[Two Pronged] 'Erectile dysfunction' is ruining my relationship
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr. Holmes and Mr Baer,
I am writing this email because I desperately need your help to save my relationship with my wife.
Since I came here from San Francisco after a year’s training, we always wanted to have a child. But one month ago I suffered from erectile dysfunction. I am only 27 years old.
I think this happened one morning when we are having sex and I cannot sustain my erection maybe due to stress from work. She got very mad at me and she thought that I am losing my interest of her because I lost my erection during that moment. And since then, until now, every time we have sex I cannot sustain my erection because of the thought that I have to be active, I have to stay hard to please her.
I think this is performance anxiety. I couldn't get off of it. Our relationship now is at stake because we keep on arguing about my current situation. I doubt about myself and my manhood. Please help us.
Thank you for your email.
You attribute your erectile dysfunction (ED) firstly to stress from work and secondly to performance anxiety, either or both of which may be correct. But there are other possibilities and self-diagnosis is not always the best approach. So get yourself to a urologist to see if there is something physiological that is responsible for your condition.
Should the urologist give you a clean bill of health, then will be the time to explore the psychological possibilities but it is always worth getting prepared. You suggest stress was the original cause. To confirm or eliminate this, make changes at work and monitor the effect, positive or negative.
You also cite performance anxiety but before considering this you need to determine the cause of your "poor" performance. You and your wife were apart for a year. During this time, one or both of you may have become accustomed to getting sexual pleasure a particular way (solo, with toys, with another partner) so that now having sex together seems strange.
Alternatively (or in addition), it is possible that your reunion became so laden with expectation (physical, emotional, symbolic etc.) that disappointment became virtually inevitable.
The situation then became exacerbated by the differing attitudes to your performance failure. For you, it was the beginning of a downward spiral as one failure led to another. For your wife, there was a choice – loving support or playing the blame game. The former is designed to help the spouse overcome the situation by relieving the pressure; the latter serves only to increase the pressure and tends to exacerbate matters by encouraging the spouse to believe the problem is entirely his. And finally, on top of this, there is the pressure to have a child.
You are still young enough to postpone having children for a short while so try to persuade your wife to adopt a more relaxed attitude while you arrange to see a urologist and then if necessary a mental health professional. If you are lucky, just relaxing may even resolve the problem.
Thank you very much for your letter. Mr Baer, thank you too, very VERY much, for your answer.
You laid out realistic options and shared some hypotheses worth confirming, as you suggested to Edwin. Mr Baer has done an excellent job of addressing your plight, Edwin, and if you follow his suggestions (including seeking a mental health professional if necessary) you will have done everything a reasonable person can do to overcome this problem, thus giving me the freedom to share what I have seen in some male clients who purportedly suffered ED but seemed to be suffering more from unexpressed feelings towards their partner.
One caveat: I do not know of your previous history so I am unaware if your wife’s reactions (let’s call her Ellen) to your ED are based on past behavior (your infidelity) and thus reasonable. BUT presuming her anger and accusations of your lack of interest in her have no basis on your past history together, then it is very possible that your ED is NOT a function of performance anxiety per se, but more a message to her.
“Look, Ellen. You agreed the training I was to get in SFO was good for my career and thus for us even if it meant a lot of hardship for the 2 of us. (frankly, especially for me, because I would not be with friends and family, secure in familiar surroundings.) The one time I didn’t get an erection – which can happen to anyone, (including a bridegroom about to make love to his wife for the first time despite how much he loves her) – your response was self absorbed and, frankly, quite hurtful. Here I was, counting the days this 'ordeal' in SF would end and I would be back in the arms of my wife, when what does she do the first time I had problems getting an erection? Not anything a concerned, loving wife might. Instead, anger, and certainly no support or show of concern that would be what any other wife who loved her husband would show. Any other woman who loved her partner at least as much as she loved herself!”
The above may be what you’re thinking but would be loathe to say if your current relationship could not stand this level of honesty. So what happens? Your penis says it for you.
Thus, this so called ED, which is not ED at all, is really a lack of sexual desire for her, a desire that can only be brought back to life if you are able to share what you honestly feel and where you want to go with your relationship starting now.
This will not be easy, Edwin, but most things that are worth it usually aren’t…especially something as close to the bone as this. It will require you to be heroic, and while fully acknowledging your own pain, you cannot discount Ellen’s.
You must also try and understand her confusion, pain and feelings of inadequacy. When feeling like this, Ellen’s angry reaction is to be expected – UNTIL a deeper appreciation of the dynamics underlying your relationship is dealt with.
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