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Thursday, January 14, 2021

Relationships: What is Good Sex? Part 4: What is Synchrony Sex?

I've been focusing lately on the topic "What is Good Sex?" based on the work of psychologist Sue Johnson, who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT).  This article is the fourth in a series of articles on this topic, and the focus of this article is "Synchrony Sex" (see my prior articles: What is Good Sex? Part 1Part 2: Solace Sex and Part 3: Sealed Off Sex).

What is Synchrony Sex?


What is Synchrony Sex?
With synchrony sex, each person is open and emotionally vulnerable to their partner. They are emotionally attuned to one another.  

Whereas solace sex and sealed off sex are based on insecure attachment (e.g., an anxious or avoidant attachment style), synchrony sex is based a secure attachment style between the two people in a relationship (see my article: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).

Synchrony sex occurs between two people when the erotic and the emotional connection come together.  Generally, each person feels safe and secure so they can be open sexually and emotionally with one another.  

This openness allows the couple to bond with each other and opens up the possibility for sexual exploration and a tolerance for sexual differences that can often be negotiated (e.g., differences in terms of frequency of sex, sex acts, and so on).

Synchrony sex is associated with a healthy, committed relationship where emotional vulnerability between the two people increases the emotional intimacy in their relationship (see my article: Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Emotional Intimacy and What is the Difference Between Sex and Intimacy?).

Even in a relationship with secure attachment, there can still be problems with sex. But these problems are generally more easily worked through, as compared to couples who experience an insecure attachment, because there is a healthy emotional foundation (see my article: How to Talk to Your Spouse About Sex).

Clinical Vignette: Relationships: Synchrony Sex: Working Out Differences in Sexual Arousal
One common problem in many relationships is a difference in sexual arousal, as will be illustrated in the vignette below, which is a composite of many different cases:

Jane and Mark
After 10 years of marriage, Jane and Mark, in their early 40s, sought help in EFT Couples Therapy to work out issues in their sex life.  Generally, aside from the problems in their sexual relationship, they were happily married with three children. 

Both of them described happy childhoods where they each felt loved and secure in their family of origin.  As a result, they both developed a secure attachment style, which allowed them to develop a healthy relationship with each other.

They told their couples therapist that they were devoted to each other and their children.  Jane told the story of how passionate their sex life had been in the early days of their relationship.  

She recounted how they couldn't keep their hands off each other during the first few years of their relationship, and they spent their weekends making love. But, she said, right after their first child, even though she loved Mark more than ever, she no longer felt as sexual.  She still felt sexually attracted to Mark, but she didn't feel as sexual as she did in the past.

Mark told the therapist that in the early days of their relationship Jane was always ready to have sex, but now he felt she was only having sex to please him, and this was hurtful to him.  

As Jane listened to him, she nodded her head in agreement and she admitted that she often had sex with Mark to satisfy him.  She said sometimes she got into having sex once they started, but just as often she felt too tired for sex.

Throughout the couples therapy consultation, Jane and Mark held hands and frequently looked at each other with affection.  It was apparent to the couples therapist that they loved each other and they experienced a secure attachment style, but they needed to work out the differences in sexual arousal that had developed over time between them.

Mark also talked about not wanting to always be the one who initiated sex between them.  As Jane listened carefully, Mark looked at her affectionately and said he would like her to initiate sex sometimes.  

In response, Jane said she didn't feel as sexually attracted now, at age 42, as she once did when she was younger.  She told Mark that she was very aware that she had gained some weight and her body had changed so much after the birth of their three children, "I just don't feel so attractive and sexy anymore to initiate sex now."

"I never knew you felt this way.  I think you're more beautiful now than when we first met," Mark responded by squeezing Jane's hand.

Jane also said, somewhat shyly, that she sometimes experienced vaginal dryness, which made sexual intercourse uncomfortable at times, especially if she wasn't sexually aroused.  

Hearing this, Mark seemed surprised and said Jane had never told him how she felt about her body before.  He was also surprised that, until now, she felt too embarrassed to talk about it.  

In response, the couples therapist normalized Jane's experience of vaginal dryness. She  recommended that Jane speak with her gynecologist to rule out a medical problem.  She also recommended that the couple experiment with different types of lubrication.

After Jane saw her gynecologist and learned that her vaginal dryness is normal for her age, she and Mark began to use lubrication so that sex wasn't uncomfortable for Jane.  Over time, Jane also accepted that the changes in her body were normal.  

During their couples therapy sessions, Mark and Jane learned that many factors were contributing to the change in their sex life, including stress. Their couples therapist told them that it was normal for couples to experience a change in their sex life, especially after they have children, more responsibilities to contend with and more stress.

Over time, Mark and Jane took steps to improve their sex life.  They both worked on reducing their stress by exercising and meditating.  

They also did things to increase sexual anticipation and arousal--planning a romantic evening while their children stayed with Jane's parents, reading erotic passages to each other, talking about their sexual fantasies, and so on (see my article: Sex Tips For Men: How Men Can Be Better Sex Partners in Their Relationship).

Jane developed more of a curiosity about what turned her. Specifically, she learned to be more comfortable masturbating alone as well as with Mark to find out more about what she liked sexually.  

On the advice of her couples therapist and her medical doctor, Jane began working out.  She realized, once she started exercising regularly, that she felt more sexually aroused after doing aerobic exercise.  All that heart pumping exercise translated into more sexual passionate.  She and Mark also got curious about using sex toys and used them to spice things up and add variety to their sex life.

During their couples therapy sessions, Mark and Jane opened up more to talk about what each of them found pleasurable.  This new sense of openness was exciting for them.  Jane said she felt more sexually confident about initiating sex, especially after a good workout, and this pleased both of them.

Both of them said they were happier with their sex life than they had been since the early stage of their relationship.  Since they were happy in the other areas of their marriage, they successfully terminated couples therapy.

Conclusion
Compared to solace sex and sealed off sex, synchrony sex involves both an emotional attachment and an erotic dynamic.  The vignette about Jane and Mark illustrate how a couple can develop a dynamic of synchrony sex.

Even when a couple experiences a secure attachment in an otherwise healthy relationship, there can still be problems that develop along the way.

Since a relationship based on a secure attachment style has a healthy foundation, these sexual differences, whether it's differences in how each person experiences sexual arousal or other differences, can be worked out in couples therapy.  

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner need help to improve your sexual relationship, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional.  A skilled couples therapist can help you to develop a more satisfying sex life and a happier relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP and EFT couples therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.










 



Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Relationships: What is Good Sex? Part 3: What is Sealed Off Sex?

This is the third in a series of articles about what is good sex (see my prior articles:What is Good Sex - Part 1 and Part 2: What is Solace Sex?).  In this article, I'm focusing on what Dr. Sue Johnson, the psychologist who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT), describes as "sealed off sex."

What is Sealed Off Sex?


What is Sealed Off Sex?
Sealed off sex, as described by Dr. Johnson, is sex that is primarily associated with one-night stands or casual sex where novelty is primary (see my article: 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love).

The primary focus is on lust, sensation, sexual prowess and having an orgasm.  Generally, there is little to no emotional connection with sealed off sex.  However, there are times when a couple's relationship starts off being based on casual sex and it has the potential to develop into a deeper, more committed relationship. 

If the couple wants to develop a deeper, more committed relationship that goes beyond lust, they would need to work on developing emotional connection and vulnerability (see my article: Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Emotional Intimacy in Relationships). However, if only one person is interested in having a committed/monogamous relationship, there will be conflicts.

Clinical Vignette: Sealed Off Sex
The following clinical vignette, which is a composite of many cases, illustrates the dynamics of sealed off sex in a relationship:

Sam and Beth
When they first met through a dating app, neither Sam nor Beth were looking for a committed relationship.  Both of them were in their mid-30s and they each had just ended a prior long term relationship.

Initially, they both agreed that they weren't looking for a serious relationship, they were both dating other people, and when they got together, it was mostly for casual sex.  

But as time went on, Beth began to feel emotionally attached to Sam, and she no longer wanted to date other men.  Even though sex was passionate with Sam, Beth was no longer  happy to just hook up with him. She wanted more of an emotional connection with him, and it was becoming too painful to her that he was seeing other women.

Due to their initial agreement to keep things casual between them, Beth was hesitant to talk to Sam about being exclusive. But when she realized that she had fallen in love with him, she knew it would be increasingly painful for her to settle for just a physical relationship.  So, she broached the topic one day when he came over to see her (see my article: Dating: Is It Time For the Talk?).

As soon as Sam heard that Beth had developed deeper feelings for him and she wanted an exclusive relationship, he told her that this wasn't at all what he wanted.  He reminded her that he said from the start he wasn't ready to be in a relationship.

Beth wasn't surprised by Sam's response, but she was disappointed.  Knowing that it would only become more hurtful to continue seeing Sam under the circumstances, she told him that they should stop seeing each other.  Sam was disappointed and he told her that he had hoped they could continue to see each other as they had been, but he realized things had changed for Beth and he understood why she didn't want to see him anymore.

Over the next few weeks, Beth tried to avoid looking at Sam's social media accounts. Part of her didn't want to see pictures of him with other women, and another part of her was very curious.  But as soon as she saw pictures of him out with other women, she was overcome with sadness.

Sam didn't think he would miss Beth, but as time went on, he realized he was thinking about her a lot.  So, he called her and asked her to meet for coffee to talk things over, and she agreed.

As they sat facing each other in the coffee shop, Sam admitted that he missed her more than he anticipated.  He asked her, once again, if she would consider resuming their casual relationship without any commitments, and she reiterated that she wasn't comfortable doing this, so they were still at an impasse.

Over coffee, Sam told Beth that, even when he was in a committed relationship, he had been unfaithful to his girlfriend.  Originally, Sam had told Beth that he and his prior girlfriend grew apart and that's why they broke up.  But he now admitted that his prior girlfriend found out about his infidelity with many different women. He said she gave him a chance to change, but even though he loved his girlfriend, he couldn't stop seeing other women for casual sex, also known as sealed off sex, so his girlfriend left him.

As Beth listened to Sam talk about how he destroyed his prior relationship and she saw how ashamed he felt about his behavior in that relationship, she realized his problem was much worse than she had ever anticipated.  She also realized that if he couldn't be faithful in his prior five year relationship, he probably wouldn't be faithful with her.

Sam told her that he wanted to change because he realized he would have no chance of having a meaningful relationship if he couldn't stop philandering, but he had problems controlling his sexual urges.

Shortly after that conversation, Sam sought help in therapy where he began to work on the underlying issues, including unresolved trauma, involved with his sexual compulsivity.  He began to develop an understanding about how unresolved trauma can affect relationships).

After a few months of working on his underlying issues, Sam was able to make a commitment to Beth and they got back together.  In the meantime, he continued to work on his issues in therapy.

Conclusion
Sealed off sex is casual sex which is usually devoid of emotional connection.  

Although the vignette in this article involves sexual compulsivity, this doesn't mean that everyone who has casual sex is sexually compulsive.  

Many people enjoy casual sex and it's not a problem. However, for people who have problems because they experience their sexual behavior as out of control, sexual compulsivity with underlying trauma is a possibility that should be explored with an experienced mental health practitioner.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you are struggling with sexual problems, you're not alone, and you could benefit from seeking help from an experienced psychotherapist who can help you to work through your problems.

Taking the first step, setting up a consultation, is often the hardest, but it can also be the first step to transforming your life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more abut me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.



















Monday, January 11, 2021

Relationships: What is Good Sex? Part 2: What is Solace Sex?

In my prior article, What is Good Sex?, which was Part 1 of this topic, I began a discussion about three different types of sex, as defined by Sue Johnson, Ph.D., who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT).  In the current article, I'm focusing on solace sex.


What is Solace Sex?



What is Solace Sex?
Dr. Johnson defines solace sex as occurring when one or both partners are unsure and anxious about the relationship so they seek reassurance in their sex life together.

With solace sex there is a focus on gaining reassurance about the relationship by trying to please the other partner as a way of winning over their approval and through seeking physical proximity.

People who have an anxious attachment style often engage in solace sex.  Also, people with an anxious attachment style often unconsciously choose partners with an avoidant attachment style, so this exacerbates the problem (see my article: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).

With solace sex, there is an emphasis on cuddling and being affectionate rather than the more erotic aspects of sex.  In addition, the person with an anxious attachment style, who is insecure, is highly sensitive to any signs of rejection.  

For example, if their partner is too tired to have sex, they often experience catastrophic thoughts where they believe their partner doesn't love them and they try to pressure their partner to have sex to feel reassured that the partner cares for them (see my article:  Are You Catastrophizing?).

This often leads to more arguments and conflicts in the relationship, especially if the relationship is already unstable.

Clinical Vignette 1: Solace Sex in an Uncommitted, Unstable Relationship

Pam and Ed
When Pam and Ed, both in their mid-30s, first met at a party, they were drawn to each other immediately and they began dating soon after that.

From the beginning, Ed was upfront with Pam. He told her that he wasn't looking for a serious relationship--he only wanted a casual relationship with her.  He also let her know that he had never been monogamous in any of his prior relationships, and he was currently dating two other women. 

Although Pam didn't like that Ed was seeing other women, she believed she could eventually change his mind and convince him that she was the woman for him.  Whenever they got together, Pam felt it was an opportunity to change Ed's mind.  She would do everything she could to try to please him in terms of the way she dressed, the meals she made for him, and the little gifts she bought for him.  

During sex, Pam sought constant reassurance from Ed that he liked her, which annoyed Ed.  He couldn't understand why Pam needed so much reassurance.  

After a while, Ed realized that he was thinking about the two other women that he was dating whenever he was with Pam and wishing he was with one of them.  

Three months later, Ed felt tired and bored with the relationship. He told Pam that he didn't want to continue dating her.  When Pam heard this, she flew into a rage, and Ed left her apartment abruptly slamming the door behind him.

Eventually, they reconciled, but over the next six months, Pam and Ed had an on-again/off-again relationship (see my article:  The Heartbreak of the On Again/Off Again Relationship).  

The pattern was always the same: Pam wanted more from Ed than he wanted to give her.  She wanted a monogamous relationship and he wanted to continue to see other women.  The more they argued about this, the more these arguments eroded Pam's self confidence, which was low even before she began dating Ed.  

Whenever they got back together again after a breakup, they never discussed their differences about monogamy.  Instead, they brushed those issues under the rug, and they reconciled by having sex.  Whenever they had sex, Pam felt reassured--until the conflict about monogamy came up again, which led to another breakup.

Pam's friends could see that she had highs and lows in this relationship--mostly lows.  They told her that she would be happier if she dated someone who also wanted to be monogamous.  As they saw how unhappy Pam was with Ed, they couldn't understand why she pursued him after each breakup.  And they really couldn't understand why Pam found Ed so compelling.  

Pam and Ed in EFT Couples Therapy:
Although Ed was reluctant, Pam persuaded him to go with her to EFT couples therapy.  

After the first session, the couples therapist told them that they each wanted something different--Pam wanted to be monogamous and Ed didn't.  She pointed out that, even though they kept coming back together after their frequent breakups, their problems hinged on this issue and they were far apart on it.  She told them that, as long as they were so far apart on the issue of monogamy, she didn't see how couples therapy could help them because what they wanted was so fundamentally different.  She recommended individual therapy for each of them.  

Soon after that, when Ed broke up with Pam again and he refused to reconcile, Pam entered into individual therapy to try to understand why she stayed in such an unstable relationship.  In her individual therapy, Pam learned that her unresolved childhood trauma in an unstable family drew her to Ed.  She also saw that she had a tendency to seek out men who were emotionally unavailable.  She worked on resolving her trauma in individual therapy so she wouldn't continue to repeat this pattern.  

Ed never sought individual therapy for himself. He was content being nonmonogamous and sought out women who were only interested in casual relationships.  Even though these relationships didn't last long, Ed felt comfortable going from one relationship to the next.

Clinical Vignette 2: Solace Sex in a Committed Relationship

Liz and Joe
Liz and Joe were both single and in their early 40s when they met.  During the first six months of their relationship, they had an active sex life together, and they agreed to be monogamous.  

Liz preferred cuddling with Joe and she often wanted reassurances from him that he cared about her and that he found her attractive. At first, Joe didn't mind that Liz needed so much reassurance, but after a while, he was getting tired of it.  He couldn't understand why Liz needed to hear him tell her every time they were together that he cared for her and that she was beautiful.  He felt Liz was nagging him about this.  He also didn't like to cuddle all the time, but he did it because he knew that if he didn't, Liz would become anxious and she would begin to have doubts about his feelings for her.  

By the time they were together for six months, Joe had taken on a second job to pay off his debt, so he was often tired when he saw Liz on the weekends.  He was especially tired on Friday nights after a long work week.  As a result, he was often too tired to have sex on Friday nights and suggested they have sex on Saturday morning.  

Initially, Joe didn't think Liz would mind because, after all, they would be together all weekend.  So when Liz reacted angrily and accused him of not caring about her anymore, he was very surprised.  

He thought Liz was overreacting and he tried to reassure her that his feelings hadn't changed--he was just tired.  But nothing he said helped to soothe Liz, and after a while he felt Liz was being inconsiderate and too demanding.   

As time went on, Joe wondered if he wanted to spend so much time with Liz.  His preference would have been to spend less time together because, compared to Liz, he needed much more down time (see my article: Compromising About Time Together and Time Apart).  

But when he told her this, she became highly anxious and upset, and Joe felt himself withdrawing from her emotionally.  And, as is typical in the dynamic between a person with an anxious attachment style (Liz) and a person with an avoidant attachment style (Joe), the more he withdrew from her, the more she pursued him.

Liz and Joe in EFT Couples Therapy: 
Liz and Joe exemplify a typical dynamic with solace sex.  Liz has an anxious attachment style and Joe has more of an avoidant attachment style.

As such, Liz needed a lot of reassurance from Joe that he cared about her and she sought this reassurance through solace sex.  

She was the emotional and sexual pursuer in the relationship and he was the withdrawer.  After a while, the more she pursued, the more overwhelmed he felt and the more he withdrew from her.

Even though they had problems, Liz and Joe were both committed to their relationship.  Neither of them wanted to see other people.  So, when they realized they weren't able to resolve their problems on their own, they sought help in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT).

Their EFT couples therapist helped Liz and Joe to see the negative cycle in their relationship.  Rather than fighting with each other, they learned to pull together to change their relationship dynamic. They each realized that they were repeating a cycle that was part of their family of origin history.  

Liz learned to recognize her catastrophic thinking and, rather than accusing Joe of not caring for her, she calmed herself first and then she was able to approach Joe to tell him what she needed from him.  She also learned not to take it personally if he was too tired to have sex.

When Joe felt less pressured, he felt more drawn to Liz.  Rather than withdrawing from her, Joe was more affectionate, even when he was too tired to have sex.  

In addition, they were able to compromise more about spending time together versus spending time apart, so Joe was able to have more down time, and Liz stopped feeling insecure about Joe's need for time for himself.

Working together in couples therapy, they were able to change their relationship dynamic so they had a more satisfying relationship.  

Conclusion
In the vignettes above, the people with the anxious attachment style who sought out solace sex were women.  They were the pursuers in their relationship and the men were the withdrawers with more of an avoidant attachment style.  However, even though pursuers are usually women and withdrawers are usually men in heterosexual relationships, there are also male pursuers and female withdrawers.

As previously mentioned, people who seek out solace sex usually feel anxious and insecure in their relationships.  This is exacerbated by the fact they often unconsciously choose partners who are less emotionally available, which often repeats a family of origin dynamic.

In unstable relationships, as in the vignette about Pam and Ed, the pursuer (Pam) often finds the instability of the relationship to be compelling--even though, at the same time, the pursuer is trying very hard to get her emotional needs met.  

An insecure attachment, like an anxious attachment style, which develops at an early age, contributes to this dynamic.  The more the pursuer pursues the withdrawer, who has an avoidant attachment style, the more the withdrawer distances himself.  And the more he distances, the more she pursues, which leads to ongoing problems.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples helps couples, who are committed to each other, to understand the negative cycle in their relationship so they can work on changing the cycle.  Rather than blaming each other, they learn to work together to improve their relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner are having problems you haven't been able to resolve on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from an experienced psychotherapist.

Research has shown that EFT Couples therapy is an effective evidence-based couples therapy that has helped many couples to resolve their problems.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health practitioner who is skilled in helping people overcome their relationship problems.

About Me
I am a licensed psychotherapist, EFT couples therapist, hypnotherapist, AEDP, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist in NYC (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.





Friday, January 1, 2021

Relationships: What is Good Sex? Part 1

According to Dr. Sue Johnson, who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (also known as EFT), there are three types of sex in relationships: Synchrony sex, sealed off sex, and solace sex.  I'll be exploring each of these dynamics in this article (see my articles: What's the Difference Between Sex and Intimacy?).


Relationships: What is Good Sex?


What is Good Sex?
Sexual attraction draws us to a potential partner.  During the initial stage of a relationship, sex is often exciting and passionate (see my article: The 5 Stages of a Relationship: From Attraction to Commitment).

But a relationship changes over time, which includes the sexual dynamics.  So how do you develop and maintain good sex?

Popular culture usually isn't helpful to understand what good sex is all about. Images on TV, in movies and social media often portray "good sex" as being compelling--both people are often portrayed as automatically ready to jump into bed with little or no foreplay.  

While this might work for most men, we know that many women need foreplay to get sexually aroused.  Also, there is little information about good sex being a combination of emotional connection and eroticism. 

The 3 Types of Sex in a Relationship
So let's start by defining the three types of sex:

Synchrony Sex:  
In synchrony sex, each person is open and emotionally vulnerable to their partner. They are emotionally attuned to one another.  

This is the kind of sexual dynamic between two people where the erotic and the emotional connection come together.  

Each person feels safe and secure so they can be open sexually and emotionally with one another.  

This openness allows the couple to bond with each other and opens up the possibility for sexual exploration and a tolerance for sexual differences (e.g., differences in terms of frequency, sex acts, and so on).

This is the type of sex that is associated with a healthy, committed relationship (see my article: Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Emotional Intimacy).

Solace Sex:
With solace sex, one or both people feel insecure about the relationship and need a lot of reassurance.

Along with insecurity, there is anxiety and a sensitivity to rejection or perceived rejection.

As part of the need for reassurance, there is more of a focus on cuddling and being affectionate as well as sex.  All of these insecurities can lead to catastrophic thinking when a partner says, "I don't feel like having sex tonight" or "I'm tired. Can we try tomorrow morning?" To an insecure partner, this means that their partner doesn't care about them, which can lead to arguments or a breakup.

Sealed Off Sex:
With sealed off sex, the focus is primarily on having an orgasm. 

This is usually the kind of sex associated with a one-night stand or casual sex where novelty is important. 

The focus is on sensation and sexual prowess.  There is a lack of emotional attunement and connection in this type of sex.  

Sealed off sex can be fun at times in a relationship, but if this is the predominant form of sex in a committed relationship, the couple also needs to develop the emotional connection and the mutuality necessary for a committed relationship to survive (see my article: 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love).

In future articles, I'll provide a more detailed exploration of this topic.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner are struggling in your relationship, you could benefit from getting help from an experienced psychotherapist.

Rather than struggling on your own, you and your partner can learn to change the dynamics in your relationship so you can have a healthier and happy relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.


Tuesday, December 29, 2020

How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out The Differences in Their Relationship to Have a Happier Sex Life - Part 2

In Part 1 of this article about sexual pursuers and withdrawers, I described the dynamics in a relationship where one partner, the sexual pursuer, tends to want and pursue more sex than the sexual withdrawer.  I also provided steps that each person can take, as either the pursuer or the withdrawer, to improve their relationship.  In this article I'm providing a clinical vignette to illustrate the dynamics that I discussed in the previous article.

How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out the Differences in Their Relationship

As I mentioned in Part 1, an emotional pursuer in a relationship can be a sexual withdrawer in the same relationship and an emotional withdrawer can be a sexual pursuer in the same relationship.  

Also, both men and women can be either sexual pursuers or sexual withdrawers. However, when it comes to emotional pursuers and withdrawers, most of the time women are the emotional pursuers and men are the emotional withdrawers.

Clinical Vignette: A Relationship With a Sexual Pursuer and a Sexual Withdrawer 
Amy and John, who were in their mid-40s, were married for 15 years and they had two teenage sons who lived with them.  For the last six months, Amy, who was the sexual pursuer in their relationship, was complaining to John, who tended to be sexual withdrawer, because he often wasn't in the mood for sex.  

Whenever Amy attempted to initiate sex with John, he told her that he was too tired and stressed out from his new job at a corporate law firm.  He worked very long hours, and he was also expected to work most  nights and weekends, which left very little time for the couple. 

Amy loved her job as a director at a major New York City museum.  Whereas John often came home feeling exhausted and depleted, Amy usually came home feeling invigorated by her work.  She would come home feeling inspired and she wanted to talk about her day, but ever since John started his new job, he came home anxious and irritable, and he still had several more hours of work to do after he got home.  

Amy felt lonely and sad because John was so immersed in and exhausted from his work.  Before John started at his new job, they usually spent time in bed on Sunday mornings while their sons were at soccer practice.  This used to be their private time when they cuddled and made love.  

However, since he began his new job, John preferred to sleep late on Sundays.  Even at the beginning of their relationship, he tended to take longer to get sexually aroused as compared to Amy, who, as previously mentioned, was usually the one to initiate sex.  

A year into their marriage, Amy suggested that John have his testosterone level checked and, sure enough, his testosterone level was low, which helped explain why he often wasn't as sexually aroused as Amy and he usually didn't initiate sex.  Even though it took him longer than Amy to get sexually aroused, he was usually responsive to Amy's sexual initiation, and they both eventually accepted that she was the sexual pursuer in their relationship.  

But since his workload and stress increased, John had almost no interest in sex, and the things that Amy used to do that got John turned on no longer worked.  Moreover, whenever Amy tried to talk to John about it, he got angry and told Amy that she wasn't being understanding.

During this same time period, Amy hired a new consultant, Bill, for a six month project.at her museum.  Amy and Bill began to work closely together on a museum project, and they were spending a lot of time together, including afterwork dinners.  

Since John hardly ever wanted to hear about what was going on at her museum, Amy was happy to finally have someone to talk to about her projects.  She also liked that they had so much in common and he shared her enthusiasm for the work. 

Bill was very handsome and charming, and Amy realized she was attracted to him immediately, and she realized that he was attracted to her too.  But she wasn't worried that she would cross the boundary from colleagues to lovers.  She knew that in 15 years of marriage, neither she nor John had ever been unfaithful and she had no intention of getting involved with Bill.  

Then one night over dinner and drinks Bill confided in Amy that his relationship with his girlfriend was on the rocks and he felt lonely.  He told Amy that his girlfriend, who lived with him, never wanted to move to New York City when he was offered the consulting position with the museum, and he thought they were headed for a breakup.  

Amy listened compassionately.  Then she confided in Bill that she was also concerned about her marriage to John, and Bill reached over and held her hand.  At that point, Amy realized that they were crossing over into potentially risky territory, and she tactfully removed her hand from his.

The next day when Amy was in her therapy session, she told her psychotherapist that she was worried about the mutual attraction with Bill.  After Amy described the situation to her therapist, her therapist told Amy that it appeared she and Bill were on the verge of having an emotional affair (see my article:  Are You Having an Emotional Affair?).  

Amy's therapist recommended that Amy set better professional boundaries with Bill.  She also recommended that Amy and John attend couples therapy to deal with their nonexistent sex life.

Two weeks later, Amy and John began Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples.  After a while, they began to have a better understanding of their relationship dynamics.  Their couples therapist did an assessment of each of their sexual histories as well as their sexual history as a couple.  

When asked, John explained that he still found Amy attractive, but he just couldn't muster the energy to have sex. He said that when Amy told him that she wanted to attend couples therapy, it was a wake up call for him and he didn't want his marriage to fall apart.

Listening to John talk about his work stress and anxiety, Amy felt a new sense of empathy and compassion for him.  Her attitude towards him softened and she reached out to touch his arm to comfort him.

During their sessions, John acknowledged that his libido was low due to his low level of testosterone, and, whereas he had been unwilling to take medication before, he now agreed to take medication.

John also made an important decision that, although he liked the fact that he was earning a lot more money on his new job, he didn't feel the extra money was worth the negative impact it was having on his marriage.  So, he approached his former boss, who had told John that he could return to the company if things didn't work out at his new job, and told his boss that he wanted to return.

In addition to taking the medication to increase his libido and returning to his old job, which was much less stressful, John began to initiate sex more with Amy.  Although she was still the one who got turned on more easily, she was patient with John and allowed him to take the lead more often in their lovemaking.  

A few months later, their couples therapist suggested that they had made progress in therapy and they no longer needed to attend sessions, and John and Amy agreed.

Conclusion
It's not unusual for there to be differences in sexual arousal, desire and willingness to have sex between two people in a relationship.

Whereas the sexual pursuer is usually the one who is more easily aroused sexually and tends to be the one who initiates sex, the sexual withdrawer often takes longer, for a variety of reasons, to get sexually aroused and initiates less often.

The sexual pursuer is usually the one who wants to work on their sex life (and, often, the relationship, in general).  Unlike the vignette above, sometimes, if the sexual pursuer pushes the withdrawer too hard, the withdrawer will retreat even more and then they get stuck in a negative cycle where each person's actions exacerbates the other person's emotions and behavior.

If both people are willing to work out these issues in couples therapy, they can learn about their relationship dynamics and make changes to improve their sex life.

Getting Help in Therapy 
If you and your partner are having problems in your relationship and you have been unable to work out these issues on your own, you could both benefit from seeking help in therapy.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (also known as EFT) is a well-researched and evidence-based therapy.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an EFT couples therapist so you can have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.










Monday, December 28, 2020

How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out Their Differences in Their Relationship to Have a Happier Sex Life - Part 1


How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out Their Differences

In this article, my focus is on relationships where one partner is more interested in sex (the pursuer) and one partner is less interested (the withdrawer) and how they can work out their differences so they can have a happier sex life.  

It's not unusual in a relationship for there to be one person who is more interested in sex than the other (see my article:  Overcoming Sexual Incompatibility).  

Alternatively, even when there's a couple where both people are equally matched in terms of desire, there might be times in the relationship when one person feels less sexual.  So, this is something that needs to get worked out.

In prior articles, I've discussed the concept of pursuers and withdrawers in terms of emotional intimacy in relationships as opposed to sexual relations (see my article: How Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT) Can Help Emotional Pursuers  and How Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) Can Help Withdrawers (also known as Distancers).

It's important to keep in mind that emotional pursuers and withdrawers in the same relationship can be different from sexual pursuers and withdrawers.  Someone who is an emotional pursuer isn't necessarily a sexual pursuer.  The same person who is an emotional pursuers might be a sexual withdrawer in the same relationship.  Likewise for emotional withdrawers--an emotional withdrawer in a relationship might be a sexual pursuer in the same relationship.

In addition, most people tend to think of sexual pursuers as being men and sexual withdrawers as being women.  But this isn't necessarily the case--a woman can be a sexual pursuer and a man can be a sexual withdrawer.

What Can A Sexual Pursuer Do to Improve Their Sexual Relationship With a Sexual Withdrawer?
Pursuers, whether they're emotional or sexual pursuers, usually have good intentions.  They often seek sex with their partner because they want to connect with their partner.

But when their partner, who is a sexual withdrawer, says they're not interested in sex, pursuers often feel rejected by their partner.  Then, add to this that the pursuer might attach a particular meaning to the rejection (i.e., they're not attractive or they're just too sexually demanding) that the other partner often doesn't mean.

If the pursuer is pushing for sex with their partner and the pursuer's need is for sexual satisfaction, the pursuer first needs to recognize that the withdrawer's rejection is probably not about lack of attraction.  It just might be that their partner isn't in the mood, and it probably doesn't have much to do with the pursuer.  However, it might trigger old feelings for the pursuer that they're "not good enough" or "not lovable."  So, the pursuer needs to step back and get curious about why their partner isn't engaging when the pursuer wants sex.  

So, rather than having tunnel vision and being emotionally reactive, the pursuer can be calm, take things less personally, and try to understand what's going on for the partner.  Also, sometimes pursuers pile on their partner by being critical or judgmental, but that's counterproductive to the relationship.

If it's a matter of wanting to connect with a partner, the sexual pursuer can find other ways to connect.  This might mean cuddling with the partner or finding other ways to connect emotionally.

If it's a matter of experiencing sexual satisfaction, the sexual pursuer can engage in self pleasure/masturbation with their partner holding them.  So, the pursuer experiences sexual satisfaction and also connects with their partner without being emotionally reactive to their partner.

What Can a Sexual Withdrawer Do to Improve Their Sexual Relationship With a Sexual Pursuer?
Sexual withdrawers usually don't want sex as often as their partner, but there are things they can do to improve things sexually in their relationship.

As I mentioned above, rather than being emotionally reactive or shutting down emotionally, calming down, being present, and getting curious about the other partner's experience is a much better approach.  

Many people, who are less sexually responsive than their partner, can get in the mood for sex if they're open to it.  Often when people start out not being in the mood, they can become sexually aroused and engaged once they start being sexual--whether they begin by kissing their partner, thinking about other times when they were sexually aroused, fantasizing, and so on.  

Rather than being judgmental towards a pursuer, the withdrawer can recognize that their partner isn't wrong for wanting more sex.  

If a withdrawer is too exhausted or not feeling well enough to have sex, they can be supportive of their partner's need for sex.  So, for instance, they can hold their partner and be present for them while their partner engages in self pleasure/masturbation.

In my next article, I'll provide a clinical vignette to illustrate the points I discussed in this article.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner have tried without success to resolve your problems on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from an experienced psychotherapist.  

Rather than struggling on your own, you and your partner can work with a skilled psychotherapist who understands the dynamics of pursuers and withdrawers in a relationship and can help you to work out your problems so you can have a happier relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.








Saturday, December 26, 2020

What's the Difference Between Sex and Intimacy?

Many people use the words "intimacy" and "sex" interchangeably. They talk about being intimate when what they really mean is being sexual. But even though there's often a connection between being emotionally intimate and being sexual, these two expressions aren't synonymous, so the purpose of this article is to understand these terms better and understand how differing needs can create problems (see my article: Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Emotional Intimacy).


What's the Difference Between Sex and Intimacy?


What is Emotional Intimacy in a Committed Relationship?
Emotional intimacy in a committed relationship occurs when two people can be open, emotionally vulnerable, and experience an emotional connection with one another.  

In addition to sharing their hopes and dreams, two people in an emotionally intimate relationship also share their more vulnerable side--their fears, failures, embarrassing moments, and traumatic experiences.  

To be able to share themselves in this vulnerable way, there must be a high level of trust that these vulnerabilities won't be used against them in an argument or shared inappropriately with others.  

Emotional intimacy doesn't happen overnight.  It develops over time in a committed relationship.  It's a process.  As two people in a relationship get to know one another, they learn to take emotional risks with each other as love and trust develop.  

What's the Difference Between Sex and Intimacy?
For two people, who have access to their emotions, sex often provides a way to connect on a physical as well as a deep emotional level.  However, for people who are mostly cut off from their emotions, sex is primarily a physical act and lacks depth and emotional connection.

This is, of course, a generalization and there are gradations of experience.  But for the purpose of distinguishing sex and intimacy, it's obvious that sex and intimacy aren't the same thing.  

For people who are primarily cut off from their emotions, sex in a relationship can be primarily about lust or it can be a way to relieve stress, anxiety, loneliness or other uncomfortable experiences (see my article: 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love).

Sex can provide a temporary respite from emotional discomfort, but that comfort doesn't last. But when sex is combined with emotional intimacy, two people often experience a deep, loving connection.

This doesn't mean that a loving couple always wants this level of emotional intensity.  There can be times when sex can be more playful or flirtatious or focused on lust.

Intimacy Doesn't Always Involve Sex
Although the combination of sex and emotional intimacy can be powerful, there are many ways to be emotionally intimate that don't always involve sex: Cuddling in front of a fireplace, kissing, sharing deeply personal experiences, and so on, can also be emotionally intimate.

Differences in Comfort With Intimacy
Two people in a relationship can differ in terms of how comfortable each of them feels with various levels of intimacy.  One partner might want deeper and more frequent experiences of emotional intimacy while the other partner might not want such a deep, intimate committed connection (see my articles: Emotional Pursuers and Emotional Distancers).

Over time, this is something that will have to be negotiated between the two people if they are to remain together.

Sex as a Prerequisite for Intimacy vs Intimacy as a Prerequisite for Sex
Whereas some people feel sex is a prerequisite for emotional intimacy, other people need to feel an intimate emotional connection first before they become sexual with their partners.  

There is no right or wrong way involved with either of these needs.  What's important is that each person understand their own wants and needs as well as the wants and needs of their partner, and they work together to satisfy each of their needs.

Problems With Sex or Intimacy in a Relationship
Since two people can have very different ways of connecting sexually and emotionally, misunderstandings often develop.

For example, as mentioned above, if one person needs sex to feel emotionally intimate and the other person needs emotional intimacy to have sex, a couple can get stuck in ongoing conflicts about these issues.

Similarly, conflict can develop if one partner tends to withdraw emotionally when the other partner pursues a deeper emotional connection.

Getting Help in Therapy
The issues mentioned in this article are common problems.

If you and your partner are having problems, you can work through these problems with the help of an experienced psychotherapist (see my article: Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT): Are You Reaching For Each Other or Turning Away?).

With the right help, you and your partner can have a more loving and fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.