Do you feel safe enough emotionally with your spouse/partner to fully express your sexual needs and desires?
How do you feel about your own sexual desires and needs?
These are questions all couples face at some point in their marriage or relationship, even if they don’t openly discuss this important issue.
The Relationship Atmosphere and Sexual Expression
Whether we are aware of it or not, we continuously assess our relationship for conditions of emotional safety. This assessment centers around whether we feel listened to versus ignored/trivialized; accepted versus judged/criticized; understood versus misunderstood by our spouse/partner.
Ideally, once conditions of emotional safety have been established, intimate relationships invite us to bring the long-buried, disavowed parts of ourselves out from the darkness and into the light of acceptance and love. This, of course, happens both inside and outside of the bedroom.
Since emotional vulnerability is heightened while expressing ourselves sexually, we become highly susceptible to emotional wounding and feelings of rejection and shame, even if our partner has our best intentions in mind. This is why effective communication (which centers around sensitive-empathetic listening) is essential for couples in order to understand each other’s sexual needs, as well as each other’s particular vulnerabilities and hang-ups about sex.
Nurturing an Environment for Sexual Expressiveness
An atmosphere of mutual openness and play allows for the unfolding of our deepest selves and needs, while an atmosphere of judgment and criticism (through words and/or body language) causes us to retract emotionally and hide what is considered unacceptable to our partner/spouse.
The dynamic of self-expression versus self-retraction, like so many psychological events, has its roots in childhood. Depending on our parents’/caregivers’ reactions to our unfolding identities and needs, we learn that certain self-experiences and forms of expression are acceptable (meet with parental approval), while others are unwelcome and should be contained or hidden because they are met with reprimand.
Since sex and sexuality are rarely topics of conversation between children/teenagers and their parents (beyond the “be safe” or “you should wait until you’re older” pep talk), we are often most alone and isolated when trying to figure out who we are sexually and what our sexual needs are. Even the somewhat vague message, “Sex should be an expression of love” obscures more than it elucidates for a young teenager trying to make sense of strong biological/sexual urges.
The Challenges of Sexual Communication
This lack of sexual dialog throughout our formative years sets the stage for the poor communication many couples struggle with later on. For many of us, the idea of openly discussing our sexual needs and desires is so novel and unusual that we are too likely to take the easy route and forgo these important discussions. Moreover, attempts to share one’s sexual desires often meet with internal resistance—a deep-seated resistance that centers around a fear of rejection and humiliation. And even when we take the emotional risk and try talking about our sexual fantasies and desires, we may not have adequate words to convey these subjective experiences to another person.
Despite these inherent communication challenges, it’s only when an emotionally safe relationship environment is created that we can gradually learn to break the isolation and more fully share our sexual selves with our spouse/partner. This safe environment should allow for the slow unfolding of two distinct sexualities that you and your partner bring to the relationship table.
Are you ready to work toward creating an emotionally safe relationship atmosphere with your spouse/partner?