communication

The Importance of Being Sexy in a Long-Term Relationship

 

By Tanya Koens

Can you remember the time when you first met your partner?  How cute you thought they were? How interesting? Sexy?  Desirable?  Hot? Amazing?  Funny? Creative? How fabulous you thought they were?  It’s a crazy heady thing, that first part of a relationship.

 There is actually a word for it – Limerence.  It is the science term for honeymoon period or the involuntary state of mind and being, which results from a romantic attraction to another.  It’s the thing that happens when you first come into contact with a new lover.  You skin hits their skin and BOOM … the receptors go off!  “Oooooh somebody new!” … Which results in a flush of chemicals coursing through your body - Dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin and DHEA.  The reason for this is that we are hard-wired to find a mate.

 Now these chemicals are rather cool!  They immediately put up blinkers so that you don’t see that your partner burps and farts and scratches their bum, just like everybody else.  They are interesting and you are interested.  You can’t wait to see them, feel them, taste them, hear them, experience them and get into their pants!  And, of course, there is a lot of spontaneous sex.  This is what happens when the pleasure centre of the brain is given control and starts to run the show.  Its quite delicious, that whole falling in love thing … you know?  It’s the “You hang up…” … “No YOU hang up…” kind of thing where everything is just wonderful.

Now the trick with Limerence is that in most couples it usually lasts between 6-24 months and then BANG!  No more chemicals, they just leave.  And the scary thing about this is that you won’t feel the same with such ease again unless you meet someone else!  So it’s up to you to invest in your relationship.  That means putting effort into spending time together, what you do in that time and how you communicate with each other.  It also includes intimate life.  It really isn’t difficult but it does require a little bit of effort.

People say to me all the time … “But I just want to have spontaneous sex!” or “Shouldn’t sex just be spontaneous?”.  Sure you can have spontaneous sex in a long-term relationship, but it seems to be the exception rather than the norm.  In fact, I would be so bold as to claim that there is no such thing as spontaneous sex in most long-term relationships.  Why is this?

Well, it’s normal for desire to slowly and steadily decline in a long-term relationship.   The tricky part about this is that it can decline at different rates for different people, which means your partner may decline at a different rate to yourself.  The people that I see conducting successful intimate relationships are those that talk about the level of intimacy that they would like to have in their relationship and then work at achieving that.  They don’t just wait to feel horny; they set about creating opportunities to feel sexy, be connected and to do sexy things. 

I liken it to your relationship being a beautiful garden that you can stroll in and enjoy.  You love your garden and it gives you much pleasure.  However, there are things that need to be done to keep up your garden.  Some days you may need to do a little bit of weeding, other days you may need water your garden or fertilize it and sometimes you need to do a bit of pruning to keep things in order.  If you don’t do these things, your garden will return back to the earth.  Your relationship is pretty much the same.  Make it a priority and make it worth putting a little effort into it each day.

So how do you do that?  Make time to talk to each other like lovers each day.  Not the domestic partners and/or parents you may have become.  Make time to connect with each other and share your worlds. 

Create opportunities to connect physically.  I recommend a strategy that I call “Planning to be Spontaneous”.  This is not writing in our diaries that on Wednesday at 5.30pm we will have sex … that may work for some people but it wont work for many!  Instead, how about creating opportunities in your week/month/year to be intimate?  What is intimate I hear you say?  Well its things like deciding to have a massage night once a week … one week you massage your partner and the next week they massage you (makes things less of a chore and keeps time manageable) … or you could have Naked TV Night or Underwear Night … or watch TV with your hands down each other’s pants, or better still a technology free evening – no computers, laptops, iPads, smart phones or TV.

There are many ways you can weave connection into your relationship with very small effort required. 

What can you do to foster connection and intimacy with your partner?

 

 

Avoiding the Naked Awkward Moment

I am sad to realise that most of us find it very difficult to communicate our sexual desires and wishes to our partner.  There is so much fear of stigmatisation and sexual shame.  People often come to see me and start off being very reluctant to talk about sexual problems such as desire discrepancy, loss of libido, performance anxiety and anorgasmia.  It may be a little awkward when we first start talking about presenting issues but as we progress it becomes easier and safer to communicate and much useful information is revealed.

Sexual problems affect both people in the relationship, not just the person who may be experiencing difficulties.  If a couple are unable to discuss problems in the bedroom, its unlikely they will be able to solve them.  This can lead to what I call the Naked Awkward Moment.  The moment when things don’t go to plan, everyone is naked and doesn’t know what to say or what to do.  *Tumbleweeds*  Lets face it, none of us enjoy a moment like that and it can lead to avoidance of sex and subsequently intimacy as people struggle to steer clear of finding themselves in a situation like that again.

Anxiety is the cause of many sexual issues and anxiety fears seem to be rooted in the “What if ….” question(s).  When I am working with clients to address sexual anxieties and problems I often get them to work together and develop a Fall Back Plan … a plan or a number of different endings to the story in case things go wrong.  For example:  What if I lose my erection?  Well we can:

  • shake hands and say “see you here again tomorrow”
  • take a shower together
  • I could do something to make my partner's eyes roll back in their head
  • we could lie and cuddle and see what happens
  • we could stroke each other or use other methods to reach orgasm (or not)

Its up to the couple to devise the many different endings to the story.  Once they have done this they can feel confident that if they get into bed and any anxious thinking arises, they will know the answer to the dreaded “What if” question.  This not only helps them feel more confident but it also allows them to be more present in their interactions, rather than off in the future in a potential catastrophe.

People often put off talking about sexual issues with their partner for fear of upsetting them or making them feel awkward.  Its important to remember that feeling awkward may only last for a minute or two and then a fruitful conversation can be had.  Better to feel awkward momentarily than to avoid intimacy altogether? 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Give Up When He (Or She) Won’t Open Up

Article Written By LINDA & CHARLIE BLOOM

Twelve steps to getting unstuck

One of the most frequently-voiced complaints that we hear from our clients and students (and admittedly, it usually tends to be women who we are hearing it from) is “He won’t talk to me.” “I can’t get him to open up. No matter what I do, I can’t get anything more than a one-word or one syllable response. Sometimes I don’t even get that!” “I’m so frustrated, I could scream!”

No one likes to hear bad news but sometimes the consequences of refusing to listen or talk about upsetting occurrences can be far more painful and damaging than the experience of discussing those issues.

The noted marriage researcher John Gottman claims that 85% of the conversations that occur between marital couples that deal with differences or difficulties, are initiated by women. An undisclosed but probably high percentage of those conversations do not leave either party feel satisfied or complete with the subject discussed. When conversations end leaving one or both partners feeling frustrated, disappointed, hurt, angry or unfinished, not only is there a feeling of incompletion, but there is a diminished willingness to re-engage at a future time to continue the dialogue. When there is an accumulation of these “incompletions”, optimism diminishes and feelings of hopelessness and resentment begin to set in.

If one partner refuses, either directly or by being unavailable, to participate in a conversation this pattern can hijack the relationship, creating a vicious circle that can spiral down into entrenched feelings of resentment, alienation, and disappointment, or worse.

Methods of closing down lines of communication can be overt or covert. Direct or overt refusals to engage in discussions, such as “I don’t want to talk about it” often contain an implicit threat to leave, get angry or punish the person attempting to initiate the conversation if they persist in their efforts to converse. The situation will become either volatile or intractable, depending upon how each person responds to the other’s stance. ,Becoming less defensive and more open doesn’t necessarily translate into submitting to the other person’s will or demands. What it does require however, is the ability to see beyond the either/or thinking that such impasses can create.

While it may seem that the person who is refusing to talk is motivated by anger and resistance, it’s likely that there are other feelings that underlie those that appear to be dominant. While it often appears that one person is angry and the other is frightened, more often than not, both partners are fearful, but usually not of the same thing. Frequently, the resistant partner is fearful that he or she will not be able to successfully hold their ground in a conversation in which they may feel less skilled than their partner at articulating their concerns and defending themselves against an ‘opponent’ who is likely to ‘win’ an argument that results in their feeling defeated.

The initiator on the other hand may be motivated by the fear that if a purposeful conversation doesn’t occur, distance and disconnection will occur and jeopardize the foundation of the relationship, potentially destabilizing it and putting its survivability at risk. It’s not unusual for one person in the relationship to be more acutely aware of and sensitive to a loss of freedom and personal power, and the other to be more concerned about the health and stability of the relationship. Connection and personal autonomy are the essential aspects of any committed partnership, each representing what seems like an opposite extreme in a powerful polarity.

When the relationship bond is threatened, the partner who is more attuned to the level of connection is more motivated to seek a correction to what she or she may perceive as an imbalance in the system. In all likelihood, her efforts to engage the other will be met with a less than enthusiastic response, since he is probably less consciously concerned and may perceive his partner’s concern as an attempt to exert control or undue influence over him and continue to resist any efforts to connect.

The challenge here is for the initiator to resist the temptation to throw her hands up in exasperation and give up in anger and frustration. Acknowledging that “we’ve got a problem” can sometimes be sufficient to diminish defensiveness since it is a less accusatory way of expressing concern and doesn’t imply blame or judgment.

While it may seem unfair that the person who appears to have a higher degree of concern about the relationship has the responsibility to more frequently initiate a dialogue and have to deal with his partner’s resistance, until both partners share a more equal degree of concern and responsibility for the relationship, this will probably continue to be the case. This shift in equalizing relationship responsibility will probably, in time come about as necessary dialogues take place that are respectful, non-blaming, non-accusatory, and non-adversarial in nature. What does not work is to become resigned to a stalemate and being willing to tolerate a distant, cold, and disappointing relationship. Such resignation is a prescription for prolonged mutual misery. There is no ground of neutrality when it comes to relationships. They are, to paraphrase Bob Dylan “either busy being born or busy dying”, and allowing unfinished relationship business to accumulate puts relationships on a death trip.

If you’ve ever been on either side of this type of an impasse, you know how painful it can be and how strong the impulse is to either explode with frustration or just check out, shut down or withdraw. You may have been the one who was unable to get your partner to talk or maybe you’ve experienced being felt pressured to open up and talk about your feelings, when the only feelings that you had were to “Leave me alone!” Either way, you’re not alone. It might be comforting to know that if you find yourself in a situation like this there are steps that can be taken that can interrupt the impasse.

A key factor of this process is to diminish the level of fear, anxiety and defensiveness by adopting an intention to create a safe and non-blaming context for a conversation that enables both partners to feel trusting and safe enough to be able to listen and respond to each other non-defensively. Even the staunchest resister will become more open and engaged when the threat of attack is no longer present. To make that happen the person seeking to initiate the dialogue must be able get himself centered, calmed down, fully present and grounded in an intention to listen and speak without judgment or blame. This, as you may have noticed is easier said than done, but it is, with practice, possible and necessary if there is to be a break in the impasse.

Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Create an agreement to discuss the issue. If now isn’t a good time find a time that works for both of you and commit to it.
  2. At the beginning of the dialogue state your intentions for what it is that you each seek to have happen out of your interaction. (For example, “I hope that we can both feel closer to and more understanding of each other” or “I hope that we will both begin to feel more comfortable addressing some of the difficult subjects that we’ve been avoiding” or “I hope to be able to listen more openly to your feelings and needs and not be so defensive when you say things that are hard for me to hear.”
  3. Be proactive by getting yourself centered, grounded, and open, with a willingness to listen deeply to your partner’s underlying feelings as well as her spoken words..
  4. Take responsibility for your own part. Keep in mind that in all relationship breakdowns, both partners have played a part in getting to the circumstances that are currently present. Accepting this responsibility empowers each of you to interrupt the cycle of blame.
  5. Regardless of your history or previous failures, keep in mind that it is possible to interrupt even deeply embedded patterns and hold a vision of a successful outcome.
  6. Speak in ways that promote trust, respect, safety, and openness
  7. Resist the temptation to explain or justify your position or feelings and seek primarily to understand rather than to be understood. The time for that will come after your partner feels heard and understood.
  8. Remember that feelings of greatest frustration and impatience are likely to arise when things begin to feel most hopeful.
  9. Be patient. These situations are generally don’t resolve themselves in a single conversation. Breaking entrenched patterns is a process that occurs over time, not an event.
  10. Recognize the incremental improvements during the dialogue, and show appreciation for even the smallest positive results.
  11. Don’t concern yourself with your partner’s intentions even if they are not completely consistent with yours. Do your best to focus on honoring your own intentions instead.
  12. Thank your partner at the end of the dialogue, regardless of the outcome and express a desire to continue the process at a later date.

Interrupting entrenched relationship impasses is rarely a quick or easy process, but in nearly all cases, the willingness to take the necessary steps can produce an outcome that far exceeds what either partner previously experienced or even imagined. What are you waiting for?

When the Silent Treatment turns Ugly

When the Silent Treatment turns Ugly

By Aleks Trkulja

We’ve all experienced punishment via the Silent Treatment at some point. Whether we have been the perpetrators, or the targets, the experience is unpleasant and emotionally exhausting.

The Silent Treatment is a form of Ostracism (ignoring or excluding). We develop an understanding of ostracism from an early age, such as ‘time-out’ when misbehaving, to prison sentencing and solitary confinement in adulthood. However these forms of punishment have detrimental effects to the target and source of ostracism. Professor Kipling Williams (Purdue University) suggests ostracism affects four primary needs of control, belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence. Targets of ostracism lose their sense of control and self-esteem, whereas sources maintain all control.

The Silent Treatment is known as Punitive Ostracism - it is applied intentionally as a result of wrongdoing. Targets of ostracism can acquire depressive and anxious symptoms as a result of being ignored. And although sources attain control and power, this can become a habit that is hard to break, making communicating in relationships a lot harder.

In general, giving the Silent Treatment does no favours to any relationship; it only establishes unhealthy approaches to conflict resolution. No matter how upset you are, ignoring someone will not ignite an epiphany for him or her to understand how you feel, but communicating feelings will.

In Social Psychology research, the aversive affects of ostracism on targets and sources are the primary focus. A third party to consider is the Observers of ostracism.  Children witnessing these unhealthy relationship strategies are impressionable and most likely learning to model this behaviour.

This is an important perspective to take for those who use the Silent Treatment regularly to maintain control in a relationship. It is important to consider who might be influenced by this behaviour, so demonstrating healthy communication is beneficial  for the relationship and those affected by observing ostracism.

In heated arguments, when the silent treatment feels like the last resort to maintain control, consider communicating anger and frustration by saying, ‘I’m feeling overwhelmed and need some time alone to calm down. I will come back soon and we will talk about this.’ This is a much healthier approach, especially when dealing with children.

As tempting as it is to ignore the ones you love when they anger or upset us, excluding them from understanding your emotions will only make the situation harder.