Helen Fisher says that couples want to know everything about a potential life partner before they tie the knot. But when I first met my husband, I didn’t care if a closet door was left open. People change. And maybe that’s the point.Read More
According to the New York Times article, Let’s Talk About Your Sex, I’m not alone. Even couples therapists don’t talk about sex.
Or at least, they didn’t until recently. And shockingly, couples therapists aren’t required to have any training in sex.
But there are provocative voices emerging in the field of couples therapy and the questions these therapists are asking and the ideas they are probing are gaining my attention.
A few months back, in a blog post titled, Your Brain and Love, I recommended Stan Tatkin’s book, Wired for Love. The premise of the book is that if you understand your partner's brain and attachment style, you can defuse conflict and build a secure relationship.
I am now reading Hold Me Tight, by Sue Johnson. She is the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy and believes we are emotionally attached to and dependent on our partners in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing and protection.
Both books emphasize safety, loyalty and attachment as the foundations for intimacy.
But the New York Times article also mentions therapist, Ester Perel, who I wrote about in a blog post called, Desire and Marriage: A Pardox? She believes that the current conversation around intimacy and sex are limiting, that while an affair can be an act of betrayal it can also be about expansion and growth.
Dr. Nelson, the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity, is also noted.
Both Ester Perel and Dr. Nelson believe that a marriage is not over after an affair. They are broadening the conversation, not speaking in absolutes, asking important questions. They are curious, studying.
In regards to an affair, Ester Perel speaks about being an investigator as opposed to a detective. A detective wants to know where and when and with who. An investigator wants to get to the meaning of the affair.
The New York Times article attempts to position Sue Johnson against Perel and Nelson and I’m wondering why we feel the need to turn their ideas into opposing ones, a battle of it’s either this or that.
Why can’t we look at their ideas as this and that?
All of the therapists mentioned above are adding to the conversation about what it means to partner with someone you love. They are changing the dialogue, challenging old rules and supporting new ways of being in relationship. Some of their beliefs (like how an affair can draw a couple out of deadness or that your couple bubble comes first, even before your own children) can feel frightening or downright outrageous.
But they are talking, stretching our beliefs, and I admire that.
Not too long ago sex wasn’t taught in school. People feared that talking about sexuality would encourage kids to have sex prematurely. But some were having sex anyway so why not educate them, give them information that could prevent them from contracting a disease or getting pregnant.
Dr. Nelson trains therapists to ask a couple about sex in the first session. “If you’re not talking about sex, you’re perpetuating the idea that they shouldn’t be.”
So in an effort to move out of darkness and into possibility, I agree, Let’s talk about sex.
They are masters of sex all right, masters of getting out of it.
According to Denise A. Donnelly, an associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, who studies sexless marriage, an estimated 15% of married couples haven’t had sex with their spouse in the last 6 months to one year.
Isn’t that strange? We live in America, the land of the free, and of hot Hollywood sex. We are a sex-craved culture. So, what’s up?
It seems that even singles are affected wanting less from partners, preferring to hookup rather than to build a relationship. But interestingly, hooking up is on the decline as singles choose virtual relationships, flirting via phone or computer with no intention of meeting one another.
It’s true hearts are unreliable; but are humans going through a metamorphosis, evolving into beings that don’t need intimacy?
Can we really protect ourselves from the fact that someone could stop loving us, leave us (emotionally or physically) or they could die?
In the Showtime series Masters of Sex, and in actuality, Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson pioneer studies in human sexuality, devoting their lives to sex research. But their real life story feels like a cautionary tale. Virginia Johnson gave up her dream of getting an education to work with Masters. She submitted to a sexual relationship with him as part of her job; and ultimately, she married him. Only to be left years later when he fell in love with someone he knew from his youth.
The lesson to be learned seems evident: You can’t be left if you leave first, or if you abstain, and never show up in the first place.
Sure it’s scary to connect deeply with another person; but maybe then engaging becomes worth it.
Sex therapist, and author of Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch, helps partners maintain a connection during sex. Read an interview with Dr. Schnarch who says that good sex is not about elevating your heart rate; it’s about elevating your heart.
Quickies, sexting, hookups and sex with your eyes closed keep us from emotionally attaching and being vulnerable.
Now that’s what I call safe sex.
I resist technology. My family jokes that I can’t turn on the television but that’s not true. What is true is that I like some hi-tech advances and refuse to go along with others. I’ve stopped calling 411 and now use Google; but I still insist on looking out the window instead of using a weather app. In France, last summer, Mark reserved a rent a car with GPS. I hated the sound of the woman’s voice. She kept barking out orders and interrupting every conversation.
“Can’t you turn that thing off?” I asked. “No, we need it,” Mark insisted. “No we don’t. She’s always wrong.” “That’s ridiculous.”
Call me stupid or old-fashioned but I wanted to get us where we were going. I wanted the challenge. I get that going it on our own wasn’t imperative, and could be construed as unnecessary as someone insisting on memorizing a cell phone number instead of adding it to contacts. But getting lost and finding our way, I claimed, was part of the journey, wasn’t it?
Mark likes to call the shots, do things his way. It’s difficult for him to accept influence from me; in life and in the car. So when the GPS told him to take a left and I said to take a right, he listened to the GPS, defending the voice from the navigation system with vigor.
“I can’t believe how you’re sticking up for this thing,” I said pointing at the dashboard. “It’s like there’s another woman in our car.” The GPS voice droned on. “Marguerite. That’s what I’ll call her.” “Call who?” Mark asked.
Before long, we were lost. I know you must be thinking that’s not possible. But that’s the thing about technology, if the program or setting is off, if the computer is inadvertently told to do the wrong thing, you’re going to end up with a problem. So, we got lost. Marguerite had us going in circles.
“I told you to take a right,” I said. “You have to use your head and common sense. You can’t follow blindly. Bad things happen when people follow blindly. Look what happened during World War II.” “Don’t you think that’s a bit dramatic?”
Eventually, with my help, we found our way to the highway. We zoomed on, parallel to the sea, Mark going way too fast. Instead of enjoying the beautiful flowers and trees along the roadway, I sat stiff and kept imagining my funeral, wondering if the upcoming tunnel was like the one Princess Diana died in.
“You’re going too fast. Please slow down.” “I’m going 110 kilometers. Everyone in France drives this way.” “Please slow down.”
When you sit in the passenger seat, you give up control. I had flashbacks of the time our rent a car soared over a cliff in Colorado; Mark, me, and four of our children inside. The car landed on a boulder, perched like a bird in its nest, instead of rolling and rolling, but it was totaled; a huge crack in the windshield where my bare foot had landed. I’d tried to control the situation, stop the car from going over the cliff, by stepping involuntarily on imaginary brakes. Remarkably, other than my sprained ankle, we were all fine. (Although my son, Richard claims he bit his tongue.)
Mark slowed down and for a few minutes I was able to relax. He was okay when a Lamborghini sped past us but lost it when a Fiat whizzed by. Ultimately, we got where we were going.
“Marguerite did a good job,” Mark said pulling up to our hotel. “She got us here.” “You’ve got to be kidding. I got us here.” “You’re jealous! I can’t believe you’re jealous of the GPS voice,” he laughed. And if I am honest, I was. I wanted him to listen to me. But instead I said, “That’s ludicrous.” “She does have a lovely voice,” Mark instigated. “Well then you can have dinner with her,” I said half-kidding, half-hurt. “She’s not perfect,” Mark said. “She doesn’t have your legs.” “She’s a controlling, manipulative, bitch who always thinks she’s right. She’s always telling us what to do and where to go.” “But when I drive the wrong way, she doesn’t yell at me. She nicely helps me find the right way.”
We just bought a Tesla. It has an app that lets you change the temperature in the car from your cell phone. It’s meant to be a helpful feature, one that allows you to warm up your car while you wait in your house on a freezing cold day. But I’m miserable about it. I envision Mark sitting behind his desk, at his office, changing the temperature in our car from his cell phone while I’m driving and there’s no one even in the passenger seat.