Celeste & Danielle Offer Sex and Relationship Coaching for a Passionate, Connected and Fulfilling Life

It feels so good to say and to hear the words “I love you,” but what do they really mean? In order to talk about what makes a relationship successful, it is crucial to have a working definition of love. This is something you can remind yourself, and each other, of during the inevitable ebb and flow of any long term relationship. Defining love is not an easy task. Poets, philosophers, neuroscientists, therapists and just about everyone else have tirelessly tried to answer this question. Our working definition of love comes from what we have seen work for the couples in our practice as sex and intimacy therapists.

Of all of the couples we see in our practice, the couples who have the most successful relationships know, or learn, that intimacy grows and is sustained not just in moments of connection, but in moments of tension. Moments of connection, such as touching, looking at one another, having an enjoyable shared experience, talking or having sex are all part of the glue that keeps relationships together. Likewise, moments of tension including differing desires, disagreements, misunderstandings, hurt feelings and anger, if done well, can also be part of the glue that holds your relationship together. When you come to conflict with the intention of sharing difficult feelings and deepening empathy and understanding of one another, and you learn to repair breaks in connection, you begin to build a sense of trust for one another that you can make it through challenges. Since every relationship has tension, knowing that you can make it through challenging moments is also part of the glue that holds relationships together. Doing both connection and tension well are essential to sustainable love.

Most relationships start out with a feeling of attraction and then move into two somewhat distinct phases. The first is the experience of falling in love (the “honeymoon period”), and the second is the experience of long-term loving. Not every relationship moves from the first phase into the second, and the ones that do so successfully are able to experience a love that is not narrowly defined. In our upcoming book Making Love Real we explore what love means. Articulating what we mean by love helps us to understand why we choose the people we choose to love (even when it does not feel like a choice). In this blog series we will explore why we love who we love and how to sustain it. Stay tuned and subscribe to this blog to get email notifications!

Last week we discussed the damaging myth “If your partner really loved you, you would never have to ask for what you want“. One of the reasons that many people still operate under this damaging assumption is that they believe that if they have to ask, it doesn’t count. We want to take a moment to examine the expectations this sets up in relationships and how harmful they can be to creating fulfilling connections that have the flexibility to change over time.

Expecting your partner to know what you want without ever asking is tantamount to thinking they are a master detective who can deduce all of your wants and needs by tracking subtle clues. While you may feel your clues are far from subtle, you may be surprised how differently each person processes information. If you pass a flower shop and quietly mutter “tulips are my favorite flower” you may be shocked that your partner did not rush to said flower shop as soon as they could in order to fill your house with your favorite stems. You may feel that you beat them over the head with your obvious expectation for flowers on date night, but all you actually stated was a preference for a certain flower.

In the bedroom, this detective works gets even more complicated and unrealistic. You may try and give subtle physical cues to nudge your lover towards a certain action, but without actually communicating your sexual desires and dislikes they may constantly disappoint. This goes both ways, of course. Even if you think you are the most intuitive lover in the world, you will be surprised how much you can learn by putting your ego aside and simply asking. Our clients are often extremely scared to give and receive feedback, but once they give and receive what they want sexually, it matters less and less how they got there.

People frequently assume their partners actually know what they want and simply refuses to give it to them which leads to long term resentment that lasts much longer than any awkwardness or ego bruising from an honest conversation. Instead of thinking that asking for what you want somehow makes it less special or not count, consider that it actually counts twice—once because your partner listened and once because they cared enough to try to give you what you wanted. In our practice we often hear people say, “Well, I did ask, and they didn’t do it” or “I asked, and they did it for a week and then stopped.” Learning new habits takes time. This often means that not only do you have to ask for what you want many times, but you also have to allow your partner to practice, give gentle and loving feedback, and try again. In our upcoming book “Making Love Real-The Intelligent Couple’s Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion” we offer many tools for moving beyond damaging myths and towards passionate connection.

Even if you are dating a professional psychic, they will not be able to predict all of your sexual and emotional needs, especially as they shift and change over time. The idea that “If they loved me, they would know what I want” is one of the most harmful romantic myths actively circulating. It is fed by the unfounded belief that, if you have truly found “the one,” they will know exactly what you want all the time without your having to tell them is one of the most toxic ideas we hold on to.

While we discussed this damaging myth in an earlier post on teaching people how to love you, we believe it bears repeating here. As we said, your needs are different than your partners and they change throughout your life. You might think it is a good idea to show your sweetheart you love them by offering what to you feels like love instead of by asking what they want. You might also wait around patiently, then impatiently, then angrily and resentfully, wishing your partner would give you what you want without your having to ask.

No in-depth dating profile or matching algorithm can take the place of actually telling your partner what turns you on and makes you feel loved. At the beginning of a relationship many people are actively looking for the good in their partner which helps them feel like all of the pieces are miraculously falling into place, and their desires are being met, with ease and minimal processing. Even if you feel you have found your soulmate, they do not possess a crystal (or Magic 8) ball that can give them all of the answers.

To receive the kind of love you want and to give your partner the kind of love they want, you must kindly teach your partner how to love you and learn how to love them. While there are many wonderful people out there with whom you can have a great relationship, not one of them will know what you need all the time, or even enough of the time, without you having to communicate. Our clients are often surprised that these conversations can end up being sexy and exciting and can quickly transition to mind-blowing erotic experiences. We are not saying it is easy to rid yourself of these myths, but we can not stress enough the importance of showing up to your relationship ready to teach and learn.

In our upcoming book Making Love Real: The Intelligent Couple’s Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion we discuss, at length, all of the damaging myths that tend to get in the way of our ability to create and sustain the relationships we want. In this series we are giving away many of our methods for combating these myths and finding ways to create the lasting, hot, and fulfilling relationships many of us desire.

Unless you live under a rock (with no cave drawings in sight), chances are you are constantly bombarded with images of perfect sex. Weather you watch romantic movies, porn, music videos or all of the above, your head is full of unrealistic, fantasy-fueled depictions of sex. Romantic movies show two incredibly hot people wordlessly falling into sex and then flash forward to the same couple out of breath and happily fulfilled. In more graphic depictions, we see intercourse begin after a few passionate seconds and ends with the magical simultaneous orgasm. In mainstream porn you mostly see contrived scenarios where the men have enormous cocks, the women are infinitely horny, and it’s all sucking and fucking all the time. It’s hard to know where to begin with the fantasy land of music videos, but we are pretty sure Miley Cyrus’s tongue is not actually that long in person.

Watching erotic content can be good, fun, stimulating entertainment. But, when it is coupled with a dearth of depictions of what realistic sexual experience might look like, it sets up an unattainable and damaging expectation of what perfect sex should be. It also gives a very warped vision of the steps it takes to attain your ideal sexual encounter.

You hardly ever see those inevitable awkward sexual moments—when someone gets poked with an elbow or their body makes a funny (and inexplicably loud) sound. You almost never see people teaching their partners what kinds of touch, kisses, or words they prefer, even though these scenarios can be extremely hot and erotic. In reality, sex has moments where things cinematically flow and moments where you just miss each other. Almost every sexual relationship has some moments of satisfaction and moments of frustration, awkwardness or pause. Sex won’t always be easy and usually isn’t perfect. Especially not from an outside perspective. But from within the experience, it can feel pretty perfect. The lead up to perfect-for-you sexual moments may have included some embarrassing conversations, uncontrollable giggles, and awkwardly placed limbs, but none of that actually matters.

We once worked with a couple who had been together for forty years and came to us desperate to reignite their spark. When we started engaging them in a dialogue about their favorite sexual acts Courtney volunteered, “One of my favorite things is having my toes sucked.” Her husband’s eyes widened. “We’ve been together for forty years. Why have you never told me that you like your toes sucked?” Courtney just shook her head and looked down. “I don’t know. I guess I was just too embarrassed to ask.”

Courtney is not alone in her desire for some toe-lovin or in her fears that talking about what she wants will be embarrassing. Most of us were brought up in cultures that approach sex with shame and repression. We lack a roadmap for how to discuss what we want. In families, sex is rarely discussed and when it is, these dialogues are marked by embarrassment and fear. In most schools, sex education focuses on the mechanics of biological procreation, STIs, and pregnancy prevention; students are generally taught nothing about pleasure. Many religious institutions look at sex as sinful and preach abstinence until marriage. After a childhood and adolescence in which you were taught to think of sex as sinful, dirty, and dangerous, you are supposed to magically fall in love and know exactly what to do sexually. You are expected to share the same desires, tastes, and expectations around sex without ever having to talk with your partner, or anyone else, about erotic pleasure or intimacy .

In the animal world there is no sexual shame or repression. We have all heard about the Bonobo monkeys who brilliantly solve most of their social problems with some form of pleasurable sexual stimulation. Sex is an integrated part of day-to-day life, and primates learn how to have sex from watching their counterparts have sex, an opportunity few of us have outside of staged pornography. Because of our highly developed frontal cortex, desire is much more complex for humans than it is for animals. Our sexual desires are also shaped by our social environment. Monkeys don’t need sexy lingerie, flowers, or blindfolds to get turned on. The idea that sex will just happen naturally between any two people, with all of their uniquely shaped sexual needs, is unrealistic and damaging.

Rather than expecting to go “animal style” we suggest making use of that frontal cortex and the gift of speech in order to learn what your partner wants and communicate what you desire. This means shedding the belief you should “just know.” In our upcoming book, Making Love Real: The Intelligent Couples Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion, we walk through all of the steps to communicating your sexual needs and getting them met. Whether you have been together for 3 months or 30 years, if you have not talked openly about sex and taught your partner what you like, your sex life will likely be much less fulfilling than it could be.

Today, take the time to tell your partner one thing you would love for them to do that you haven’t told them yet or haven’t asked for in a long time, then lay back and enjoy…

To begin honest outsourcing takes an acknowledgment that no one person, or relationship, can ever fulfill all of our desires or needs, nor should we want it to. Most people already acknowledge this in one way or another, but when it comes to outsourcing sex or romance many folks feel threatened. We keep talking about the what honest outsourcing is, and The pros and cons, because we understand that operationalizing honest outsourcing in any given relationship is a unique task that can be very rewarding if approached with care and open communication. These 6 keys can guide that process.

  1. Go slow. Start by doing something that feels within your comfort zone, then slowly move on to experiences that are only a little outside your comfort zone. We see the biggest problems arise when people approach opening up from a place of scarcity and urgency, feeling like they have to get everything from the first experience. Non-monogamy works much better when you take the time to test out new experiences and communicate afterwards to see what feelings arise and share what worked and what didn’t.
  2. Always prioritize your partner’s needs and boundaries over the needs of other partners, and make sure your other partners know that you are going to do this. This may mean you have to disappoint other partners in order to keep your primary relationship strong.
  3. Do not expect your partner to have the same desires you do. When negotiating what you want, don’t try to be “fair.” Figure out what each of you wants to get out of the arrangement and whether you want to do it at all. For example, we worked with one couple where only one of the partners had other lovers and another couple where she wanted romantic dating with lots of kissing and occasional sex and he wanted anonymous sexual experiences with new people.
  4. You won’t know what it will feel like until you actually have the experience. Look at each new experience as a trial run where you see what you felt, whether it worked for you, and what, if anything, would need to change in order for you to want to do it again. Some experiences will feel good, and you may want to do them again; others will not, and you might not want to do them again. If you stretched too far, you might need to try experiences closer to your comfort zone before you try to stretch that far again.
  5. You and your partner will have different triggers around opening up your relationship, so it is essential to share your feelings. Don’t ignore them or try to get over them without your partner’s help. Don’t compare your ability to handle an open relationship with your partner’s ability. You each have your own feelings, needs, and boundaries. If you try to talk yourself out of any of these, you will build resentment and distance. To stay intimately connected, you will need to be as honest as possible about what is going on inside you.
  6. Learn what your partner needs in terms of reassurance that you are still there and committed to the relationship. When you are connecting with other people, your partner will likely need to have much more reassurance than they needed when you were being monogamous. For some people, there are specific words, for others they need touch or sexual connection to feel reassured. Let your partner know what you need and be specific. Give them information on the kinds of words, gestures and sentences are most reassuring for you.

Again, these are just a few helpful tools to begin discussing. If you want to explore opening your relationship with your partner, we strongly recommend you read some books on the topic. We recommend The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton, and Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino. Learning as much as you can and practicing with good communication tools is essential before you give honest outsourcing a try!

Whenever we talk to anyone about non-monogamy, the first question we always get is “Yes, in theory, but do non-monogamous relationships really work?” The simple answer is yes. Both monogamous and open relationships have their places of ease and their challenges which are quite different. For example, those who desire consistency and feel very threatened by the thought of their partner being with someone else may do better with monogamy while those who are less prone to jealousy and crave more variety may do better with non-monogamy. We believe the more important question is, “What really makes a relationship work?” Whether a relationship is monogamous or non-monogamous, what makes it work is mutual trust, respect, attachment, good communication, empathy, the ability to self-reflect and grow, consideration, and the desire to support each other in being true to who you are.

Pros of Honest Outsourcing

Negotiating non-monogamy can actually enhance your relationship because it requires high level communication skills that many monogamous relationships don’t develop. From our years of seeing clients, we can say that most relationships are under-communicated. Without a conscious choice to communicate, people get lazy about expressing their feelings, needs, and fears. Instead they use shortcuts and rely on what they already know, or think they know, about their partner. Imagining or practicing non-monogamy will likely uncover fears and insecurities that you may have buried and give you the opportunity to move through these feelings with the loving support of your partner. You can work through your fear of being left and insecurity about not being enough for your partner as you see them connecting with another person but still loving and staying with you.

Cons of Honest Outsourcing

Most of us think we know the con’s of non-monogamy, because we are taught that monogamy is inherently safer, easier, and more fulfilling. There certainly are challenges associated with opening up a relationship. You may feel jealous or fear being abandoned, and you may feel hurt at times. If you decide to practice some kind of honest outsourcing, you will likely experience misunderstandings, imperfect communication, and crossed boundaries. Even if the two of you are very good at communicating your needs and boundaries around being with other people, miscommunication is still possible. For some people, it will simply be against their grain – those folks feel more relaxed and fulfilled in monogamy and opening up is undesirable or beyond their capacity. The biggest challenges we have seen in relationships are when one person wants monogamy and the other wants to be open, it can work but it’s tougher.

It’s All Part of The Deal

Many people think they can avoid hurt or ever crossing boundaries in relationships, so they try to avoid any conversation or action that might bring up hurt or fear. However, any two people have differences, misunderstandings, and wounds that get triggered, and hurts and challenges are a normal part of relationships, both monogamous and non-monogamous. Learning how to take responsibility for your feelings, fears and actions and giving each other attentive, empathetic and listening will give you an opportunity to get through the hurt and back into your peaceful, loving connection with your partner.

If you are interested in beginning to open your relationship, keep your eye out for our next blog, 6 Keys to Success in Honest Outsourcing.