Developing a mutually satisfying sexual relationship

When a couple comes into therapy and they tell me, “We want to make our physical, intimate relationship better.  What can we do?  We wonder, Are we like other couples?  What is normal?”

I would first ask the couple, “What is your vision for the sexual aspect of your relationship?  In our ideal world, what would you like for this part of your relationship look like?”  The sexual aspect of a couples’s relationship needs to be addressed in order to establish expectations and satisfaction, just like any other aspect of your relationship.  How do the two of you make decisions about your finances, how you parent your children, where you are going to live, etc?  You will want to use these same skills to make the sexual facet of your relationship everything you desire it to be.

To begin a dialogue with your partner, start with the following exercise:  Each person sits down and writes out their vision for their sexual relationship.  Describe your ultimate sexual relationship in as much detail as possible and be specific regarding sexual activities including frequency. While doing this exercise think about your sexual fantasies.  How do you want them to be incorporated in this relationship?  After putting all of your thoughts to paper, sit down across from on another. Approach your partner in this exercise with curiosity and interest.  As one person shares their thoughts and desires, the other will listen and reflect back to their partner what they have heard.   As you listen to each portion from your partner, reflect back and state, “What I hear you saying is….” without adding any reaction or interpretation to what you have heard.  After you have listened to your partner and reflected him/her completely and accurately, the two of you will switch so that both vision statements are shared completely.  Then begin to discuss which aspects of the vision are shared and begin to develop a vision statement that the two of you can mutually agree upon. The next step is implementation!  How to we make this happen?  This is the fun and exciting part?  Imagine if all of your needs were met in this aspect of your relationship how connected the two of you would feel!

Another common exercise first assigned in therapy for a couple struggling with connecting sexually or who find they need to reconnect is an exercise called Sensate Focus.  This exercise is designed to help you reengage with your partner very safely and gently.  The basic concept behind Sensate Focus exercises is to become reacquainted with one another’s physical presence and bodies in a non-threatening manner.  This exercise begins with non-sexual  physical touch and very gradually over a period of sessions may advance to physical touch however without any expectation for intercourse or orgasm.  This exercise is amusingly portrayed in the movie, HOPE SPRINGS, between Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones.  (Steve Caruso actually plays a pretty decent therapist in this movie.)

So let’s get down to brass tacks and practical application.  How interested are you in meeting your partner’s needs sexually?  What are the barriers to this being a success for both of you?  Isn’t this a major aspect of what brings you together as a couple?  In a relationship where there is safety and security, we can explore these questions. If you are ready to get serious about improving your sexual connection, you can start by observing and listening to your partner in order to understand what they really want.  In what situation does your partner feel the most comfortable and receptive to sexual intimacy?  How to you typically initiate physical touch? Can we push ourselves outside of our comfort zone to see what might happen?

These suggestions are given on the basis that we have two healthy, willing partners in a relationship.  If there are difficulties in the relationship as a result of abuse, (Past or present), or you are dealing with some type of medical problems or complications, or even infidelities, it is advisable that you seek professional assistance and consultation to help you in dealing with these matters.  Recovery is possible for you and your relationship and you are not alone!

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