Happy new year to all my readers. I’m kicking off this year with a guest blog by Martha Kauppi, founder of the Institute for Relational Intimacy in Madison, Wisconsin, USA. She talks about the links between sexual intimacy, vulnerability & effective communication and how learning to deal well with these topics leads to personal growth.
Martha is a skilled therapist and educator, so for the therapists who subscribe to my newsletter, I’d highly recommend doing Martha’s online course “Assessing and Treating Sex Issues in Psychotherapy”. Her course, in addition to my previous trainings in addressing sexual issues in therapy, enabled me to become a fully accredited sex therapist with the Australian Society of Sex Educators Researchers and Therapists, also known as ASSERT.
Here are Martha’s thoughts about the need to address sexual issues with the help of a competently trained therapist. You can read her original blog on this page.
“I strongly believe it’s important for your therapist to welcome discussions of sex and sexuality as part of the material of therapy. There are many reasons this is important, but the foremost one is that sexual intimacy is vulnerability, and intimate vulnerability is a powerful path to personal growth.
Sexual relationships require us to reveal our deepest selves from within the “dangerous safety” of another’s arms. We all have a deep awareness of the dangers inherent in revealing our desires, our preferences, wishes, and fantasies, particularly to someone we really care about. If we tell our lover what we want, they might leave, confirming what we feared all along, that loneliness is inevitable. And we ask ourselves in retrospect, was it worth it, that telling? To avoid that risk, many people decide not to reveal their secret desires or hidden truths.
This is understandable. Emotional vulnerability is risky business. We all know it.
But the shadow side of that seemingly safe decision emerges months, years, or decades later. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, deep unmet longings, intense unfulfilled wishes, depression, loneliness, a flat sex life, unethical flirtations that bloom into unethical relationships, an impulse to run away to pursue long-abandoned dreams, an irrepressible need to explore possibilities previously compromised away. A life lived without emotional vulnerability eventually tends to feel dull and empty; a relationship lived that way, devastatingly lonely.
There is a personal growth process involved in becoming able to reveal yourself to another. There you are with your lover, full of hopes and dreams of what an intimate relationship can be. What truths about yourself might you be willing to share with your lover? What might you long to tell, but feel afraid of sharing? What might you be able to encourage them to tell you about their preferences and desires? Consider a conversation about where to go for dinner. Would you like to be able to talk about orgasm, masturbation or pornography in the same way?
Can you relate to the fear of disclosing personal truths or deep desires? Not disclosing is also risky, but the risks are different. The risk of disclosure is having to manage your response to your partner’s emotional response, or in the worst case, possibly even being left. But the ultimate risk of not disclosing is ending up with the wrong partner or living an inauthentic life.
What if we could learn to be more vulnerable (and from there to more deeply connect) with less fear? We might audition our lovers for signs of being wonderful partners – not by looking for how similar we are and can become, but by observing how kind they are when we are different, how able they are to listen even when it is hard, and how encouraging they are able to be when we reveal vulnerable truths about our sexual preferences. We might learn to say “no” in loving and respectful ways.
Of course, we would then need to challenge ourselves to be what we want in a partner: someone who listens without judgment, holds steady when the going gets rough, admits their part in the problem, is patient while exploring finicky orgasmic response, stays with the discomfort of the conversation about pornography, keeps loving despite differences and shows love through curiosity.
This is exactly the intersection between sexual relationships, personal growth, and therapy. It is differentiation of self, a term I use often both in my work with clients. It describes a three-part project:
- becoming able to figure out what you think, feel, need, prefer…
- becoming able to share it with another person, even if you think they might not feel comfortable hearing it…
- becoming able to remain grounded and present when they share something vulnerable about themselves you might not feel comfortable hearing. This is the foundation for maintaining a deep intimate connection over time”.
You deserve the best trained relationship coaches if you’re planning to invest time and money in your relationship. If you’re not ready to book an appointment, call us on 0421 961 687 to book a FREE 15 minute phone consultation to discuss how we may be able to assist you.