03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Sexual Self-Empowerment: Ensuring Healthy Boundaries

One of the most enduring scenarios that I see is couples locked in a Your Way/My Way stalemate. It can play out in many areas of their lives, but here's an example with sex. One partner (not always the man) is keeping count and angry because he or she does not feel wanted based on the number of times they have intercourse in a month's time. The other partner is bored with what's going on in bed and avoids contact with protests of fatigue or arguments well timed to ensure an escape. He or she wants more time or more interesting touch to get aroused or more cuddling and affection or a soulful connection. Most of the time the couple will tell me that they love their children and get along well in many other ways but sex has become boring and infrequent. The dilemma with this couple is that neither one is able to be open about their inner experience, even the one who is keeping score and complaining

This third energy center is about personal power, the solar plexus region of the
body. It may seem counterintuitive, but couples need clear individual boundaries and healthy differentiation for great sex. Each must feel both connected (the secure bond of the second energy center) and protected (think of the famous quote, "good fences make good neighbors") in order to have a healthy sexual identity. Partners often forget that caring for your partner is not served by wanting the same things for the sake of peace, in or out of the bedroom. Especially with regard to sexuality, many individuals assume their partner should know what he or she wants at a particular moment and that the partner should fulfill this need effortlessly. When this doesn't happen, some react with resentment and others with giving up their needs. Healthy boundaries are not simply the act of saying no to unwanted contact, which is sadly the way many partners react to "your way/my way" dilemmas. True sexual self-empowerment is an active and creative pursuit of what you do want.

One self empowerment technique you can practice is one-way active listening. One partner shares their experience and the other listens, actively reflecting what they hear without judgment and asking open ended questions such as "can you say more about this." The listener never shares their reactions even once the partner is finished and he or she refrains from giving advice. I suggest that each has their turn but not on the same day. Pure listening teaches you to stay in the tension of differing, continuing to practice self calming while remaining connected. Pure expressing allows you to speak your truth, without blaming, and without referencing the other's opinion. It is one of the best ways to experience healthy differentiation. For another self empowerment exercise you can practice the guided imagery called My Secret Gardenwhich allows you to explore good boundaries and creative self discovery. [The text is available to download in the "Articles and Newsletters" section on my website]

Once you are able to stay in the dialogue, the stalemate can be unlocked. The problem is that we all hold fears which keep us from disclosing much about our inner world. "If I really tell the truth, my partner won't want me." "If my mate really knew me, he or she would think I'm lame or uninteresting," and so on. But intimacy is nourished through cooperative self-discovery. Remember, intimacy is the desire to know and be known and that refers to many layers of the self. But here's the rub, our identity shifts and changes and so does our expression of it. Really deep spiritual sex emanates from this kind of transparency, when we share our truth in a continuous process of revelation.

All relationships have ebb and a flow, sometimes couples feel very connected and sometimes distant, but staying in a dialogue about the experience is crucial. Many times you may go through periods of painful growth, where needs of one appear to be in conflict with the other's. It may last a while but if you commit to the process, no matter what, and do not threaten the bond by hiding out or threatening to leave, what happens next is very interesting. If we can be honest with ourselves--discovering the other in any given moment becomes an exciting creative exploration. Who are you? Who is showing up tonight and what can I learn from you?

As always, I welcome your comments and stories.