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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: July 2010

Monday, July 26, 2010

Summer Reading (on Love, Sex and Intimacy)

This month I've got my head in a few good books on love, marriage, relationships and sex.
Hold me Tight by Sue Johnson and Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel, for starters. Both good reads if you are looking for ways to deepen intimacy and have better sex.

In my office, folks talk a lot about intimacy issues, both in the bedroom and out. There are so many different ways to understand each other and learn how to have good companionship, good sex and good times. And to sustain each other through bad ones.

Depending on who you ask or who you read, some say emotional closeness creates good sex, and some say good sex creates emotional closeness. Some say that its the words we use that really count. Others say its action, or body talk.

Some suggest that relationships get better when men learn how to use the right words with their woman. Others say relationships get better when women know how to (are willing to) use their bodies. Some say that even if orgasm is not the goal, sex is still crucial and life giving to the relationship. And that even if women are "not in the mood," the mood can and often does come around once physical intimacy starts.

There is great debate in current thinking about what causes the extremely high infidelity rate in America. Does little or bad sex lead to a cheating spouse? What about anger or frustration? Are people who go outside the marriage to be understood and forgiven? Or punished and put out?
Some marriages fall apart after infidelity. Others come back better than ever.
These days, some couples are choosing consensual sexual activity outside the marriage. This enrages some and enlightens others.

The debate goes on and on.

And then there are the if onlys.
If only....women understood how much most men need sex.
If understood how much women need emotionally connected conversation.
If only.... men could read women's minds just a bit, and anticipate what women need.
If only ... women could understand that men don't like to be questioned about where they are, what time they will be home, or what took them so long to get milk.

I'm sure there are plenty more, but these are some of the ones that come up in my office a lot.
As therapists, we are trained to help people to talk freely. This goes for couples as well. The debate is still on about what makes a good long term relationship, how to sustain or reawaken desire. And how to stay faithful in a tempting world.

The discussion, in my opinion has to be about wishes too. And fantasies and longings, of course. Most of us have them all our lives. Its good to talk about them, I think. Lest emotional pain take over and color too much of how we feel or what choices we make.

It sometimes takes some sorting through the muck of difficult feelings, but when the debate is in a good place you'd be surprised how much better life can get.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jake and Vienna

Okay, I can't help it. I watched the breakup interview (yes, I confess, I watched the show as well), and I really wish they'd have come to see me.

It can't always be reduced to this of course: he is a man. she is a woman.

But it sure is a piece of it.

How is it that she does not know that he needs respect? To feel like the man. I can't chalk it up to her age, because I work with women twice her age who never had the chance to talk it out, to learn about how to help their man feel respected. Or to learn about what their objections to doing so are.

And how is it that he does not know that she needs love. To feel like a woman. I can't chalk it up to his lack of intelligence because he does seem to be a fairly bright guy and I work with a lot of really smart men who never learned about how to make a woman feel loved. Or to tolerate femaleness and love them anyway.

With all the fancy resources at the hands of the big networks, and all the emotional investment, physical chemistry and opportunity for a good life at their feet, I've got to ask: Why didn't these two people get help?

Did they want to be destructive? Is there a part of each of their histories that unconsciously gravitates to blowing up good things? Maybe. But it's so very obvious in that video that he was behaving like a man and she was behaving like a woman and neither of them seemed to have the slightest clue about this. And they both looked hurt and frustrated.

She feels wounded, misunderstood, unloved, undesired. He feels emasculated, distrusted, disrespected, frustrated.

Everyone is using the wrong words. She cries. He waves his hands in the air.

There is name calling and threats and accusations.

People do have good reasons for clinging to the passion of arguing, fighting, going at each other. Not the least of which is that it sometimes makes for great sex. Sometimes folks are hesitant to want to get out of the ring for fear of letting go of the prize of great sex.

But sometimes, the sex just vanishes. Like with Jake and Vienna. She accuses him of not being intimate and he says rather aptly, that he cannot be intimate with someone who is constantly cutting him down. It turns him off.

To which, of course, she claims she is not doing. So here we go. Men do feel criticized and disrespected when women want to plug in the GPS or know exactly where they are, or question their motives. It goes to trust. And trust goes to respect.

And women think: "If you loved me, you would want me no matter what I say. If you really loved me the way I deserve to be loved, then I can threaten or point out your shortcomings, or vent and you will listen and let me say anything and understand and soothe me and still desire me. And then: "Its hopeless." Which to a man seems infuriating, castrating. And to woman it means "I'm really serious. I want you to take care of me."

Sigh. Everyone has a history, a character, a story. And of course its good to know where you come from and what you bring to your relationships. But its a fantasy for Jake and Vienna to think that this stuff won't repeat in their next relationship.

Nobody really wants to do this work. To plod through the muck and hurt and history. To study the male and female- ness of us. To learn the right words, tolerate the frustration and initiate the giving. Its not a walk in the park to look at your character and what's shaped it. But its not as bad as you might think. Sometimes, many times, actually, its even satisfying.

I have seen people with far more to lose than the bachelor and Vienna not even try. And I just have to wonder again....why not get help?