Relationship Theory – Pt IV

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Read on for the last in our special  four-part series on Relationships, addressing the averagely happy person---either single, or in a couple---seeking to improve their relationship, intimacy, and communication.  However outside the narrow band of mainstream people having an ordinary and a fulfilling life, lies a range of people trapped by delays in social change, ethnicity, and conflicting beliefs. 
As commented on in our article in Issue 10, ‘ human survival is not based on happiness, but on getting the job done … however, singles now demand a relationship … that is fulfilling and makes them feel good’.  To create a relationship that feels good means overcoming social delay, or resolving the conflicting beliefs that may make you feel trapped. ‘Feel good’ means gaining some skills that do not come naturally, and that may not be part of your ethnicity, or culture, or upbringing.

What is the right recipe for relationships?  How do you both meet your emotional and physical needs in your relationship? Because each person also has a shadow side, dovetailing conflicting needs together to create a good relationship means that you have to juggle a lot of variables. In a recent court case against domestic violence here in Australia, the European husband told the magistrate that he ‘was Latin, hot-blooded, and that his former wife put up a good fight’.  The magistrate informed him that it was ‘not acceptable here in Australia and denied him access to his former wife, or daughter for 12 months.  He was further warned that attempts for contact would involve police and could lead to jail time and a criminal record, severely affecting his right to travel as freely as he liked to in and out of Australia.  The husband looked perplexed. Perhaps that countered his cultural upbringing, or similar?  How confusing would that be?! 

Relationship counsellors, dealing with sexual conflicts, see many traces of traditions and myths.  Throughout mythology, the virtuous woman was to be wooed, and the pursuer was to be the one desiring, and acting on his desires.  An unspoken undercurrent teaches that for a woman to initiate and want sex she must be a whore.  A man who declines, or doesn’t want sex has his manhood questioned. In stark contrast to older, more traditional beliefs, the current Australian position is that even within marriage, if one partner of either sex decides to stop sexual activity, that is fine. It is classified as rape if the other partner asserts their sexual desires. It is classified as assault, and a criminal offence if one person intimidates the other, verbally, or physically, as happened in this intercultural marriage.

Sex, Your Emotional Mirror
Dr David Snarch, a sex/ relationship therapist and author asserts that the sexual relationship exactly mirrors the emotional relationship. Whereas therapists tend to ask questions about sexuality after a few sessions when trust has built, he says that emotional differences can be easily detected through the couple’s sexual differences.  His research is based on heterosexual couples. Gay males, who have the most sex of any groups, find that when they reach a certain level of intimacy in their relationship, it impacts on sex negatively (it decreases). Intimacy and sexuality are often, but not necessarily, linked positively. Deep down everyone has something they consider ‘intimate’. In the popular film Pretty Woman, Julia Roberts (call girl) said she never kissed the men she had sex with.  This was her way of preserving the illusion that she kept part of herself intact—this was the part reserved for intimacy.

“Intimacy is being truly who you are in the presence of another person”, Advanced Clinical Counsellor for Relationships Australia, Sherry Wright said. For example, closing your eyes while you kiss is a way of focusing on yourself and your own feelings and needs.  Opening your eyes combines those feelings with the realisation you are in the presence of another person. “Open your eyes next time you go to bed or keep them open while having sex---it can be very confronting”, she suggests.

Hugh wanted to increase sexual intimacy with his wife.  He very carefully prepared a ‘romantic’ evening; had the kids babysat, champagne, rose petals and ran a bath when he heard her come home.  To his disappointment, although pleased, his wife rejected his sexual advances remembering that the kids’ sports uniforms needed a special wash. After counselling Hugh planned it again a few weeks later, analysing the household routine. As he finished work a few hours earlier than Denise, he organised the uniforms, tuckshop, and the tap washer that Denise had mentioned a few weeks earlier.  “Tell all those books on foreplay that they’ve got it wrong!”, Hugh said.  “I didn’t think she’d even notice the tap.  When she realised I had taken care of things, and in the way she wanted, I couldn’t get her off me.  We had the best night of our lives!”, he said. As mundane as that sounds, women tend to not let go until the things they have taken responsibility for, have been done.  For them, sometimes the most intimate thing a partner can do is not actually sexual.



Increased clarity can boost intimacy.  Around 20 percent of communication comes from words. The rest is perceived through facial expressions, tone of voice, how people look. With your partner, you will be even more attuned to those, than the words they say.

Bob, a shift worker was discussing the lack of sex, when he suddenly became angry.  “There, she’s doing that look. That’s what I get every time I bring it up at home”, he said.  Mary burst into tears, defending herself. “I’m not doing anything—there’s no look”, she said. “I knew he was angry.  That’s how he talks at home; he sounds so irritated and frustrated with me, that I’m scared to even talk about having sex”.

This repetitive core argument had been going on for two years and brought the couple into counselling. The solution was threefold:

  • Firstly, to learn to recognise when they had negative feelings welling inside
  • Secondly, to calm the strong emotions by taking a few deep breaths. Without self-calming the 20 percent word input would be heard through the filter of the perceived messages, picked up from the 80 percent non-verbal communication. When messages are heard through an incorrect filter, they are not heard through the adult rational mind. The incorrect filter reruns the old tapes of other hurts, making the current situation feel worse than it is.
  • Thirdly, to bring the verbal and non-verbal closer together ie. become more congruent.  Did the words, tone of voice, facial expressions, attitude match each other; or did the words say I love you and the tone say I’m angry with you? With practice, Bob learned to say “I can see your face changing expression, Mary, are you OK?”. From her side, Mary learned to say “You sound irritated, is now a good time to talk about this?”. 

Rather than the new words they learned to speak, this approach worked because of the connection that this exercise helped to build. In the safe environment of counselling they gave each other permission to reflect back when they weren’t being congruent.  It was the willingness to connect with the partner at a time they wanted to explode or run away, that drew them closer together.  More frequent sex was an inevitable by-product of their intimacy and connection.

The ways to build connection are many and varied.  Do they always work?  Do couples who are willing to build a stronger bond, enjoy a better sexual relationship? Drawing on years of training, and case studies from across Australia, Sherry Wright from Relationships Australia, says yes. Even if there are problems sexually (and they are usually about frequency and who initiates) if all other areas of a couple’s life are close, she has “never seen a case where the couple who has the great relationship doesn’t have great sex”.

There are needs: air, shelter, food. And there are wants: sex when and how you like it.  The constant dance of respect with your partner, is turning your perceived need into a want, and even being able to let go of your want if your partner says no. This is supported by education, and the law in Australia, and is a modern, and privileged position. The Latin husband mentioned in the court case earlier regarded his wife and daughter as his possessions, his objects, according to his tradition. When he wanted sex, refusal wasn’t part of the equation.  The moment sex becomes ‘it’ ---‘I need it’, the relationship steps away from a connection of equality.  I want ‘you’ means I want all of you.  It also means I want you as a person whom I respect even if you don’t want sex.  That is a very fine, but very beautiful equation to work out between you using boundaries and communication.

In the last issue, you saw how Babette used communication to help build boundaries, whereas Melissa used similar skills to soften her boundaries so she could let people in. Feeling understood, and being listened to are especially important to most women as these help a woman feel wanted, and safe.  A woman who feels safe relaxes, and will enjoy sex more. Keep clarifying your understanding of your partner’s needs to make sure you are not hearing your own thoughts.

Master communicator Stuart Wilde, used the example of someone wanting their house to be painted green.  They pictured emerald heritage green. The painter rendered it lime green.  Whose fault was the communication problem?  It was a classic problem where communication failed to go through the other person’s filter of perception.

So don’t hesitate to learn new relationship skills---it could change many areas of your life!

© Susan Wanmer 2005

Contributed by: Susan Wanmer




































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