01/14/2012 10:32 am ET Updated Mar 15, 2012

Beware of (Horny) Men Bearing (Empty) Promises

Men like having sex much more than they like responsibility. And women don't mind and even like sex, but they can't stand empty promises by men to get it from them.

I don't know how often this occurs, but there is a not-infrequent situation where a man is sure about wanting sex and may wax and wane eloquently about a wondrous future filled with romantic vacations to a woman he is pursuing in order to land her in bed. Once he has her, those promises can often fade and if the woman asks about his fulfilling what he promised, he accuses her of pressuring him and tells her to stop nagging. To compound the problem there are few things that take away a man's desire to spend his life with a woman than her pressuring him to make good on what he promised.

However even as he resists and can become petulant about it, he may nevertheless be building an emotional dependency on her underneath. If she reaches the point -- especially after her friends and family insist that he is toying with her -- of delivering an ultimatum of either get engaged/married or break up, and if it is not a bluff, the fear of losing her can cause that man to accede to her insistence for all the wrong reasons -- not wanting to lose her vs. wanting to be with her.

Also not infrequently if the man under pressure agrees to the marriage but feels he didn't choose it, he can respond by withholding love and attention. And if the woman is oblivious as she becomes consumed with planning the wedding with her friends and family while the man feels like an unengaged Ken doll onlooker, he can further react by becoming even less loving.

Sadly I have seen such a switching off of desire last for decades in the man as a reaction to feeling he didn't choose the marriage but was forced even as the couple produces children, buys a home, etc.

Here is the real rub. One of the worst feelings a woman can have is to feel coldness, contempt or nothing in the part of her where she is supposed to feel warmth. Women have confided in me that a woman without warmth is not a woman (alternatively, men have confided in me that a man without courage is not a man). When men withdraw or withhold caring towards a woman, or worse, act sullen, petulant or complaining (since they have lost that loving feeling), it can cause a woman to lose her warm feelings towards that man. And underneath the anger a woman may feel toward a non-loving or unloving man is a unconscious fear that she has lost her warmth, is no longer a woman and is trapped.

What's a woman to do to prevent this very sad fate?

At any given moment when the man's desire is waning you can tell him he is "free to leave" and that you don't want to be with him unless he wants to be with you. Ironically, if you do that, the men worth keeping may then rediscover their desire. In fact, a woman who is wise enough to never let the man feel so sure of her may have a man always desiring her. We call this being coy and it is not game playing, but rather knowing that a man feels better when he is pursuing a prize than when he is being told to do something.

What's a man to do if he has lost that loving feeling because she "pressured" him to get married?

Realize that she didn't put a gun to your head. You're the one who made the promises that you didn't intend on keeping or did until you realized that it meant living up to a lot of responsibilities, which may have intimidated you. Instead of pulling away and emotionally disengaging for years or even the entirety of your marriage, tell your girl friend/fiance that the fear of not living up to those responsibilities mixed with her excitement about getting married and planning the wedding is very upsetting. That will hopefully give her the opportunity to say to you, "I understand that and I think we can figure out and meet those responsibilities together. If you don't want to get married or if you can't decide until that fear goes away, I don't think it will. However I think every couple and every husband-to-be goes through this, but at least we're talking about it." Just that understanding can cause you to realize why you love and want to marry to her.

I remember years ago a very touching scene when a woman was by the bed of her dying husband after being married for 60 years. In an unforgettable moment she whispered to him, "I've been lying to you for over 60 years."

Half conscious, he looked confused and said, "What?" whereupon she said, "Yes, for our entire life together, I've been mad about you and sexually crazy about you, but I never told you, because I knew you liked the chase."

At that point he reached over to her and smiled weakly and said, "That's one of the things I loved you for."

For more by Mark Goulston, M.D., click here.

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