Have you ever wished for a better marriage? If the answer is YES, then you are not alone! Marriage is for better and worse, it’s pretty easy to imagine what the better part will look like; hand in hand walks on the beach, a glass of wine after a tough day, Netflix and chill anyone? The part that is hard to imagine is the worse; the fights, the toxic talk mumbled under your breath while your partner does something annoying in the next room. Even more troubling is a lack of intimacy, lying and a breach of trust or infidelity. Many couples wait until the the eleventh hour to reach out for help. By that time the thought of a light hearted roll in the hay may seem like a galaxy far, far away.
Traditional couples counseling often focuses on other concerns first. How is the communication? Do you fight? What are the critical conflicts that surface again and again?
How is your sex life may only enter the conversation (or be addressed in a significant way) later on down the line. Is that the right approach? A new breed of therapists are tackling these issues in a different order. In a recent New York Times article the author reported on and interesting new convergence of therapist focusing on sex first.
So, is figuring out the sex puzzle going to give you a better marriage?
Couples therapy originated in the 1950’s and initially focused on communication. Not withstanding the modern contributions to the arena of coupes counseling by Dr. John Gottman and Dr. Susan Heitler, Esther Perel and more, traditional therapy hasn’t veered too far off the initial course. Recent shifts in public opinion about marriage equality, and gender related issues and a historically high willingness to discuss sex in the light of day may have changed things for the better. More couples are talking about their sex lives and getting help when trouble crops up.
If you are struggling in other areas of your married life chances are the bedroom arena is suffering too. When communication stops, resentment builds, negativity clouds your daily interactions and the last thing you want to do is get intimate. Maybe that’s just what the doctor (or therapist) ordered. There is a pervasive belief that you have to be “in the mood” to be intimate, for many people “in the mood comes” after. As Dr. Iasenza suggest in the article, ” a partner can initiate sex for reasons aside from excitement.” What this means is that waiting until all the other issues are resolved may not be prudent, in fact, increasing warmth and positivity through physical connection may help the process along. Physical intimacy can relieve stress as well. When strife has taken over your relationship, stress is likely high. Coming home to the prospect of another argument or battle of wills is extremely stressful. Relieving some of the stress, even if there are other things going on is a step in the right direction.
It’s not the only piece in the puzzle…
All this is not to say that the other work isn’t critical, it is. Like a puzzle that needs all its pieces to be complete, a healthy, thriving relationship needs intimacy, dialog, trust, warmth, affection, honesty and an ongoing commitment to keeping the pieces together. While intimacy is part of the puzzle, anyone who’s been intimate with another person for more than a short while knows it’s not the whole picture.
If the better marriage you dream of still feels far away and the path to a brighter future looks a lot like the Spanish Steps maybe it’s time to turn around and take a swim in the fountain instead. You still have those steps to think about but you might feel more inclined to do the work once you’ve had little fun.