By Carol Morotti-Meeker, MS, MLSP – Senior Coach
When you’ve been together for a while, it’s easy to feel that the wind has gone out of your sails and you’re becalmed in a stale relationship. It doesn’t have to be that way! If you and your partner will work together, you can create a new and vital relationship that will have you headed toward the “island of happiness” in no time!
Not long ago, my colleague Jim posted a great article from the New York Times on The Earth Moved’s Facebook page. The piece talked about some of the counseling leaders who incorporate sex therapy into couples’ therapy.
I have had the privilege of learning from several of these people (Dr. Marty Klein, Esther Perel, and Dr. Tammy Nelson). My experience of grad school in the 1970’s was that there was no mention of how sexual issues affected a couple’s overall satisfaction. How naive we were when the sexual revolution was going on with young people and in the media of the day! Research consistently demonstrates that sexual satisfaction is one of the things that provide cohesion for the partners in a relationship.
A quote from the article which especially resonated with me is one from Dr. Tammy Nelson. She tells couples to “write your own monogamy rules which can include extramarital sex as the couple chooses,” and “It [monogamy] can be whatever a couple wants, but it has to be fluid and flexible, and the couple needs to keep renewing it, like a license.”
As radical as that may sound , I agree wholeheartedly with her view supporting whatever behaviors and mindsets work for the people involved in the relationship. For two people to consciously decide to do whatever it takes to satisfy their needs and desires is a hallmark of people who have a high degree of individual differentiation. Examples of this may be taking separate vacations, each person still continuing his or her own favorite activities with friends (other than their partner or spouse) or maybe one or both of them having another sexual or romantic interest. One of the positives of this viewpoint is that it honors the needs and desires of the individual people involved.
People in any type of relationship will feel more whole and connected to each other when the relationship supports individual autonomy and sovereignty. Any relationship needs to be “kept current” by periodically reassessing the needs and desires of the participants. Don’t we participate in health, financial and automobile checkups periodically? Why not do the same with our most intimate relationships?
If we keep doing the same dance, we may find ourselves bored and not meeting the intrinsic needs of who we are at the moment. Doing a conscious periodic review together can be an opportunity to clean out the closets and rearrange how we do “us” individually and as a relationship. My suggestion is to hold a review whenever one person requests such an assessment, when there is a major life shift or every two years or so as “routine maintenance”.
To implement fluidity and flexibility in a relationship requires each participant to have developed a significant amount of personal autonomy, a sense of trust between the partners and a high level of communication and negotiation skills. Do you or your partner have the skills to engage competently in this relationship review? If not, they can be learned, separately or together. Initially, each person needs to assess what is working for them in the current relationship arrangement and what adjustments might need to be made to better fulfill your own and your partner’s individual needs and desires. Each of you can make lists of both things, prioritize what is most important to each person and then have calm, from-the-heart discussions about each person’s essential issues.
I urge you to conduct these conversations in the spirit of love and caring for each other. The process of even having these conversations will take you two on a great journey of self and relationship exploration along possibly unfamiliar paths. Listen with your heart to each other. Ask for clarity about what you hear from each other. Proceed slowly. Discuss what each wishes and seek understanding for yourself and your partner about what needs the changes will fulfill for you. Maybe take turns going back and forth, sharing your individual ideas for change. All the while, let the other person know that he is valued as is the relationship between you.
This process may go on at different times for several weeks. Take time to emotionally and intellectually integrate what is presented and the suggestions made for adjustments. Be gentle with yourself and your partner. Make a plan together on how to implement any agreed-upon changes. Let any prospective adjustments rest for a week or two to see if any tweaks to the plan may be required. Remember, you two created this new arrangement and it can be modified as often as you two agree. Communicate often as the new life path unfolds.
If you become stuck in the process someplace, relax. This is a life learning experience. Bring in written resources, information from online or the help of a trusted friend or professional if you reach a true impasse. Someone’s fears may come out in force and require loving attention. We talk to friends or professionals for advice on how to proceed in other areas of our life. This one is no different. Individually and jointly you are still in charge of the decisions you make. Do what feels good and makes both of you happy and fulfilled. Make sure you take time to celebrate the journey to creating your own flexibility and aliveness in your relationship!