Sometimes, sexual problems cause the relationship to become unhapppy. And sometimes unhappy relationships can create sexual problems.
Sometimes, living busy lives, managing careers, having children, not finding time for each other can be a cause for couples to slowly drift apart. Some couples can't remember what was once so attractive about their partner.
Being in an unhappy relationship can be very difficult because it can make life miserable.
The most common problems for couples are:
Recovering after an affair and infidelity
An affair shakes a relationship at its core, causing a lot of damage. For some couples, the affair marks the end of the relationship. For other couples, it can be an opportunity to heal, re-assess the relationship, find the areas in the relationship that needs growth and start to rebuild a new relationship.
At the point of disclosure or discovery of an affair, the current relationship is finished, but a new one can emerge from the ruins.
If you decide that you want to end the relationship, a short course a couples counselling can be helpful to separate in a therapeutic way which can be helpful for both partners. Individual therapy may be recommended so that the two of you have your own space to process your intense emotions and thought patterns to help you come to informed choices on how you want the next step in your life to be.
If you decide that you want to repair the relationship, a journey of healing and growth is possible. There are three stages to repairing a relationship after an affair:
1- Be together with the damage. The first step to healing is for the two of you to be with the damage. It is a very painful place to be but it is an essential step. At this initial stage of recovery, I will guide the betrayer to take full responsibility for the hurt and damage so that there is space for the betrayed to heal the wounds. Essentially, it is almost like putting the scaffolding onto a building that needs much repair. This first stage can last many months. Healing a broken heart takes time and cannot be rushed.
2- Understanding. The Second stage is understanding: putting together the pieces of the whole history of the relationship and identify what did happen in the past that set up the stage for an affair to happen: sometimes, there are previously unidentified deficits in the relationship, sometimes it is that the relationship didn’t grow as the partners aged and became an ‘outdated’ relationship. Sometimes it can be a slow relationship burn-out for specific or non-specific reasons. Understanding the narrative of the relationship isn’t a way to excuse the damaging and dishonest behaviours of the betrayer, it is a stage that encourages reflection and collaboration, instead.
3- Re-building. The last stage is the rebuilding stage. The relationship is over at the point of the discover or disclosure. So, after healing the broken heart and understanding the narrative, you can be ready for rebuilding as a couple. It is also a stage that can take many months: it takes time to consciously look at every pieces of the relationship and deciding which ones you are going to use to rebuild and which are no longer suitable and needs to be discarded.
Trust is one of the essential element of a relationship that gets destroyed at the moment of disclosure or discovery of an affair. Trust will take a long time to heal and may not be re-established until the very end of therapy.
The three stages guideline means that there is a particular process of post-affair recovery, however, every couple has its own unique process within the recovery process, and the stages can be overlapping. Other therapeutic interventions may be needed to add to the process.
Healing and rebuilding a relationship after an affair is a deep, painful and courageous process. It is also the ultimate testimony of a couple’s commitment for growth and love.
My practice of Couples Therapy for healing after an affair is non-judgemental, non-shaming and open-minded. I am fully trained with extensive experience to help you both in your post-affair recovery.
Difference in sexual desires
First, I say to couples that it is usual. I also acknowledge the pain that it causes. The person wanting more sex often feels rejected, unloved or undesired. The person wanting less sex often feels irritated by the sexual demands of their partner, they can feel that their partner is pestering them, they often become avoidant of any touch or kind words for fear that their partner will take the wrong hint that would lead to an expectation of sex.
The result is a relationship that feels distant, cold and, as time passes, more and more hopeless.
There are many things you can do to resolve the situation:
1- Medical/ hormonal investigation. Low sex drive can be caused by low testosterone. A high sex drive can be the result of high testosterone. Checking your levels can be a good idea to identify if your problem can be resolved medically.
2- Communication factor. Develop a sexual language in your day to day life to maintain a sense of the erotic. For example swap: ‘You look good in those jeans’ with ‘you look sexy in those jeans’. An important rule to follow is: no expectation of sex. It means that both partner can be free to play with a sexual language without the anxiety of having sex.
3- The importance of touch. Following the same rule of no sex expectation: you can be free to learn to touch each other’s body and re-discover it without the anxiety to have sex. Be curious about the areas of your body and your partner’s body that are sensitive and bring pleasure. Even if you get aroused, you can stay with the sensual play without having sex. Take some time to stay sensual, and build up an anticipation for sex. You can also use sex toys to enhance the experience of touch.
4- Sharing sexual fantasies. This can be harder than you may think. Many people struggle to do so. We usually keep our fantasies in our private world. You may have sexual fantasies that you are curious to try out in reality, and you may have other sexual fantasies that you do not wish to try. Both are ok. Getting to know each other’s erotic world can be a fun and exciting adventure.
5- Honest conversation about what you like and don’t like in sex. So often, couples have sex without talking honestly about it. It can lead to some awkwardness and even make people avoid sex. They might be parts of your body that you don’t like to be touched. Or there may be a specific sexual activity that is a no-go for you.
6- The meaning of sex. It has a massive influence on our sex drive and how we have sex. For some, sex means entertainment: it doesn’t matter if it is sex with a loved one or a stranger, it is a pleasurable experience. For some other people, sex is a pathway to deep connection, an expression of love. Some people have negative meanings of sex: they think that sex is dirty, or it is somewhat wrong. Or there can be a lot of shame in someone’s erotic world. Having an exploration and knowing what meaning you put on sex will help you understand your sex drive and navigate your sex life.
7- Setting realistic expectation. This is another honest conversation to have. Your partner will probably not want sex exactly when you want it. If you want sex five times a day but your partner is satisfied with sex twice a month, you can discuss how to meet half-way. Also, good sex is not only a matter of frequency: quality is also important to consider. Is making reasonable compromise on your sex life worth it to keep the relationship with your loved one?
8- Getting yourself in the mood. Often people mistakenly think that they have to be ‘in the mood’ for sex. For some people, waiting to be in the mood could mean waiting forever. We don’t need to wait for sexual desire, as long as we can feel sexual arousal. If you’re not in the mood, you can touch your genitals until you become sexual aroused, and by then, you may be more in the mood for sex. Make sure that you only do so when you fully consent to sexual activities. Getting yourself in the mood doesn’t mean that you have to force yourself to have sex when you really don’t want to.
9- You can download a helpful app: Pillow. It contains many different episodes to guide you with exploring your sex life.
Navigating your sex life with the different libido to your partner is a usual struggle many couples face. It is not the sign of a relationship going wrong. And it can be resolved with many different steps. Take your time, approach the issue with empathy for yourself and your partner. And be courageous to step into an erotic exploration together.
If you want some help with this difficult problem, do not hesitate to contact me. I can help with every step of the way.
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Couples in conflict
Couples argue sometimes. On occasion, it is even healthy for couples to argue. We’re only human. Sometimes we say the wrong thing at the wrong time to our partner, with the wrong tone of voice. And it hurts them. And it escalates into an argument. And sometimes, couples end up raising their voices at one another for a short time. Then they make up, apologise , and move on. This is life.
However for many couples, arguments do not occur in this way. Some couples argue so frequently that they cannot remember the times when they do get on. Or when they have a good time with their partner, they cannot enjoy it because they are always dreading the end of the ‘good time’ and expecting the next argument to explode at any time. Some couples find it impossible to resolve conflicts. Once the shouting is over they are left without a resolution, the problems then fester, only to have the same problem resurface a week later with another argument.
Many people that come to see me report that the arguments are so frequent, with so little resolution, they feel completely miserable. In my previous blog, I wrote about good relationships being good for us because it boosts the immune system and is a source of happiness. By contrast, a relationship that is soaked in anger, resentment, disagreement and arguments can make one ill. My clients have reported getting frequent colds, having panic attacks, feeling muscle tension, having frequent headaches, insomnia, and sometimes feeling so hopeless they start to have suicidal thoughts. Living in such a relationship can chip away your self-esteem little by little until you lose your sense of self.
Some couples are so angry that they argue about everything: who takes the rubbish out, who does the dishes, who takes all the cover s in bed, where to go on holiday, who picks up the children from school, and so forth.
In some relationships, the anger and resentment is so deep that the breach it had created between the two partners is too wide to repair. Some people in this situation decide to leave the relationship. If this is the case, and depending on the length of the relationship, a therapeutic ending may be advisable, for proper closure.
Many people in angry relationships feel they cannot leave the relationship because, deep down, they love their partner. Indeed, they were once in love. But there are just too many arguments and bad feelings, and they believe things need to change. This is often at this point that people decide to come to therapy, either as individuals or as a couple.
In couples therapy, the anger, resentment and lack of conflict resolution between the two partners can be healed. They often learn that it is hard to fully understand the other person’s world. In fact, sometimes, it is not possible because we all experience life differently. We all have a different set of emotional responses to some events. However, by facilitating a process of therapeutic dialogue, each partner can begin to build a bridge between their own worlds and meet in the middle, free of anger and resentment.
Good communication is one of the key elements to a better relationship.
There are five easy communication tips that each partner can use to begin to decrease anger, resentment and, in turn, the intensity level of arguments:
1- Use the ‘I ’- statement. Saying ‘you’ makes you be a parental figure and will trigger a defensive response from your partner. Instead of saying: ‘you make me angry’, how about saying: ‘I feel angry’. Replace ‘you never do the dishes’ with ‘I notice the dishes have not been done today’.
2- Try to avoid words such as ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘mustn’t’, ‘shouldn’t’. It is likely that when you hear these kind of words, you will be reminded of authoritarian figures such as your parents or teachers. Again, it will trigger a defensive response from your partner. Instead of saying: ‘you should stop smoking’ how about: ‘I feel smoking is not healthy and I worry that you might get sick in the future’. Replace: ‘you must tidy up the house before our guests arrive’ with ‘I would appreciate if you could help me get ready before our guests arrive. If I cook the meal, would you be happy to clean the house?’
3- Listen to each other actively. When you ask your partner: ‘how was your day?’ be prepared to hear more than ‘fine’. Be curious about your partner’s life. Ask more questions: ‘what do you mean by fine? I really would like to know’.
4- Clarify what you heard your partner say and validate it. For example, if your partner talks about a bad day at work, and you don’t have experience in the field of work of your partner, you can validate and clarify saying something like: ‘I don’t understand what it is like to have a boss like yours, but I can definitely hear that it is very hard on you. When you say you are fed up, what do you mean? Tell me more.’ This type of conversation is not about an attempt to fix things for your partner or make things better for them, it is only about being curious about your partner’s life and truly being present in the relationship.
5- State your needs clearly. Often, couples think they can read each other’s mind. But this is not true. Couples only make assumptions, and often assumptions are wrong. Therefore, it is important to state your needs clearly to your partner. A common example is sex. When one partner initiates sex and the other doesn’t want it, if there is no dialogue, you will make assumptions: ‘I’m not attractive enough’, ‘why doesn’t he /she want to have sex with me?’, ‘is there someone else?’ However, if you state clearly what is going on, the dialogue would sound something like this:
‘I have had a really busy day at work and I feel exhausted. I would rather sit on the sofa with you and watch television.’
‘You do not want to have sex with me because you are exhausted. Am I right?’
Another example of stating your needs clearly would be:
‘I know it is my turn to wash the dishes, but I really don’t want to do it today. Is it ok if I do it tomorrow?’
‘It has been ages since we have done something nice together. I really would love going out to a restaurant sometime soon. What do you think?’
Often, problems of anger and resentment in the relationship are more complex than just a communication problem. Couples therapy is very valuable to look at all of the issues that may contribute to the wedge that is established in between the partners. The communication tips above can be used to start the process towards better dialogue but it is not the only challenge that many couples need to address in order to have a better relationship.
These tips seem simple, but they can be difficult to stick to in a relationship. It is often easier to get started with a new way to communicate with the help of a trained couples therapist than on your own. But, with time and effort to change the couple’s dialogue, negative emotions can be overcome.
Of course, we’re only human , so there will be moments when you say the wrong thing at the wrong time with the wrong tone of voice, but these instances will be less and less frequent, and, hopefully, mutual intimacy will replace what once was anger and distance between the two partners.
What is good sex?
In the absence of good sex education, what we have left to rely on is pornographic films, which is entertainment and not an accurate depiction of every day sex, or your friends boasting about their sex life being amazing.
Deep down, many people are confused about what good sex really is, and many people wonder if their sex life is good enough. Some people criticise their sex life as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’. Some people ask me questions like: ‘Am I normal for having a fetish?’, ‘Am I unhealthy for having lots of sex?’, ‘Do I masturbate too much?’, ‘Should I feel more sexual?’, ‘Am I strange for not liking penetration?’ And so on and so forth.
When we talk about sex, we tend to focus on the particular acts rather than on the broad view of sexuality: human sexuality is rich and varied and there are thousands of ways to have sex and be sexual. One person’s favourite sexual activity can be another person’s repulsion. How can we even begin to identify what is good or bad, healthy or unhealthy without falling into the trap of being opinionated, judgemental, critical and shaming?
I invite you to think about your sex life differently. If you want to know if the sex you’re having is good or bad, stop focusing on sexual acts and instead think about sexual health principles. There are six of them:
1- Consent. Consent can only be expressed from a person aged 16 or over, with a fully functioning brain. Consent cannot be expressed from a person who has impaired thinking under the influence of drugs or alcohol, for example. Consent to exercise your sexual right to have sex with whomever you choose should be unambiguous. If there is doubt, take some extra time to have a conversation with your sexual partners to make sure the cooperation between you is clear.
2- Non-exploitation. This means to do what you and your partner(s) have agreed to do without any coercion using power or control for sexual gratification.
3- Protection from HIV, STIs and unwanted pregnancy. It is your responsibility to protect yourself and your partner from unwanted pregnancy. And it is also your responsibility to make sure that you are at low risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection. Often it requires a honest conversation with your partner, and an explicit agreement on how you are going to protect each other. If you have a STI that is infectious, it is your responsibility to put protection in place that won't knowingly infect your partner(s).
4- Honesty. Being honest and upfront with your sexual desires and sexual needs is important. Everybody is different, and human sexuality is diverse. It is likely that your partner may not know all of what you like, need or want sexually. In fact, some people are not in touch with their own sexual landscape and all the parts of their body that is erogenous. Being able to express to your partner what you want or need is important. It can be difficult and it is a courageous conversation to have, because you can risk hearing your partner saying that they don't like what you like. When couples stay in a place of honesty and truth, often they can work some things out between them to achieve a fulfilling sex life.
5- Shared values. It is important that you and your sexual partner are 'on the same page' about what is acceptable and what is not. Our values are important to us because it informs us on what specific sexual acts means to us and contributes to our motivation for having sex. Conversations about values can clarify important aspects of your sexual health which will help with giving consent to have sex.
6- Mutual pleasure. Pleasure is an important component of sex. For good sexual health, it is crucial that you make sure that what you do bring you pleasure and at the same time, to be able to hear what your partner finds pleasurable. It is a good idea to talk about it with your partner because it is not possible to assume. We usually feel good when we bring pleasure to our partners and we also feel good when we feel pleasure ourselves.
You can stop thinking about being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in bed. You can stop worrying about your kinky sex life being healthy or not. If you move away from opinions about specific sexual acts, there is no judgments to be made and you can ensure your sexual life to be good by meeting the six principles of sexual health.
Sex & Relationship MOT
Studies show that people put off seeing a therapist for years. By the time you make the call and walk through the door of your therapist’s office, you may be in a crisis place, when there are many problems to address and repair. Some people call a therapist in a sense of urgency because their relationship is in much trouble.
By keeping in touch with your sex and relationship MOT, you can avoid the crisis point and you may not need to see a therapist to repair what goes wrong.
I recommend a sex and relationship MOT once every 5 years, whether you’re in a relationship or you're a single person.
The MOT lasts for 110 minutes. It includes:
Upon completion of your MOT, you will receive personalised recommendations on what to focus on, what to think about and reflect on, what to change and the good things to maintain.
Don’t delay, book your Relationship & Sex MOT today for a thorough check-in.
To book: E-mail me at: [email protected]
Or call/ text me on: 07958320565
Fee for your MOT: £300 for the full service.