Tears, honesty and flirty games: how we escaped our married sex rut

After 15 years and three children, my husband and I found ourselves stuck in an intimacy impasse. Could a therapist help us sizzle again?

Its usually when I have my head in the dishwasher that my husband will come up and say, Hey love, do you fancy a cuddle tonight? I dont know how, but somehow cuddle has, over the years, become the cute (but loaded) word for sex in our house. And I, often wanting just a cuddle one that doesnt involve an erection, merely a straight up, PG cuddle often simply clam up.

We have a shared craving for closeness but opposing strategies to reach it. While Jim would happily shag his way to a chat, I want to chat my way to a shag. For him, physical connection fuels the emotional, while for me the emotional is paramount for the physical to ensue and all of this has led us to an intimacy impasse. A sex rut.

The courtship around sex has become an outlandish dance one that neither of us seems to know the steps to any more. Its like we are speaking two languages. And neither is that keen to become fluent in the other persons tongue. After 15 years together and three children (10, 8, 6) we both need intimacy, we even know its there waiting to be accessed, but somehow weve forgotten how to.

Mornings start with bad moods. My partner huffs and puffs and carries the disappointment of needs not met downstairs, and then on into his day. At times, leaving the house for work deflated, shoulders slumped, other times propelling his hurt back on to me, by being a little distant sometimes for days.

I, meanwhile, feel saddened, angry and somewhat less than for not being able to keep up with his appetite. I also feel ungenerous for not being able to simply give a little on days where Im not in the mood if it means so much to him. One side feels hurt, the other guilty. So after yet another argument on the topic, where pillows are plumped a little too aggressively, I suggest we seek help.

Jim is reluctant at first, feeling we should be able to lift ourselves out of the sticky swamp of sex-communication without external assistance. If it were that easy, I answer, we wouldnt be playing out the same scenario on repeat. The thought of being stuck in this pattern years from now terrifies Jim enough to look beyond his what kind of a couple needs help to deal with their sex life? misgivings and we agree to see someone.

I find Meredith Reynolds, a sex coach and educator, online. Her website looks friendly and professional, but what wins me over is the sentence: I work with people to help them become more present in their bodies [yes please] and more connected to their erotic selves. Sign me up.

Since having kids, my breasts and vagina have been mauled, stretched, bitten, chewed and bruised threefold. Often, I dont seem to know when I want touch or, if I want it at all, what kind of touch I want. Sometimes, any touch a peck when Im standing by the fridge, a warm caress between the thighs in bed just feels intrusive. And thats hard to say to the person you love.

Fridge
Sometimes, any touch a peck when youre standing by the fridge feels intrusive. And thats hard to say to the person you love. Photograph: Guardian Design Team

On the flipside, Jim, who would happily be intimate every day, blossoms like a water lily at dawn when we have sex, radiating warmth and tenderness, genuinely skipping out of the door. The world is a good place and everyone is safe. But not every day is show time.

Before having a session with Reynolds, we individually fill out a short form about the wonderful and difficult things in our sex life. Writing about our intimacy makes our problems a living, breathing thing that exists beyond our bedroom walls.

Our answers are used as the basis for an initial phone consultation. During our three-way chat, it becomes clear that Jim is frustrated with the inconsistency of our sex life. He feels rejected and annoyed about intimacy only happening when I say its on. Hed like to explore more, and understand my lack of desire.

Meanwhile, I realise I am mourning the sensual person I once was, the one full of desire, who was happy to attend Cake sex parties (promoting female sexual pleasure) and explore her body freely, the one before births and late miscarriages. That person is dormant.

Two weeks later, Jim and I ring the doorbell at a Victorian house in London. Reynolds gives us a heartfelt welcome, and ushers us into the therapy room downstairs. Sitting on pouffes in a warm room suffused with incense, we take in our surroundings. I clock a long truncheon, a sort of Goliath-sized dildo perhaps, behind the door. On the ceiling are metal eyelets. Gulp.

Reynolds says: I share this room with another practitioner. Phew, lets save that truncheon for his clients. We begin the session by talking. Jim and I lay bare our hurts and pains and stand metaphorically naked, at our most vulnerable. And yet we feel safe. It feels good to talk openly in a space without judgment, without right or wrong. I cry when I realise there is still trauma in my body from the miscarriages wed suffered. I feel like hugging myself, and also him for everything that weve been through.

Before we move on to practical exercises, Reynolds emphasises that no one has to take their clothes off or do anything they dont want to. We start with simple breathing. Within minutes I feel more in my body than I have for a long time. Relaxed. Grounded. Capable of hearing my own wants and desires. I have arrived back in my skin somehow. There may even have been a tingle in my groin. Then we wake up the hands. We choose a small object from a selection Reynolds displays, which includes a smooth stone and a piece of fur-like fabric, and are asked to explore it, the weight, the texture, its temperature, to run it along our hands, our arms an act of body mindfulness. And its working.

But the real game-changer is being introduced to the Wheel of Consent, devised by the American sex coach Betty Martin. This is the notion that when we are sexual, we move between different zones and often are not aware what zone we are in. Are we giving or receiving? Taking or allowing? Reynolds clarifies: If one person in a couple says, Would you like a foot rub? but actually, theyre hoping it will lead to sex, well, thats giving with an agenda which the receiver can feel isnt true giving.

We get to grips with this concept by playing the three-minute game, which involves asking each other two questions in turn, each an offer: How would you like me to touch you for three minutes? And, how would you like to touch me for three minutes? Confused? So are we, but humour and light-heartedness begins to enter the room, and with it a deep connection. We get excited to explore the possibilities within the game.

Reynolds says: Its like what happens with an orchestra. When we get clear on who touch is for sometimes the receiver of the touch, sometimes the doer focusing on the individual instruments in practice means that the whole thing can come together with clarity and beauty. During one of the three-minute exercises, I focus on Jims armpit, an area as yet under-explored, and notice that his armpit hair feels really awesome on my lips, and Jim discovers that, when permission is asked and trust established, pretty much anything goes. Reynolds explains, As trust deepens, we can take more risks, ask for what we want. And part of trust-deepening is knowing that we can say no, and that we can hear no and be OK this opens up so many delicious possibilities.

We are given homework. Mine is to be clear about what I want, eg: No thanks, darling. I really want to have a bath tonight, Jims is to sit with the No and not throw it back at me. We are both to discuss when there might be a possibility of sex in the week, or POS as weve now coined it, the POS never being binding. We are encouraged to play the three-minute game at home, which we now do often.

Since our session with Reynolds, touch is laced with humour, rather than a sense of heaviness. Jims new approach, Permission to touch fanny? makes me laugh, and with laughter comes looseness. And occasionally this leads to sex. And when it doesnt, its fine too. Because at least weve had a cuddle a bona fide, PG one.

Liz and Jims names have been changed

Original Article : HERE ; The Ultimate Survival Food: The Lost Ways