Relationship in need of a bit of attention as we start 2017?

I often say that relationships are like gardens.  They don’t just look after themselves; they require some careful tending and nurturing if you don’t want them to end up overgrown, ugly and unloved.

My favourite reading over the Christmas break was this wonderful article, 1500 People Give All The Relationship Advice You’ll Ever Need by the talented writer Mark Manson.  As a newly wed, he asked his readers for their relationship dos and don’ts and then distilled their answers into the most concise yet comprehensive relationship advice I’ve ever read.

In fact, if everyone were to read this and do their best to put it into practice, we Couples Therapists would be sat at home twiddling our thumbs all year waiting for the phone to ring. It’s that good.

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Dr John Gottman identified four communication styles that can predict the end of a relationship: Criticism, Defensiveness, Stonewalling and especially Contempt. He called them, rather amusingly, The Four Horsemen. Tammy Fletcher in San Diego calls them Relationship Killers.

Here are two nice, short articles on the subject to help you avoid the apocalypse – well worth a read.

http://www.gottmanblog.com/2013/04/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism.html

http://sdtherapy.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/relationship-killers/

Does sharing household chores help or kill passion?

There’s an interesting (and by the looks of the comments, very controversial) article by Lori Gottlieb in this week’s New York Times about male-female relationships. Does a More Equal Marriage mean Less Sex?

It considers whether an egalitarian marriage (where decisions and tasks are shared equally), while good for marital harmony, might be bad for the couple’s sexual relationship. For example, are gender stereotypes so deeply entrenched that seeing a man do “feminine” tasks makes him less attractive to his mate at a sexual drive level, even while making him a more appealing person to be sharing a house with? Is it possible that women want to be married to men who are kind, considerate, thoughtful and treat them as equals … but fancy men who are quite different?

This is of course a big generalisation, but I do get the sense from my own couples therapy practice that there may be something in this idea, at least some of the time. What we want at an intellectual level may be quite different from what we want at a sexual level; or, as sex therapist Esther Perel puts it in the article, ” … the values that make for good social relationships are not necessarily the same ones that drive lust … most of us get turned on at night by the very things that we’ll demonstrate against during the day.”

Funnily enough, I was reading this article while standing up on a train home from London. I sensed that the man seated next to me was really uncomfortable about being seated for a long period while I was standing, but also torn with indecision over whether giving up his seat for me could be seen as insulting or patronising. And with some cause: male friends tell me they have been berated for such “crimes” as holding a door open for a woman, which makes me sad. Personally, I’m all for acts of kindness and good manners, and don’t see the need to turn them into an argument on gender politics.

In any case, I think it can be really hard nowadays for men to know how to be around women; indeed I think they are often in a double bind, as the case studies in the article illustrate well. I applaud the author for daring to write on such a contentious subject, because surely more reflection can only be a good thing.

Dan Savage on being monogamish, and other juicy subjects

I really enjoyed this talk by Dan Savage, US writer, columnist and co-founder (with his husband Terry Miller) of the It Gets Better project (created to remind teenagers in the LGBT community that they are not alone — and it WILL get better).

In this talk Dan expands on two concepts that are of particular interest to him:

1) Many more couples are monogamish than we might think (i.e. they have an agreement to be mostly but not completely sexually exclusive). Dan argues that, contrary to popular opinion, this can give relationships a much better chance of long-term survival than those where monogamy is an absolute and any sexual transgression is a deal-breaker.

2) Long term couples stand a much better chance of staying together joyfully if they commit to being “GGG” in their sexual relationship, which stands for “Good, Giving, and Game”. Listen to find out more!

It’s a long talk but he’s very entertaining to listen to, and provides much food for thought. He is very frank in his language, however, so definitely NSFW!

Stop worrying about how sex SHOULD be

What I do in my consulting room is rarely about “teaching folks how to do things right”, although that may be what many clients anticipate when they present for sex therapy; more often, it’s about trying to unteach them things they think they know about how sex SHOULD be. So I was very pleased to see this superb quote from Meg Barker over on her “Rewriting The Rules” Blog:

” … we all have different kinds of bodies that work in different ways. Instead of this being a cause for shame and distress as we all try (or pretend) to meet up to some narrow, limiting standard of sex (or avoid sex entirely if we don’t), we could embrace this diversity and make it the starting point for each new sexual conversation. Rather than going in with assumptions about how our body, and our partner’s, ought to work, we could go in assuming that this will be a new and different body and being open to the inevitably new and different experience it will bring.

Our concerns could be not ‘will I get an erection?’, ‘will it last long enough?’, ‘will I be able to be penetrated?’, ‘will I come at the right time?’ but rather ‘how does this person’s body work?’, ‘what do they like having touched?’, ‘what other kinds of stimulation do they enjoy?’, ‘how do I respond to what they do?’, ‘what can I tell them about how I work with my words and with my body?’, ‘what new ways will I discover with them that I haven’t with other people?’. With such questions it ceases to matter whether or not we orgasm from penetration, or at all, or whether we get erections or can be penetrated. We can put down those anxieties and just open up to the conversation as it unfolds”.

Thanks, Meg, for summing it up so perfectly.

How do you initiate sex with words?

I’ve been wondering how much fun, life-affirming, relationship-bonding sex doesn’t happen, because folks simply don’t know how to proposition their significant others.

Once lovers get past the “it just happens” phase and are into the “intentional sex” stage of a sexual relationship (the normal situation for any long term relationship, where you have to do something to make it happen), my guess is that many people feel anxious actually getting the words out.  Certainly, it comes up as an issue in my consulting room often enough.

So I’ve put together a few suggested ways of raising sex, ranging from cheesy to fun to romantic.  Of course, this definitely comes under the category of horses for courses – what feels sexy to one person may sound daft to another.  I’ve kept the words themselves reasonably clean because of who could see this post, but please feel free to substitute more earthy words if they work for you!  And remember, practice makes perfect 🙂

Shall we have sex?

Fancy some hanky panky / afternoon delight / how’s your father / slap and tickle?

I really want to make love with you.

You could have me if you play your cards right!

Do you want to get naked?

I really want to do you right now.

I really want to be inside you.

Let’s make love.

Shall we fool around?

It’s been ages since we connected – how about getting naked with me and we’ll see what happens?

Fancy a bit of the other?

How about it?

Do you want some?

Do you remember that thing we used to do called sex? (nb. remember to make this playful, not sarcastic)

Would you like some action?

I would love to feel you inside me.

Are you using your penis, or could I borrow it for a while?

I’m feeling up for it – how about you?

Do you want to get laid / make out / have some nookie?

I feel sure I’ve only scratched the surface here (so to speak).  Would anyone like to suggest other ways of initiating sex with words?