Using Game Theory to Solve Sexual Frequency Differences by sex therapist Laurie J. Watson

Posted by: on Oct 25, 2013 | No Comments
What is C0-0perative Game Theory?

Game theory focuses on how groups of people interact. It can help to predict how people will behave in certain situations and there are two main branches: cooperative and non-cooperative. The following  (extremely) simplified example illustrates how, when two ‘players’ are given a set of options, we can predict the choice that each player will make if they choose to co-operate.

Betty and Bobby are both selling ten bags of identical homemade cookies on the same street corner. Their choices are to sell the cookies for £1.00 or £2.00. If they both sell for £1.00, they will share the profits and each make £10.00. If they both sell for £2.00 they could potentially each make more money, but if one of them decides to sells for £1.00 and the other sticks at the £2.00 price, the person who sells for £2.00 will make no money and the person who sells for £1.00 will make £20. Clearly it is in both their interests to co-operate so we can predict that they will both fix their prices at £1.00 so that they can both be assured of making money out of their enterprise.

Below, Laurie Watson uses co-operative game theory to illustrate how important it is for couples to collaborate in the way that they make decisions concerning their relationship. Instead of thinking “what’s best for me?”, couples should be thinking “what’s best for us?”
Adopting this simple ‘stop and think’ strategy can help couples with mismatched sex drives, The lower desire partner learns to avoid the automatic “NO” behaviour that is so often apparent in couples with mismatched sex drives while the partner with the higher sex drive learns to resist requesting sex when a negative response is predictable and instead, to ask only when experiencing a genuine desire for sex.

 

Laurie Watson writes: The Ultimate Sex Game

A sexual frequency difference is a stubborn problem in couples pledged to monogamy.  Fun and games are the opposite of the serious deadlock when you’ve been fighting over something so intimate with someone so unfeeling.  But game theory can help solve the problem.  For years, my husband has run training groups for people interested in how they might be getting in their own way to block their goals, growth and happiness.  He has the group do an exercise based on game theory called Red/Black. It is essentially a version of the game  called the “prisoner’s dilemna” which demonstrates how people who would be better off collaborating, often don’t for selfish reasons. Even when it hurts themselves, they might play the game in a way that gets back at the other out of a revenge motive.

The game is played with several iterations. In my husband’s group, the Red/Black game comes in a context of learning about how everyone is essentially your brother. The scoring is explicitly explained and the whole group realizes that Black/Black vote is where everybody wins before they are separated. The votes are made known only after both groups have committed to their own vote. Competition or trust is an internal choice and the results of people’s assumptions are examined at the end of the exercise.  As in marriage, there is no explicit instruction given about WHO makes up the group and it is left to each 1/2 group’s assumptions.The rules are explained to the group as a whole; the objective is to get the most points for your team.  Then the group is divided into two, one side going downstairs and the other side staying upstairs. For 16 times, you can either vote Red or vote Black.

Points are garnered in this way.

If you vote Red and the other side votes Red too, you get 0 pts and the other side gets 0 pts too.

If you vote Red and the other side votes Black, you get 30 pts and the other side gets 0 pts

If you vote Black and the other side votes Red, you get 0 pts and the other side gets 30 pts

If you vote Black and the other side votes Black, you get 15 pts and the other side gets 15 pts

Ready, GO!! At first, it’s a no-brainer – vote Red! The groups experiment with their vote in order to learn the psychology of the other side. Often both sides vote Red at first.  Self-preservation rules the day, but nobody wins much.

But then, maybe the upstairs side votes Black.  Downstairs, much cheering and rejoicing is heard against their Red vote.  Another Black versus Red vote – downstairs continues to cheer.  If the upstairs continues with a black vote in the face of a red vote, the downstairs starts to ponder what is happening.

The folks upstairs are idiots, they theorize.  The folks upstairs are sacrificial, they wonder.  The folks upstairs are sending a message, they conclude.

The folks upstairs have decided that their TEAM is both sides.  The only way for all of them to have the most points is for both sides to vote Black.  The only way to send the message is to continue to vote Black

Sometimes marriage is also played out from the lesser self, instead of our choices and actions coming from our higher ethic of believing the best in the other. Forgiveness or deciding to try voting Black again even in the face of your partner’s selfishness, can change the way your partner decides to vote.  I like to say to couples in conflict that someone must decide to “go first”.  One partner must decide to love the other according to the other’s preferences or give what is asked without looking for an immediate reciprocal reward.  In my experience, if I can get one spouse to “go first” or invest a Black vote essentially and stick with it for about 6 months, the marriage can radically turn around. (If there isn’t a high degree of pathology – simply two discouraged and normally selfish people.)

In marriage, we have to decide – who is our team?  Who is US? Marital happiness occurs when we create a “couple’s mindset.”  A Couple’s Mind cares about both parties needs over and above their own.  A Couple’s Mind seeks for ways that both people can be happy.  Fear and selfishness are the opposite of having a Couple’s Mind. Therapy brings in people who have voted Red in their marriage and have a zero sum game.

I am amazed when one party in the marriage declares, “I would be content to never have sex again,” while their partner is clearly unhappy with this verdict.  How can either side be happy about a decision if the same decision makes their partner very unhappy?  Vice versa, one spouse will say that they must have sex every day while their partner feels overwhelmed, under-helped, and not cared about.

One spouse will argue to me,  “Sure, in the beginning, I was seductive, but my partner kept saying no to sex.  So over time, it seemed like wasted effort and I gave up.”  Translation in game theory, “I voted Black in the beginning and my spouse kept on voting Red,”  Or, “My partner is selfish.”  Maybe it sounds like this: “The more sex I gave, the more sex my partner took, but stopped paying attention to the way I needed love,” ie, “I don’t dare vote Black.”

But what do we do when the issue is sex and the problem is one wants it and the other doesn’t.  Should we sacrifice our sex life and cave into the other’s platonic ideal?  Should we just “lie there and think of England” to make our more sexual partner happy? (probably won’t make them happy – I might add)  Should we take turns – okay, one time we won’t do it and one time we will?  Uhg, sounds dreadfully unerotic.

Often, one party (often female) does not perceive their highest need as sexual but will ask for other needs to be met first.  “Talk to me, help me with the children, see what needs being done around here and just do it without me telling you.”  Their path of love might be affection, help, communication.  Couples get in trouble when they try to solve these problems as a contingency.  For instance, talk to me and I’ll feel close enough to have sex or have sex with me and I’ll want to open up and share my feelings.  One example, I’ve seen was a woman saying – brush your teeth and visit the dentist and I’ll want to have sex with you more often.  The man who desperately wanted more sex refused to use good oral hygiene because he felt controlled and manipulated by his wife.  Yet it was a simple request and easy to honor.  Essentially – just do it. Do the thing that makes your partner feel loved first.  Sexually – that doesn’t mean just laying there… it means developing an erotic self to truly be a sexual partner.

Some people are truly married to narcissists who take, take, take and probably will never give back.  But most of us give up too easily.  We are married to people just about as selfish as we are, also giving and loving and wanting the marriage to work.  There’s only one way to send the message – Vote Black.  Care more about the marriage than just what you want.  When you want something, consider how it impacts your spouse.

 

Ideas for Voting Black on Sexual Differences

Lower desire spouses:

1)   Cultivate your own erotic core so that you heat up inside

2)   Resolve conflicts so that sex gets unsnagged from the power struggle

3)   Initiate sex on one day a week that you have planned without alerting your partner ahead of time (Midnight Black Vote!)

4)   Be true to your word regarding sex.

5)   If sex is top your partner’s list, make it top of yours.

6)   Make every decision with respect to your Couple’s Mind

 

Higher desire spouses:

1)   Become a masterful seducer – (I know you used to be – Vote Black again!)

2)    Accept a “no” with grace and don’t pout.

3)   Ask when you feel horny not because you believe you need to keep asking to get any result.

4)   Tolerate small efforts at change.

5)   Make every decision with respect to your Couple’s Mind

6)   Meet your partner’s stated needs, particularly the ones that are not sexual.

 

Laurie J. Watson, LMFT, LPC,  is the author of Wanting Sex Again:How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage. She is an AASECT certified sex therapist and licensed couple’s therapist. Popular media personality, speaker and educator, she lectures at Duke University’s and UNC Chapel Hill’s medical schools on sexuality, intimacy and relationships. In practice for over 23 years, she’s the clinical director for Awakenings – Center for Intimacy and Sexuality in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Couples’ retreats, media appearances, interviews, lecture requests, appointments and Skype counseling are all handled through Awakenings. Link to www.LaurieWatson.com. You can follow Laurie Watson on Facebook and Twitter!

Laurie’s book Wanting Sex Again is available on Amazon, Kindle and Barnes and Noble!

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