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Dear reader, as the year hurtles beyond the quarter mark, I hope that your sex life – as it is and as you wish it was – is getting clearer to your insight and closer to your grasp. This week, I would like to add something to your thoughts and experiences that I hope will improve your sex life.
It is not uncommon for couples to reach out to me because they are unhappy with an aspect of their relationship, in and out of bed. What I have also noticed is that in many instances, there seems to be an all-or-nothing approach. It’s almost as if the absence of penetrative sex must automatically equal the absence of all sexual pleasure, which only serves to starve you.
This week, I am making the case for the abandonment of this very clinical model of looking at your life situation e.g. what is wrong and how can we fix it? In exchange, I would like to encourage you to use a more strengths-based approach e.g. what’s already going well and how can we nurture it and build on it?
Let us look at a non-sexual example for how we can put this theory to the test: imagine that you are tasked with assessing the environment in which a child grows. You are handed a photograph of the living room in which this child lives. To put it mildly, it looks like a disaster! There are unwashed dishes on the table, the child is on a messy floor playing with a toy, the adult in the room is asleep on the couch, there are coloring books on the table, the TV is on and the curtains are open.
Using a problem-based approach, you could look at that image and automatically determine that the child is in a horrible situation and must be removed immediately. Using a strengths-based, solution-based approach, you would notice all the things that could be right while “simultaneously” noticing what is actually going well, for example the dirty dishes imply that there is food in that case, the child is playing and not crying endlessly, the presence of a coloring book implies that there is opportunity for some creative play.
In fact, the child choosing to play instead of sit and stare at the TV might indicate that this child is more sensitised to actual interaction with self instead of just staring at a screen.
Now, I want you to imagine that your marriage/relationship is that child. You are the ones in what may seem like a messy, hopeless situation. I wonder, what are some strengths that you may have overlooked? What is already going well in the bedroom, even as you recognise that there are some other things that you wish could be better. With a strengths-based approach, you get to see all the great things that are already present, which you can then leverage against the work necessary to improve what needs improving.
I bet you’re wondering what this could look like for you? Here are a few ideas:
You cannot appreciate what you cannot notice. Is your partner a good parent despite being an unsatisfactory partner in other areas? Notice that. Are they good in the kitchen or good with the finances or organized on the family events front? Notice that. Notice it to yourself first and appreciate that, and then notice it to them. You could simply say, “you’re such a great mum/dad to our children” or “I’m so glad you’re good with money otherwise I don’t know where we would be without your investments skills.” The point is, identify it and then notice it internally and externally.
2. Act on it
Once you notice what’s going well, act on it! If penetrative sex is less-than-ideal but oral sex is good, act on it! Just because you’re unhappy with one area of your sex life does not mean that you should “throw out the baby with the bath water.” If your sexual space has become fraught with stress but you still enjoy each other’s company or physical comfort, engage in that. The thing is, you are whole people not just when you are performing at peak expectations. If you go out of your way to reach for one another even under less-than-ideal circumstances, you are likely to create exactly the environment that would be necessary or useful in order to improve things between you.
3. Pile on
Ok, so here’s the final step -- pile on more of what’s working so that you’re actually building on it. Do more of what works and increase your contribution of what could make things better. That may mean biting your tongue instead of taking a cheap shot because that would winning the battle but losing the war.
Look at this example; your sex life is terrible and you’re both understandably frustrated. Telling your partner that they are terrible parents so that you can somehow ‘prove’ to them that they are not so perfect after all is likely to make you feel temporarily better (because, after all, they also have problems). Unfortunately, it is also unlikely to make them want to have sex with you or even want to try.
Well, if they’re angry, sex-starved and feeling attacked, they will naturally withhold any vulnerable contact with you which leave you feeling angry and sex-starved as well. Why not bite your tongue instead? Why not compliment the thing that they do well. Why not express your own vulnerability e.g. I know things are not good and I’m working on it? All of these things are more likely to get you more of what you want; love, satisfaction, peace, empathy and more.
If you remember nothing else, remember this: good marriages and relationships are as a result of many little things – little efforts, little acts of remembrance, little acts of forgiving, little acts of forgetting – because the little things are the big things. This means that no effort is too little so cultivate the sex life that you want, one little seed at a time. I wish you a week full of all the right small moves.
Maggie Gitu is a Marriage, Family & Sex Therapist.
She can be reached at [email protected]