- Sex conflicts in relationships are often not a problem of mechanics, but rather of past, unresolved grievances.
- Getting specific and coming up with shared definitions is key to communication.
- A continual practice in curiosity will help couples find common erotic ground.
Most people who crave intimacy are actually craving curiosity and genuine interest from their partner.Here’s an insider sex therapist secret: Many couples have good or even great sex when they have it; it’s trudging through emotions like sadness, anger, resentment and contempt before taking their clothes off that gets in the way. It’s often not a problem of mechanics, but rather of past, unresolved grievances. Of the four common relational emotions listed above, venerated couples therapists and researchers John and Julie Gottman have determined that resentment and contempt are the most harmful to long-term partnerships. Helping couples understand and move through their resentment or contempt is a necessary first step toward both people cultivating the sex life and relationship they’re longing for.
Okay, but how?
1.) Define “intimacy” and “sex.”Intimacy to one person is not intimacy to another, and the same goes for sex. Starting with the latter, it’s important for each partner to understand what’s being asked for when sex is stated as a need. Is it penis-in-vagina, the penetration-based norm for many straight couples? Or, does sex mean oral or anal or simply lying in bed together making out? Part of my job is to help clients create a satisfying and meaningful sex life, which necessitates a sex-positive approach. The way I describe “sex-positive” is: All sex is good sex if it’s consensual and pleasurable. From this position of sex-positivity, couples can communicate more specifically about what they’re asking for when they ask for sex. Most beneficially in this scenario, when the partner who has been avoiding sex and craving intimacy understands the expectations around sex, communication opens up and allows the couple to recreate each experience and therefore disengage from the dysfunctional cycle. Regarding intimacy, my preferred, easy-to-remember definition is, in to me see. Most people who crave intimacy are actually craving curiosity and genuine interest from their partner. They want to feel known and understood. Yes, sometimes it’s about feeling supported around the home, and perhaps being “courted” and romanced. But it almost never involves grand gestures like expensive presents, dates, or trips. Intimacy for many people can be fulfilled by their partner asking the simple question, “How are you?” and truly caring about the answer.
With a continual practice in curiosity, couples create a unique opportunity to find common erotic ground.
2.) Create meaning.This is one of my favorite questions to ask when digging for meaning around sex and intimacy: If our sex life was perfect, I would _____and then you would feel more ________. The first part of the question attends to sex, the second part, intimacy. Is sex a matter of physiological release? Is it about experiencing physical touch? Is it about feeling sexy and powerful? Is it an expression of love? Does it meet a sensual need? Similarly, is intimacy about feeling loved and cared for? Is it about being seen, accepted, and known? Is it sacred or spiritual in some way? Does intimacy equate to vulnerability and being totally open mindfully, bodily, and soulfully? In addition to the array of answers above, the response I hear most often—from both partners—is that sex and intimacy are about connection. It just so happens that each person is asking for it in a way the other doesn’t understand. With a continual practice in curiosity, which includes radical inquiry of ourselves and our partners, couples create a unique opportunity to find common erotic ground.
3.) Be specific.At this point in your sexual and relational evolution, your partner will better understand how you define sex and intimacy as well as the meaning it confers, but no matter how long you have been together, they still can’t read your mind. Instead of guessing and potentially misreading their cues again, each time you are asking for sex or intimacy, answer these two questions for yourself:
- What do I need to feel?
- How do I want my partner to feel?