Video: Does 'I do' mean less sex?

By Rob Stafford Correspondent
NBC News
updated 7/14/2006 8:54:29 PM ET 2006-07-15T00:54:29

This report aired Dateline Friday, July 14, 8 p.m.

It’s the dirty little secret of marriage—say “I do” and in only a matter of time, many couples are admitting “We don’t”—have sex that is.

One of every 3 couples reports sexual problems in marriage. Nearly 20 per cent of couples in one survey admitted they haven’t had sex in at least a month.

From movies to magazines, books to billboards and television, it seems people are having sex so often in so many places it’s amazing anyone gets anything done. But have an honest talk with your married friends, or check with just about any therapist and you’ll find sex seems to be flourishing everywhere except in the place you’d expect it: the bedrooms of millions of married couples.

It even has a name— "the sexless marriage."

Meet two couples confounded by the lack of passion in their relationships. Each volunteered to participate in this story and to allow our cameras to follow them through an unconventional sex therapy. It will be a rare glimpse into the most private part of marriage.

John and Lakethia
John and Lakethia, who goes by the nickname Keye, answered the ad we placed in a national magazine for couples wanting to escape a sexless relationship. 

Rob Stafford, Dateline Correspondent: How often do you have sex?

Keye: It’s been a long time.

John:  --three or four months—

Keye: Yup.

For these Texans, it’s a dramatic and disappointing change from the instant attraction they felt on a blind date six years ago.

Keye: I thought he had melty eyes.  Like you look into them and they just soak you up.  I was like “Whoa, that face”.

Stafford: And how quickly did you know that she’s the one?

John: It was probably after only two or three months.

And the memory of what their sex life used to be still puts smiles on their faces.

John: It is probably five or six times a week. Or five or six different days maybe one or twice.

Keye: We were active (laughter) to say the least.

Now, life revolves around their three active kids, two careers and one very hectic household.

John: I get up to go to work at six because she has to be at school by four so she  has to get the kids all three of ‘em ready without me there.

Keye: Right, dress everybody, feed everybody dress myself.

Keye is a fulltime mom, part-time student and partner in a catering business.  John works long hours as a software engineer and he’s a hands on dad at home.

John: I get done with work. We switch off and I take the kids home. She goes to school.

Keye: For the most part we keep it on track.  We’re a good team.

John: Yeah.

Keye: We work well together.  We support each other well.

In fact, John and Keye insist their 5 year marriage is great except in the bedroom, where sex is so infrequent it’s hard to remember how much intimacy they actually do have. 

John: Last year the one time we had sex, we got pregnant.

Keye: No we had sex two times last year.

John: Oh, ok.

John says he would love to rekindle that old flame but Keye doesn’t seem interested.

Stafford: Why do you think this is happening?

Keye: I don’t know.                

John: Yeah, I’ve put on a few pounds, quite a few.

Keye: Yeah.

Stafford:  Are you still attracted to Lakethia.

John: Yeah.  Absolutely.

Stafford: Lakethia, are you still attracted to John? (Laughter)

Keye: Probably not as much, but yes, I am. 

Stafford: How much resentment do you feel when you get the “no” in the bedroom?

John: It’s pretty big.  I mean—

Keye: Really?

John: I mean I love her absolutely, and—and I’ve always found her attractive.  And so that—that does hurt.

Keye: We connect so deeply on so many other levels and then have a problem with this one thing, it’d be great if we could fix it.

In fact, John and Keye believe their marriage would go from good to great if only the sex were better.

Jack and Tammy
Out in Wyoming, it’s the same story with our second couple—Jack and Tammy.

When they said “I do” 15 years ago, sex was red hot and often. Now?

Tammy: I think a month and a half.

Jack: I’m not really sure, I don’t put x’s on the calendar. But if I had to guess, I’d say maybe a couple of months.

Stafford: How do you feel about that?

Jack: Extremely frustrated.

Jack and Tammy never expected sex to be a problem in their marriage.

Jack: Right off the bat I was attracted to her.

These two fell deeply in love back in high school while marching in the school band. After graduation, they wasted little time tying the knot.

Today, Jack designs computer software. Tammy works part time at their church and is fulltime mom to daughters Summer and Maya. And sex? Well, the passion that swept them off their feet is a faint memory.

Stafford: So when you go down the list of the two girls, their homework, volunteer work and sex, where is the sex on the list of priorities?

Tammy: For me, at the bottom.

Stafford: And I take it its above Girl Scouts for you?

Jack: (Laughter) No, you know, it could be at the bottom—of that list as long as its included on the list. Right now its not even on the list. That little part of the list has been torn off.

And it’s not like they haven’t tried to reclaim their sexual relationship.  Tammy turned to hormone creams and Jack went to the florist.

Jack: I would try to buy her flowers, surprise her, bring home flowers, try to do all these little things.

Nothing worked. Even a marriage counselor failed to break the bedroom stalemate.

Tammy: She would give us these assignments like go home and rub each other with a brush. Well if I don’t want to have sex I don’t want to be rubbing someone with a brush.

Still, Tammy and Jack say except for sex, they’ve got a good marriage. They answered our ad because they worry: How long can their relationship stand the stress and struggle of lost intimacy?

Stafford: What has it done to the two of you to your relationship?

Tammy: We’ve had a lot of arguments and fights. There’s still that wedge between us.

Jack: But if I’m never going to have sex again, I don’t feel that that’s fair.

So what’s going wrong in these two marriages and in millions of others?

Absolutely nothing, says Dr. David Schnarch, author of 3 popular books, including “Passionate Marriage.”  This clinical psychologist has counseled thousands of sexless couples, taught hundreds of sex therapists around the world and practiced what he preaches in his own 18 year marriage.

Dr. Schnarch isn’t surprised Jack and Tammy’s  special dates, hormone creams  or conventional therapy have failed to solve their problem. He says they never work because those fixes are based on a myth.

Dr. Schnarch: We have to stop thinking that sex is a biological function that happens automatically and if it doesn’t you are screwed up.

Dr. Schnarch says intimacy can be revived whether a couple has been sexless for 5 years or 50.  But first, you must avoid a prime sex killer in marriage. That is, allowing what your spouse thinks of you to determine how you feel about yourself.

Schnarch: Your lives are so entwined and what literally happens is over the course of time, in most marriages, your partner becomes too important to show the hidden sexual side of yourself.

And so over time, spouses decide it’s too risky to be brutally honest about their desires or deepest feelings and chose to protect the status quo with years of compromise. Sex is lousy and soon come the fights about who wants sex and who doesn’t.

Schnarch: The assumption has always been the low desire partner is frigid or doesn’t like sex the reason they are the low desire partner is they know the sex they’re having isn’t worth wanting. It’s the high desire partner you really gotta wonder about because the sex is so lousy and they want two helpings of it.

Our couples don’t know it yet, but Dr. Schnarch has just described their marriages. They do know they want change.

Dateline agreed to pay the bill so each couple can give Dr. Schnarch’s approach a try. They agree to allow our cameras to follow every moment regardless of what happens.

Stafford: Have you had anyone say to you I can’t believe you guys are going to be talking about this on TV?

Jack: Yeah, most everybody.

Tammy: If it will help us, that’s wonderful. If it will help others, even better.

Kee and John say they didn’t think twice about taking our offer.

Keye: (Laughing) For the help. I mean I want the help.

Stafford: It’s so personal it’s so private why did you agree to go on TV and talk about it?

John: This is not the sort of thing I wanted to be on TV the first time over, but it is worth it to me if it keep our marriage together.

Neither couple can imagine how hard this therapy is going to be.

4 intense days, 3 hour sessions.  No sex tips, no homework, no advice on how to make love. Just a no-holds barred dissection of why sex is missing from their bedrooms.

Schnarch: It’s where couples really look at each other and they realize that whatever they’re gonna say over the next couple of days is gonna chart the rest of their lives.

Our couples don’t know it yet, but they are about to confess feelings they’ve been afraid to speak for years and there are no guarantees that these two marriages will survive.

A romantic bed and breakfast in the Colorado Rockies seemed an idyllic place for our couples to try to rekindle their faltering relationships.

If they are inspired by their therapy sessions to do some homework,  they have the privacy of their cabins.

But down the road, in the office of sex therapist Dr. David Schnarch, we had our couple’s permission to  install cameras and microphones to record each counseling session. The typical appointments offered by traditional therapy last about an hour.

Our couples will see Dr. Schnarch three hours a day for four intense days.

Dr. Schnarch: You can’t agree to disagree about sex.  You either have it or you don’t.

Each spouse will face the truths about their own sexual desire, and secrets they’ve been keeping from their spouse.

Then the hard part begins.

Schnarch: Now the question is what do you wanna do in real time now that changes your life so that the past doesn’t run you?

Those answers may make or break these marriages.

On the first morning, Jack and Tammy tell Dr. Schnarch what they told us.

Jack: I have a much higher level of sexual desire than she does.  And, it’s something that’s been going on for about six or seven years now.

Tammy: Well, I feel like he doesn’t understand how much I don’t want to have sex.

Schnarch tells our couple how they have sex... or avoid it reveals everything about their marriage.  When Jack and Tammy describe how they make love it sounds, like a war zone.

Jack always initiates and Tammy almost always gets defensive.

Jack: I can’t roll over and put my hand on her arm without her arm sort of clinching up to cover the breast.  Because she’s afraid, “Oh well, he’s trying to start something.”  That’s the the feeling I get.

Schnarch: Like your wife is defending herself against you?

Jack: Yes, she’s defending herself.

Tammy is so reluctant to have sex, Jack admits he resorts to sneaking up on his wife while she’s falling asleep.

Jack:  Since she never wants to do that when she’s awake, it’s either when she’s asleep.  Or I will give her a full body massage and as part of the massage, kind of work that in.

But then Dr. Schnarch asks Tammy how she feels when the massage stops and the sex begins. It’s the first clue about how little Jack knows of his wife’s sexual desires.

Tammy: I turn over and he starts doing the front. Once he starts stimulating my genitals, then I’m there and I’m interested and I’ve forgotten, “Okay, I don’t want to have sex.”

Schnarch: So this certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of the frigid woman who doesn’t like sex.  The sex part you like.

Tammy: Yeah, yeah.

This is a big revelation to Jack. Tammy likes sex but not the way she feels when he’s doing the romancing.

Tammy: Well, it’s just (starts to cry)-- I feel like I’m always under pressure. I feel like he’s blamed me for years. And that it’s more of my problem not ours.

But Tammy and Jack quickly realize this therapy is not about who’s at fault—it’s about facing the truth.  And the fact is Tammy shares the same bed with Jack during sex but that’s all.

Schnarch: It’s not really, ‘Oh we’re together, this is about you and me.’

Tammy: No. That’s not it

Schnarch: You have an orgasm with your husband by yourself?

Tammy: Yeah I guess so (laughs)

As for Jack, he hears that he’s using sex with Tammy to calm himself and ease his own insecurities. His wife knows it and that dampens her desire for him.

Schnarch: You’re getting hurt because you’re beginning to realize the lack of emotional contact between the two of you. It’s not the lack of sex.  It’s the lack of contact. How does that picture sit with you?

Jack: It’s painful.  Before, I felt sort of physically alone.  And now, I feel completely alone.        

In just one session, Tammy is reassured that she has plenty of sexual desire - the problem is right now, it’s not for her husband. Jack’s wondering, if this therapy will fix that?

Our second couple, john and kee start their first session by listing all the reasons they don’t have sex—a busy life, the pressures of raising three small children, and those extra pounds. Doctor Schnarch doesn’t buy it.

Schnarch: We’re gonna die if we stick with just the story that we have here that this is just about body weight and kids.

Keye admits she doesn’t want sex because lovemaking with john is “dull.”

Keye: For him it’s like “O.K. lets have sex (claps) right now.”

John: I don’t think it’s quite that abrupt.

Keye: That’s what it feels like to me.

She wants more erotic sex, but she’s reluctant to tell john what she needs.

Schnarch: What you’re saying to him in code is “I don’t wanna have to teach you what turns me on.

John: That is the message.

Keye: That is the message.

Yet John admits it’s more than that.  He says the real problem is he feels inadequate and worries he can’t measure up to her expectations in bed.

John: I had only one partner before her which is pretty I guess rare.  But, I’m just worried that I can’t really satisfy her.

This is the first big revelation. John came to therapy believing he had the greater desire for sex. Now he’s hearing he had the problem backwards.

The conversation has hit a nerve.

Schnarch: We’ve got to get you settled down.

John: I don’t think I can.

Schnarch:  That’s fine. 

John grows more and more anxious—until he is moved to tears.

John’s emotion makes Keye very uncomfortable... and she quickly moves in to comfort John.

Keye: Oh honey

Schnarch: Don’t do that. That won’t help him that will make it worse.

Keye: It’s hard not to.

Kee’s reaction tells Dr. Schnarch even more about the marriage.  Keye is mothering John, trying to quiet him down, because she can’t bear to see him upset. But Dr. Schnarch says she’s got to learn to tolerate John’s anxiety not try to stop it.

Schnarch: Yes.  So here’s the deal.  If you want to be helpful to your husband, you need to regulate yourself.  So we need you to take a deep breath too.  Ok?  No, I’m serious. The way that you’re acting it’s like your husband is weak and vulnerable and he’s gonna fall apart.

Keye: Huh, I never thought of it like that.

Schnarch: Right now you’re doing a full-time job of trying to keep his ego afloat.

Keye: That’s probably true.

Schnarch: And one of the reasons I’m proposing she may not be interesting in having sex is because women very often do not wanna have sex with the guy that they feel they’re propping up.

John: I need her strength.

Schnarch: Yeah, but this idea of your strength is gonna come from her, it’s only gonna get done because you’re gonna push yourself to do what you need to do on on your own.

Seeing John break down and confront his fears, doesn’t make him weaker in Keye’s eyes... in fact it’s just the oppositeShe’s impressed that he’s being so honest.

Keye: I mean he’s probably the strongest I’ve ever seen him right now.

John: I would never believe that.

Schnarch: The question is do you believe it now?

Is this a huge turning point for John and Keye?  Willing to be brutally honest and saying things that have gone unsaid for years?

Our two husbands have taken a battering on day one. Day two will make the wives wonder why they ever agreed to undergo therapy.

The first day of “sexless marriage therapy” was particularly hard on our husband from Texas.  John’s anxiety left him sobbing as the reality of his marriage hit home. But scarcely 24 hours later, John seems like a new man.

John: I just realize I have been pushing a lot of that anxiety on to her.

Schnarch: I’m delighted to hear that. You look good.

But there’s still a lot of work to do.

The doctor asks for more details about how they make love.

Keye: It’s been very rudimentary.

John: Rudimentary is a good word. 

Schnarch: How do you know when you’re done?

Keye: When someone has an orgasm.

That someone is always John, who admits it’s a problem.

Schnarch: John’s orgasm is controlling when sex is over.

Keye: Uh-huh (Affirms).

Schnarch: So, you’re letting your body make the decision.  As opposed to whether your head is done.

John: You are really good.

Schnarch: Well, you have a very common difficulty.

It may be a common problem, but Keye resents John for stopping lovemaking too soon— yet she never tells him.

Keye:  Uh-huh (AFFIRM).  The funny part about it is that if he weren’t my husband, I’d probably just say.  Just that.  Just—“I need more.”

Schnarch: But the fact that he’s your husband, all of a sudden you can’t say the truth? Why not?

Keye: Maybe a fear of losing him, or if I’m telling him I’m unsatisfied, maybe he’ll find somebody else that will be satisfied with what he’s doing.

But John says he now wants Keye to tell him the truth. Back at their cabin, John showed her just how serious he is about facing his fears. He shed some inhibitions, literally, by going naked in front of his wife.

John: Just walking around naked. I would never have normally have done that—

Keye: Yeah.

John: --ever.

Stafford: Why’d you do it?

John: To see what it felt like.  To see if I could do it.  Could I not be who I was a day ago?

Stafford: So what did you learn?

John: I could do it.  And I didn’t feel apprehensive.

But Keye doesn’t know what to make of the “new” John.

Keye: It’s making me a little insecure about what my role is and like who I am in this relationship. I don’t know what to do. (Keye breaks down and cries.)

The session leaves Keye feeling as drained as her husband did the day before. She barely makes it out of the driveway.

Keye: I cried like I’ve never cried before.

But by the time they get back to their cabin Keye and John are ready to go places they had never gone before.

If Keye and John were becoming closer, Tammy and Jack were moving apart. Literally.

Jack: Last night I laid as close to the edge of the bed on my side as I could, sort of secretly hoping that maybe she would sense that and sort of reach over and touch me or something.  But no, the entire night (laughter) I was just over there by myself.

Schnarch: Did you notice the difference in the way that your husband was sleeping?

Tammy: Yes, I did.  And I slept very well. (Laughter)

Still,there’s a theme going on in the sessions today. Just like Keye, Tammy is rattled now that her husband is making progress. 

Schnarch: It looks like you’re beginning to tear up...What are we talking about that—brings you to tears?

Tammy: I guess I just feel like, you know, if we continue this way, maybe I won’t give him a hug.  I don’t—or—

Schnarch:   Yeah.  Maybe you won’t.

Tammy realizes now that Jack is keeping his distance, it’s up to her to initiate sex.  And that’s something she’s never had to do.

Schnarch: Like most low desire partners—you get to have all the sex you want without having to want it.

Tammy: Yeah.

For Jack, it’s a light bulb moment.

Jack: I felt like a little jealous when you framed it in terms of her getting all the sex she wants.  I never really thought about it (Laughter) that way.

Dr. Schnarch tells Jack he’ll never get emotionally satisfying sex—until he stops accepting the mercy sex Tammy provides every six or seven weeks. That change puts Tammy on the spot.

Schnarch: Because my understanding is, as much as sometimes you may not want to have sex there’s something that you want less than sex. You don’t want to want him. And you get to have sex without wanting him.

Tammy: (CRYING). Yeah, I mean, it hurts. But that’s kind of the way I’ve always felt towards anyone else. I don’t want to be-- (CRYING) I don’t want to need anyone.

Years of dammed up emotions break loose. This is getting to things she’d buried and she’s not sure she wants to face...

Tammy stops the session, she says it’s for a bathroom break. But it’s just an excuse.

Tammy: I was getting away. I was running away. I thought I’m just not just going to the bathroom, but I’m walking out of here.

Jack has no clue what’s really going on with Tammy or that she came to therapy ready for it to fail.

Tammy: I’d gotten online and looked up what the child support rate was for Wyoming. I was also thinking about where I wanted to live, if I wanted to stay with my friends in Wyoming or go back to Texas with my family.

But now, despite her anger and confusion, Tammy makes herself rejoin the therapy session.

Schnarch: What are you afraid of?  That this will fail and Jack will leave?  Or are you afraid that this will fail and Jack will stay?

Tammy: I don’t know.

Schnarch: What if this fails?  What are you going to encourage him to do? 

Tammy: I guess I’d probably say that you should go get your needs met somewhere else.

Schnarch: Truly?  You really believe that that’s what you would do?

Tammy:  I think so. (**really teary***)

At the end of the session, Tammy and Jack are at a turning point… the future of their marriage more uncertain than ever.

For two days our two couples had ridden a roller coaster of emotions, tears flowed and their relationships seemed on the verge of unraveling.

But overnight, it finally dawned on Tammy that she had run away from her deepest feelings her whole life. Now she’s eager for session three.

Tammy: And I guess hope is back. Because it wasn’t the end of the world when I finally shared my emotions. And he didn’t run away yesterday after I opened up.

That’s the way this therapy works. It’s not about hormone creams, date nights or how-to manuals. Couples are encouraged to face their personal fears on their own, then decide what move to make in their marriage.

Tammy has decided it’s worth the risk to share her deepest desires with jack. Dr. Schnarch believes these are the crucial moments for all couples  trying to transform mediocre sex into the passion they both want.

But Jack is struggling.

Jack: This morning  when I saw Tammy, I wanted to come up and put my arms on her shoulders and say “morning” and I didn’t. And we’re not talking about going a month and a half without sex.  We’re going on two days without just a touch you know? It’s driving me nuts.

It’s a very fragile point in the therapy. Dr. Schnarch encourages Jack to keep his vow not to pressure Tammy or he’ll risk losing this chance to eventually have great sex with his wife.

Schnarch: You can screw it up but you can’t make it happen. It’s only going to happen when your wife is ready to do it.

Jack: I feel like you know somebody’s reached in and pulled my heart out.

Schnarch: Torn your heart out?

Jack: Torn it out, stomped on the sidewalk and threw it in a garbage can. (they all laugh)

Next up—our couple from Texas.  From the moment they come into the room it’s obvious Keye has undergone a transformation.

Keye: That’s where I’m sitting now. Comfortable with who I am.  Displaying my power if someone has a problem with me being confident and secure and strong then that’s maybe a person that I don’t need in my life.

It’s a stunning change in the wife who now sees she was killing her sex life by mothering her husband.

Schnarch: So let me ask, what been happening since I saw you last?

John: That is a little harder to talk about.

Keye: No it’s not.

It’s seems sex is back.  The wife who used to just say no is now telling John exactly what she wants in bed.

Keye: I like John to bite me. I like him to scratch me you know dig his fingernails in. I’ve never opened up to him like that before. Because I’ve suggested alternative things to do (laughs) and he’s been resistant.

Not anymore.

John: It was fantastic. She became incredibly emotional just because.... of the experience was what she had been missing for so long.

Keye: And being able to do that and have him reciprocate and be strong and not be weak about it and you know be a man and enjoy it as well was completely overwhelming for me.

Dr. Schnarch is pleased for them, but cautious. 

Schnarch: That scares the hell out of a whole lot of guys so I’m real interested in what happens to a man where his wife is showing him something he’s never seen before and he hasn’t done.

John: It’s amazing. I feel like an idiot for sitting here all this time five years across from her, and I had all that right there.

There’s still time left in this session, but things are going so well they leave early for more “private” time in their cabin.

But on this last night in Colorado, something unexpected happens, one of our couples makes a stunning decision that Dr. Schnarch will hear as the final sessions begin.

A lot of things happened after the third day of therapy.  A lot of things behind closed doors and away from our cameras and microphones.  Some were very good—some pretty bad.  Tammy and Jack start the fourth and final session beaming.

Dr. Schnarch: What’s been happening?

Tammy: I’ve just been really relaxed. And I feel closer to him than what I felt in years.

Schnarch: What brought that about?

Tammy: Well, I think a big thing for me is he stopped chasing and I’ve stopped running. And now I guess I had a chance to initiate holding hands or hugging.

Schnarch: Has that happened?

Tammy: Yes it has. I felt both giving and accepting at the same time.

Jack: I do enjoy sex you know? But compared to this feeling of togetherness or being with Tammy that was in a six or eight second hug last night, I don’t know that we’ve ever felt that in bed.

Tammy: It’s nice to hear that he’s not gonna just accept the crumbs that he’s gonna wait for the good stuff.

Holding hands? Hugging? It’s actually great progress for two people trying to revive a sex life.  In Schnarch’s therapy, this is a huge step for Tammy and Jack… but will it be enough?

Stafford (to Jack): How long are you willing to wait for the sex?

Jack: When’s this interview done? (Laughs) You asked Tammy where it was in her priority list and it was at the bottom and turns out that’s not true.  I thought it was at the top of mine and that’s not true.

Stafford: What’s at the top?

Jack: What’s at the top is I’m not using her has a crutch for any of my own insecurities.  That I’m not allowing myself to be used as a crutch for any of hers. That we share it all.

Stafford: And for you what’s at the top?

Tammy: The same thing. We’re sharing the good and the bad.

Jack and Tammy leave Colorado not yet experiencing the knock-your socks-off-sex Dr. Schnarch describes in his books.  They prefer not to risk their steady progress by having sex too soon and repeating past mistakes.

As for John and Kee, just yesterday they reported great sex was back in their marriage… now, something painful has happened.

Schnarch: What’s been happening?

John: We decided to get a divorce.

Schnarch: Really?

John: I realized I was afraid when she showed me the power that she has. And I don’t think I can handle it.  I said yesterday I thought I could but I don’t know that I can.

Schnarch: What did you see?

John: I mean just her energy, the control she could have over me during sex. Just, I mean, I was scared.

This kind of therapy-induced tsunami is nothing new to Dr. Schnarch. Still, Keye is devastated.  She finally told John exactly what she wanted in bed and it seems to have backfired.

Keye: I don’t want to deal with this. I don’t even know what to say, I’m just FED up.

They’ve arrived at the point when many couples opt for divorce, but Dr. Schnarch says it’s at this very moment where lasting change can begin.

Schnarch: I’ve seen a whole lot of people that are absolutely convinced that their relationship is irreparable and they go on to have the best marriage they’ve every had. But if you want it easy, get divorced.

As the session progresses, John and Keye decide to put divorce aside for now.

Keye: I think we’re realizing it’s harder than we thought it was ever going to be.

John: I know I’ll get scared again.

Keye: And I will be fed up again for sure.

Schnarch: Well, it couldn’t happen to two nicer people.

Four days of therapy have swung this couple from the highest high to the lowest low.  They leave Colorado unsure about their marriage.

Stafford: You were coming out here to improve your sex lives.  How important is that to you now, John?

John: That doesn’t mean anything.  It’ll come if we work it out between us. But that seems like a distant little thing today.

Stafford: Where do you think you two will be six months from now?

Keye: We can’t tell you that we don’t know.  We didn’t know where we were gonna be on Tuesday we didn’t know where were gonna be Wednesday. So we can’t tell you that. So... call us. (laughter)

And a few months later, that’s exactly what we did.

Rob Stafford, Dateline correspondent: Have you had sex?

Keye: No.

Stafford: How do you feel about that?

Keye: Fine.

This from a couple who less than 3 days in to therapy had some of the best sex of their lives? And now ...nothing?  Turns out since we last saw them, life has been rocky. When therapy started, John and Keye thought only the sex was bad in their marriage. Now, they see there was much more.

Keye: Too much going on in our relationship that we were not wanting to deal with was forbidding sex.

There have been arguments -- arguments so intense Keye ended up sleeping on the couch.

Stafford: For how long?

Keye: Over a month, maybe six or seven weeks. A long time.

It seems those heart to heart conversations on the therapy couch exposed some deep wounds caused by years of emotional abuse inflicted by both sides.

Keye: We both can dish and we both can take it.

John: Yeah. He helped me realize that if I’m down I would drag her with me. You should feel bad about this because I feel bad about it.

Stafford: How much of that got dragged into the bedroom?

Keye: All of it.

John: That was the wall built in front of the bedroom.

But it’s an obstacle they still believe they will overcome.

Stafford: Do you think this therapy works?

John: Absolutely. I feel better about my life.  I feel better about my wife.  I know if it’s in the cards for us, we’ll have sex again.  But I’m not as worried about it.

Keye: If you’ve been holding back who you are for 30 years, then finally, you deal with all the stuff you’ve been repressing and you really know who you are at the core—that’s something to be happy about.

Stafford: John and Keye have not had sex in three and a half four months.

Dr. Schnarch: Yeah.

Stafford: And they went thru your therapy. So what does that say?

Schnarch: The fact that they’re not having sex now I don’t think is the issue. In a funny way, for the first time while they’re not having sex they’re seeing each other unclothed.  They’re each allowing themselves to be seen. Frequency of sex is absolutely no measure of either sexual satisfaction or marital happiness.

And in the end, John and Kee didn’t find marital happiness. This week, they told us they plan to divorce.

As for our couple from Wyoming, they have a new attitude about sex.

Tammy: After leaving Dr. Schnarch’s we realized that was (laughter) the littlest part of our problems it was just a symptom.

Tammy and Jack left knew each of them would have to become more emotionally independent before their sex lives could recover.

Both are happy to report they’ve succeeded. Sex is once again flourishing in their marriage and guess who made the first move? 

Tammy: I initiated it.

Stafford: That’s a switch.

Jack: It was great. Absolutely great.

Tammy: It was a lot different. We were able to connect mentally not just physically. Which we hadn’t done in ten years maybe.

Sex in the marriage is now both fabulous and frequent a complete transformation of the hurting couple nearing divorce on the therapy couch just months earlier.

Stafford: A lot of people are gonna look at this and say, if the price of keeping this thing together is having little or no sex, then so be it. Why stir all of this up and possibly face divorce?

Tammy: Because there is the potential to be a lot more in your relationship.  A happier relationship. Not just going thru the motions of a marriage.

Jack: I mean that’s what we did for the last ten years.  We put it on cruise control and hoped it didn’t go in a ditch and I want something more for us.

And more there is: Jack and Tammy, the couple that was at the brink of divorce, have renewed their vows, saying “I do” all over again.

And although John and Keye’s marriage is over, both couples agree they found what they needed during their therapy in Colorado—the courage to be honest with each other and with themselves.

© 2013 NBCNews.com  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments