Seattle doctor offers hope for sexless marriages

Nov 17, 2011, 6:39 PM | Updated: Nov 18, 2011, 10:40 am

A marriage researcher wants to be like the guy who invented Velcro. Nobody remembers his name, but everybody uses the product. Dr. John Gottman says he has a way for couples to stick together in satisfying, intimate relationships for the rest of their lives.

“It’s all connected with really knowing one another, understanding one another and accepting one another and cherishing this person you love as irreplaceable,” says Gottman, director of the Relationship Research Institute in Seattle.

It’s estimated that about 15 percent of married couples have not had sex with their spouse in the last six months to one year. For some couples that’s fine, but for most being roommates is not as satisfying as being physically and emotionally connected.

Gottman is known for saying he can predict whether newlyweds would divorce within 5 years with greater than 90% accuracy. He says that’s possible for him simply by observing how the couple talk to, or argue with, each other during a 15 minute period. It only takes about 15 seconds for him to know whether a man and woman have a great sex life.

GottSex“I think you can tell just by the way a couple sits together, by the way they look at one another, and the way they touch one another. We can see that in our clinical offices all the time,” he says.

“Sometimes a couple comes in and the guy lifts up his right arm and she slides right in there like she fits and belongs and they’re comfortable with one another. Versus, people have this tension if they’re sitting apart and they’re not looking at one another. They’re using ‘I’ statements and talking about ‘me’ ‘my’ and not ‘we.’ It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out there are no sparks in the bedroom between them.”

Gottman says an astonishing 91% of couples don’t know how to talk to each other about sex. That’s leading to unhappy, unhealthy relationships. What’s the difference between couples who are happy with their intimacy, and those who are not satisfied? It has very little to do with how often couples are having sex.

“You can buy the most wonderful car in the world and if you don’t pay attention to it, maintain it and keep it running well, eventually you’ll have a heap,” Gottman says. “That’s what couples do with their relationships. They get so involved in infinite to-do lists of life that they stop being playful, they stop really having fun, having adventures together, having sensuality in their lives, knowing each other. How many couples know what their partner finds erotic. Most say ‘I don’t have a clue.'”

About 10 years of couples research went into developing a new video series for couples called “Gott Sex?” It includes seven tools, which are all ways of improving communication about sex and even about the ordinary stuff people discuss with their partners. The videos teach couples how to make “love maps” of their partner’s desires, how to redefine sex so that everything positive you do in the relationship is foreplay, and how to talk during sex – which he says most couples don’t do in a meaningful way.

“People think that what’s important in a relationship is to be interesting, but really what’s important is to be interested in your partner,” says Gottman. “Ask questions, connect about emotions, be understanding, be compassionate and be able to explore feelings.”

Feelings. Emotions. Understanding. This sounds like a female-friendly approach to an intimate relationship. That’s what women want. Gottman says once men drop all the macho talk with their buddies about sex, it’s what they want too.

“We really got the skinny. We got the real truth. The major complaint of men is that they really want their women to suggest that they are desirable,” Gottman says.

Every now and then, a man would love to have his spouse or girlfriend put her arms around him and say, “You look delicious in that shirt. I can’t keep my hands off you. You are so hot. You really turn me on.”

“Guys tell us, ‘if she did that every now and then, I’d feel so good,'” he says.

Gottman believes it’s never too late for couples to ignite a sexual spark. Find the video series Gott Sex? here. If it’s been a long time since you’ve talked with your partner about sex, here’s a general quiz to start with and a truth or dare quiz to answer.

Listen to this report

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Seattle doctor offers hope for sexless marriages