As a Certified Sex Therapist and Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, I help couples address a broad spectrum of sexual issues. In my experience, I believe there are three basic facts that all couples should know to help them maintain a healthy sexual relationship that is intimate and fulfilling for both partners.
1. You Have To Talk About Sex
Communication is the Foundation of Relationship and we all know how important talking to each other…really talking to each other, is to the success of any partnership. Many of the couples I help in Sex Therapy treatment and Couples Counseling have never really talked about sex. There are very valid reasons for avoiding the subject. Probably the most common reason is the fear of hurting each other’s feelings. We don’t want to hurt the person we love or embarrass them (or ourselves). Then there is the belief that you just don’t talk about sex…yes, even in today’s world children are being raised in a home and culture where talking about sex is taboo. So couples simply do not know what questions to ask or how to go about approaching the topic. Regardless of the reason for not talking about sex, every couple should be talking about it. One easy way to begin would be to make an effort to bring up the topic with your partner on your next date night by sharing something you really love about having sex with them. Also, think about purchasing a book on the topic and read it together in the evening. Both of these suggestions will most likely break the ice and help you both feel more natural discussing the topic and help you grow even closer as a couple.
2. Sexual Problems Are Very Common
Don’t ever base the quality of your sex life together on performance. There are a large number of potential sexual problems that can occur for a couple over the lifespan. As a couple, your goal should be enjoying each other sexually as a natural extension of your relationship. The goal should not be having an orgasm, or having to perform for a length of time, or a certain number of times a week you have to have sex. Every couple is unique and will most likely experience some type of sexual dilemma during their relationship over a life span. Anxiety, depression, age, disease, stress, physical illness, trauma, differing desire levels, pregnancy, hormones, biology, genes, beliefs, and surgery are just a few of the many factors that affect a couple’s sexual interaction. There is nothing to be embarrassed about, sexual issues are a part of life and are treatable. When you and your partner begin to experience sexual issues, remember you are a team and together you can address the problems with success. Be open and talk about the sexual problem, be supportive of each other, get educated on the issue you are experiencing, and if you can’t solve it on your own or with your medical doctor, then meet with a Certified Sex Therapist and they will most likely help you solve the problem.
3. A Healthy Sexual Relationship is a Collaborative Process
In order for a couple to enjoy a healthy and fulfilling sexual relationship, they must understand that it is a collaborative process. Remember you are a team, partners in every aspect of your relationship and your sexual relationship is no different than any other area. Below are the characteristics of a collaborative process that must be applied as a couple in order to successfully address sexual problems when they exist. Discuss these as a couple alone or with a Couples Therapist to help you and your partner successfully resolve sexual problems.
- Parity Within The Couple
- Mutual Goals
- Shared Responsibility for Participation
- Shared Responsibility for Decision Making
- Shared Resources
- Shared Accountability for Outcomes
- Reliability on Mutual Trust
What is Micro-Cheating?
Micro-Cheating is all the so called little things that may feel like infidelity to one spouse, but does not involve having sex with another person. The general concept of cheating can be gray instead of black and white for couples. For example, your wife may never even consider having an extramarital affair with another man, but she doesn’t see anything wrong with staying friends with or even flirting with her ex-boyfriend on facebook. Your husband may say he is totally devoted to you. However, he is having lunch every day with a female coworker and he becomes defensive about it when you tell him it makes you uncomfortable.
There is a difference between being friendly or courteous and being inappropriate or flirting. For example, saying, “You look very nice today” is different than saying, “Wow, you really look hot in that outfit”. Opening the door for another woman is different than engaging in personal conversation with her. A rule of thumb to consider is that any time you give yourself and your time emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually or sexually to someone outside your marriage, it can be considered a betrayal because it is energy, time, attention, intimacy, and affection that should be given to your spouse.
Below are a few examples that may be considered micro-cheating:
Are you keeping your activity and/or conversations with someone you work with a secret from your spouse?
Have you entered someone’s name in your phone under a code or fictitious name?
Are you having private conversations through social media that you keep a secret?
Do you spend time thinking about another person and go out of your way to make time to see them, meet with them, or talk to them?
Do you flirt with other people?
Do you objectify people (think of them sexually instead of a whole person)?
Are you sharing too much personal information about your feelings, relationship or life with someone other than your spouse?
Are you spending more and more time talking to and meeting up with a coworker that is not spent actually doing work?
Are you keeping an ongoing friendship with someone you had a former romantic relationship with?
Are you lying to your spouse?
Are you sexting (talking about sex or sending and receiving sexual pictures with someone)?
Do you spend time on adult websites or visit adult entertainment places without your spouse’s knowledge?
Does your partner tell you that any of your behaviors bother them and they would like you to stop, but you do not see anything wrong with what you are doing?
5 Steps to Addressing Micro-Cheating in a Marriage:
Calm Down: If you find out your partner has micro-cheated, it is very likely you will feel anger, hurt, shock, and anxiety. It can be very easy to jump to conclusions. Keep in mind that your partner may not realize they did anything wrong. Take time to calm down first, identify what you are feeling and then decide how you will address the issue with your partner. Remember to ask questions verses making accusations. Also, share how what they did impacts you verses yelling, name calling, ending the relationship, etc.
Define What Constitutes Infidelity: Make time to have a conversation about each other’s definition of fidelity. Discuss what you each consider to be betrayal behaviors. You may be surprised that you view things very differently. For example, one of you may view flirting as harmless and the other one views it as betrayal. Your value systems related to relationships are developed from several factors, including witnessing your parent’s relationship, cultural and spiritual beliefs, influence from friends, unrealistic ideas from movies, experiences from past relationships, your own personality, etc. It is important to keep open and ongoing conversations about what is ok and not ok within the relationship.
Take Ownership: If your partner tells you they feel betrayed by your behaviors, don’t dismiss their feelings or argue with them. Acknowledge what you did was painful to them and caused mistrust. Then apologize, and agree on ways to prevent the behavior in the future.
Create Boundaries to Protect the Marriage: I highly recommend the book entitled Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud. This book helps you as a couple to understand how to create boundaries to protect your relationship. For example, there may be things that are not necessarily wrong, but they threaten the safety of the relationship verses strengthening it. As a couple, you do not have to agree on everything, but you do have to honor your partner by being willing to make changes that help them feel valued and safe in the marriage.
Get Professional Help from a Marriage Therapist: If your spouse lies or becomes defensive, or if he/she has promised to stop in the past and you have caught them again, it can be a sign of a compulsivity issue or a sex addiction so ask your partner to go to therapy with you to find out why they promised you to stop the first time you discovered the behavior and they continued to do it. In addition, the partner who feels betrayed may need some healing from the trauma of what they discovered and the anxiety caused by broken trust. Meeting with a therapist may also help strengthen the marriage overall by gaining better communication or partnering skills. Remember counseling helps us be healthy mentally, emotionally, and relationally.
Dr. Crystal Hollenbeck specializes in helping couples heal from relational betrayal. She is a Certified Trauma Professional, a Relationship Expert, and an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist. In addition, she holds certifications in Sex Addiction Therapy, Partner Betrayal Trauma, Anger Management and EMDR Therapy.
When is the last time you scheduled a Mental Health Check-up?
We all have a doctor we see regularly for annual physicals and those colds and minor illnesses that come up throughout the year. We religiously schedule our teeth cleaning appointments with the dentist. Women schedule annual gynecological exams, some people see a chiropractor on a regular basis, and many go to church weekly to nurture our soul. We know research has shown that taking care of our mental health is as essential as taking care of our physical and spiritual health. But, how often do we schedule regular mental health check-ups?
There are 3 reasons why is it important to schedule regular Mental Health Check-ups with a professional counselor…
1. The Present: To address any current issues you are facing.
2. The Past: To determine if you have any unresolved issues from the past that are causing you disturbance in your current life.
3. The Future: To develop effective life management skills to help you daily live the life you desire.
Once you are “healthy” mentally, checking in with your counselor on a regular basis helps address whatever issues may arise so that you maintain strong mental health throughout your lifespan. In addition to physical health improvement, research has shown that nurturing our mental health leads to maintaining healthy relationships with intimate partners, family members and friends.
Along with Mental Health Check-ups…
There are 5 Essential Ways to achieve and maintain strong Mental Health:
1. Practice Good Self-Care – practicing good self-care is the most important step to mental wellness. This involves, eating well, regular exercise, 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night and using relaxation techniques such as meditation and deep breathing to reduce stress.
2. Build a Support System – people need people. We all need to have relationships with people who are safe and with whom we can share our life’s journey. Our support system can consist of our partner, family members or friends.
3. Resolve the Unresolved – most mental and emotional distress comes from unresolved issues. These issues may stem from abuse, a lack of problem solving skills, or circumstances out of our control, but they must be resolved or they will affect our current and future mental well-being.
4. Nurture your Spiritual Beliefs – spiritual beliefs give us a sense of purpose, are usually the basis for our value system, and often give us hope and strength throughout our life’s journey so it is important to nurture our spirituality.
5. Laugh – studies have shown that laughing decreases pain, stress hormones, and anxiety. It also helps increase blood flow to promote heart health. Learning to laugh at yourself by not taking yourself so seriously and enjoying a good laugh with other people on a regular basis will also increase your relational bonds.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month!
Dr. Crystal Hollenbeck is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and specializes in relationships, trauma recovery, and anxiety management. Please call or text Dr. Hollenbeck at 407.408.6521 for a mental health check up.