Conscious Sexual Self

Connection Requires Consciousness

Commiting to Monogamy - What does it Take?

 

 

This is an old-y but a goody. Originally published by YourTango.com

 

Committing to Monogamy : What does it take?

 

 

 

I admit to being shocked that TV series The Bachelor, and its sister show, The Bachelorette, are still going with season 19! But it speaks to how focused we are on the dating portion of romance – the getting the partner to choose us and, so the story goes, commit. As a culture we have turned the search for love into a competition, a game, entertainment, something we can critique and, maybe sometimes, even learn from at a distance. But what we need are stories and examples of what happens after you have found each other. We need to watch people who can show us what it takes to be in love for the long term, how they wrap their mind around commitment, and how they are able to grow and thrive within successful monogamy way beyond the ring or the rose. I know some people who are doing that and here are a few foundational pieces they have in place.

 The ability to see monogamy as a choice you make : You can’t do monogamy for your parents, or your friends, or you partner. You have to decide that this is what you want, for you. Identify your own reasons for wanting to be monogamous long-term. Maybe for you it is a religious or spiritual choice, maybe you value loyalty, maybe you see commitment as a path to personal growth, maybe you want to see what can happen if you focus your romantic energy on one person. Whatever your reasons, to be successful at long-term monogamy it is crucial to take responsibility for your choice and to let go of any resentments about other people “making” you do it. Monogamy is not the only choice. If you chose it, do it because you can own it.

A partner who rocks your world : This may seem obvious, but I see people again and again who say that they want to be in a committed relationship now and the person that they are with feels an ok match, so…This is a hard setup for long term monogamy. If you want to feel inspired to stay committed, you need to find a person who inspires you, a person who shares your sense of humor and adventure, a person who turns your body, mind and heart on in a variety of ways, the person who you want to leave the party with again and again. If you start out comparing your partner to others and wishing your partner could be different in this way or that, you may eventually find yourself just wishing for a different partner.

Understanding and familiarity with your own sexual desire : We live in a world of attractive people and no matter how appealing your partner is, you will still notice the other people out there. The romantic saying, “I only have eyes for you” is not realistic. Our culture makes sure you see and encourages you to be seen. Committing to monogamy requires you to be honest with yourself about this and to be prepared to shift the desire stirred up in the world back to your partner. You must learn how to respond to your own desires in ways that feel in integrity to you and this can only be learned by acknowledging that desire and attraction for others will not go away even when you find the one person you want to commit to.

Confidence to be yourself and to ask for what you want : Long-term commitment will be difficult at best if you go into it by trying to shape yourself into the person you think your partner wants. A fun part of early dating can be trying out new things, being introduced to your partner’s new world. But it is one thing to go to MMA fights a few times and another to pretend that you will be happy doing this every weekend for the next 5 years. If you feel that you are subtly dismissing the things you want and slowly letting your life or yourself be reshaped into your partner’s idea of the ideal, be cautious. You want to be sure your partner is committing to you - the self you want to be, not the self you can be if you have to. And you want to be sure you are committing to a life you can happily embrace, not one with creeping resentment.

We may not have a lot of TV shows about it, but long term relationships are hardly boring. They ask a lot of the people involved. So whether you are searching for a partner or have found someone but are wondering how to keep it going into the future, I invite you to think about these traits. You can develop them and they will help to have a strong foundation for the evolving adventure that is love between two people.

 

Get the Most Out of Couple's Therapy

 

I know what an investment couple’s therapy can be and the vulnerability that goes with it. It helps to know what to expect. Here are some things to bear in mind as you consider therapy as a next step.

 

Know you will have to change – A relationship is a system, self sustaining much of the time. If you want something to change, you had better be ready to change yourself. It can be a comforting fantasy to imagine your partner doing all the changing, after all you have all kinds of good ideas about how they should be different, right? But it really does take two to do whatever it is that you have been doing. So when you get ready to go to couple’s therapy, know that you will be asked to get really interested in your part and what you can and cannot be responsible for.

 

Prepare to be surprised – Therapy opens up rooms in your life and heart and mind that may have been closed. Your partner will say things that surprise you. This is actually a gift, as we come to remember that our partners are slightly mysterious individuals with a lot going on inside of them that we are not automatically privy to. This can be scary, but also invigorating for a relationship. You will also surprise yourself in therapy with revelations about things you may have casually overlooked for years. Intimacy builds, I believe, through these moments of uncovering and risk, sometimes painful, sometimes incredibly comforting, but more genuine than normal talk around the dinner table.

 

Plan to make more time for your relationship – It is hard to stay close and interested in each other when you do not spend any focused time together. One therapy session a week will build some new intimacy but if it doesn’t continue at home we are wasting our time. One of the most important things couples can do to make their gains in therapy matter is to be ready to make changes to their schedules. I mean to literally sit down together with their calendars and carve out time to be a couple in relationship, time for talking, time to have fun, time to have sex, and time to relax together. If you are like most couples now, your time has gotten filled up with all kinds of activities of varying importance. To reinvest in your relationship, you are going to have to give some of those other obligations or habits up.

 

Find a skilled Therapist – If therapy feels like an extra hour a week that you have the same old arguments and leave feeling angry and wounded, then it is time to find a different therapist. Your therapist should be interacting with you, sometimes interrupting you or calling foul, shaking things up, and giving you a new experience or perspective on what has been going on in your relationship. Now, the therapist cannot do that without your help; you have to be willing to do something different. And the best therapist in the world will not be able to make couple’s therapy always fun and heartwarming. But therapy should never feel like more of the same or like a free for all to attack each other. Find a therapist who makes you both feel supported and challenged in balance.

 

 

Have an exit plan (and a backslide plan) – Some of the things I talk about with couple’s in therapy are quick fixes; things that can be repaired with some specific changes and then will flow smoothly. But often issues in couples’ therapy will continue to have some residue of hurt for some time. Rebuilding trust takes time. Changing ingrained patterns will take time and have some moments of backsliding. Before you close your couple’s therapy have a conversation about the realities of relationships, giving each other the benefit of the doubt when things are rocky, and what you will each commit to do if or when things start to feel difficult again. Returning to therapy is not a failure, it is a sign that you have the tools in place to be successful long term.

 

Is your relationship ready for some renewal? Consider a Couple’s Intensive with Melissa Fritchle, LMFT and Sex Therapist. Spend a few days in beautiful Santa Cruz with beach walks at dusk, private therapy sessions during the day, and heart-opening playful “homework” in the evening. You deserve to make your relationship as strong and intimate as it can be!

 

"Kill Your Darlings"

  Are you risking what you need to?

 

I came upon this piece of advice for writers, originally from William Faulkner, and it has stuck with me throughout the month. Its emotional resonance can be quite scary. It sounds like the kind of advice you don’t want to take. And, indeed, it asks a lot of you. But I think it represents a vulnerable truth that applies to intimate relationships.

 

For writers, this applies on one level to the idea that to create emotional truth and tension, you need to be willing for any character, even the most beloved, to die. It also means you should not rely on tricks or themes that have worked for you before. Don’t write what you want to write, don’t let ego lead; write what is true, what organically needs to happen in the story.

 

This is just as relevant in sustaining intimate relationships. No, I am not advocating violence against your lovers. Nor am I suggesting that you abandon the people of things you love. But I think to sustain true intimate connection, we have to be willing to let things die or transform. We cannot rely on the old way of doing things. We cannot take anything for granted. The way you had amazing sex 2 years ago may not be working now. The person you got to know 5 years ago is different today.

 

Sometimes we can hold on and protect something we love so tightly, that we stop taking the risks we need to take to keep it alive. Oh, it might be going through the motions. There can be a kind of deadness or numbness that comes from desperately loving something so much we don’t want to rock the boat. But to be fully vibrantly alive we need to take risks. We need to have the difficult conversations, take the fearful step of hearing a new truth from an old love. We want to have faith in our long term connections and often faith is warranted. But we shouldn’t let that make us lazy or fool ourselves into thinking that all the questions are answered and doubt or confusion or change will never visit again.

 

 

Just as writers must stay true to their story, we must stay true to our relationships by being aware that everything can end, that everyone has lights and shadows, that change is inevitable. It is committing to aliveness to stop overreliance on past gifts and to risk whatever needs to be given and received now. It is scary. I have a lot of empathy for the couples I see in therapy who are in that frightening and disorienting stage of needing to kill their darlings, their story of their partner and the way things were going to go, to access something new. But that something new is almost always more alive, more honest, more intimate. Maybe for therapy the quote should be – Kill your darlings, so that you can stay alive to what it here for you now.

 

The Challenge of Stillness

 

While holding a pose in yoga class, time stretching out, muscles quivering, I heard my yoga teacher say, “It takes a lot of courage to be still”. Now, she was talking about physical stillness and staying at the limit of your stretch and the strength it can require to not move out of the sensation, to not run away or say, “I’ve had enough”. But of course I thought about the clients and the people I know who sometimes succumb to the self doubt that comes with those moments in life of being still.

 

 Much of our life is structured around the next steps. We go from grade to grade, we go from promotion to promotion. We are expected to go from dating to going steady, to engaged to married, parenthood...We learn to take comfort in knowing the next step, the thing we are supposed to be working toward. So what happens when there is no next step, when instead there is satisfaction? Rather than a happy sigh of relief, many people feel a gnawing sense of disquiet. How can it be ok to relate to friends, “not much has changed, thanks for asking”? Status quo happiness can make us very uncomfortable.

 

During this post holiday time when your life and schedule return to normal, it can be great to challenge yourself to notice how you respond to stillness in your life. If you focused a little less on changing or progressing would there be more time for enjoying? Does stillness gets labeled as boredom or laziness? What do you do when the project becomes maintaining what is working? Do you ever feel like you have to have something to fix or that you are yearning for the excitement that comes from disrupting the stable? How do you register growth without external milestones?

 

 In long term relationships there will be times of relative stillness. Times when there is little to report, no status updates to be made. In some ways, happy relationships are fairly private because there seems like there is not much to say. “We are great, happy”. It might be interesting to develop new ways to talk about being deeply satisfied. Maybe let a slow and genuine smile communicate for you. Life will be full of change again, no doubt. There will be times when you will have to strive for change, where there are clear mile-markers to hit as you go. If for the moment you are still and content, have the courage to be still and see what subtle lessons are there for you.

 

The invitation of compersion

 

Compersion is a term used in the polyamory community meaning to be happy seeing or thinking about your partner getting sexual pleasure with someone else. This is a challenging concept for a lot of people and you may find you had an immediate – What?*%?? No Way!  kind of response. That’s ok. Just stick with me for a moment to visit this idea.

We have accepted a cultural model that tells us that jealousy, especially sexual jealousy, is natural. Certainly for many of us jealousy has felt unavoidable and we see representations of it featured heavily in entertainment, music, reality TV. So it may be surprising to a lot of people to find that anthropologists have found many cultures, throughout history, where sexual jealousy was not common. In fact, in some communities people would consider a gesture of jealousy to be intrusive, unwelcome and disrespectful, rather than an act of love or passion as it is represented in our culture. Often these different mindsets seemed based around beliefs that sex is natural, love, affection, and sex are abundant and freely given, and that people are not in competition for limited resources or limited love.

So what if sexual jealousy is a learned mindset not a condition of being of human? What does that mean for you today? Well, maybe nothing.

Or maybe it means you get a bit curious about your own jealousy and where it comes from. Maybe you decide to explore the edges of jealousy and see if there are any shifts in how you feel. Maybe on the edges of your old jealousy there is room to be happy when your partner gets a lift from being flirted with at the coffee counter. Maybe there is room for looking forward to the nights your partner goes out dancing with friends and comes home filled up with sexy, playful energy from the full pulsing dancefloor. Maybe it becomes less scary to talk about your crushes or people you are attracted to or less painful to hear about past sexual relationships. Maybe you get more comfortable with your unexpected fantasies of seeing your partner play with someone else. And maybe the boundaries of your jealousy do not change at all, but maybe you have just explored them consciously a little more. Maybe you have more clarity about why your edges are there.

I believe it is good to know we have options. Compersion is an option. Knowing that other people experience compersion allows you to see that changing your relationship to jealousy is an option.

Resources

Ryan, C & Jetha, C. (2010) Sex at Dawn : How we mate, why we stray, and what it means for modern relationships. New York :Harper Perennial.

 

 

 

Opening Up Your Relationship : First Questions to Ask Yourself

In my practice, I talk to many people who are considering asking their partner about changing their relationship agreements from monogamy to an open relationship. This can be a fragile, vulnerable, exciting, insightful time for people and there is much to explore. I will be writing a series of articles about what to ask yourself, how to approach a partner, and things to consider before opening a relationship to multiple partners. This article, posted on YourTango.com, outlines some questions to ask yourself before you even begin a conversation with your current partner.

http://www.yourtango.com/experts/melissa-fritchle/opening-your-relationship-what-ask-yourself-expert