Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Hello to all my readers. I’m posting this 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.
Your therapist needs to be comfortable asking you about sex or sexuality issues
It’s important for your therapist to welcome discussions of sex and sexuality as part of therapy. There are many reasons why this is important, but the main 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 involved in revealing our desires, our preferences, wishes, and fantasies, particularly to someone we really care about. Many of us falsely believe that if we tell our lover what we want, they might leave. This would then confirm what we feared all along, that loneliness is inevitable. If they do leave after we share something vulnerable, we ask ourselves “Was it worth it to tell?” To avoid that risk, many people decide not to reveal their secret desires or hidden truths.
This is understandable. Emotional vulnerability and sexual intimacy are risky business. We all know it.
But the shadow side of not revealing our true self emerges months, years, or even decades later. Symptoms may include: 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, and a deep need to explore possibilities you compromised away. A life lived without emotional vulnerability eventually feels dull and empty. A relationship lived that way is devastatingly lonely.
Revealing yourself to your partner promotes personal growth
There is a personal growth process involved in becoming able to reveal yourself to another person. There you are with your lover, full of hopes and dreams of what sexual intimacy can be. Are there truths about yourself that you are willing to share with your lover? What do you long to tell them, but are afraid of sharing? Are you able to encourage them to tell you about their preferences and desires? Compare this with 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?
Many of us fear disclosing personal truths or deep desires. 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. Not disclosing is also risky, but the risks are different. The ultimate risk of not disclosing is ending up with a partner you can’t trust or living an inauthentic life.
You need to be connected as well as protected
Would you like to learn to be more vulnerable and to more deeply connect, with less fear? You can learn to audition your lovers for signs of being wonderful partners. Don’t look for how similar you are, but by observe how kind they are when you are different from each other. Learn to check how they can listen even when it is hard, and how encouraging they are when you reveal vulnerable truths about your sexual preferences. You can learn to say “no” in loving and respectful ways.
Of course, you also need to challenge yourself so you become what you want in a partner. Learn to be the change you want to see in them. You need to learn to be someone who practices the following skills:
- practicing sexual intimacy
- listening without judgment
- holding steady when the going gets rough
- admitting your part in the problem
- being patient while exploring finicky orgasmic response
- staying with the discomfort of the conversation about pornography
- staying loving despite your differences
- show love through curiosity. A pithy saying from Peter Pearson is “Be curious instead of furious”.
These are many of the skills you need to practice daily, so you can become a connected partner while remaining protected at the same time. Pick one of them which applies to you & get practicing! We get better at using skills with repeated, frequent & deliberate practice. The reality about progress in any skill is that there are no shortcuts to improvement.
The differentiation process
Practicing the above skills is the meeting point between sexual relationships, personal growth, and therapy. This is a developmental process called differentiation of self. It’s a three-part process:
- Learning to figure out what you think, feel, need and prefer.
- Learning to share it with another person, even if you think they may not feel comfortable hearing it.
- Learning to remain grounded and present when they share something vulnerable about themselves that 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.