It may seem like we fight over different sexual issues– frequency, quality, involvement, variety, morning or evening time–but it all boils down to one central struggle. We think the struggle is about my way or your way but it’s really about finding “our way.”
How can two people with differing levels of desire, individual arousal templates, diverse physiology if not by gender than perhaps by energy rhythms, separate histories, or potentially dissimilar fantasies, have a sex life that satisfies both partners?
Good news: In my work with people, there is almost always a bridge between two disparate points of view.
Becoming one flesh is not an act but a goal. As a sex therapist, I can tell you that compromise won’t work to make a sexually happy relationship. If one person wants sex once a month and the other needs it three times a week–a frequency of once a week (a compromise) will make two people unhappy. Intimacy is the rigorous process of using empathy to bridge impasses. We have to listen past difficult disagreements into the heart of our partner. Hearing from a new perspective makes change possible within ourselves. Here’s what has to happen:
1. Fight for mutual happiness. Clients Richard and Delores asked me, “But ultimately Laurie, doesn’t someone have more sex than they thought they could stand and someone else have less sex than they felt they needed?” Yes. But when the reason is born out of love and empathy it doesn’t feel like sacrifice or duty. The answer to the struggle must be about the “we.” We must be happy. Both.
2. Give up judgments. When a spouse tells you about their sexual fantasies or fears, consider it the greatest vulnerability ever offered. Before you consider how their ideas will impact you, treasure that your partner told you something about the interior corners of their most sacred, secret mind. Do use reflection to carefully capture the essence of what has been communicated. Minimally, repeating back gives you time to stifle your own anxiety should it feel overwhelming. Also, don’t fling reactionary words like “You’re a pervert!”, or “How long have you been frigid?” or “You’re a sex addict.” or “Well, if you don’t want to do x, you don’t want to be with me!”
3. Stop generalities. Maybe men in your past have said similar things but ask yourself, “What is unique about what my partner is saying to me now?” Maybe you’ve heard the same thing about all your buddies’ wives but your own wife is saying something unique and it may have an entirely different root and meaning. Listen carefully; ask questions; don’t assume.
4. Understand with the heart. Maybe your partner says something that causes you to lose hope like, “I never want to have oral sex.” Before you let your hackles rise, try to fully understand what is behind this absolute statement. Ask a few questions:
What you remember learning/thinking about it in childhood and young adulthood.
Have there been times when this act was more acceptable and do you know why?
Are there any hurtful memories from others or between us that cause you to not want this?
Could you describe the bad feeling you have inside when you think about this act?
Are there aspects of the act that feel less bad or more acceptable
Most sexual differences don’t resolve immediately, so promise yourself to take at least a week for reflection. Use reflective, containing words to let your partner know what you heard rather than just sitting in silence. Silence is often misinterpreted as anger, disapproval or criticism.
5. Find common ground. Many times there are acceptable even enjoyable alternatives to what at first feels like a complete roadblock. As a starting place, figure out where you both feel good and build from there. For instance, your partner might object to doing something you wish for in real life but would be fine fantasizing about it out loud. Certain aspects or with certain prerequisites, something becomes acceptable, like, “I feel uncomfortable with you climaxing in my mouth and I’d prefer to try oral sex straight from the shower.” One person may feel real physiologic desire only infrequently but is willing to lovingly provide for the other’s needs with manual stimulation, sexy talk, quickies without feeling the need for mutual arousal.