Article in The Republican;
Girls Just Want to Have Fun
January 15 2009
by Denise Favro Schwartz
Thursday January 15, 2009, 5:33 PM
A chat with Tammy Nelson, couples therapist
Tammy Nelson wants you to get intimate. She has spent years researching the best ways for couples to reach a comfortable and relationship-sustaining level of intimacy and she wants to pass along what she has learned.
Nelson talks about intimacy the way a teenager talks about sex: easily, curiously, convincingly. And she writes about sex. Her recent book is titled “Getting the Sex You Want.” Her e-newsletter, “Passionate Partnerships,” (www.
passionatepartnerships.com) asks questions like: “Are you turning up the heat on your sex life?”
In an article she wrote for Psychotherapy Networker Magazine, Nelson, a licensed psychotherapist, and a Certified Imago Therapist (a form of relationship therapy which has been featured on “Oprah,” Nelson writes on her website) and advanced clinician, says that during her 20 years of couples therapy practice she’s found that partners who “aren’t having good sex are usually more dissatisfied with their relationships overall — more frustrated with each other, more discouraged about their joint future and likelier to split.”
That makes sense.
What doesn’t make sense, she says, is that so many couples, those who are new in their relationships as well as those who have been together long enough to need some cranking up of the old libido, continue to live unsatisfying sex lives when revving it up is fairly easy to do.
Why is that?
While doing errands one recent Saturday, Nelson cheerfully answered that question, and more, by phone, while her husband drove.
“Reason number one is that there are natural stages in the life of a couple,” she said. “There’s the hot, romantic phase where sex is great. The attraction is in the longing for each other. There’s space between the two of you, and curiosity.”
The next phase of the relationship is characterized by feeling comfortable with each other. Nelson calls it “The Sweatpants Phase.”
“You let down your guard. You eat what you want, dress how you want,” she said. “Sex becomes comfortable. You know what buttons to push, sexually. Some couples may go into maintenance sex in this phase. You can stay there forever. But eventually you have to make a choice — either spiff it up or it goes outside the relationship into affairs or the Internet.”
But the primary reason relationships cool down is because couples don’t talk about their sex life.
“There are a lot of reasons for that,” Nelson said. “First, it’s unusual for women to be comfortable having a voice about their sexual needs. They’re not taught to recognize physical signals in their bodies. For example, men have physical symptoms of arousal. Women don’t have that heightened awareness of arousal. And, women are generally taught to ignore signals of desire whether it’s for food or sex. When you have women being on an average of three diets by the time they are 25, they’re ignoring their desire, in this case for food, because our culture tells them to. They’re taught to ignore their body’s signals from the neck down.”
And then, she said, couples often don’t talk about their sex lives because there is the assumption that our sexual partners should automatically know how to please us.
“It’s ‘If you really loved me, you’d know what I like. You’d know that I like it harder, softer, to the left, to the right,'” Nelson said.
There are many more reasons, she adds, ready and willing to talk about them. But when encouraged to move past the reasons we don’t talk about sex with our partners and on towards how to start a sexual chat, Nelson cheerfully complies.
She describes a “first-step” exercise designed to take couples to greater intimacy. Call it “Appreciation Talk.” It is done in three steps.
“Appreciation is a way to soften the frontal lobe,” Nelson says. “It makes you more receptive to what your partner is saying. Usually we get defensive when someone says, ‘We need to talk’ or ‘I don’t like it when you do this.’ There’s a lot of ego involved. So here’s how to start. Say, ‘One thing I really like about our relationship is…’ and then you fill in the blank. You could say, ‘your willingness to spend time with me even though you’re so busy.”
Then you move to riskier talk. “You say, ‘One thing I really appreciate about our sex life is…’ And you fill in the blank.” Nelson suggests: “You could say, ‘One thing I really appreciate about our sex life is that we hold each other after we make love’.”
Okay. That sounds easy enough.
“You talk about the thing that you would like more of,” she answers. “Say, ‘Remember that time we were in the shower? I’d like more of that.'”
“You always get more of what you appreciate,” she adds. “Appreciation is a reward for positive behavior. When you say to your partner, ‘I like it when you do the dishes,’ you get more of him doing the dishes. Instead of saying, ‘I hate it when you go to the left,’ say ‘I love it when you go to the right.'”
Nelson holds tele-seminars, trainings and workshops for people who want to learn how to say and do things to increase intimacy and sexual happiness in their relationships. A wide range of people attend them.
“Couples in crisis who had infidelity and are trying to repair their relationship, couples who are feeling bored but who still love and care about each other but don’t feel the passion come to them,” Nelson said.
The second group, those that may have been together for a while and who feel less passion than they once did, may feel that the cool down in their sex lives is natural.
They may think that the comfortableness of the long-term relationship is enough. Nelson cautions that that could be faulty thinking.
“There are two sides of a relationship: the companionship side and the erotic side,” she said. “Most couples work on companionship, the everyday getting along, the taking care of the family. Most people think that if they work on that part of their relationship, the sex life will fix itself. But you have to put more energy into the erotic part of the relationship to keep that ‘in love’ feeling going.”
Nelson then offers summary advice: “Talk about sex. Talk about it in a positive way. Just talking about it increases the erotic energy. You don’t have to play special music or dress in fancy clothes. Just talk about sex and the energy will shift.”
“Do you follow this advice with your husband?” I ask.
“Oh, yes!” Nelson answers.
And what does he think about the kind of work you do?
She asks him.
“He says he thinks it important work.”
She pauses to listen to him talk. Then she laughs. “He says he’s a very happy man!”
She holds up the phone so I can hear her husband of four years add: “And you’re a very happy woman!”