As humans, “fixing” is part of our nature. We are logical, strategic, solution oriented beings that are often taught from a young age that a question always has an answer and a problem always has a fix. After all, we invented the wheel when things became to heavy to carry and found fire when we needed a better way to eat. In short, “fixing” is part of our nature because it’s birthed from our instinct to survive.
With that being said, no wonder it’s so uncomfortable for us when we encounter a problem that has no tangible fix.
For many couples seeking out therapeutic support, desire to fix, make better, take away a partner’s pain is often a common goal at the onset of therapy. Perhaps one partner has not been faithful, or has said something hurtful or has acted in some way, which has resulted in the other receiving the message “I am not important, I am not loved, I don’t matter”. With true genuine intentions, this partner often arrives in therapy hopeless and helpless, stating his or her belief that they have done all they could–no matter how hard they try to fix the problem, things just don’t seem to be getting better.
“Fixing”, while generally coming from a well-intended place, (we don’t usually enjoy seeing someone we care about hurting, especially when we know that our actions are the reason or at least part of the reason for the hurt) is invalidating. When we have hurt someone and we attempt to fix it or make it better, we are essentially sending the person we have hurt the message: “Your feelings make me uncomfortable so I’m going to do what I can to try and make them go away. This way, you’ll feel better and I can feel better knowing that you’re no longer hurting because of me.” While this is often happening at a subconscious level, it’s the reason why simply telling our partner “you are important, you are loved, you do matter” in these moments is often not enough.
You may have heard therapists or others use the phrase “lean into the discomfort.”—this is what that’s all about. While there is no tangible fix in these circumstances, what is really needed by the hurt partner is for the other to create space for them to be; to lean in to their pain, let them know that their feelings are valid and be asked what they need. When we can do this, we are able to acknowledge our partner’s pain and let them know that their discomfort makes sense. We come alongside of them and co-burden the hurt. In doing so, hurt and pain becomes more manageable because while it is still ever present, we receive the message from our partner that we are not alone.
By Aliza Cooper, LMFT
Intimacy is knowing and being known in a manner that creates connection and safety. I sit with many couples who want intimacy, to feel that connection, to know the friendship and passion of intimacy. However, few want to truly explore what it takes to build it. They express a desire to be known, but do not want to do the work of knowing themselves. We can only share with another to the extent of what we know about ourselves. Intimacy begins as a personal work—Know Thyself—which then gives rise to a relational work.
Although there are many ways of understanding personal intimacy, three are at it’s core: honesty, compassion, and boundaries. The first aspect of intimacy is honesty. I must be honest with myself about who I am and all of its complexity. Answering a few questions can start this process: What am I feeling at any given moment? What do I think or believe? What do I want or need? What do I like or dislike? What do I value? The key is in owning your story—what makes you tick? Telling your story is a start. Find a safe friend, therapist, 12-step group where you can put your story out to others—the good, the bad, and the ugly. When we begin to tell our story, and own it with safe people, we get clearer about who we are, begin to affirm ourselves, let go of shame, and can hold it up against who we want to be.
Compassion is another aspect of intimacy. I have heard it said, in one form or another, honesty without compassion is cruelty. As you own your story, do so with eyes of compassion. Show empathy towards yourself. See the wounded part of yourself and be gentle. Do something kind for yourself everyday. Breathe.
Finally, establish boundaries. Boundaries are not a way to control or punish others. Boundaries are rooted in self-care. Boundaries therefore begin with you. By getting clear about who you are with honesty, you can begin to see what you need to do to take care of yourself, how you harm yourself, and how you can harm others. Therefore, boundaries identify what I need to do and what I need to prevent myself from doing. Boundaries can look like getting to bed at a reasonable hour, eating healthy, or having fun family or friends on a regular basis. Also, boundaries can help us address issues that are destructive such as rage, isolation, or addiction, by keeping yourself out of vulnerable situations, learning emotional regulation, establishing accountability, and making amends. When we have healthy boundaries with ourselves, we are better able to have healthy boundaries with others.
By working on intimacy with yourself through honesty, compassion, and boundaries, you create an understanding which allows for greater intimacy with others. It is a life long journey with always more to discover. Take time to know yourself. You deserve it.
By Douglas Withrow
By Brian T. Case Ph.D.
PCS Staff Therapist
Many couples struggle with sexual dissatisfaction that stems in part from one partner desiring sex more or less frequently than the other. In the past, this problem has primarily been identified as “sexual dysfunction” in one of the two partners. The most common conclusion, and therefore diagnosis, has been to see the partner desiring sex less often as suffering from “hypoactive sexual desire” or low sex drive. Within heterosexual couples, this is especially true when the partner desiring sex less often is female, and the one wanting sex more often is male. On occasion, the partner desiring sex more often will be identified as having “too strong or frequent” a sex drive, clinically referred to as “hyperactive sexual desire” and more commonly referred to as being “oversexed” or in the recent past as “nymphomania”.
Although a number of individual/personal factors can contribute to sexually “shutting-down” or compulsively engaging in sexual behaviors, for many couples it is a relational dynamic that contributes to not “being on the same page” sexually. For this reason, the concept of a “sexual desire discrepancy” is particularly important, as it allows for the “couple” and the interactions between them to be the focus of treatment versus one individual being the identified patient.
I have found that when a couple comes in for sex therapy dealing with problems of desire, they have often already concluded that one of the two is the problem and want him or her to “be fixed”. After the bumpy transition to a new way of looking at things, most couples find it very enlightening, refreshing and hopeful to see that they are both contributing to the problem, and more importantly, can both contribute to the healing of the sexual relationship and a return to (or in some cases first experience of) sexual satisfaction and fulfillment.
The most common relational dynamic contributing to sexual desire discrepancy problems is polarization. Polarization occurs when small differences between two people in an intimate relationship become amplified as each person reacts to the other. One such polarization is often referred to as the “distancer-pursuer dynamic”. This dynamic often begins with the differences between the two partners being a source of attraction. The one takes more initiative and reaches out to the other, finding pleasure in helping to “open the other one up”. Likewise, the pursued partner loves feeling desired, and being able to respond in kind.
Over time, however, the distancer can feel overwhelmed by the “neediness” of the other person, while the pursuer can feel frustrated and afraid by the lack of openness and reciprocity in the relationship. While the one withdraws in reactivity, the other increases the intensity of pursuit. This polarization can continue to the point where ““you always” and “you never” become common phrases thrown out in arguments. Within the sexual relationship, that often sounds like “he always wants sex, it drives me crazy” and “she is so sexually repressed, please fix her”. What appears to be a problem of either raging or dormant hormones is far too often the result of a frustrating yet readily reversible cycle of polarized reactivity within the relationship.
Indeed, there is hope and healing for couples stuck in this cycle! Even when only one partner chooses to make a shift, the dynamic can be positively impacted. When both work to stay in a more balanced place, even better! As the person withholding or avoiding sexual intimacy steps up to the plate and initiates more, and the pursuer patiently backs off, a couple is often able to find a workable balance. If the polarization is successfully decreased and yet the differences in sexual desire still exist, each individual may need to look at intrapersonal factors that may be keeping them from more often being on the same page sexually. Indeed, by working through both the relational dynamic of polarization and one’s own baggage resulting in repressing and/or over-relying on sex, a fulfilling sexual relationship can emerge.
Brian T. Case, Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, PCS Staff Therapist
Psychological Counseling Services, Ltd.