There are 4 T’s of great sex for securely partnered people in ongoing relationships: Trust, Touch, Talk, and Time.
I have been writing about the first two ingredients in this “recipe” for almost twenty years now, and the other two are anchored in 40 years of research and clinical experience.
Do you trust your partner? Much of the work couple therapists do focuses on the issue of trust. In general, people who grew up in families where it was not safe to feel vulnerable carry their learned tendency to distrust into their adult relationships.
If you recognize that you don’t trust your partner, even though he or she has been reasonably trustworthy in your relationship, then it’s worth exploring your issues with trust.
Other reasons trust can fly out the window have to do with breaches in the relationship. There are many reasons people stop trusting their partners — it would be impossible to list all of them — but certain ones are very common.
Of course, there are affairs. But less dramatic couple issues can also eat away at trust. Issues of fairness in dividing work tasks, finances, general responsibilities, and partners not coming through during times of distress, transition, illness, or neediness can all put strain on trust in a relationship.
Think about the marriage vows: for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health. It’s emotional work to stay in a monogamous relationship, and if you are not getting your needs met during difficult times, it’s hard to stay truly committed.
One common job as a couple therapist is to repair those breaches in trust. Here’s one classic case:
Kittie and Tom came into therapy because Kittie had no interest in having sex with Tom. They were not sure what had happened, but here they were, married with two kids, and their marriage seemed to be falling apart.
Tom was enraged and feeling rejected.
Both in their 30s, Tom and Kittie each worked in the business world. They had had similar goals and were well-matched in many ways. Both were ambitious, but they had agreed that Kittie would stay home with children for at least the first eight years. Tom was a go-getter, and his job was to have been the wage earner.
What had happened is that Tom had lost Kittie’s trust, and even she didn’t really know why. Their first child, Nina, had been born by a C-section, and Kittie was so sick afterwards that she felt as weak as a newborn herself.
Kittie had asked Tom for a lot of support and help when Nina was born. She had wanted him to come home early from work because she needed help with cooking and shopping and childcare.
Tom was at a new position in his company and he was anxious about the impression he was making at work. He did not want to be away from work, because he was afraid he would lose his job.
He had not been thinking clearly about how to solve the problem, and he had been minimizing Kittie’s distress. We figured that all out in our early sessions together.
Tom realized that he had not been a reliable partner. He should have done something active to get Kittie the help she needed physically; he should have pitched in with Nina when he was home; and he should have been sympathetic emotionally, including during the day when he was at work.
An emotional dam broke between them, and they knit their relationship back together, right before my eyes. In the weeks that followed, Kittie found her feelings of love return, and their sexual relationship reawakened.
Issues with lack of trust can surface as anger or irritability, or as a wish to remain distant, to avoid spending time with the other person, or by someone siphoning off all their attention and commitment to the children, work, a hobby, or other family.
A sex therapist cannot ignore the lack of trust between partners, even though some people might be fine having sex with a spouse they don’t trust. But most people will not be able to enjoy sex when their mind, body, and soul are on alert against being hurt.
Issues with trust can surface sexually as a lack of desire, difficulty with arousal, sexual pain, erectile dysfunction, or difficulty reaching orgasm.
All of these strategies just create a vicious circle. If you don’t trust your partner, and you can’t figure it out yourself, get some help solving the problem, or your relationship will disintegrate.
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