First, read this: Size Really Does Matter.
What Do Ears Have To Do With Sexual Intimacy?
In my last post, I focused on the importance of telling our partners what we long for in sexual intimacy before we go to the bedroom, or at least before we begin making love.
In Part II, I want to emphasize the importance of our ears in building intimacy. When our partner tries to tell us what s/he wants, how well we listen and receive her/his honesty impacts the quality of that connection.
It can be damned frightening to open my heart to my partner and really listen to what she wants, how she wants me to love her and make love to her. (Have you ever tried to do this? Was it scary?)
What do you do when s/he says, “Can we talk?”
We don’t have much training or support in how to hear these kinds of requests for intimate and honest communication without reacting defensively. Ultimately, we can receive the requests in one of four ways. You might easily recognize the first two:
1) Regardless of how my partner broaches the subject of sex, there may be times when, out of habit, I will hear her request as a threat, evaluation or criticism. When that happens, I might turn that criticism inward against myself in a way that could sound like, “I’m so inept/inadequate/insensitive/etc. I just know she’s going to tell me I’m a lousy lover. Jeez, I don’t know what to do.” Blaming, shaming and criticizing myself never seems to get me, or us, to the kind of life-enhancing quality of sexual connection both of us want.
2) Another negative way I could hear her might be as follows: Let’s say she tells me her longings and she requests something different than how we have been making love. If I hear her request as criticism, I might react by turning it back on her. That could come out sounding like, “Before you start, I’m not in the mood to hear another one of your complaints about what I don’t give you sexually. Why can’t we just keep things the way they were when we first met?”
Or, I might be even more unskillful with something like, “Are you going to criticize me?! Again?!?! Well, why don’t you just deal with your own stuff? You know, you’re not the greatest lover I’ve ever had. Instead of attacking me and trying to change me, change your own self!”
I don’t think I need to spell out what is not going to happen in that bedroom that evening…or maybe ever again.
Connection, sexual or otherwise, simply cannot happen from a foundation of blame, evaluation or criticism. We might “fake it” for a while, but sooner or later, we will find ourselves sitting alone at night wondering where it all went wrong.
So, how do we make the connection?
One of the hardest things to communicate to clients who come to me wanting better love lives is the importance and power of intention.
If your intention is to get your partner to “perform better,” or to do what you want without regard to her/his desires, well, good luck with that. But, if your intention is to connect more authentically, this can help you both. It does not guarantee the best orgasm/climax ever, but it offers a much better chance than the two options above.
Creating the kind of connection that includes safety, respect, mutuality, equality, shared reality and belonging, along with many other such qualities, is based on the kind of intention you set in your heart and mind.
Following up with active, reflective listening is how you “give legs” to that intention. That brings me to the other two ways you could hear the request:
3) Rather than moving into criticism and blame directed inward toward yourself or outward toward your partner, you could try some empathy. If her request triggers negative feelings in you about yourself, have an internal conversation with yourself.
That might sound like, “Jeez, when she asks me to be more vocal during sex, I get so damned self-conscious and frustrated. I really want her to enjoy me and want me. I’m scared what I give her won’t be good enough. I want to be seen for trying and for how much I care about her happiness. I want to accept myself rather than put myself down.”
In other words, you check in with what is going on in your heart. If your own needs and longings are screaming for attention, get connected with those before you try to offer anything or request anything sexual or otherwise.
Giving your self empathy is a learned skill. You can do it—it just takes dedication and practice.
4) The final option, when I think I am being criticized (or judged, or analyzed), is to ask myself, “What is she trying to convey about her desires?” Instead of interpreting her request as criticism, I can choose to hear what is important to her. (Wake up! Notice I said, “I can choose…”) I can follow the thread of her words to her feelings. Using those as clues, I can make guesses about her longings.
Let’s listen in on Jen and Mike, the imaginary couple from the previous article:
Mike: “Are you sad when you tell me how you want me to talk more when we make love and I don’t do it?”
Jen: “Yes, sad and a little lonely, I guess. I want to know I matter to you enough that you are willing to try something I enjoy, even if it’s a little uncomfortable for you.”
Mike: “So, you’d like to know that I would stretch my comfort zone to really create the kind of chemistry you enjoy and give you the assurance that you matter to me?”
Jen: “Yeah. I don’t want to ‘make’ you do anything. I want it to come from your love for me. I want to know my desires have value too.”
Mike: “I’m really happy we are talking because I want to give you the kind of care that will show you how much I love you. Could I share what’s happening for me right now?”
Jen: “Sure. What’s going on?”
Mike: “Well, I’m nervous and a little embarrassed. The nervousness is about wondering if I can do what you’re asking me to do. The embarrassment is my wondering whether or not you like anything about how I make love to you? I want us to have the shared experience of having both our sexual desires met in a deep, loving way.”
This could go many layers deeper and many hours longer…hopefully, even over the course of a lifetime together.
Getting clear about our intentions around sexual intimacy can help anchor us in knowing what we value most.
Knowing that, we can then cultivate this vulnerable part of both ourselves and our relationships with compassion, understanding, mutuality, caring and joy. We can build our empathy skills, rather than resort to defense with blame, shame or guilt.
The outcome can be that we can stand strongly on an emotionally solid foundation.
May your intimacy be wonder-filled, deeply satisfying and transformational for every part of your relationships.
I hope you will let me know how this lands for you. If anything here has been helpful, please reach out to let me know what helped and how.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Used with Permission from Author