You are here: Balance Your Success »

Tag : sex

Is Sex Necessary to Sustain Intimacy

In my last group therapy session members were discussing their levels of happiness in relation to all aspects of their lives.  This particular group ranges in age from mid-forties to mid -fifties. One of the women who was recently divorced said her major frustration in life is not having a sexual partner. “I haven’t had sex in more than a year, she kiddingly made light of the situation but we could all tell she was genuinely frustrated. As members began to open up she was surprised to hear that some married members do not have sex regularly. Two of our male members said they basically live in celibate marriages. Her reaction, “I don’t think I could stay married, why do you stay in such a negative situation”. Ironically the two men who currently have celibate marriages have been married the longest. One indicates that he has gained a new understanding of his situation over time. “My wife struggled with her weight all her life, as the years went on she felt more and more unattractive despite my telling her she looked good, I still love her but I have never been able to change her mind. Then menopause came early and the lights went out completely.  I admit I have been angry with her for a long time but through couples sessions I realize that it is not personal, it is something she is working on and I finally have come to believe it is not about me. I have hope for the future because I know we love each other and we’re both trying”.

                                    Sexual Desire is Complicated

    In my practice the story above is a very common, particularly as people age. There are a multitude of reasons as to why people become distant sexually. Unresolved conflict, ill health, poor fitness, depression, anxiety about body image, alcohol or drug use, sexual abuse and of course hormonal changes are all influential factors. In addition a person’s history with affection within one’s own family is a very important factor.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            One of our group members is a person we all admire tremendously. He is not a driven or self absorbed person, his character is outstanding and his devotion to people in his community is quite impressive. He was divorced several years ago and his second marriage has been the best relationship of his life. However his wife has never had strong sexual desires and as she has aged her desire for sex has diminished greatly. Ron has periodically talked of his longing for her and how rejected he sometimes feels. He has periodically brought up the subject with her and he ultimately feels uncomfortable as his wife usually ends up feeling terrible. She loves him deeply and realizes she is disappointing him in significant ways. Ron knows his life loves him. They communicate well except for this very touchy subject, and have both been very committed to their children from both of their previous marriages. In our last group session he was asked how he copes with such infrequent sexual contact. “I don’t know really, I try to focus on the other aspects of our relationship. My wife is a very affectionate person, we cuddle on the couch and in bed so it’s not like I can’t feel her interest. I think of how wonderful she has been to my family, my dying father, my daughter over the years and I love how committed she is to the students in her class. I should talk to her more about our sexual relationship but I just don’t like hurting her. All in all I cope by knowing she is the best thing that ever happened to me. Do I wish we could make love occasionally? Of course but for now I have to look at the whole picture”.

                                        What is the Answer?

Sexuality in the early stages of a relationship is easy, takes very little skill and is usually filled with idealized projections of who the other persona is and how they will change our lives. As time goes on reality sets in and those who use sex for functional reasons often become disenchanted quickly. Sexual intimacy for them is not about loving it is about satisfying needs to lift self worth.  They seldom remain engaged long enough to truly love the essence of another person. They move on to another fantasized person who will temporarily serve as an anti-depressant.

         What about those individuals who come to truly love their partner. What do you do when sexual intimacy is lacking and emotional distance is growing? How do you decide to go on if you know intimacy may not be a major part of the relationship? These are extremely complicated questions for sure and they will take time and patience to answer accurately. It is most important to ask yourself if you are allowing for intimacy to develop. Examine your own behavior first and with the help of your partner try to be honest and open as to what you bring to the relationship that may hinder intimacy. For instance,  many people underestimate the need for relationships to be fostered and not taken for granted. If you don’t water the plant it withers, love is no different. After you have worked out your part with clarity you are in a better position to access the level of genuine love in your relationship. If it is truly absent it will be easier to make decisions. For instance my two patients above love their wives and thus they have decided to remain committed and will continue to work on the possibilities.

                                      Empathy creates Intimacy

   In order to maintain intimacy in any quality long term relationship we have to go beyond physical attraction to encompass the heart and soul of the person we have committed our lives to. Empathy leads us from the initial superficial connection to a deep, heartfelt relationship that involves knowing and loving the whole person. When we love and accept our partner’s imperfections we also find ourselves more acceptant of our own limitations and shortcomings.

     It is foolish to assume your sexual relationship will remain the same as when you first met. Many people long for the return to the initial infatuation phase.  It is far more fulfilling when we actually experience the depth of love that goes beyond imagination to a reality that is supportive, dependable and expansive. Ultimate intimacy is when two souls join together as one. As we have seen this may or may not include sexual intimacy. In any event when you establish this kind of depth you are in a much better position to judge the relevance and importance of sexuality to you and your partner. In my experience when couples love deeply and empathically they find a way to re-engage affectionately and often reach a satisfactory level of sexual intimacy.

                                          Arthur P. Ciaramicoli, Ed.D., Ph.D.

                                 Author of The Curse of the Capable: The Hidden Challenge to a Balanced, Healthy, High Achieving Life.

Image Love

     Performance Addiction is the belief that perfecting appearance and achieving status will secure love, happiness and respect. It is an irrational belief system hardwired early in life and reinforced by cultural expectations, especially American cultural expectations.

     As a result Performance Addicts have great difficulty maintaining intimate relationships. None of us fall in love with a real person initially; we fall in love with an image. In the obsession and compulsion of romantic passion we escape from time, we escape from responsibilities and the binding and blinding effects of sex delude us.

   The binding part is pure physical attraction-lust, raging hormones, and sexual excitement. The blinding component is a screen of illusion obscuring the love object, the partner who is the target of sexual devotion. He or she is not perceived as a real person. The partner is a source of escape and ecstasy, an object of desire. This is what I call Image Love.

                                          Love’s Illusions

     The emotional part of the brain has a powerful influence on relationships. If you have Performance Addiction some of the characteristics that attract you to a person are probably written in stone in your brains emotional center.

    Given the importance of achievement to performance addicts it’s not surprising that sex itself has become a performance issue in many marriages. Expectations of sexual performance are set high. What if you can’t meet those expectations? The problem can often be resolved through understanding your unique belief system. A negative story created early in life can drive performance and create unrealistic expectations of yourself and others.

     Sexual intimacy is an expression of uncritical affection. How can you be uncritical if you are perfecting your own performance while judging and evaluating your partner?

                                      What Is Love Really?

Performance addiction can be unrelenting in its demands for comparison, measurement, and competition-and none of these is a component of love. Loving is quite different than being “being in love”. “In love” demands only brief acquaintance to establish emotional connection. Loving derives from sustained intimacy, the prolonged journey of knowing another’s soul. If you have Performance Addiction you may find it very difficult to make the transition from being in love to loving. Whenever you lose faith in the promise of relationships, you are likely to substitute performance measures and become obsessively driven and isolated.

                                     Loving a Real Person

         If you and your spouse/lover were meeting for the first time today, would you choose the same partner again? In other words, given what you know now, when image love is long gone, would you make the same choice? And if not, do you have clear reasons as to why you would make a different choice?

        Your response reveals a great deal about how you feel about yourself and your current relationship. No love relationship is an easy road leading to ever deepening commitment. The level of empathy shared with a spouse tells a great deal about where your relationship has been and is likely headed.

                                       Daring to Meet in the Middle

        Initially we are drawn to each other to make us more complete people. We are attracted to an aspect of the other’s personality that is under-developed in ourselves and very developed in our partner.  As we become more interested in developing the skill we admire we can move past image love. Achieving that balance, as pragmatic and un-romantic as it may seem, just might be the key to lasting love.

      In the final analysis, true love is dependent on our ability to place relationships with those close to us above our quest for image and status.

Get Adobe Flash playerPlugin by wpburn.com wordpress themes