Doing sex therapy, either individually, or as a couple, often involves looking deeper into the meanings that we may give sex, without even realising it. Here is a partial list of some of the meanings that people give to sex: love, lust, enjoyment, stimulation, connection, comfort, duty, conquest, competition, validation, entertainment, work, distraction, relaxation, attention, security, reproduction, reward, and affection. This partial list can give you a little bit of a sense of how complex sex can be.
We rarely directly discuss the changing multiple different meanings each partner can hold around sex, and how these meanings and needs might best be fulfilled. Sex therapists are trained to help you to talk about these sensitive and personal topics in a way that is likely to get things unstuck in the bedroom, and out of it.
Mindfulness is becoming increasingly well known in the west, and it utilised in spiritual and religious practice, but also in physical and mental health care, social services, education, even in the military and business worlds. Mindfulness can also help your relationship, and you don't have to see a couple's therapist to get these benefits.
The basic practice is to be still, bring a relaxed yet focused attention to your breath, and gently release distracting thoughts, feelings, or sensations. Try doing this for ten minutes. It's endlessly subtle, but you can do it. Release any judgements about whether you're getting it right, or what it's supposed to feel like.
Try doing this for ten minutes with your partner, then spending ten minutes after that by using the calm non-judgemental mind that you've cultivated, to talk with your partner about the important stuff. Stick to the time limits, and take responsibility for your own mind. When you get pulled into judgements or reactivity, let go!
Let me know how it went by leaving a comment, or sending an e-mail.
Addiction has some common themes, regardless of the object of addiction. It often lives in the middle of intense, mind bending denial. It is fed by and lives in shame and guilt. It is fiercely protected by the person who is addicted, and it is often the very last thing to be sacrificed. It is incredibly contentious, and often better to not call addiction at all - after all, who wants to be the implied "addict." Often in the focus on addiction, those who are missed are the partners, children, and family of the person who is addicted. If that's you, these are some points to consider:
You are powerless over your loved one's addiction, but you are not powerless. You have choices that you may not be able to see, and you may benefit from working with someone who understands relationships and addiction.
You have probably become incredibly adapted to living with the addiction, by small increments, over a long period of time. You may not be living out of your own values at the moment, or even be sure what your values actually are.
It may help you to take stock of the impact of the addiction. Make a list of the ways the addiction but helps and hurts. You could do this in regard to the ways your loved one is helped or hurt by the addiction, but more importantly, do this list regarding the ways your are helped or hurt by the addiction.
I got to thinking about this after I heard that in relationship is the easiest place for us to hide our selfishness. Often we're so much more ready to examine other parts of our lives. It might seem self evident, or strange to ask the question: what is my relationship dedicated to? Is it dedicated to comfort, stability, pleasure, love, intimacy, liveliness, predictability, perfection, appearances, spirituality, fending off loneliness, filling a void? What's the default thing that my relationship is dedicated to? What would I actually like to dedicate it to? Have I ever discussed this with my partner? Would I be willing to do so?
We're all control freaks in relationships, whether overtly or in really subtle ways that don't look like control at all. To work with issues of control in your relationship, or to just have fun, try this. Buy a big roll of paper, or tape together a few big sheets of paper, get some large tubes of cheap school grade paint, and a range of cheap brushes. Set aside an hour to paint, together with your partner. it doesn't have to be beautiful, correct, tidy... in fact it doesn't have to be anything in particular. While you're working get into each other's parts of the artwork. Notice what comes up for you when this happens. Talk about it afterwards. You won't create a masterpiece, but see if you're able to let go of control a bit, and make a mess. If you feel drawn to do this again, you could agree on any topic regarding your relationship before you start. Then forget about it. Your artwork will still be a reflection of the topic you've named.Try trust, sex, aliveness, or intimacy, if you're not sure what to start with. Happy creating!
Here are five things that you can contemplate when your relationship is triggering you. Take a few deep breaths, pick one from the list, and spend a couple of minutes with your pick. If you've done it, let me know this, do you feel slightly less crazy now?
1) My partner is crazy. He/she is actually crazy. At least some of the time. Why should I expect him or her to be acting reasonably when I've now admitted that they are crazy? Time to stop expecting him or her to conform to my idea of what's reasonable, and figure out how to make life easier for myself. Breathe it in and out: "My partner is crazy."
2) My partner is in his or her own world. I know that I carry a whole private universe around in my head, is it possible that everyone else does as well? He or she sees things differently from me, has different thoughts and feelings, in fact he or she is like a whole other private solar system rotating around a different sun. It can't be any other way, her or she is not you. Breathe it in and out: "My partner is in his or her own world."
3) It's not my job to make my partner happy. It's not my job to make my partner feel secure, loved, comforted, or special, either. And vice versa. It's not my job to do any of these things, but when this happens it's a pretty nice bonus, and when I'm not feeling pressured I might even want to do these things. Breathing in and out: "It's not my job to make my partner happy."
Of the three part series on beginning, continuing, and finishing, this post has been the most difficult to write. This reflects our individual and collective struggle to end well - something we rarely accomplish in Western cultures. For many clients I have worked with abrupt, unexplained, and distressing endings or abandonments by early attachment figures have generated the challenges that brought them to therapy. Ending a project or a living situation also have a significant impact, as anyone who has ever been made redundant can attest.
I've been reflecting on the hard questions that finishing asks us: Can we complete, and would we recognize the feeling of completion if we have it? Is there anything left when we finish and let go, or do we feel lost, alone, and without any purpose? Do we hang on or delay finishing at all costs? How often is our difficulty with starting or continuing a project or relationship due to a fear of it ending?
As much as endings tend to evoke our patterns and feelings from all of our past significant endings, they also confront us with the existential truth of our uncertain future and the unpredictability of death. If we have a belief in an afterlife, is our faith strong enough to deal with existential anxiety? If we don't have such a faith, do we feel that we've lived meaningfully enough and left enough of worth behind to die content?
If the questions above have raised some degree of anxiety in you, then you're probably not alone. Somewhere amidst the questions, fears, shame, and guilt that difficult endings can evoke, are also moments of grace - if we can access them. As the Western world shifts to more freely acknowledge the ultimate ending of death, this reduces the internal and interpersonal censorship that prevents us acknowledging and sharing our experience of endings. Talk with somebody you care about, about an ending that's important to you from your past, present, and future. You'll probably be doing both of you a favour, and you might even taste a moment of grace, or freedom. Endings matter when that piece of life that is ending has mattered, and conversely, sometimes our life matters only when we can allow the endings to matter to us.