One of the most common concerns for couples presenting to couples therapy surrounds their physical intimacy. Physical intimacy can include our sexual relationship with our partner but also has nonsexual touch. Generally, when I meet with a couple, I find it helpful to ask specific questions about how their physical and sexual relationship is going. This is because I find that many couples have a difficult time bringing this up to their therapist. Rest assured, talking about challenges in this area of your relationship is expected and encouraged in the therapeutic space!
Below, I've included a list of tips and tricks that have been helpful to my clients:
- Be transparent with your partner and your therapist
One of the easiest ways to improve this area of your relationship is to communicate about it! Talk openly with your partner about what is working and what isn't. I often work with individuals about how to communicate their physical needs to their partner in a helpful rather than damaging way. If you are involved in couples counseling but find it challenging to be as honest as you would like, request individual time with your therapist to learn the most effective way to communicate your needs.
- Be receptive!
When receiving feedback from our partner about their needs, it can be easy for our ego to get in the way. We have been socialized to believe that we should already have all of the answers about meeting our partner's needs and can feel inadequate hearing areas for improvement. When we respond with frustration, blaming, and ego, we tend to discourage open communication from our partners. Remember, we must learn from our partners what works for THEIR bodies. Validate your own emotions that may arise in these conversations and practice self-soothing. Then, focus on being receptive and responsive to what your partner is sharing.
- Prioritize nonsexual physical touch.
Sometimes, I find that couples are very focused on the amount of sex they are having, only to learn that they do not do much touching outside of sexual situations. It can be helpful to, instead, focus on connecting through touch and less on the outcome of sex. This looks like showing physical affection throughout the day- hugs, kisses, cuddling, or hand-holding are good examples!
- Normalize different experiences of desire.
In therapy, I hear a lot of concerns about "mismatched libido." It is essential to understand what this means.
When most people think about "sex drive," "desire," or "arousal," they think about the experience of mentally craving or wanting sex. The experience that starts in our mind- our brain tells us that we are interested in sex, and typically, our body responds. This way of experiencing desire is called "spontaneous desire." People who experience desire in this way may incorrectly assume that they have a "higher sex drive" than their partner because they find themselves initiating sex more often. This type of desire is the way that most of us have been socialized to accept as "normal" because of how sex is portrayed in the media and discussed.
However, there is another way of experiencing both normal and shared desires. It is called "responsive desire" and refers to the experience of desire starting in our bodies, rather than our minds. People who experience this type of desire do not experience the spontaneous mental craving for sex first, but instead, AFTER they have started to prepare their body for sex. This often looks like showing up for intimacy and engaging our bodies and then feeling mentally excited for sex. This version of experiencing desire has been incorrectly pathologized as a problem with libido when, in fact, it is a standard way to experience desire.
You can experience a combination of these kinds of desire, or primarily one type. All of this is okay and normal! The important thing is learning how you experience desire and how to use this information to improve your physical and sexual relationship with your partner.
If you would like to learn more about your sexual response style and have a better understanding of what works for you, I recommend checking out the book "Come As You Are" by Emily Nagosky, Ph.D., who has published a body of research on the above topics.
If you or/or your partner would like to improve your physical and sexual relationship, reach out to me below.
Ready to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consultation?
Ali Devine, MS, LPC
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1429 N. Prospect Ave
Milwaukee WI, 53202