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In the last section, we discussed three barriers to fun that married couples may experience. These three barriers to fun are being busy, the opinion that play is for kids, and that conflict gets in the way. We also discussed the Fun Deck technique.
In this section, we will discuss four topics relevant to helping couples enhance and protect sensuality and sexuality in their marriages. The four topics are roadblocks to sexuality, lack of interest in sex, communicating desires, and making sensuality a priority. Clearly, sexual difficulties can increase the risk of infidelity. I find that sexual difficulties can also impair a couple’s efforts to recommit and recover after an incident of infidelity. I have also observed that sexual difficulties can hinder progress the couple has made regarding utilizing new communication strategies in other areas of their relationship.
Vince and Stacy had been married for seven years when they began marital counseling. Both reported that early in their marriage, they had spent a lot of time kissing, cuddling, and talking about sexual desires. As they became busier with matters of home, work, and raising their children, they settled into a rigid pattern of having sex only twice a week.
Vince stated, "Usually, we climb in to bed, one of us says ‘Should we have sex now?’ and after about ten minutes, it’s all over. I don’t think either one of us is happy with it. And it seems to me that Stacy used to be a lot more, you know, responsive when we made love. It’s so much like work that I’ve actually considered picking up women in bars to have some fun in bed for once!" Are you treating a couple like Vince and Stacy who no longer make room for sensual talk and touching in their relationship? I have found that over time, a focus on sex, rather than on the context of touching and closeness, leads to less sex overall.
♦ #1 Performance Anxiety
Have you treated a couple like Vince and Stacy, whose focus on "doing a good job" has cut down on the closeness the partners feel during sex? Another roadblock my colleagues and I frequently see in married couples is mishandled conflicts. As you know, when a couple is having destructive conflicts in other areas of their marriage, it can be difficult for them to feel good about sharing physical intimacy. Have you treated a couple who experiences this, or for whom sexual contact has begun to trigger conflict?
♦ #2 Lack of Interest in Sex
♦ #3 Problems Communicating Desires
Clearly, Vince’s assumption that Stacy should know what he liked sexually because of how long they had been together prevented him from attempting to talk about his preferences with Stacy. Vince also reported being afraid to ask Stacy to try new things in bed with him, as he assumed she would not enjoy his fantasies. I recommended that Vince and Stacy try using the Speaker-Listener technique to discuss ideas they might try to enhance their sexual life.
I have found that using this pattern can help couples clearly communicate, while providing the safety of a clearly structured discussion. Would you agree? Would the Speaker-Listener technique help your Vince break away from his or her assumptions about their partner’s preferences?
♦ #4 Failure to Make the Sensual Relationship a Priority
♦ Sensate Focus Technique
I stated to Vince and Stacy, "One of the important things to remember about the sensate focus technique is you might want to keep these practice times completely separate from sex, and focus on sensuality instead. In this technique, one of you is the Giver, and the other is the Receiver, and you switch half way through. When you are the Receiver, your job is to enjoy the touching, and to tell your partner what feels good and what doesn’t. You can give verbal feedback, or hand-guided feedback by moving your partners hand around the area being massaged to demonstrate what feels really good.
When you are the Giver, your role is to provide pleasure by touching your partner and by being attentive and responsive to his or her feedback. Each partner should have about ten to twenty minutes in each role." I often recommend that couples new to this technique start practicing with hands, feet, back, or legs the first few times to get the hang of the technique by using neutral areas. As the partners become more comfortable with the technique, they can move to more sensitive, or sexual, areas.
Would you agree that using neutral areas first can help couples who have other issues surrounding sex as well? I recommended that Vince and Stacy try to practice the sensate focus technique at least twice a week, making sure to set aside time when they could be free of interruptions. In a more recent session, Vince stated, "You know, that technique has really helped out. We’ve been talking more about what we like in bed. I was real shocked the other day - Stacy opened up about a role playing fantasy she has, and it’s something I had always wanted to try, but thought she’d hate!" Would your Vince and Stacy benefit from the sensate focus technique?
In this section, we have discussed four topics relevant to helping couples enhance and protect sensuality and sexuality in their marriages. The four topics are roadblocks to sexuality, lack of interest in sex, communicating desires, and making sensuality a priority.
In the next section, we will discuss expectations in marriage, and four ways partners can handle their own and each other’s expectations appropriately. These four methods for handling expectations are being aware of expectations, being reasonable in expectations, being clear about expectations, and being motivated to meet each other’s expectations.
- Dym, B., & Glenn, M. (1993).Couples: Exploring and Understanding the Cycles of Intimate Relationships. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
- Meza-de-Luna, M. E., & Romero-Zepeda, H. T. (2013). Areas of Conflict in the Intimate Couple. A Journal of the Humanities & Social Sciences, 17 (1), 87-100.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Cook, J. M., Simiola, V., McCarthy, E., Ellis, A., & Stirman, S. W. (Sep 2018). Use of reflective journaling to understand decision making regarding two evidence-based psychotherapies for PTSD: Practice implications. Practice Innovations, 3(3), 153-167.
Feuerman, M. L. (2018). Therapeutic presence in emotionally focused couples therapy. Journal of Experiential Psychotherapy, 21(3), 22-32.
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