Four Common Conflicts
We’ve been discussing how to competently manage solvable and unsolvable problems. Over the next several days, we’ll look at four issues (sex, money, in-laws and parenting) that almost every couple finds conflictual at one time or another.
If you practice the skills we’ve presented in the last five days, you’ll be able to navigate these particularly sticky conflicts together more effectively.
So sex. It might be helpful to know going in that conflicts about sex aren’t usually about sex, really, so it’s likely that sex is just a battleground for something else. Most often, this “something else” is power.
Let’s see how this works.
A person’s effort to achieve dominance can be overt (demandingness) or covert (passive aggressive), and sex is sometimes the commodity of exchange. Frequency, timing and spontaneity are common complaints between couples. One wants sex more often or more spontaneously, and the other wants it only under more defined conditions.
Pursuit and Distance
We have discussed the concept of emotional pursuit and distance (see post, “…Operating Styles 1.0). Pursuit and distance can look similar in sex as it does in other issues, but the partner who is the emotional pursuer is often the sexual distancer, and vice versa. The one who complains about sex is likely the sexual pursuer and the defensive one the sexual distancer.
Taking an Experimental Position
Taking an experimental position (see post, “…Self-Focus”) can help surface the issues that sex may be masking. The sexual pursuer can refrain from pressuring for sex in any way, while the sexual distancer can take responsibility for the couples’ sex life. If the sexual pursuer is the emotional distancer, he or she can concentrate on initiating non-sexual contact with his or her partner.
The goal of this experiment is for the sexual pursuer to discover any emptiness that he or she may be trying to fill through sex, and for the sexual distancer to discover any emptiness that he or she may be trying to avoid by withholding it. What function has sex (or withholding it) served for each individual? What would happen if the couple never had sex again? What would the sexual pursuer find sex has meant for him or her? And what is the sexual distancer missing out on by avoiding sexual connection with his or her partner?
The ideal outcome is to remove sex from the realm of power, so as to free both partners to be: 1) informed about sexuality in general, and specifically about their own sexuality; 2) aware of how sexual conditioning from the culture and the family of origin impacts their present desire and sexual expression; 3) able to initiate sex, willing to take responsibility for their own sexual satisfaction, and responsive to the desires of their partner within the limits the both consider acceptable; and 4) intentional about creating sexual connections between them that are life-giving for both.
Don’t avoid the issue if you’re the sexual distancer, and don’t badger your partner if you’re the sexual pursuer. Tread carefully. Sex cuts to the core of what makes us men and women. These are delicate matters, and approaching them with reverence is imperative.
One conversation isn’t likely to get at the root of the emotional issues beneath the surface, and doing so with great care, using the skills described in the five previous posts, is vital. It may even be necessary to enlist the help of a professional who specializes in working with sexual issues.
Done well, you and your partner can create a sexual way of being that is deeply satisfying for you both.