A Gift Of A Mind-Set: The wedding date is approaching and you and your partner may already be residing together. Or you may be living apart but have enjoyed sexual intimacy for sometime. Perhaps the two of you have delayed that most intimate of connections for your wedding night. Then again, you may be amongst those trying marriage again, with the experience of disappointment or loss behind you. Amongst the many gifts you will be receiving from family and friends, include this one, a gift of a mind-set, an attitude, a useful belief system to share for the remainder of your lives together. Nothing will be more useful or worthwhile. Consider it a down payment on securing a successful life together.
Planning A Wedding? That is a big job. Planning a life, even bigger. A critical aspect of marital life is sexual intimacy, yet unlike choosing where to live, or worship or rent, there is no template to follow to ensure ongoing satisfaction in your conjugal coupling. Our culture, despite endless media coverage and reams of online and print articles on sexual allure and romance, seems to adhere to the view that sex should be a spontaneous, non-reflective, libidinous adventure more along the lines of two crystalline bubbles magically floating towards each other, merging briefly without bursting or dissolving, exiting as two, intact and ready for more. Resembling the mating of hummingbirds, but with the modifications of foreplay and utterances of love and encouragement. In other words, the chemistry that drew us together should keep us together, despite the vicissitudes of daily living, the distractions of children, economics, and hormones. Yes, and if pigs had wings, they could fly too.
Mind-Readers: What is the secret to staying sexy together, sustaining the confidence of mutual attraction and interest that serves multiple purposes of healthy living: enhancing self-worth; releasing stress; providing opportunity to give and receive love both profound and playful, and keeping connected to your sensual self? Well, it is not mind reading. Many wish it were.
What Are They Thinking: “If only he knew that I need more kissing and for him to say he loves me, so I can feel it. But I am too embarrassed to tell him. Makes me sound so needy and demanding.” “She should know by now that I can’t be turned on when she is in sweats. I would like to make to love to her but I feel like that is her signal for ‘not interested’ so I don’t even try, way too humiliating, better just turn over and go to sleep.” “I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but I wish he knew that the way he tries to bring me to orgasm makes me feel so self-conscious. That would be insulting, right, hurt his male ego? It’s like he is performing, which is a turn off for me. Feels forced and disconnected. But I am afraid to embarrass him.” “If her touch felt more sincere, not so robotic, or if she just seemed more into pleasing me. I know she is trying. But it looks like work for her. What could I possible say that wouldn’t be hurtful?” “He says he doesn’t like to kiss. I don’t get that. How can he love me and not want to kiss me when we are having sex?” “I just wonder what she is thinking about. One minute she is into it, the next, she just seems bored.” “How can he expect me to be turned on when I never see him and then I’m suppose to just feel warm and cozy towards him, with the snap of his fingers.” “I can’t do that.”
Performance Is Anti-Intimacy: Couples express frustration that their partner is not picking up clues or “intuiting” that something is missing in either the sexual act itself or the atmosphere around it. But you can’t bank on either clues or intuition to message your needs or wants. It won’t work. The very first lesson in staying sexy together is to toss out the notion of the “mind reading” spouse. Minds don’t read. We may think that we are picking up signals but in reality we are projecting our own concerns onto the other, and reading them as our partner’s feelings. At these times we all wish that minds could read so that we would not have to risk exposing our feelings, seeing reactions to our requests, expressing embarrassing statements of need, or disappointments around an area so personal as sexual attraction, desire and performance.
Mission Accomplished? Even the word “performance”, one of the most non-intimate in the English language, sets off alarms. “Performance” works when personal vulnerability with another is avoided, on stage or while taking the SAT’s, when the focus is on the job at hand, not the person next to you. The audience is an ism, something whose attention you need to draw to you, a faux connection to the individual in the front row is required, concentration is on the act and art of peak performance, on the self, only checking in on the other to see “how am I doing? But our rather self-conscious culture of sexual coupling on camera, in the mirror or on the screen, can confuse “orgasmic outcome” with couple intimacy…mission accomplished. Perhaps, but what about the fakes, as when President Bush stood on an aircraft carrier and implied with his immortal words, “Mission Accomplished” that the war in Iraq was over. Mission accomplished or an orgasmic moment for our 43rd President? Staying sexy together needs the real thing, honest intimacy, no substitute will work.
From The Inside Out: How do you attain and sustain a deeper level of sexual intimacy, if the performance and mind-reading approaches don’t work? From The Inside Out. What does that mean? Individuals need to develop a different sort of sexual tool, the tool of tolerance for hearing how the other experiences intimacy; listening, learning and reflecting on the inner feelings that your partner reveals without fear or judgment. But what partner has the guts to reveal themselves except in the heat of a fight with withering words of anger, jealousy and distrust or muttered quietly and then quickly dropped at the first anxious or mocking glance from a threatened spouse. Our sexual selves are not as “cocky” (forgive the pun) as we would like. We tend to be an insecure bunch who teeter often on the brink of feeling rejected, repulsive, not cool or competent in that “sexy way.” Weight, age, and the loss of the instantaneous heat that initial coupling relies on allow more of the old fears to surface and new concerns to poke holes in what was once a sure thing, rocking each other’s boat.
History: Old fears that even predate this coupling and were never fully allayed may be triggered when work hours and children gobble up time together, fatigue snuffs out desire and comparisons with other couples, real or fictitious, insinuate insecurity and self-doubt where confident assumptions about shared desire once resided. We tend to be clueless about how to make the intimacy conversation a regular part of the couple arsenal of tools for fortifying the marital bond, though we see bonding opportunities in, let’s say, cutting down the Christmas tree together or exchanging gifts on wedding anniversaries. Yet exchanging emotions and perceptions in a tolerant atmosphere is the rarity rather than the ritual that it should be for many couples.
Flexibility: An essential component of the intimacy chat is to achieve a flexible attitude – not just physically but mentally. Think how to modify or adapt or add something knew to the sexual moments that will more closely meet each other’s needs. Rigid adherence to a conventional template is a sure means to take the sensual out of the sexual. If that means one partner is going to lose something enjoyable, substitute something else. If you need help, read some books or seek out the aid of a psychotherapist who specializes in sex therapy. The goal is to feel safe and loving together, which may be best achieved by occasionally making adjustments. This too can be fun, if you take the anxiety out of the exchange and replace it with discovery and humor.
Sexy Together Is Not Forever, Unless: This is not a one-conversation foray. Establishing and maintaining the intimate connection that a good sexual alliance offers, does not work unless there is an open-ended invitation for communication over the lifetime of the relationship. Start now, with your marriage vows, to introduce the new normal, sharing what is working in your sensual, sexual co-mingling, what could be better, what might be changing, not clinically but with affection, humor and honesty. Our sexuality is not a static entity that never changes. Periodically we need to update the data. Appetites change, sensitivities develop, hormones shift. Agree to develop the muscle of tolerance, where very personal information can be shared without crushing outcomes or egos.
The Threat: The suggestion of having an honest conversation about “our sex life” can at first sound threatening and alarming to an individual. Their reaction might be anger or insults, all defenses, which are likely invoked to camouflage fears of inadequacy. Practice over time is the only way to extinguish that association. What may be perceived initially as awkward, sharing personal needs in a mutually tolerant environment, is actually the essential currency of connection for couples to feel safe and sexy with each other. And have fun. Sexual comfort and closeness is only a component of intimacy. What I am suggesting relates to a deeper component, being honest with another and allowing them to be honest with you. This is the sacred key to lasting intimacy.
Time As A Factor: Profound sexual intimacy does not happen on the honeymoon, or even in the first year of marriage. Rather it develops with time and practice, over the years, weaving together an emotional net that cloaks each partner with a sense of worth and safety that they take with them into the larger world.
A Vow Worth Making: We vow that we will develop the courage and practice of sharing our intimate feelings and needs with the other, many times over many years, in tolerance and understanding. That we look not for perfection either in ourselves or the other, but for honesty and safety in our love, from the inside out.
To The Courageous Coupledom: Congratulations!
©Jill Edelman, M.S.W., L.C.S.W. 2012