just -- whatever you say, that's what goes. And it doesn't work that way.
So what happens is, most of us are going through the struggle of "I want to be with you, but don't tell me what to do." And because the low-desire partner controls sex, when the high-desire partner says, let's have sex, and the low-desire partner says, well, I'm not so sure, and the high-desire partner says, well, then you don't love me enough, that's the end of sex. When it gets to be proved that you love me, do it my way. And the high-desire partner says, well, why do we always have to do it your way? And the low-desire partner says, well, why do we always have to do it your way? You are now in the middle of what happens to all of us, that none of us ever anticipate. You are in the middle of the wars of self-development, and that's what marriage is about.
Marriage is about growing up and getting to the point where you can love somebody on life's terms. And in the middle of that, sex dies. And couples go through, very often, months or years of not having sex, which nobody who is 18 years old ever believes. You get married because you can have sex all the time; you're even living with them; they're very convenient. And that's not the way that it works. So what we're really describing is what made the human brain evolve, where the low-desire partner controls sex, the high-desire partner doesn't like that, and the high-desire partner has to learn to control themselves because when the high-desire partner says, "You know what? You're just as controlling as your mother," that basically does not usually inspire high-desire or lubrication in your partner. So you have to learn to control yourself. This also teaches you to be considerate of your partner and not act like they belonged to you. And getting over the idea that your partner doesn't belong to you is a tough one. It sounds great when you first get married: we belong to each other. But that's as good as long as you're cutting the cake. Two years in, when your partner acts like your genitalia belongs to them, believe me, it does not inspire passion.
And when you go through the way that marriage really works, which beats out of you the idea that your partner either belongs to you or is always supposed to put your needs first, then you become a solid enough person, you earn your own self-respect, you earn each other's self-respect. That's what ignites passion. Self-respect is one of the best aphrodisiacs there is, but that's not what you get when you're first in the mad, passionately-in-love-with-each-other stage.
Recorded on October 29, 2009
Therapist David Schnarch says that bedroom embers almost always burn out in emotionally committed relationships.