In the previous blog, I explored the first energy center and healing the cultural wounds that have bound us to negative beliefs about sexual pleasure. This blog is about the second energy center and the healing of relational wounding from our families of origin. Great sex is not simply a matter of all the parts working properly and having fun with a willing partner. There are important components that make erotic encounters really flowing at all levels: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
As our consciousness increases we also become more aware of the quality of the connection with our partner at any given moment, and if there is a sense of disconnect it will be evident. In long term, committed relationships, a sense of distance is a common experience; it happens on occasion to anyone. Sometimes we feel very connected to our partner and sometimes distant, but if this feeling of disconnect persists, there is work to be done to rebuild the trust which is the foundation for exploring Conscious Loving, or Level II of sexuality.
A partnership of truly co-equal partners is emerging in our times. True partnership requires appreciating the differences as an important part of loving another -- and discovering each other anew as we grow and change becomes an exciting creative act. It is not just respecting our differences, but it is also being fascinated about each other's inner world. Staying in communication about our inner experiences is more important than artificially seeking closure when we differ. The incredible potential of emotional satisfaction and pleasurable sex is the gift of this cooperative self-discovery. However, in order to feel safe to share our inner worlds, the relational bond must be relatively secure.
Building trust means making the attachment secure which is very different than seeking agreement and sameness. Developing a more secure bond leads to mature attachment which is the ability to deeply love your partner while respecting their boundaries and accepting their process without needing to change them. This is a tall order for committed relationships because many times couples go through periods of painful growth, where the needs of one appear to be in conflict with the other. If there is a steadfast commitment to the process of open, non judgmental dialogue, these periods lead to a new level of intimacy. This model of growth is especially important for sexuality. It is never good to merely accommodate the other when sex doesn't feel connected. However, when the connection feels good, the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure becomes the greatest gift of intimacy. When we are honest with ourselves and with our partner, sexuality is ever expanding.
Less mature attachment involves the effort to make our partner more like the image of what we think they ought to be, using manipulation, guilt and punishing anger. It is natural to feel disappointed when we don't get what we want, yet mature attachment is the ability to work through the disappointment rather than push for a capitulation. There has been some controversy in sexology about which is more important for healthy sexuality in couples: increasing the security of the bond or developing more differentiation and my position is that we need both. Part of the work is uncovering dysfunctional attachment styles learned by individuals early in life. These styles or habits of relating begin operating even as adults when we are under stress. For the sake of simplicity I've divided them into two types:
"I feel anxious that people won't love me enough," is the anxious attachment style where the partner experiences overwhelming flooding during arguments and attempts to get the partner to soothe them, or push for agreement.
"I feel crowded around people and often need space," is the avoidant attachment style where a partner becomes disengaged and emotionally shuts down during conflict.
For both attachment styles the fundamental skill is developing healthy methods for regulating anxiety using calming techniques and recognizing the underlying fears operating under duress. Keep in mind that the tendency to either pursue or distance during a relationship conflict is an attempt to handle anxiety in the instinctual ways we have learned in our families of origin. Think about the ways your family handled conflict and you will have a lot of good information to begin examining your own patterns.
There is a tendency for men and women to be wounded about sex in different ways: for women an anxious attachment can be stimulated when sex with a partner is good and they feel abandoned if it does not lead to lasting closeness. For men, the opposite can occur where the need to distance may arise because entrapment fears surface.
Suggested techniques for managing anxiety in a new way:
Actively listening to each other with an open and non judgmental stance creates a safe container in which to hear each other and develop empathy, an essential skill for mature attachment. But when you feel flooded with emotion, it is almost impossible to listen. So try this:
When flooded, stay in each other's presence rather than taking the traditional "time out," but stop talking and simply breathe together for two minutes. Then open your eyes and say only positive things to each other for another two minutes. Once calm, you can go back to active listening.
Anything said in a neuroceptive state of fear and anxiety is unproductive but with a calmer and more secure bond new neurons can grow, creating new perspectives.
The foundational sexual technique that reduces anxiety is Sensate Focus, which is a non-demand (meaning no expectation of sexual interaction) touching experience. Each partner learns to feel good about both pure giving and pure receiving touch without unmanageable anxiety. This is why it is important that there be no sexual touching. A second level of practice using sensate focus is to raise your awareness of the partner's readiness for more intense touch by staying behind the arousal curve rather than pushing for more specific sexual activity. For touch avoidant women this is critical and for men with rapid ejaculation it is helpful as well.
I welcome your comments and I have an interview of me talking about various aspects of sexuality that you can watch on YouTube in two parts. Here are the links:
Follow Linda E. Savage on Twitter: www.twitter.com/lindasavagephd