Mark and Ellen have been married for fourteen years and have a ten-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter Lucy who has severe learning difficulties. Mark feels that Ellen pampers Lucy, doing too many things for her, and not encouraging her to be more independent. Ellen says that she feels constantly criticized by Mark, and that he has an unrealistic view of Lucy's capabilities. This difference fuels a running battle between them that has their sex life on hold.
Ellen: In the beginning sex was a strong part of our relationship, because we were very compatible that way. But it's been on a steady decline over the last two years. The fighting and not getting along makes it hard to feel sexy, but that's not all of it. I know Mark watches a lot of pornography on the net, and I feel resentful about it. I'm not a prude, but it's hard to take when I'm in bed, and I know he's downstairs watching God knows what. It's not fair, and just adds to the resentment already there.
Mark: I knew the porn issue would come up, and I don't deny it. I think Ellen is making too much of it. I don't consider myself addicted to it, but it has become part of my routine to get through the week. Elle comes from a family where fighting was always going on, so it's no big deal to her. But I'm not that quick to get over a fight. She can yell and scream, and an hour later it's like it never happened. Things stay with me longer. I don't do it intentionally. I'm just not so good at letting things roll of my back. I'd rather be alone for a while, and that's where the porn comes in.
Mark and Ellen illuminate an important fact that can be generalized to fit many couples. Most of the sexual problems couples bring to therapy are not sexual in nature at all. They are relationship problems being played out and presented in the sexual arena. The majority of couples who now say they have "sexual problems" will clearly state, when asked, that their love making was problem free and fully enjoyable at an earlier time in their relationship. This underscores that fact that if you take care of one another outside the bedroom you will be happy inside the bedroom.