I’ve been talking with a lot of clients about narratives lately – the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. Narratives are powerful and shape the way we view ourselves and the world around us. If you grew up in an environment that didn’t talk about sex, or spoke of it in negative or fear-based terms, that creates a powerful narrative. Just a few of the examples I’ve come across:
Sex is bad, I’m having sexual thoughts/feelings, so I’m bad.
Sex is embarrassing.
Only “those kind of people” are interested in sex.
I want/think about sex too much.
I want/think about sex too little.
I don’t have to right kind of body to be sexual.
Sex is too embarrassing to talk about with my partner.
Many of these narratives are powerful enough on their own, but they often get attached to painful emotions which heightens the power they have over us. If you are struggling with an unhelpful narrative surrounding sex, give yourself a break. You aren’t broken. You’re doing the best you can with the narratives you’ve been given. The good news is that we can change our narratives around sex – much like forging a new path through a forest – we can create narratives that lead to increased peace and pleasure. Some examples:
Sex is good, and pleasurable and multipurpose. My sexual thoughts and feelings are natural and I can choose to engage with those thoughts and feelings in ways that are right for me.
Sex feels embarrassing sometimes, because it’s not something I have practiced talking/thinking about yet. The more I talk about it with myself/my partner, the easier it will get.
Sex is a normal human experience.
However much I think about or want sex is the right amount for me. Everyone has a different erotic template, and that’s okay.
All bodies deserve pleasure in life, there is no such thing as a “right kind of body”. My body is good, and I appreciate it for its real ness.
My partner can’t read my mind, so if I tell them what I enjoy sexually, we will both have a more satisfying experience.
Most of us have inherited unhelpful sexual narratives, this doesn’t mean we have to hold onto them throughout our lives. If you are feeling stuck in your sexual narratives, and need help overcoming them, call 801-944-4555 to schedule a session with Alice.
Sometimes, in conservative cultures, there is sexual shame attached to the usage of pornography. Listen in to hear the brain science behind pornography use, as well as how to navigate the topic of pornography as a couple, family, and society. Visit the link below or listen on your favorite podcast platform.
As you’re likely all too aware, couples can struggle with many key issues in their marriage. For example, differing perspectives on how to discipline the children are common. Rapport with the in-laws (or the lack thereof) is not unusual. Religious and faith journeys are fairly common discussions for couples in my counseling office. How your spouse spends his or her time when not at home is also a challenge for many couples.
However, likely the bigger problems arise from our views on how to manage money. Perhaps even more challenging is our views on sex and affection. Getting our needs met in these critical areas of our marital relationships can seem daunting if not overwhelming.
** Please note that the examples I utilize in this blog are a compilation of many conversations and also not real names.
Money—Balancing the Relationship Budget
As a counselor that has worked with couples for many years, I find that disagreements about money are common in most relationships. Whether its about how to spend our income on a daily basis. Or how to save for the future, next years vacation, or even for retirement, men and women can just see things differently. Over the years I’ve used an example regarding going back to school (pre-COVID!) that has proved helpful.
In our example, Ricky* (* not his real name) is 13 and is about to begin his first year of middle school. Ricky and his mom go to a local store to purchase school clothes for him. Ricky’s mom and dad have recently agreed on a budget for both he and his siblings clothing budget. They feel comfortable with the amount they’re spending and finally feel that they’ve made progress. That sounds great right? Absolutely, until the unexpected happens, which seems to happen often with busy families.
Please know that the back story here is that Ricky’s parents were raised in homes that see money vastly different. Ricky’s mom was raised in an affluent home where money challenges similar to my example were just NOT an issue. Meanwhile, Ricky’s father was raised in home where money challenges and balance were common.
Ricky loves to skateboard and has done so for several years. He is boarding with friends when he takes a spill and tears the knee out of his new school pants. These are his favorite pants and Ricky is devastated as he considers telling his parents. He musters up the courage and tells his mom who responds essentially “don’t worry, we’ll get you a new pair before school starts.” He is relieved and feels better. Later that evening when his mom and dad discuss the issue, his father is pretty upset by his wife’s perspective. He reminds her of the budget they’d both agreed to live by. How important not waffling on their new spending plan is to him. He states that we need to “just patch the pants” and send him to school. Besides, Ricky needs to learn to be “…responsible and take care of his things.”
What would you do to balance the relationship “budget???”
Sex – Balancing the Relationship’s Affection Needs
As if understanding your wife’s perspectives on money isn’t challenging enough, another area maybe even more key. That area is sex, which I like to refer to as overall “affection” in the relationship.
While working with couples regarding their romantic and sexual needs, one thing has become very apparent. Men and women just see sex differently. While I’ve used many examples to discuss sex with couples in counseling, one has seemed particularly germane for this blog. Tim and Sandy* (* not their real names) have been married for 5 years. They have a 3 y/o daughter who goes to daycare while her parents are working. Tim is a local school Vice Principal and Sandy is the head of Human Resources at a local, fast growing start-up company.
Tim and Sandy want to have a relationship that balances in most areas. However, their sex life seems to be one of their biggest challenges. For example, recently Tim was feeling extra close to his wife and that having connective sex that night sounded great. When he included some heart emoticons in texts to his wife during the day, she said supportively she would talk to him when she got home. Over dinner, Sandy mentions to her husband that although interested, she’s really tired but would love to get together tomorrow night. Tim finds her response to be supportive and feels understood.
The following day Sandy anticipates a busy day at work. She drops their child off at daycare and makes sure to plan her day well. Sandy also remembered her commitment to her husband and made a focused effort to think emotionally connective thoughts about him, e.g., he’s a great husband, great support, great lover. As the day moves on, Sandy is feeling really good about the prospect of spending some quality time with her husband. Later that afternoon, Sandy receives a text from her boss regarding a meeting she was to attend with her CEO tomorrow. Her boss notes that the team member who was going to present was being tested for COVID and wouldn’t be able to attend the meeting. This means she is now presenting and would need to have it ready by 9 AM tomorrow morning. Although the meeting may end up being virtual, please plan on attending in their corporate offices.
While Sandy feels encouraged that her boss would ask her to fill in, there is a problem. She now will be up much of the night preparing for the critical presentation. She is also really disappointed that she won’t be able to give her relationship the time it so desperately needs. She considers all options but ultimately decides to ask her husband if they can spend time together tomorrow night. How will he react? Will he feel hurt or dismissed?
What would you do to balance the relationship’s “affection” budget?
Balance is the Key
Whether Tim feels hurt or dismissed will depend on how he believes the relationship has been overall previous to this challenge. Let’s say that both he and Sandy have worked on keeping their relationship open and honest. Then likely Tim won’t feel dismissed and he will be able to weather this potential hurricane of negative feelings and resentment. Meanwhile, Sandy won’t feel guilty that she is asking for some relationship latitude but rather also feel understood and appreciated. Do you see a positive pattern here? Absolutely!
It has been my experience that open communication is the key. Being able to have critical conversations safely that may not be easy but will benefit the relationship’s sex and affection needs. Other keys include:
* Trust. Building trust includes, but isn’t limited to, knowing that your spouse will allow you to share her opinion without feeling judged or questioned for her perspective. Trust is particularly important for a woman as feeling emotionally safe and close to her husband is often contingent on trusting him deeply.
* Respect. When couples trust each other then it is quite natural that a deeper level of respect will likely also follow. Thus trust and respect go essentially hand in hand resulting in a marriage where connective conversations can naturally occur.
* Love. You can love your partner but not necessarily trust or respect them. The oft used adage of “Love Conquers All” isn’t always true particularly regarding trust related to money and sex. Couples that have nurtured trust in their relationships report a deeper level of commitment to the relationship. Essentially, that my spouse “has my back!”
What’s Next? Achieving Balance
Whether you struggle with discussions regarding money or sex really isn’t the question. Many couples struggle in these key areas. The most important thing is to be able to move forward through the challenges. Increase trust, respect, and ultimately the love in the relationship. Here are 3 suggestions to achieve these relationship goals.
First, absolutely set goals to communicate openly and often. I typically assign the couples I work with to have a “check-in” each day. It doesn’t have to be long BUT it does need to be more than just “how was your day?” Ask questions that support each others challenges. For Tim as a Vice Principal, empathic questions related to returning to school may be most germane. However, the key is that the communication is open to ANY thing that seems important to the partners in their marriage.
Secondly, I’ve often heard it said that “couple’s that play together, stay together.” That has been my experience particularly when couples play often and in ways that connect the relationship. Couples can connect each evening. Couples can “play together” on the hiking trail. On the ski slopes, or on vacation, whether it’s in California or Park City.
And for the subject of affection in marriage, couples that play (connection/affection/sex) together often will stay together! It absolutely works and is worth working on in a loving ways.
Lastly, absolutely be flexible and recognize that plans change. And please totally be aware that just because your wife isn’t available for sex this evening doesn’t mean that she’s not into you. In fact, be aware that her asking to get together tomorrow night is likely totally sincere. She does want to be with you. Please take a risk and ask her (or him!). You may be pleasantly surprised by her response.
Michael Boman, LCSW, is a clinical therapist at Wasatch Family Therapy. Michael has over 20 years experience in working with couples and families.
As I continually work with couples on improving their sex lives, one concern I hear frequently is, “Are we having the normal amount of sex?” They worry that if they are having less sex than they did at other points in the relationship, that maybe their sex life is getting worse. The reality is, the number of times you are your partner have sex, isn’t the most valuable information about whether or not you have a high-quality sex life. It is very natural for the quantity of sex to eb and flow throughout a lifetime together. Here are some perfectly normal times to see some changes in the frequency, and perhaps quality of your sex with your partner:
Pregnancy: Though there are some changes in the body during pregnancy that can make sex more enjoyable for women, there are certainly some changes that do not. Some women report that fatigue and sickness during the first trimester of pregnancy, make them feel less sexual desire. Typically, women report the most enjoyable sex during their second trimester of pregnancy. During the third trimester, it is a fight for space in the female body! Additionally, after baby comes, there is no sex at all for at least 6 weeks.
Death and Grieving: Some people report that when they are grieving the loss of a loving one, they feel less desire to be sexually intimate. That being said, some don’t feel that way at all. You shouldn’t feel weird or guilty if you still do have a desire for sex after the death of a loved one. All of these responses fall under the normal umbrella.
Illness: Most people don’t feel like being sexually intimate when they are sick. When our bodies are fighting off illness, survival takes precedence over procreation. Luckily, illness usually only influences our sex lives for a week or so. However, when chronic illness is involved this can take a toll on a relationship. When a partner has cancer, or dementia, or kidney failure, sex becomes one of the last priorities, though sex can still be missed and longed for by both partners.
Distance: This one is obvious… You can’t have sex when you are miles apart. Many couples have to spend time apart due to work, deployments, etc. In these cases, couples should have a plan for how they will maintain intimacy and connection during the time apart.
Depression and Anxiety: Mental health issues can certainly influence sex. Specifically, anxiety and depression, somewhat highjack the mechanisms in the brain and nervous systems that influence our sexual reactivity and receptivity. With professional help and treatment of the illness, these concerns can be resolved or better managed, and couples can learn to have functioning sexual relationships.
Stress and Fatigue: Stress also interferes with some of the biological mechanisms that influence sexual receptivity. When our bloodstream is raging with the stress hormone Cortisol, our nervous system is not typically apt to engage in sex. High levels of fatigue can also decrease desire. You may be noticing a pattern. There is an order of operations in the body; survival first, everything else after. Since sex is not essential for survival, but sleep is, the body will prioritize accordingly.
These certainly aren’t all the reason sex may struggle in a marriage. They are however, some of the big ones. Men and women all report times when sex wains. There are stereotypes that men always want to have sex and that women are always the ones turn men down. That’ s simply not true. Men and women,though different, have many sexual similarities. For help with your sexual relationship, schedule an appointment today.
O yes, we are talking about the big O. A little too big, if you ask me. As I sit with couples and discuss the tender issue of sex and the vulnerabilities it uncovers, I notice that a lot of people make a HUGE deal about orgasms. Now, I get it, orgasms are great! However, sometimes when couples make an orgasm the determining factor as to whether or not a sexual encounter was good or bad, they may discredit a lot of other good things that happen during sex.
The truth is, not everyone orgasms every time they have sex. This varies widely from individual to individual. Some people have orgasms frequently, hit or miss, or rarely at all. Some people are distressed by a lack of orgasm, and some are not. Some people are distressed by having an orgasm. Individual experiences and contexts influence what meaning we attach to things such as orgasm.
This being the reality, you can see how much pressure it can add to a sexual encounter to make orgasm the primary goal. While orgasms feel spectacular for most, connection is a good goal for sex. In fact, when someone is feeling pressure or anxiety about “making someone orgasm,” or, “I need to orgasm so my partner feels like a good enough lover,” it actually interferes with the mechanisms in the body that make orgasm the most likely. Ironic, right?
This is why I tell couples to think of orgasm as the side dish, and connection as the main dish. It is okay if you want to orgasm more and take healthy steps to work toward that with your partner. This is best achieved in a mind set of “if it happens great, but if not, we will keep practicing,” rather than a pass or fail mentality. My advice is to relax, communicate, focus on your love for your partner, and enjoy the sensations you feel.
To schedule an appointment with Kathleen Baxter, call Wasatch Family Therapy at 801-944-4555.
It’s all about the language we use, and how that language impacts our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors when it comes to sex.
We’ve heard the baseball metaphors. First, second, and third base. Home run. Striking out. Playing for the other team. Al Vernacchio, who gave this ted talk points out that in baseball, you have two teams, one wins and one loses. You have specific rules to follow, and you have very little control over the season schedule. When there’s a game, players are expected to play. In sex this creates an unhealthy dynamic. Sexual relationships shouldn’t be about winning or losing, or about competition. Sex shouldn’t occur due to pressure to “play”. Sexual relationships should be about enjoying the activity together. He suggests a new metaphor.
Getting pizza. When you want pizza, it’s based on an inner desire rather than competition. When you’re eating pizza, there are no winners or losers. It’s about enjoying the experience. In baseball there are rules. The right ways and the wrong ways to play. In pizza, there are no rules, you can eat it if you want to, if it satisfies your hunger, and it’s okay to enjoy some toppings, and not others.
By changing our metaphor, as Mr. Vernacchio explains, “we could…invite people to think about their own desires and make deliberate decisions about what they want, and talk about it with their partners…to look not at some external outcome, but for what feels satisfying”.
I recently spoke with Ethan Millard and Alex Kirry of KSL’s NewsRadio Nightside Project about what parents can do if they discover that their child is viewing porn.
Pornography is a loaded topic: the easy accessibility of it combined with a curiosity about and interest in bodies and sexuality that children naturally have can lead to problems and questions. We’ve all heard the horror stories of how porn addiction can lead to broken families and destroyed lives. It’s quite a task to speak to your children about these issues and can be even more emotionally daunting if they’re already involved in it in some way. Here are some strategies for how to handle a situation in which your son or daughter is viewing pornography:
…and other holidays you feel pressure to make IT great!
There are a few holidays, you know which ones they are, that bring a chain of different thoughts.
“My anniversary is coming. I guess that means we should probably have sex.”
“Sweet, it’s my birthday. This means a party in the bed tonight!”
“It’s Valentine’s, does that mean that I should actually dress up for sex tonight?”
There is even a song titled Birthday Sex by the artist Jeremih. So, what is it that creates these expectations about holiday sex? Is it that we consider sex the ultimate gift and it seems fitting to give it on a holiday? Is it because in a situation where someone feels deprived of sex, that seems like a day you really shouldn’t deprive someone? Or is it that it is the ultimate celebration of your love for someone and that seems like a perfect day to celebrate? Who knows?
I am not here stating that it is neither good nor bad to have expectations about holiday sex. You and your partner can decide whether that is awesome or a problem. I thought it would be fun to consider some of the pros and cons.
We usually also eat a lot of great food on these holidays and sex with a full stomach can be… interesting.
Expectations can add stress and stress can be debilitating when it comes to sexual function.
You can’t save your sexual relationship with your partner on a holiday every now and again. Spice is necessary more than 3 times a year.
If you don’t have holiday sex and it is expected, it can lead to a lot of hurt, passive avoidance techniques, or anger.
If sex is already a problem, the problem usually comes to a head when these expectations are unfulfilled and you can spend a perfectly good holiday fighting.
If you conceive, you can guarantee you don’t have to share an anniversary or birthday with your kid.
Going above and beyond on anything, sex included, can really make your partner feel wanted, seen and important.
The pressure of expected holiday sex, keeps you on your toes and actively working on improving your sexual relationship.
These holidays can create deep feelings of love, and perhaps create the desire to have sex in the first place.
If you plan to have sex on these holidays, the kids are usually gone and sex can be more enjoyable.
Consider these points for yourselves. Wishing you a Valentine’s Day full of love and closeness for whomever or whatever you love!
5 common road blocks that could be keeping you and your partner from optimal intimacy!
Work life, parenting responsibilities, maintaining a home, dishes in the sink or a bedroom overcrowded with laundry, these are just a few examples of things that contribute to shaping our environment. Is there anything present or obstacles in your environment that could interfering with opportunities to create more intimacy. Environment can play a crucial role in our ability to focus and dedicate time to growing and nurturing intimacy in our home and relationships.
Here is the most recent “5 Minute Relationship Fix” segment from the Todd & Erin Show, where I share quick tips to strengthen relationships in just five minutes!
This week, we’re tackling a topic that comes up over and over again: the “S” word. Yep, that’s right, we’re talking about sex!
Too often, women feel like sex is a chore, while men are often wanting sex to be spontaneous. Listen here for how planning sex can help you and your partner have a more fulfilling relationship!
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