WHO CARES? Couples and Sex
When you hear or read the word sex or sexy, what comes up for you?
Do you conjure pictures of an ideal partner? Do you imagine bedroom allure? A favorite sexual fantasy? Youth? Nakedness?
What feelings arise? Excitement, anticipation, enthusiasm, fear, disappointment, despondency, desperation, self-rejection, frustration, anger?
When you think of sex or sexy-ness, do you think about or consider care?
Feeling sexually turned on and fulfilled in long-term partnerships and marriages is a natural outcome of the care each person shows the other – physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Caring for each other is what gives couples a sense that they are secure, that opening to one another can be safe and possibly fun. Caring creates the conditions of safety that allow desire to heat up. Caring is a sensual lubricant, the prelude to healthy, secure love.
Sex for couples in their maturing 60’s is different than it is for people in their bed-hopping 20’s, child-rearing 30’s and 40’s, or over-worked 40’s and 50's. For aging couples like my husband and I, who have been together for decades, who have been evolving and learning about getting safe and secure, our hearts have ripened and opened over time. Caring for each other has been a developmental process. We’re wiser now, able to feel and express true, authentic caring love in a mature way.
If only we had been taught by our parents – or mainstream media – or one of our many therapists – that what’s hot in the bedroom comes from feeling genuine, selfless care and love in every room of the house! Instead, like most other humans, we were hijacked by big screen images and other people’s ideas of what sexy is supposed to look and feel like.
It has been my observation and experience that most people's hearts tend to open naturally and easily when they feel safe. Women, in particular, tend to feel open-hearted and may become more open to feeling and expressing sexuality when they feel safe, cherished and honored. As women mature and move through various developmental life stages different things are a turn on. At times a woman may feel more open when her partner cares for her vulnerability. She may warm up when her partner appreciates her unique beauty. She may relax and receive her partner when she’s been made a priority. When a woman feels loved this way, she can stop thinking for a while about all the things she needs to do or be to create safety and security for herself and those she loves. Her safety and security are a priority to her partner and is assured for a time. In that state of reassurance, she can open to experiencing the full range of her natural sensual energies.
When a woman feels unsafe or insecure, she usually shuts down and puts up barriers to prevent being harmed. Safety defines her ability to reveal her heart, and her heart is connected to her passion. If a woman has lost her sex drive in a relationship, it could be because she doesn't feel safe, cared for, and loved in the way she needs.
Assuming a hetero-couple in this example, a woman's partner might be directing his primary attention elsewhere – often on the surface it will look like he is more attentive to his work, or to his own interests, or to another person. He may have become indifferent or withdrawn, and he isn’t communicating about what’s going on. His silent withdrawal will register as a threat to her. He may be providing the daily bread, but financial security does nothing to open the heart or encourage sustainable sexual passion. She is not a priority in his heart, which prevents her from opening to love and loving. When she closes off, he withdraws even further – and the downward spiral continues, until they are estranged, or a crisis occurs.
As a generalization, men tend to withdraw and redirect their attention when they feel emotionally unsafe, when their attempts at caring or loving have been awkward or clumsy and they perceive rejection or judgment from their partners. What felt internally to him like a genuinely immense gesture toward his woman is perceived by her to be an inadequate and inconsequential movement. Everything said about women’s needs in the above example applies to men, as well, but this is often not acknowledged. Men need to feel safe in order to be the genuine and authentic honoring partner a woman needs! Men need encouragement and acknowledgement not just for their accomplishments and successes, but for their efforts, for their willingness and progress.
Regardless of the cause and effect, who perceives what in terms of which partner caused the other partner to shut down, it is possible to restore the flow of love in relationships. Caring and repairing begins with education and understanding, and facing the truth of the disconnection, accepting that neither partner has felt particularly safe, secure, loving or sexy lately. The next step is to identify whether there is a mutual desire to restore the connection. If there is a shared intention to grow together, then begins the practice of caring for each other and the instillation of rituals of reconciliation and re-setting.
For couples interested in learning more, consider reading:
Wired for Love, by Stan Tatkin.
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