I want to talk about a very popular topic both in my practice as well as more broadly, namely, Sex and Marriage; which is also the name of one of the chapters in my soon-to-be-released new book, Don’t Get Married! (Unless You Understand a Few Things First).
(I promise to cover building Emotional Credibility with your teens next time.)
Typical scenario: a couple meets, “falls in love”, has wonderful physical intimacy, and thinks they are in heaven and that they have found their “soulmate”.
Then it happens. Eventually, as the relationship continues, the sex decreases in frequency or stops entirely. Maybe it takes years, maybe months, but it does happen.
Well, other than the fact that it’s pretty normal for the frequency to decrease from the “good ‘ole days” of the early relationship, there is something else at play for many couples as well.
That is, they’ve lost the emotional connection.
Yes gentlemen, women tend to want to have physical intimacy (i.e. sex) when they are feeling emotionally intimate and connected first. This is quite the contrary to most of us men who instead tend to feel the opposite way; that is, we feel emotionally closest when we’ve had sex. It’s really just a difference in hardwiring. It’s nothing personal, just God or evolution, whichever you prefer.
But the problem with many couple’s sex lives has almost nothing to do with the hardwiring difference and it has almost everything to do with the state of their emotional relationship.
Remember from my earlier post the definition of Emotional Credibility? (E.C. = trust + actually liking the other person and enjoying their company.)
Well, by the time a couple comes to me about a problem with their sex lives, they’ve actually had a problem with Emotional Credibility for quite some time already. What this means is that they’ve lost the trust, and they really don’t enjoy each other’s company so much anymore.
And no, I’m not talking about the elusive “falling out of love”, or, “we love each other but are just not in love anymore.” No, the concept of Emotional Credibility is a much more real, much more measurable concept than all that.
And for the trust component of Emotional Credibility I’m not necessarily talking about the “big trusts” like fidelity, spending issues, substance abuse, lying, etc., although these are obviously very important issues and are central in some marriages.
No, for most of us, we must think “micro-trust”; i.e. will my spouse actually listen to what I’m saying without interrupting or trying to “fix” the situation. Will they become angry, dismissive, silly, shaming, blaming, or rejecting when I tell them something that’s hard for me to talk about?
The fact is that, once the couple stops listening to each other, validating each other’s feelings and experiences (regardless if they’re “right” or “wrong”), and showing a real interest in each other, they’ve ceased to have any real trust in each other and they’ve also ceased to truly enjoy each other’s company. Their sex lives will almost always suffer soon thereafter. It’s just the way it works: loss of E.C. leads to loss of intimacy, both emotional and physical.
So, if you want to improve your marital sex life, don’t start in the bedroom (well, you could start there, but that’s for another type of post entirely.)
Instead, start by connecting with each other. Be a little bit “formal” with each other and behave yourselves like you did in the beginning of your relationship. Don’t take each other for granted, or assume you really know each other. Get to know each other. Listen, Validate, Ask questions, and Comment last (see my “LVAC Nation!” book where LVAC=Listen, Validate, Ask, Comment.)
I’ll often tell my patients that marital sex happens when we’re not really paying attention.
If your spouse is chopping celery, ask if you can slice the tomatoes- that’s sex.
If your spouse is angry, listen, don’t defend yourself or get angry or leave- that’s sex.
If your spouse is in some kind of trouble, support them as you learn about what’s going on, don’t punish or blame them- that’s sex.
If your spouse needs you to think about them instead of yourself for right now- that’s sex.
If you know something your spouse needs or likes and you do it without waiting for them to ask and without getting angry if they don’t immediately thank you- that’s sex.
If you normally would never tell your spouse something but you take a risk and tell them anyway- that’s sex. (And if you’re the spouse hearing it and you don’t immediately judge, dismiss, get angry, shame, blame, etc., that’s sex!)
I think you get the picture.
Sex is for true, emotionally competent adults, so follow these guidelines and put the sex back into your marriage!
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.