NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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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 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.

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 (917) 742-2624 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

I've been focusing on sex in relationships in my recent articles (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex).

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 (see Part 2 of this topic).

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 (917) 742-2624 or email me.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

What's the Difference Between Sexual and Emotional 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 (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.