Mindful Intimacy

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Many couples struggle with sexual intimacy.  It could be differences in desire, wounds from the past, fears of inadequacy, body image, emotional disconnection, among other matters.  The good news is that couples can overcome these differences with the right guidance and support.

I invite my couples to start small as they begin to untangle the barriers to a mutually fulfilling sexual connection.  An array of emotions even in anticipation of physical closeness can interfere with our desire for it.  Anxiety, guilt, anger, shame, obsessions and other emotions can take control and cause us to shut down physically and emotionally.  For some, experiences from the past can tell our bodies that something is wrong, even if everything in the moment is safe.  For others, those emotions might elevate sexual desire and cause them to confuse desire for emotional connection, validation and acceptance with sexual desire.  

Couples can have the most connective sexual experiences when they are at ease with one another and within themselves.  Sue Johnson, the creator of Emotionally Focused Therapy, calls this “synchrony sex.”  But sometimes it’s really difficult to get there.  Here is a simple exercise that can help you to slow down, take it one step at a time.  This is a mindfulness exercise.  It is meant only to help you uncover some of the underlying feelings that cause sexual disconnect, to bring calmness and relaxation, acceptance and compassion for yourself and your partner.  It is not meant to enhance pleasure and desire, though it’s okay if that happens, too.

Mindfulness is about awareness of this moment in time, purposefully and without judgement.  When we take a mindful walk we notice the sensations and details around us – the temperature, cars, trees, the air, the sounds.  I wrote earlier this year about a mindful moment with your 2 year old.  The following steps are for a mindful intimate moment with your partner.  Be sure to do this exercise when you have some time to relax and spend some slow, quality time together.  And then follow the steps below:  

  • Set aside 45 minutes to an hour with your partner.  It’s ideal to be at least semi-clothed in something basic.  Set the environment to be comfortable, but not sensual.  I recommend low lights, a comfortable temperature, no music, lotions, or candles.  This is not meant to be sexual, but rather relaxing and comfortable.  
  • Each partner will take a turn being the toucher.  For this exercise, the touching should be limited to non-sexual pleasure (genitals and breast are off limits).  The person touching focuses on touching in a way that brings themselves pleasure (with concern for their partner’s comfort, but not pleasure – that can be another exercise at another time).  The person being touched doesn’t give direction, but may redirect if something is uncomfortable.
  • The toucher draws awareness to tactile sensations such as temperature, texture, and pressure.  He/she also becomes aware, without judgement, of what’s happening for him/herself, including feelings of pleasure, relaxation, arousal, or any other positive or negative emotions.  Don’t share them now, just become aware of them.  When distractions arise the toucher brings their awareness back to the tactile sensations.  
  • The person being touched focuses also on touch sensations.  The touchee also draws awareness to emotions and distractions.  Hold space for them and then bring your focus back to the tactile sensations.  

The toucher continues this long enough for the person to lean into the awareness and be fully present, but not so long that it becomes boring.  Then he/she says “switch” and the exercise is repeated in reverse.  

Take some time after the exercise is over, within 24 hours, to share your experiences with one another.  

Please contact me with any comments or questions about my services.  You may use the contact form below or call me at 703-220-0951.

*This exercise was adapted from Sensate Focus: The Problem of Pleasure, The Paradox of Presence, by Weiner and Clark.

 

 

 

 

For Lovers: Subtle Differences in Conversation Make a Big Difference in Connection

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I was working with a couple the other day who have been married a long time.  Some big differences had grown in their relationship and they are exploring whether continuing their relationship will be right for both of them.  

Within a short time it became clear that deep in their hearts they both want the marriage to work.  But they often get caught in some dynamics that make them both feel lonely.  It is also clear that the differences they have will not go away and they wonder if this marriage will allow them to live wholeheartedly.   (more…)

For Parents: A Mindful Moment with Your 2 Year Old

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I wrote this almost a year ago and looking back it isn’t surprising I didn’t find a moment to take the last step and post it.  Great to reflect and notice how much more at ease I am whether it’s his age or my frame of mind.  Cheers to mothers and fathers of young children.  Hang in there!

My third son just turned 2 and boy do we know it.  Our other 2 boys didn’t give us quite the taste of the terrible twos as this little munchkin.  He is generally really happy, but when things aren’t right he makes it very clear.  Then when he gets what he wants he starts giggling, clapping, what have you.  

Not only are his emotions strong in both directions, he is a dare devil.  He always has a bruise on his forehead and doesn’t seem to be learning any caution from his tumbles.  He keeps a close eye on the gate latch and watches for a chance to make a break.  When he makes his break he doesn’t look back.  It’s stressful to be in constant fear that he is going to do something that will leave permanent damage, or worse.  

In addition to this the continual emptying of cabinets, bookshelves and toy bins leaves me overwhelmed.  I am often reminded of when I worked in a mental hospital and had to do regular 10 minute checks, and for some keep a constant line of site to make sure they didn’t do harm to themselves or others.  In spite of this I’ve chosen to keep my office hours to a minimum just so I can be there to follow this little turkey around the house, the yard, the park.  Somehow this crazy making scenario is where I want to be, or at times where I know I need to be, as much as I can. (more…)

For Parents: Conversations about Sexual Matters, #1: Setting the Stage for Openness

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This series is about education young children about sexual matters including pornography and other sexual matters.  To be notified of new posts follow me on Facebook or join my email list in the box on the right.

My husband recently discovered in our computer’s history that my son had gone through some sites of interest. I had inadvertently unplugged our Circle internet filter (which I highly recommend) so it gave him more access than we’d like. Thankfully it wasn’t pornographic, but the topics were not age appropriate. We felt it was worth a conversation.

I wanted to be really careful because I didn’t want him to feel on any level like he had done something wrong. Curiosity is natural and healthy. But I do want him to know that it’s important and helpful to talk to my husband and/or me if ideas and questions arose in his mind that were confusing or potentially embarrassing. Here is how I decided to approach it. (more…)

For Therapists: My Road to EFT Certification

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As a young therapist out of graduate school, I remember when couples sat across from me in my office, things felt messy and chaotic.  It was like I was on a road trip without a map.  I knew the general direction I needed to go, but didn’t quite know the best route.  I would consult with my supervisor and others in my practice with experience.  They all told me something different.  None seemed to hit the nail close enough to the head.  Something was missing.

I also remember in my personal journey through relationships feeling that there had to be more to getting through conflict with others.  I’d been told to just show love, turn the other cheek, no one can make you angry it’s just a choice you make, and that I needed to forgive.  It didn’t make sense and I felt that there had to be more to repairing rifts.

Then my agency offered a training in EFT and it was like someone handed me that road map.  Finally something made sense and so much sense I didn’t understand why I was just coming on to this now.  I latched on to the model and held on tight.  

(more…)

How to Begin to Improve Your Marriage: 5 Conversations to Get You Started

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IMG_0852Do you remember when you first met and fell in love how you thought your marriage would be?  Or what you thought when you were a teenager?  Remember how sure you were that your marriage would not look like your parents?  What we don’t learn in kindergarten, is that every marriage will face some unanticipated challenges.  Yet love is so vital in this ever transient and demanding world and the benefits of fighting our way through and shaping our love into something that works are significant. (more…)

Attachment in Adulthood

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In a recent post, I wrote about the attachment journey that young parents naturally embark on as they have children. With parenthood, attachment becomes a focal point. But attachment needs aren’t just for babies! It’s important for all adults – married people, single people, adult siblings, adult children or parents of adult children – to understand their attachment needs. Assessing where our needs are met or unmet can help us understand and enhance our relationships. (more…)

The Elements of Attachment

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attached familyParents of young children are often preoccupied with how best to establish strong bonds with their little ones. We long for meaningful interactions. We hope that our children will both initiate and positively receive these interactions, which we also hope will be a source of strength for both parties. The mental health world uses the word “attachment” to describe this type of essential bond. Years of research shows that secure attachments are essential to our health and well-being. When we have it, we thrive. When we lack it, we suffer. Simply put, we are wired for this connection. (more…)

The Strength of Inter-dependency

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This is a guest post from my respected colleague Robin Cohen.  Robin is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who is certified in Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples.  She is in private practice in Herndon, Virginia.  Robin completed an intense post-Master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at Virginia Tech in 1994.  She subsequently became an adjunct faculty member at Virginia Tech where she supervised graduate students in the university clinic.   Robin was selected as a “Top Therapist” by Washingtonian Magazine in 2009 and 2012.  Robin will be co-facilitating the Hold Me Tight Workshop on November 7th and 8th in McLean.  

The Strength of Inter-dependency

In a culture that promotes independence, self-sufficiency, and rugged individualism, the notion of inter-dependency in love relationships might be difficult to accept.  So often I hear a partner say, “I have never relied on anyone, only myself.”  Yet, the concept of depending on one’s partner to be there especially at critical times is paramount to a healthy relationship and a secure attachment. (more…)