Last week, I wrote a post beginning my answer to a common question I receive in my academic or therapeutic role. That question is, “What book would you recommend for couples experiencing (enter any category) issue?” or, “I’m going to buy a good book for (x) couple, what do you recommend?” I decided to break the answer down into the top five “couples issues” areas I hear about most frequently, and first begin by addressing the “core three.” I named these as: parenting, financial struggles, and sex/intimacy. In my first post, I covered book recommendations and some discussion over parenting and finances. Today I’m going to talk about sex and intimacy issues, and then move into topic number four: developing yourselves as individuals within a marriage or relationship.
Sex or Intimacy Issues
To begin, let me just say that couples all seem to have their own strength areas within their relationship. I’ve spent a good amount of time with some couples who excel at sex and/or intimacy together, but have multiple challenges in other areas. However, I’ve seen just the opposite as well. Some couples I know are excellent at parenting as a team, managing their finances as a team, and seem to otherwise (at least from those on the outside) have a strong and capable relationship. But when it comes to intimacy (sharing vulnerabilities and deep-felt support) or sex, some of the seemingly greatest “power couples” run into problems. A lot of problems.
Many of these intimacy and sex related problems have to do with trust, or strong patterns developed from their own families of origin. I’ll cover these problems in the last entry. Some challenges, however, are simply a matter of thinking, learning, growing or communicating, becoming comfortable with each other and asking for (and meeting) needs. And many are simply the result of leading overscheduled lives in a stressful environment.
The scene: Our little home on Harding Place, eleven years ago. My muscles were so sore from moving scenery for our Spring musical dress rehearsal I could hardly get out of the car. I had just pulled into the driveway, bringing the girls home from school. So intense were my body aches that I asked the girls to manage dinner. They were 8 and 12 years old; this was an unprecedented request of them and they looked at me like I had suddenly turned into an alien being.
“Uh, okay…” Rachel said, and she turned to Rylee. “Let’s have macaroni and cheese!”
“I love macaroni and cheese!” Rylee responded. And they headed toward the kitchen while I walked into my bedroom. I sighed, took off my shoes, laid down on the bed and waited for Mick to get home. I had tunnel vision from exhaustion and was concentrating very hard on our bedroom window. “Get home. Please…hurry and get here.” I needed an intense rub-down with Icy Hot, some ibuprofen and a nap. I looked at my watch while I listened to the girls in the kitchen. I prayed that there wouldn’t be some sort of accident with the boiling water, and closed my eyes.
A few minutes later I heard the truck pull into our driveway. I was completely immersed in self-centered thought as I counted the seconds until he opened the front door. I heard him come in, say something to the girls and hear their report of, “Mom needs to talk to you.” I saw Mick’s shadow on the wall as he walked into the bedroom, but I didn’t turn around to face him. Instead I said, “Can you please go get the Icy Hot and work on my back and shoulders? They’re killing me; I need some help.”
When he returned to begin his task I closed my eyes and winced. It takes a while until muscles are worked enough to where they can relax and respond to the treatment. Somewhere in-between “excruciating” and “sore,” I noticed Mick’s hands and arms were shaking. Surprised, I asked him about it. He said, “Well, we had to move three aisles of inventory in the warehouse today, all by hand. I worked almost three hours overtime in order to finish the job, and I’m really tired.”
I began to cry. I asked him to stop, and to lay down beside me. I said, “Let’s rest a while together. By the time we’ve got a little energy back, the girls will have dinner ready.” I had been so focused on my own needs I hadn’t even assessed where my husband was. Our universes had intersected with mutually difficult and physically taxing days that had put both of us over our ability-to-manage threshold. Yet he was willing to help ease my pain without even disclosing what he had just experienced.
A few years later I was reading a book called, “Constructing the Sexual Crucible: An Integration of Sexual and Marital Therapy,” by David M. Schnarch. As I turned through the pages, I thought back to that time when Mick’s arms were shaking from fatigue. Although written about providing therapy for clients with sexual problems, the premise of the book was that a couple is initially immature and “unspiritual” in their relationship, but at some point grows mature and “spiritual;” they pass into a vulnerable and ‘other centered’ relationship that becomes so deep a mystery is revealed – the mystery of what it means to be intimate with one another, cognitively, emotionally and spiritually.
He quotes Sebastian Moore (1985) frequently when talking about this shift into a deeper intimacy. I love the passage so much that I’m going to end this post with Moore’s words. All the best to you as you find those moments of self-exposure, interdependence, hope and spirituality with those you love…~ Red Dirt Kelly
…Desire reveals its true nature when it comes into the moment of decision, either for the new initiate of self-exposure that makes possible interdependence, or for the cowardice that overshadows our society. Love is ‘desire, decided for.’ (emphasis added)
…Desire is most nearly itself when, asserting my own goodness which is its source, I pass from dependence to interdependence whose soul is hope. Then is desire most itself, so then am I most drawn – no longer by the obvious charm of another, but by the mystery that brings us together enlarging that desire into hope. (Moore, 1985, p. 30)
Moore, S. (1985). Let this mind be in you: The quest for identity through Oedipus to Christ. New York: Harper & Row.
Monday afternoon I was sitting in the window seat of a plane flying toward Minneapolis. During take off preparations, some of the shiny chrome trim on the tarmac equipment caught a reflective beam of sunlight and sent it directly into my eye; so, I had shut the window cover. But now I was curious. I wanted to see the view, to look around and say hello to the sky.
When I lifted the plastic shade I was met with a view of tiny ice crystals that had been forming on the outside of my window. I examined them and looked for purpose or replication in their pattern. I thought about Minnesota and wondered if the quilted jacket I had with me was enough to keep the cold air at bay. My thoughts turned toward the conference. It had been a long day, so I reached up to once again close the shade and try to nap. I had been up since 4 a.m. and had a long night of preparations still in front of me.
Just as my arm started the downward motion to close the shade, something caught my eye. I stopped and took in the “skyscape” moment, visually tracking the long blanket of cloud cover beneath the plane all the way to the horizon. I’ve seen the clouds before, but I almost missed them this time.
I had allowed what was right in front of my eyes to be all that I considered. I then wondered, who had I done that same thing to today? Yesterday? This week? So my hope for you today is:
Remember to also step back, take in the whole person, and enjoy or consider their sum. After all, their whole being is always so much more than the sum of their individual parts.
Red Dirt Kelly
Showcasing Red Dirt culture ~ authored and managed by contributors with connections to the great state of Oklahoma.