Case Study

Case Study

Fantasy in Couples Therapy: Is encouraging sexual fantasies playing with fire?

By Tammy Nelson

November/December 2008

Couples who are satisfied with their sex lives are happier than those who aren't, and are likelier to stay together. They describe their relationships as connected, intimate, safe, fun, and affectionate. Conversely, as I've found over 20 years of practice, partners who aren't having good sex are usually more dissatisfied with their relationships overall—more frustrated with each other, more discouraged about their joint future, and likelier to split.

Many therapists assume that if they help couples improve their relationships, the improvement will naturally lead to a rewarding erotic life. But what if helping couples create a satisfying erotic life is the key to increasing their feelings of companionship and mutual connection, not the other way around?

The age-old question is: how can couples maintain a strong, vital sex life over many years without having boredom undermine eroticism? Sexual boredom often results from the assumption by each partner that there's no longer anything new to discover about the other, or about their sex life together. I've found that a therapist can alleviate such sexual ennui by helping each partner reveal previously undisclosed erotic fantasies. This apparently simple step can lead to new ways of seeing and experiencing the partner and the self. In a short time, it can have an invigorating erotic impact.

Sheila and Johan were both in their early fifties. They were physically active, with no psychiatric histories,…

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