When therapists work with desire discrepancy, they sometimes fall into a counterproductive trap–identifying one partner as “high” or “low” desire, and trying to “fix” that partner’s desire level.
“High desire” and “low desire” are comparative terms. What standard are you comparing against? Is there such a thing as “normal desire” or “abnormal desire”?
I say no. Everyone’s level of desire is unique, and there is no reason to think a particular level of desire is “more correct” or “more healthy”.
As a therapist, you are in a uniquely powerful position to normalize any level of desire. The problem resides in the meaning each partner makes about their own desire level, or that of their partner, not in the level itself.
If a client were interested in shifting their own level of desire, it would only be possible in a very emotionally safe environment. Trying new things and stretching for challenging growth does not work when one feels pressured, pathologized, bad, wrong, or inadequate.
We would do better to celebrate difference in desire as expression of the uniqueness of each partner (that nonetheless can create tension), rather than pathologizing it.
Your clients probably have worked through desire issues in other areas of their lives. We all have desire differences in our relationships, whether they be about how much money to save, how clean to keep the house, or, in my house, how many cats is the right number. (When it comes to cats, I’m definitely the higher-desire partner.)
Making room for partners to hold the tension of being different from one another, and to find ways to work collaboratively with their unique differences, is both the work of couple therapy and the work of being in a long term relationship.
Here are some questions for your (and your clients’) consideration:
- What are your beliefs about desire? Do you believe there is a “right” amount of desire?
- What does it mean, about you, and about your partner, that you are the higher or lower desire partner?
- Where did you learn these beliefs about desire?
- What other desire discrepancies have you and your partner worked through successfully?
- What if you believed every level of desire is normal? How would that change things for you?
Desire is such a complicated issue because it has roots in every aspect of the relationship and of the self. That’s why treating desire discrepancy is so difficult. Reframing how you talk about desire discrepancy is a powerful first step towards freeing your clients from damaging habits and setting them on a path of personal growth.