I often hear stories from men and women who discover their partner has sexual secrets. Sometimes those secrets involve pornography, sometimes they involve infidelity, sometimes they involve fantasy or sexual preferences. The individuals who share these stories with me often feel betrayed because the expectations they had about the sexual agreements within their relationship were not kept. The first problem to address is that most of the time, these sexual agreements were unspoken.
I want to encourage couples to make these unspoken agreements spoken. All couples should talk about their expectations for their sexual relationship. In order to facilitate this discussion, here are six principles that constitute healthy sexuality. Spend some time with your partner and discuss each one, what it means to each of you as individuals and how it relates to you as a couple. (One word of caution, avoid having this discussion during or after sex. Those times are likely to bring with them heightened vulnerability, which if the discussion is difficult in any area, can lead to increased defensiveness and conflict. The discussion will go much more smoothly if you schedule it for another time.)
Consent in this context means that someone has given permission for something involving their body to occur. Are there sexual behaviors in your relationship that you’d like your partner to ask specific consent for each time? Are there sexual behaviors that you don’t feel your partner needs to ask first? Talk about these, and create clear guidelines to shape how consent looks in your relationship. Remember that feelings about specific sexual behaviors can change, and it’s okay to change your sexual agreements in the future.
Non-exploitative means that one partner does not take advantage or manipulate the other into sexual behaviors. This includes using power dynamics to coerce the other person. Are there behaviors that one partner participates in hesitantly? Use this opportunity to talk about what those behaviors mean to each partner. If there are exploitative behaviors in your relationship, this is an area where reaching out for help with a therapist may be necessary to resolve them and set healthy boundaries.
3. Protection from STIs, HIV, and Unplanned Pregnancy
If either person has had previous sexual partners, have they been checked for sexually transmitted infections or HIV? What is the plan surrounding birth control?
Are both partners able to be fully honest about their sexual history, and is there room in the relationship to honestly discuss fantasy and sexual preferences?
5. Shared Values
Creating sexual agreements are crucial for couples, and the largest part of the discussion will likely revolve around values. What behaviors fall within your value systems as individuals and as a couple? If there are value differences, can you create workable compromises? If there are value conflicts within a relationship, a professional can help explore resolutions that feel workable to both partners.
6. Mutual Pleasure
Sadly, many individuals grow up with the idea that sex is something men like and women tolerate. When this is the background, women can feel used and resentful about sex, even when they’re otherwise happy in their relationship. Breaking out of this mindset is going to be difficult if the couple has not found mutually pleasurable sexual activities. If one partner wants a specific type of sex exclusively, and the other partner doesn’t enjoy that activity, neither partner will be able to truly experience the kind of sexual relationship that is fulfilling and strengthens the relationship.
If after reviewing these six principles, you find some areas that you and your partner need help with, schedule an appointment with Alice today. 801-944-4555.
Parenting a child with special needs presents unique rewards and challenges. I once heard a mom compare her experience to “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” With all the twists and turns on the journey, it can be hard to focus on passengers in the back seat: the child’s sibling(s). Sometimes all you catch is a quick glimpse from the rear-view mirror, before your attention is called ahead to the next major bump in the road.
Before I address this topic any further, it is important to acknowledge that most parents of kids with special needs feel exhausted, guilty, and at times, overwhelmed. This article is not meant to induce more of those feelings. After a long day struggling with the needs of one child, the last thing you need is to be wracked with guilt about how it affected their sibling(s). This is hard to avoid, because quite frankly, many days your child with special needs will get more of your time and energy than your other kids. It’s the cold, hard truth; you can’t change this, and your other child likely knows it. The sooner you accept and acknowledge this, the sooner you’re on your way to giving your “backseat kid” what they may need most on those hard days: a listening ear and true understanding.
As a child therapist, I have spent many hours counseling parents that children, like everyone else, most want to be truly seen, heard and understood. In most cases, parents can do a “good enough” job giving this to their children. Hopefully, it is a relief to know that you don’t need to fix all your child’s problems or eliminate their struggles. You don’t need to have all the answers! But you do need to listen to them when it counts – to hear in a way that communicates: “I see you, and all your feelings are okay.”
For children who have a sibling with special needs, parents might be unaware of just how much is going on below the surface, both positive and negative. I recently spoke with a teenage girl who said this about how her brother’s autism affects her:
“I feel rejected by my family because often my turn never comes.”
“My sibling’s problems are more important than mine. No matter what I’m feeling some days, it feels like it doesn’t matter in the family.”
“My brother gets more attention for his interests because he talks about them so much. He doesn’t understand how I have interests that are important too.”
“I get to feel accepted because autistic people tend to be more accepting of others.”
“I get to watch him overcome his challenges and grow.”
“Sometimes people generalize autism as one thing, but it is a spectrum. They don’t get it, and that’s frustrating. Autistic people can be really different from each other.”
“I learn a lot because my brother knows a lot, and his mind goes so fast.”
“People can be mean and say rude things. They don’t really understand what people go through because they don’t live with it. It hurts and makes me mad. It’s hard because some things they say are true.”
“Sometimes it feels like he’s my mom’s favorite. It’s feels so unfair because she treats him differently. He gets more attention for his accomplishments.”
Before you ask your child what it’s like for them, prepare yourself for an honest answer that may be difficult to hear. It can help to take a deep breath; remember that your child’s struggles, no matter how difficult, can be opportunities for growth and learning. Having done this, it’s okay to ask directly about your child’s experience. You could phrase the question like this: “What’s it like for you? You know, living with your sister’s __________ (insert the name of the sibling’s disability)?” Then try to really listen and not talk much yourself. While you may be tempted to respond by saying something like, “I’m sorry … I just do the best I can,” resist. Just focus on hearing and reflecting what your child is saying; if they laugh, laugh with them, if they cry, cry with them, and above all, hear them. You can do this because in your own way, you get it; although you’re in different seats, you’re on this wild ride together.
Let’s face it: young children lie. They make up stories and often exaggerate what really happened. So how can we encourage honesty in our kids?
LCSW Holly Willard gives us some insight on this topic. She says the age of the child matters. A 3-year-old doesn’t developmentally understand what it means to lie, so this is innocence and we don’t really have to worry about it. When a child is 5-6, his/her mind goes back and forth between fantasy and reality, so we can try to help him/her understand what is real and what is not. By 7-8, it’s time to hold our kids accountable for telling the truth.