Blog by Miriam
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5 Things To Consider To Improve Your Sex Life

 

Relationship Advice Through a Broader Lens

Do you find yourself wishing you wanted more sex, but you just can’t get excited about it anymore? Do you find once sex gets started you can enjoy it, but no matter what you try, you just can’t get yourself to initiate it? If you said yes to either question, you are part of a very large pool of married individuals. But what do people do about it other than “just get through” sex or stop having it at all? How do we even define the problem?

Many a physician or pharmaceutical company define the problem as physiological or mental – either hormones are off or you have depression. Many a therapist define the problem as a lack of safety or love. Both of these

approaches have merit, but they do not consider the entire picture, and they may lead couples to dead ends. When people can begin to define the problem in the context of a kind of emotional machine – with multiple moving parts, each one impacting every other – progress becomes more possible.

Here are 5 things to consider when you’ve lost that loving feeling:

  1. Change can’t be forced: You can’t make yourself want to initiate sex, nor can you make yourself enjoy it. It just can’t be done. The vast majority of people have tried everything they know to force the feeling or the action, with little positive or sustainable result. When spouses try to force change – and when it predictably doesn’t work – they easily move into a blaming stance – either of self or other. Consider the wife who, after having tried to get herself to initiate sex for over 20 years, finally gave up. Both she and her husband blamed her for “lack of effort,” but neither considered that trying to force a result actually created its own set of problems. Try taking the stance that forcing change can make seeing other solutions extremely difficult. What would it take for you to let go a bit, step back, stop blaming self or spouse, and consider there’s more to the story?
  2. The Problem Is Not “Low Desire”:  One person having “low desire” is a symptom of an emotional pattern that takes two to perpetuate – the problem being the emotional pattern rather than the “low desire.” Here’s how it works: Emotional systems (families) are governed by emotional forces – kind of like gravity. You can’t see gravity, but you can see and feel the impact of it all around you. Any level of heightened emotion is just such a force. It has a way jumping automatically from one family member to another, squeezing people into one tight pocket or another – often times into locked positions. A common pattern for married couples, for example, has one of you locked into being the one who “always wants sex” while the other is locked into “never” wanting it. But these are simply positions – patterned ways of handling heightened emotion. The trick is to stop defining the problem as one of desire, but rather as a symptom of a much larger emotional machine – one that subtly pressures members into this or that corner. Once you can begin to think of your or your spouse’s stuck-ness as part of a larger pattern, then you can begin to slowly discern what the roles are in that pattern – and which ones you play.
  3. The Role You and Others Play: What is your particular emotional pattern? The most common pattern generally has one person following while the other leads. With sex, this looks like one person subtly or not so subtly holding a stance of “authority” or “knowledge”, a stance of dominance, which can look like either “perpetual desire” or “perpetual low desire.” With one of you as “leader,” the other naturally falls in as “follower,” taking on a stance of “inadequacy” or defensiveness or self-blame which can look like either “perpetual desire” or “perpetual low desire.” Each person gets stuck in an emotionally sticky posture, making it difficult to see the problem from other angles. For example, the person in the more “inadequate” stance perceives the other as having confidence. When looked at more accurately, the one in the more dominant stance has no more real confidence or independence sexually than the “inadequate” one as is marked by his or her constant emotional reactions to the problem – whether those reactions are characterized by avoidance or conflict or desperation or giving up. Both are caught in a reactive pattern – neither one functioning any better than the other, but it often looks like one person is the “healthier” individual. When a person is able to slow an interaction down enough to be able to see each individual’s emotional dependency, the playing field is leveled. Generally a sense of mutuality improves communication and problem solving. This can be a difficult first step but can be helped along by marriage counseling.
  4. Sibling Position of You and Your Spouse: Whether you are an older sister of sisters or a younger brother of brothers (or any other sibling position) has more impact on your life and relationships than you may think. The effects of sibling position and gender play a profound role in personality formation and orientation or stance toward spouse. For example, if an older sister of sisters marries an older brother of brothers, she may experience resentment for his natural orientation to be appreciated for being the lead provider and caretaker of his family. He may experience resentment for her natural orientation to be in charge. Each sibling position has its own personality profile with remarkable accuracy, and each pairing has unique challenges. When people begin to observe their conflicts through this lens, they can begin to strengthen their natural assets and improve their natural limitations or blind spots. For example, an oldest sister of sisters may learn, over time, to slow down, resist her need to be right, and value her spouse’s opinions more evenhandedly. Her oldest brother of brothers spouse may learn, over time, to not be quite as sensitive to the complaints of others, to resist his urge to do for others what they can do for themselves, and to view his counterparts more as equal, contributing members of the family. These kinds of changes can work wonders for a person’s sex life.
  5. The Level of Either Distance, Conflict, or Dependency with Parents and Siblings: And now we come to it. Yes, your current relationship with your family is having an impact on your sex life. The roles we play in our marriages are derivatives of the roles we play with our parents. Gravity reaches into the bedroom despite our best efforts! Consider the middle sister of sisters who, under the parentage of an especially domineering and religious father (who was an oldest brother of brothers) struggled with her admiration of male “strength” and her wish to be granted the legitimacy or validity, generally not afforded her sibling position, but naturally and automatically granted to an oldest sister. Her reactions to her husband, also an oldest brother of brothers, were characteristic of her reactions to her father – belligerent one moment and submissive or dependent the next. Resolving her emotional ambivalence toward her father went a long way in resolving her ambivalence toward her husband (and men in general) and toward her sexual relationship with him.

This last part about resolving relationship stuck-ness with one’s parents is so impactful on peoples’ lives it requires more study. I can recommend Roberta Gilbert’s books: Extraordinary Relationships and The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory as a great place to start.

When it comes to married couples and sex, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Problems in sex tend to take on a life of their own. Emotion just takes over, which makes it more difficult to see and then separate from the patterns you are stuck in. Make an attempt to slow down the thinking and feeling process this week, and consider these 5 points! Then let me know what you learn!

 

Memory vs. Experience

I was recently sent this link to a Ted Talk from a client:

http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_kahneman_the_riddle_of_experience_vs_memory

It explores the meaning of happiness and the differences between the actual experience a person may have and the memories of the experience. When an experience is deemed “bad” or negative, it has more to do with mitigating emotional factors than the actual experience.

The talk explores some of these emotional mitigating factors (such as income), but as I was listening, I thought about family systems and how the themes and patterns and levels of intensity of our extended families impact how we deem an experience to be positive or negative. For example, if I had repeated, emotionally negative interactions with my mother when I was a teenager, how does this impact the stories I tell about emotionally positive interactions I may have had with her as well? Does the degree of intensity (or fusion) determine more of my “memory” of the past than the actual experiences? Does this degree of intensity determine how I see even future interactions with her?

Consider your adult experiences of visiting your parents or siblings or extended family. Consider the following list and how it may influence the memory or story you tell about these experiences. (P.S. This exercise will be more helpful if you’re reading up on Bowen Theory…Extraordinary Relationships by Roberta Gilbert is a great start.)

  • The intensity of emotionality between you and your mother – whether a kind of can’t-get-away-from-you-even-if-I-try or can’t-get-enough-of-you
  • The intensity of emotionality between you and your father – whether a kind of can’t-get-away-from-you-even-if-I-try or can’t-get-enough-of-you
  • How does being an oldest, a middle, or a youngest sibling (or some combination) impact how you “remember” your visits with them?
  • How does being an oldest, a middle, a youngest sibling to brothers or to sisters (the gender of your sibs makes a big difference!)
  • What is your functioning position in a triangle either with your spouse or with your parents or siblings? i.e. Are you an underfunctioner? (Do you shut down or become dependent when around them?) Or are you an overfunctioner? (Do you take over and get a pseudo sense of self based on others’ dependency on you?) In other words, an overfunctioner may deem an experience as positive while an underfunctioner may deem it as negative – not as a function of the actual experience but as a function of their position/the role they are playing.

 

 

 

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Chewing Cud

I was at the Bowen Center in DC again this weekend for more training. In the clinic’s hallway I found this picture, and I thought it was a great introduction to Bowen Theory and this new way of thinking.

Bowen Theory places relationship and emotional problems into a broader perspective – much broader than high and low desire partner dynamics, power struggles, emotional manipulation, and all the other ideas I’ve been exploring historically here on the blog. The broader perspective involves an understanding of man as animal and places him/her in the broader landscape of the animal kingdom – with what we have in common (and not) with the lower animals.

Quite simply, we share a significant susceptibility to anxiety. We have brains just like they do. We have a limbic system and we have a more reptilian system. We have complex sensors for everything from danger to sexual desire to emotional nurturing.

Consider a herd of cattle – of mammals – of families. When danger spooks one cow, the anxiety spreads like wildfire through the rest of the cows. Then their “herding” instinct kicks in and they pull in tighter and closer.  If anxiety really gets going they stampede. While this is adaptive for cows, it causes a few problems for humans.

When anxiety gets high in a human family for any number of reasons – financial, health, births, deaths, marriages, etc. – it tends to heighten our reactivity to each other. When the anxiety has thoroughly spread through the “herd” it has a way of pulling us in tighter and tighter to each other via the emotional reactivity. We become fused into a kind of herd – not separate entities, but one big, fat, black and white spotted organism. Pretty soon, when the anxiety is sufficiently intense, all someone has to do is chew their cud the wrong way, and you’ve got a war on your hands. We begin to think the inconsiderate chewing is the problem rather than the rapid spread of anxiety and its resulting emotional fusions.

Longstanding problems set in when we are more controlled by the systemic flow of anxiety than by an internal direction, value, or principle. This is what is meant by the term differentiation – it means to develop that broader lens – to step back from our myopic view of marriage or parenting, or parents, etc. to incorporate greater awareness of things like:

  • The rapid spread of anxiety through the herd
  • The rapid spread of anxiety from the herd of origin down to the nuclear herd
  • How does it spread, and what relationships does it spread through?
  • What relationships does it spread through the most intensely?
  • What makes you susceptible to it?
  • How is your personality involved? (For example, are you an over achiever? This personality profile could make you vulnerable to becoming symptomatic – mentally, physically, and socially – in an emotional system.)
  • How are current or historical events in your or your spouse’s lives (or families’ lives) influencing how close or distant you tend to be in relationship?
  • What is the flow of money across generations? Financial dependencies or distances have the potential to increase anxiety and then decrease one’s functioning.

I could go on and on about the broader lens. When we can step back and make a study of the emotional forces at work all around us and then start interacting with those emotional forces differently, anxiety tends to dissipate and so does the neurotic obsession with feelings and conflicts and agonizing symptoms that so many suffer through day-to-day.

Take a minute to read this article: http://discovermagazine.com/2013/may/13-grandmas-experiences-leave-epigenetic-mark-on-your-genes#.UwvR29NOnFp . It adds a significant new lens – a genetic one – to this broader picture. It makes getting a thorough family history significant in a way we’ve never thought important before!