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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Honey, I'm in the Mood

Friday, September 4, 2009

Honey, I'm in the Mood

What in the world is the connection between sex initiation rituals with your partner and emotional pain? Well, this: giving and receiving pleasure nourishes both body and soul, and can glue relationships together in the most precious ways. And this: when it comes to sex, women want to be approached in a way that makes them feel loved, cherished, valued, appreciated, understood, sexy and uniquely important. Uniquely, uniquely, important. Men just want to be approached.

Okay. I know, it's a generalization. And may seem like a tall order. But bear with me on this one. Because I hear about this all the time. And we know how important good communication is, both for good sex and in general. And I know that the wrong approach can cause pain. And trouble can spiral from there.

Often just the act of initiation is enough to reassure a man, to turn him on, open him up and give him the good feeling or feelings he needs. But for women, the verbal warm up, or the emotional connect that leads up to sex is often vital to creating the right feeling, mood, interest or arousal.

Kissing is a great lead in for many women. But not just any kissing. Tender, passionate, well appointed, "I love you and want you" kind of kissing. Men are more willing to have sex without kissing, but most women say they wouldn't have sex without kissing. (from Psychology Today, August Issue, p.45). I think that women prefer kissing as a warm up to good sex because its attentive and women interpret kissing as a way to connect emotionally before sex. Emotional connection is a strong stimulant for women.

Most women in committed relationships accept the idea that they will not always be in the mood. They are fine, even glad sometimes to have sex when their partner needs or wants it, knowing that the right mood will come along again at some point. That there are many different kinds of sex, and it does not always have to be love making. And that for men, often times, sex is what stirs emotional closeness. But for some women, well, more than some, the desire to be made love to usually trumps the desire for sex. So when a man initiates sex more often than love making, the emotional message or communication can get scrambled and feelings may get hurt. If it seems like the message is, "I want sex," or "I'm horny," rather than "I want sex with you," or "I want you," then a woman may experience a feeling of sadness or loneliness, instead of desire or arousal.

While women cannot always expect their man to hit the right note, there are a few basics. And while women, especially in a new, or new-ish relationship will often accept approaches that they may otherwise not like long term, it does help the relationship reach new levels when partners are on the same page about how to start.
And sometimes, the approach can indicate a lurking, but undiscussed feeling or issue in the relationship, or and again, can create one. So what's the key? Well, you know me. Talk. Talk. Talk. Listen. Listen. Listen. To each other. Doesn't have to be in the moment, but at some point.

Consider this. Both partners are at work all day. Its late at night, both are tired. Man looks at woman and gives "the look." You know the look. Its his unique look, but its still "the look." And she, having had a long day, really does want to connect, but is in the mood for some love, not just some sex. Maybe she wants to talk first. Maybe she wants to be held, kissed, told she is beautiful. Nothing insincere, just some "we time" first. Then some passion. Emotional connection first, physical second. Yes, I know we've said this, but it bears repeating, that men feel the connection more often through being physical first, and women through the emotional, the verbal. We need lots of gentle reminders so that we can take good care of each other and minimize the risk of rejection and miscommunication.
In my office, it's not even so much the romance that women talk about with me, its the feeling. The feeling of "us-ness," and of being valued and connected and desired that is often experienced as missing and emotionally painful.
When it comes to initiating sex, some one liners can be emotional bombs. Like "Want to get naked?" Or "Look what I have for you." And while sexual joking, teasing and even raunchy rousing can have a solid place in a relationship, most women prefer this to be the exception, not the rule, and find it more okay once sex is happening, but not necessarily as a lead in or turn on.

What happens when an initiation attempt bombs is usually that the man feels rejected, dejected and sometimes even stupid. And sometimes angry, frustrated and confused. This can lead to more emotional distance. And if things really spiral, sex can become less frequent, awkward and less intimate. In committed relationships, sexual problems cause emotional pain.

Men can rarely go wrong initiating love; sex most likely will follow. But initiating sex may not lead to sex, or at least not the kind she wants. And when she gets the kind she wants, you both get the good feelings. And the relationship grows and grows.

Many couples find it tricky to talk about sex, and about how they would like to be approached. The objections to discussing things are many. We humans don't want to spoil the spontaneity, or have to teach or train a spouse, we would rather hold out for bad or awkward feelings to pass, tuck them away somewhere, pretend it's not such a big deal, or hold out for some miraculous understanding to wash over our partner. But closeness, emotional and physical, often requires words, and words that convey love, attention, attachment, interest and connection. Words that turn on, arouse and invite. Words that help lead to more appealing action. There are many good ways to ask for and explain what we would like without ruining a mood, or hurting a feeling. There are many good ways to bring a partner closer. (More on that someday soon.) We have to be willing to go there. Because where there are good kind words, there is always hope. And there is almost always better sex.


Shen said...

Great post, lots of information. I am getting ready to re start a sexual relationship with my husband... so I am very interested in this kind of article right now.

I say getting ready because I am not quite ready yet. I have put sex on hold while going through therapy to deal (finally) with sexual and emotional abuse in my childhood. The idea of innitiating now is scary, and I don't want to start anything I'm not ready to finish.

We have had sex three times in the last fourteen months... my husband has pretty much stopped innitiating. One thing we are doing currently is the DVD series from John Gottman for couples, to build communication. Do you have any other suggestions?

Melissa Groman, LCSW said...

Hi Shen,
Its great that you are both willing to work together! Its good to unpack what is in the way of things being the way you would like them to be...learning together, or working with a trained therapist is a good way to proceed!