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Erectile Dysfunction Health Center

Impotence Imposes on Relationships

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How Couples Approach the Problem

Some couples are what Lipsky calls overcomers, with a strong desire to resolve ED. Others are resigners, who admit there is a problem but decide not to seek treatment to resolve it.

Then there are avoiders, couples who refuse to admit and discuss ED, and, finally, alienators, women who feel so angry that they not only withdraw from their relationship, but may even demean their partner or seek intimacy elsewhere.

When women are angry, says Karen Donahey, this anger is frequently present before the sexual difficulties have begun. In such instances, says Donahey, marital therapy, as opposed to sexual therapy, may be in order to get to the underlying cause of the anger.

For a woman who wants to help her partner -- as most do, says Donahey -- understanding why ED occurs can help ease her concerns as well as allow her to help her partner confront the problem, something many men are hesitant to do.

Being able to talk about it is the first step. "Opening the lines of communication is paramount" in resolving ED, says Marian Dunn, PhD, clinical associate professor and director of the Center for Human Sexuality at the State University of New York Health Science Center. "ED is not initially easy to talk about. But not talking about it can seriously damage a relationship."

Sandy (also not her real name) has been in a relationship for six months with a man who suffers from ED. "We've worked hard on handling it," she says, "and we talk about it all the time, which really helps." In addition to encouraging her partner to see his doctor for a physical exam, Sandy says that being able to talk about the situation has actually brought the two closer together.

"It defuses whatever anger and frustration there may be," she explains, "so that it doesn't carry over into other aspects of the relationship, and it has shown us that we can work on this together."

"Women don't need to take responsibility for their partner's ED," says Dr. Janice Lipsky. "But many women can and do play a critical role in supporting men to seek treatment."

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