How to Grow Your Relationship

holding_new_plant_o4i8I have to admit that I am no green thumb. Plants under my care tend not to thrive. The truth is that whenever I have had a young plant, I usually begin with loads of enthusiasm which tends to peter off as time goes by. If we think about it, many of us treat our significant relationships or marriages like this; we begin with enthusiasm only to allow them to languish in neglect.

And a relationship is like plant. It’s a living, breathing thing which requires loads of attention if it is to grow and thrive. If, however, we pursue our relationships on automatic pilot instead of with thought or intention, then we run the risk of missing valuable “growth-moments”. When that plant becomes dry and withered because of a lack of water, sunlight or nourishing soil, then it will take some pruning, watering and overall care to get it back to a healthy state.

If our relationship is suffering with neglect and needs an injection of life and renewal, then the following  pointers should help us maximize growth.

  • Utilize confrontation wisely: If we are constantly unhappy with the up-turned toilet seat, or with our partner’s propensity to be a workaholic; if we are bored stiff with sex or hate the fact that we have virtually no romantic couple time; then now is the time to open our mouths wide and speak. Suffering in silence or being a relationship martyr is dis-empowering and self-destructive. Practicing the fine art of loving confrontation with disarming ‘I feel’ statements, as opposed to harsh accusations, can go a long way towards improving relational quality.
  • Take responsibility for your own happiness:  Ensuring relationship growth is a two-sided deal because both partners share equal responsibility. While one may be responsible for outright change, the other is equally responsible for facilitating that change. Admittedly, it is very easy to blame someone else for our own misery. It is, however, equally important to look within to see where we have let ourselves down. Very often we can internalize our life-disappointments and project this unhappiness unto our spouse. Taking responsibility for our own peace of mind may mean deliberately letting go of past hurts in our relationship or previous ones.
  • Practice self-love: As women we want to be loved and told that we are beautiful, sexy and desirable. Amazingly, some of us can’t stand the best bone in our own bodies. We are filled with self-loathing and self-rejection every time we stare at ourselves in the mirror. If we are unable to say to ourselves “girl you look fine”, then why on earth would we expect our man to tell us this. Low self-esteem and self-recrimination are tangible states of being which affect the way we carry ourselves. This negativity can be reversed through daily declarations which affirm that we are indeed beautiful.  If there is anything we do need to change, then we can actively pursue this while understanding that our worth is not tied to our looks.
  • Pursue dreams: Some of us have been taught that it is vain or even self-serving, to focus too much on ourselves. As a consequence, we usually place the needs of others before our own; ALL THE TIME. Of course I wholeheartedly believe that there is a juncture in our lives when this is entirely necessary. When we have babies and small children we learn about this all too well and this is perhaps as it should be. But there is nothing wrong with also pursuing what makes us happy or fulfilled; as long as it’s legal and no one is being hurt. Women, who constantly sacrifice their dreams and goals and never share such with their partners or children, run the risk of becoming angry and resentful. On the other hand, when we feel happy and fulfilled, we bring a positive energy to the relationship which is infectious.
  • Shed unrealistic expectations: Falling in love does not mean finding a perfect soul-mate who will meet our every emotional and sexual need; this is a myth. There can be a sense of purpose or even destiny in partnering with someone who does share our vision and values. No one, however, is perfect. We should therefore shed unrealistic expectations. These can include beliefs that our partner should anticipate our every need, read our minds even before we speak, know exactly what we mean when we do speak, be the perfect lover, kisser, gourmet chef, provider, leader, handyman, disciplinarian, planner and the list can go on. While there may be such men somewhere out there on Mars, I haven’t met many of them. Accept that neither one of you is perfect and determine to improve together.

Kick-Starting Your Relationship In 2013

NEW-YE~1Most of us look towards the prospect of a new year with loads of excitement. Although the new-year is really only the turning over of one other 24hr period, somehow, we humans continue to imbue it with a remarkable power to change the course of our lives.  When you think about it, times and seasons are really reference points which allow us to reflect on where we are and to set goals towards where we want to be. What better area to do this in than in our relationships? The prospect of a new-year should therefore provide us with fresh impetus to bring much needed change to our intimate relationships. Making a relationship assessment is much easier when we look at the critical areas that allow us to evaluate our level of happiness or satisfaction. Even if we have cruised through 2012 without much fuss, making a commitment to kick-start our relationship should begin with our determination to make it better in all the critical areas.

Communication
Commit to more open and honest communication in 2013. Sometimes bad relationship habits like skirting on the truth, telling white lies, convenient omissions or failure to confront, can take their toll on a relationship. Deciding to be up-front and honest about those relationship issues which rub you the wrong way is a sure-fire way to keep the communication channels open between you and your partner. While there is some scope for overlooking some idiosyncrasies in your spouse, it is important that critical issues are not continuously neglected. The truth is that even when we believe we’re not rocking the boat by discussing volatile issues, our body language or even the way that we treat our partner, becomes a powerful communicator of our unhappiness. Deciding to take our communication of dissatisfaction to the next level through open discourse, is a far more healthy way to encourage the resolution of problems.

Couple Time
Admittedly, our lives today are ridiculously busy. Between our professional lives, family commitments, pursuit of studies and recreational activities, we can sometimes feel a serious tug-of-war pulling us in several directions at once. Carving out special couple-time is critical for preserving that sense of special intimacy which should characterize a committed relationship or marriage. Kick-starting your relationship in 2013 should therefore include a decision to regularize date-nights. Date nights need not mean that we must break the bank every time with extravagant dinners but can include simple activities like movie-nights, romantic walks on the beach, home -dining, dancing and the like. Doing such activities together minus the kids or even with another couple, can be a powerful reminder of why we got together in the first place and can serve to keep the spark alive.

Super Sex
When our sex degenerates into a boring, hum-drum activity which we always do on morning rush-hour with eyes half-closed, we know that we have a problem on our hands. Even if the sex is not as extreme as described here, any move towards relationship enhancement must take stock of the state of the bedroom. So how will you rev things up in the sex department this coming year? Well; actually getting out of the bedroom may be a good place to start. Deciding to be a tad risqué by making out in your car, patio or garden (of course with privacy observed) may be a great way to add some excitement to your sex. Of course for those of us with really busy lives or small kids, committing to actually having regular sex, even minus the frills, may be a great starting point. Scheduling sex need not be a boring, predictable alternative to zero sex, since some sex is actually way better than none at all. Planning for passionate encounters, however, allows a couple to roll out the champagne, the rose petals, the music, the scented oils, the flavoured condoms, the adventurous lingerie and the like. These are the things which admittedly we can’t do every week but when we do take the time to include them, they can make our sex something really special. Let your sex goal of 2013 be the shedding of sexual inhibitions, as you and your spouse strive for something new.

Re-Invention

Ultimately, the best way to inject a sense of newness into our relationship, is to inject some newness into ourselves. Very often our relationships are stale and boring because we’ve become stale and boring. A failure to change something as peripheral as a hairstyle, make-up, or style of dress, can be indicative of the fact that we may be stuck in a time warp. Surface changes should not just be seen as mere treks into vanity, but can indicate a willingness to try new things. This penchant for “the new” can actually spill over into other areas of the life. Pursuing studies, taking up a foreign language, learning a new skill or hobby is a great move towards self-investment. Not only will you benefit from your new-found enthusiasm and zest for life but this new, more fulfilled, more interesting and sexier you, is likely to be far more enticing to your partner.

Making a commitment to developing the self can be parallel to our commitment to developing our relationship, as we head into the new year together.

 

 

 

It Takes Two To Tango

It’s the common, old, chicken and egg scenario, when we examine the issue of a lack of sex in marriage. Does a flawed or strained relationship lead to a decrease in sexual activity or does a decrease in sexual activity cause a flawed or strained relationship? Which comes first? Well your guess may be as good as mine but I think that there is perhaps a significant amount of dove-tailing between these two issues.

For most of us women, we need to feel loved and appreciated outside the bedroom before we can comfortably get our groove on with our man. So that loving phone call just to see how our day is going or neck massage just after we walk through the door, can go a long way towards heating things up a bit later. Since we also love to talk, when our man takes the time to communicate with us, it sends the signal that we are important enough for him to step outside his own comfort zone just in order to connect with us; especially since most men don’t relish talking. But this begs the question of how we should respond to our spouse’s amorous moves when the relationship leaves a lot to be desired.

What if he never calls during the day or fails to show sensitivity on our hormonally-challenged days? What if he never really talks to us nor rubs our tired feet at night? Should we still give in to sex when our emotional needs clearly aren’t being met? If we do pull away sexually, is there any hope for healing in the relationship?

Most husbands I have spoken to have given a resounding “IT’S VERY IMPORTANT!” to the question of what sex means to them. We all know that for most men, sex is akin to breathing oxygen. They are energized, revived and defined by it. Truth be told; sex does a lot of this for us women as well. The defining difference between us, however, tends to be how we engage our desire for sex. We women tend to be more holistic individuals who are all about the overall health and tone of the relationship.  This is why when our partners are inattentive or insensitive, many of us literally shut down sexually; we’re having none of that “coochie” stuff when there is tension brewing between us. Conversely, our partners tend to want to use the old “roll in the hay” ploy, to solve all manner of problems. So, we’re acting angry and upset with them but they want to caress our “you know what” to get us in the mood. Most of us women aren’t the least bit interested in this, until we can at least talk it over.

So how do we move our marriages forward when the tensions produce a lack of interest in sex?  What if the sex is so bad that we’ve lost enthusiasm and this begins to fuel even more tension? There will probably be no improvement until we can both step back a bit from our own personal desires, to see what is best for the relationship. Am I suggesting that we put our personal needs, preferences and requirements on the back burner? You bet I am! There is not a successful marriage or intimate relationship alive that can survive without some element of sacrifice. I’m sorry, but unlike some relationship idealists, I’m not a firm believer in any such thing called a fifty-fifty relationship.  From my own personal and counseling experience, they just don’t exist!  What I can say, is that the same person shouldn’t always have to do the sacrificing in order to preserve the sanity of the relationship. When the woman always gives in, or the man always has to set his needs aside, then there is a decided lack of balance which can backfire. Nevertheless, I don’t believe that it’s useful to measure which partner does it more than the other; this is counterproductive and can fuel resentment.

While we may never solve the chicken and egg conundrum, we can both learn to work together to make our ‘sexual tango’ less of a fight and more of a dance. To the men who want to experience a vibrant sex life and to the women who desire a more whole and satisfying relationship, the following tips may prove useful:

Advice for Men
• Know your wife and honour her preferences;  if she needs an apology before you attempt to do the tango then be big enough to  say “I’m sorry” before you’re even tempted to touch
• Don’t allow arguments and disagreements to brew overnight if you can help it; in other words, don’t let the sun go down on your wrath (and then expect to touch that smiling “happy face” next morning)
• Your wife is turned on by talk; so talk to her and not at her
• Be kind and thoughtful always,  especially when there’s no ulterior motive; you can never give your spouse too much attention
• Don’t assume you’re a fantastic lover; ask her first
• Try not to act as though sex is an end in itself; this signals that you believe that it’s all about you; instead use it to convey love and intense passion that is specific to your spouse. Take heed to Rihanna’s song and make her feel like she’s “the only girl in the world”; the object of your affection.

Advice for Women
• Accept that sex is super-important for  your spouse and is  most likely his preferred method of communication
• As much as you may be tempted  to, don’t use sex as a means of reward or punishment; this belittles what should be a super-significant part of your relationship
• Understand that  when there is  no sex,  you are also depriving yourself of the pleasure you deserve; it’s definitely a lose/lose  situation
• The prolonged absence of physical intimacy (except in cases of illness) is likely to drive you farther apart so don’t instigate or encourage it
• Try to separate the unsettling incident from your spouse; confront the issue without tearing him to pieces; when you belittle your partner it will be even harder to find him sexually appealing
• Use your sensuality as a gift and allow your sex to strip down barriers between you and your spouse; sex can become a gateway to deeper communication and understanding if you allow it to.

Denise J talks SEX with Rebecca Rosenblat

Denise J Charles recently appeared on  Sex @ 11 With  Rebecca,  a  television talk  show on  Rogers TV Toronto, hosted by Sex and Relationship Therapist Rebecca Rosenblat. Their discussion focused on the issue of dealing with differences between partners in the bedroom and looked at how this  can impact the relationship. Denise provides some practical advice for how a couple can cope with the challenge of differing sexual tastes.

Follow the link  here to view this timely interview on Rogers TV or click underlined link  below.

Denise’s Interview on Rogers TV, Toronto.

Who’s The Boss in the Bedroom?

Controllers believe in “one way”; usually their way.

Some of us are fortunate to have made good relationship choices.  As a result, we find ourselves with a fairly amenable well-adjusted partner, with whom life is fairly comfortable. Others of us, for whatever reason, may have found ourselves drawn to a stubborn individual who just likes to do things his or her way. All things being equal, although there may be some underlying good qualities which we see, we, nonetheless, recognize that our partner has some serious control issues. A control freak tends to bully his or her way through a relationship. While this article is not meant to dissect the psychology of such a person, it does acknowledge underlying issues like insecurity and fear which feed the behavior of controllers.

Now I know this may be a volatile topic in some quarters because behavior which is overtly controlling can border on abuse or may be outright abusive and even dangerous. If an individual feels physically or psychologically threatened, is physically hurt or is unable to function normally as a result of spousal control, then this is a serious red flag which indicates a need for intervention. In no way should we tolerate or trivialize such behaviour.

For others, the experience of control, while undesirable, may be livable. It may be seen as just a personality quirk of our spouse which we have resigned ourselves to living with. When this is the case, what are we expected to do when we witness such behavior spilling over into the bedroom? When our partner loves to control everything, how exactly does this pan out between the sheets? And how exactly does a controller behave in the sex department? Here are a few likely traits which are applicable to either male or female:

  • Usually wants sex on demand
  • Seeks to manipulate in the area of sexual preferences including positions, use of sex toys, and the like
  • Will only experiment with what they are comfortable with or will seek to re-work a “pet” fantasy
  • Expects partner to fulfill every sexual wish or fantasy; regardless of how uncomfortable the partner might feel
  • Pouts and sulks when sexually dissatisfied
  • Is insensitive to spouse’s likes or dislikes when they differ from controller’s preferences or knowledge base
  • Uses sex to express dominance and control
  • Lacks empathy and does not listen to or embrace spouse’s point of view on sexual matters
  • Will try all the moves learnt on previous partners, while ignoring spouse’s individuality
  • Will repeatedly do or say what they “know” will turn partner on, even if he/she says otherwise; for example, a husband who repeatedly lunges at his wife’s breasts from the get-go because he “knows” that all women find this arousing

 

While these examples are not exhaustive by any means, our response to such behaviour is likely to be influenced by our own personality. Are we shy and retiring, a go-getter, a cussing confrontationist, a manipulator or a wise negotiator? Then there is our sexual style which also influences what we want in bed, what we like and how we like it.  These factors together are likely to have an impact on what we do in such a relationship.

The Submitter

Those of us with submissive personalities or with submissive sexual tastes will likely enjoy our spouse’s role as a controller. We may derive a sexual thrill from giving in or in being dominated. Where this becomes problematic is where we always sacrifice who we are or what we prefer for the sake of giving in to our partner. This will be a challenging habit to break, especially if we derive our sexual energy and identity from playing such a role. On the other hand, as we mature and our sexual needs change, we may still find ourselves stuck in a rut with behaviour that no longer meets our current sexual needs but is perpetuated because it has become the norm.

The Passive/Aggressive

This individual understands the power of sex and uses it as a weapon to respond to the controlling partner. This is done by either withholding sex or by simply going through the motions when making love (you know like reading a magazine or writing the shopping list while he’s having a go at it) Because the passive/aggressive does not have the nerve to vocalize his/her concerns about this aspect of the relationship, anger is channeled through the sex act itself. While this behaviour can cause the passive-aggressor to feel in control, they are in essence copping out and robbing themselves of the possibility of a great sex life.

The Fighter

This partner is attempting to hold on to who they are for dear life. While there may be a deep love for the controlling spouse, there is also a deep resentment for the power balance. The result is a fair dose of overt aggression as this partner seeks to assert who she is in the bedroom by countering with her own set of sexual demands. While this may be hard for some men to swallow, there is, for example an entire group of men who LOVE to receive oral sex but who are indifferent about giving it. While assertiveness is great and should be commended, if both partners remain locked into an “I want” mode, then this becomes counter-productive. This stance in fact fuels a lack of sexual fulfillment, as neither partner becomes sold on the idea of “giving” as an integral part of the sex act.

The Negotiator

The negotiator understands very well that she has something which her partner wants; and she intends to give him. While she may love sex, however, she is unwilling to sacrifice her sense of who she is without active dialogue and the pursuit of a better relationship. At the same time, she understands that life is seldom ideal and that in relationships, we do not always get everything we want, when we want it. So she’s fairly realistic and does not expect relationship perfection; she is willing to bide her time.

Where she differs from the fighter, is that while she is willing to vocalize her own desires, she is also still interested in pleasing her partner sexually. She tries not to use sex in a “tit-for-tat” style but attempts to break down her partner’s defenses with the type of lovemaking he will never forget. (Guys could well learn from this negotiation style that they can have sensational sex, by themselves being sensational lovers). This is done in the hopes that if her husband is sexually fulfilled, he would be willing to meet her own needs; both sexual and emotional. Like any act of negotiation, there is however a tremendous risk involved as there are no guarantees. Issues like a mismatched sex drive and differences in bedroom preferences are not easily resolved and require a mature approach from both partners and a willingness to compromise.

While admittedly, a controller is who he/she is because of an inherent unwillingness to compromise, we also acknowledge that no individual is hopeless and outside the scope for change. If beneath that desire to control there is any real love and respect for the offended partner, then loving, but firm, non-aggressive confrontation will be needed to move the relationship forward. Withholding sex is a knee-jerk response and the partner who seems more mature, must be willing to model what it means to really give in a sexual relationship without sacrificing their sense of individuality or personal dignity; a delicate balancing act I admit.

Do You Have Sex With Your Eyes Closed?

Do we know why we close our eyes in bed?

For those of you in a sexual relationship, the way you have sex says a lot. Yes, sex is so intimate and revealing an activity that it has the power to uncover and expose us; literally. Having been in and around the Performing Arts for some years, we have always been told that dance is very revealing. It has the power to strip and expose the dancer so much that whatever a dancer is going through emotionally, is often revealed through his/her dance. The same is true about sex. The way we behave sexually, says quite a bit about our perceptions of sex, our attitude towards sex, our comfort with our own sexuality (or lack thereof) and our beliefs about sex itself.

So our title question “Do you have sex with your eyes closed?” is to be taken literally, at the same time that it is symbolic of our general comfort levels with the idea of sexuality. I often say during talks to married couples or to young people thinking of marriage in the future, that sex is extremely important in to a marriage relationship. We all hope to be married for a really long time I am sure. And yes while we will share bank accounts, a mortgage, car-payments and various life-goals and achievements, the reality is, that most of us will spend a fair amount of our married years having sex with our spouses. Even though this is so, most of us if we’re honest are still uncomfortable talking about our personal sexuality. Yes some of us have sex but we don’t even want to discuss it with the person we’re doing it with. As a consequence, many remain dissatisfied in the bedroom or experience serious sexual conflict that seems to have no recourse, simply because the act remains so deeply hidden an issue.

So what does “having sex with our eyes closed” reveal? It can actually suggest a range of responses dependent on how you see it.

  • It can mean that we’re decidedly uncomfortable with our own sexuality or with sexual expression.
  • It can indicate that we’re savouring the experience and prefer to shut everything else out to focus on our senses. (Remember closing your eyes to relish a really sweet fruit or a succulent cut of meat?)
  • It can suggest that we’re concentrating really hard on the “action” to ensure that it’s as enjoyable as the last Cosmo article said it would be.
  • It can intimate an innate embarrassment with our own sexual enjoyment and or with our bodies.
  • It can mean that we actually hate what we are doing with a capital H and are there in body only, while being absent in “spirit”. In other words, it can reveal that we are disconnected from our spouse and would really prefer to be somewhere else.

I believe that if we had to conduct an informal poll to investigate attitudes to sex and sexuality, that women would register the greatest levels of conflict or discomfort. Yes, women today are far more “liberated” and overtly sexual than they appeared in the past; I will agree to that. The very revealing styles of dress advocated by many women today and the ease with which sex is discussed among girlfriends, would seem to suggest that this is so. However, my experience also suggests that this is not always indicative of true liberty in the bedroom or of a woman’s ability to “let go” sexually. This is especially true of women raised in conservative homes or those raised on sexual “mis-information”. On the other hand, men who are normally socialized to embrace their sexuality, tend to have less of an issue with the problem of sexual-conflict or discomfort. Instead, this is how men are validated and defined.

Conversely, society often forces women to bear much of the blame for incidences of sexual impropriety which involve men. Because we women are often blamed for a man’s sexual downfall or for his lack of sexual discipline, many of us imbibe the idea that our very potent sexuality is an enemy. If a woman has suffered sexual abuse as a girl or was conflicted by her body’s own betrayal to her abuser, she may also internalize the idea that to be sexual is to be bad (Remember Rihanna’s “Good Girl Gone Bad?). It’s like we can’t be sexy and good all at once. This can encourage a woman to withdraw emotionally, even in a relationship like marriage, where her sexuality should be freely celebrated. Internal conflicts like embarrassment or a deep sense of shame or even body-consciousness, can also lead to attempts at “blocking out” the sexual experience.

Serious relationship conflict is felt in the sack.

Unresolved issues in a relationship could also lead to “sexual-eye-closure” which is really symptomatic of the deeper issue of sexual disconnection and withdrawal. Unsettled arguments, insults, prolonged emotional abuse, infidelity which goes unchecked or un-confessed, physical abuse, and financial neglect are among the many causes which could negatively impact the sexual connection between couples.  Be that as it may, many continue to treat sex like an instinctive behaviour which they are unable to do without, while refusing to deal with the deeper, underlying challenges of the relationship. This is counter-productive and spells danger for any marriage.

Whether we are single or married, our attitude to our sexuality is likely to be a product of a number of influences. Our socialization, our personality, religious persuasion/faith, personal beliefs, knowledge about sex and the context of our relationship, can all have an impact on how we “behave” sexually.  A fulfilling sexual relationship where we are free to be the uninhibited, sensual creatures we were meant to be will only be possible, when we can experience a sense of peace, with regards our sexual selves.

This means ensuring that our pursuit of sex, matches the ideals which we hold dear. For example, if we know that commitment, integrity and honesty in marriage are the ideals we strive towards, then we shouldn’t feel pressured to “give it up” just because everyone one else is. We should also not settle and give in to the guy who really is not worth the time of day, just because he claims that he can’t live without our “honey”. We also should definitely not practise self-abuse, by dutifully giving sex to a husband who we know is sleeping around, exposing us to STD’s, beating the living daylights out of us or disrespecting us by not dealing with the critical issues in the relationship. Sex might be great and all of that, but surely we are worth a lot more than a few moments of romping in the sack.

Serious emotional or spiritual challenges with sex may require deep counseling or therapy. We may need to open up and share with a trusted friend, who is grounded enough to give some valuable insight. Ultimately, making our sex-lives better, may also mean laying down the ground-rules for more honesty and openness in the marriage, by practicing greater levels of communication.

So next time you’re having sex and your eyes are closed, let’s hope it’s because you’re in a place where you are clearly savouring the delicious enjoyment of a truly, great sexual experience.

The Score: What Type of Lover Are You?

If you were to be rated by your partner as a lover on a scale of 1 to 10, what would you score? For those of you who are wondering why we would want to go about the business of being rated as lovers, it is important to note that everything in life has a value. We value things as fickle as our cars, our clothes, shoes and even our smart-phones. We want specific brand-names because they come with a specific reputation of quality. It’s no different when it comes to relationships. We can be considered good, bad, mediocre, excellent, moderate, or poor as lovers and these descriptions are by no means exhaustive.

How you rate your partner as a lover is, however, heavily contingent on what your “lover” expectations are. The same holds true for how your partner rates you. How we were socialised into relationships, our gender, the quality and nature of our first love affair, how we saw our parents experience love, what we expose ourselves to with respect to the media, (television, books, film) will to a large degree influence what we hope to get out of relationships. These factors not only affect what we demand from or hope to get for ourselves out of a relationship but they will definitely colour the lens through which we see our partner.

When we speak about our rating as a lover, this does not only concern how good we are or hope to be in bed. This ‘lover’s rating” covers the whole gamut from how we communicate, how we are emotionally intimate, how we play together and yes of course, how we have sex. The ticklish part about being perceived as a lover is that there can be a great disparity between how we perceive ourselves and how our partner views us. At face value a rating may not seem to be that important, but if you think about it, at the most intrinsic level of the relationship, it speaks of our ability to satisfy the one we have chosen to be with. When we know that we’re doing a great job as a lover, it can do wonders to our self confidence and this validation makes us try even harder to please. At the other end of the spectrum, being rated as a poor lover can really place our self esteem in the toilet.

If we women were called upon to rate our husbands or boyfriends as communicators, I’m sure that most of us would give them a failing grade with a Capital F. Science has it that we women are wired to be great verbal communicators. From an early age we girls show a greater inclination and comfort with language and not just any old words. We show a superior ability at expressing emotion.

Men on the other hand, generally speaking, prefer the “less is more” dictum when it comes to word-use. They seem to view words as priceless commodities which should only be used on very, very, rare occasions and then only sparingly. This in turn, seems to have some influence on their ability to be emotionally exposed or to be emotionally vulnerable in their relationships.

When it comes to play and sex, however, the levels of testosterone carried by men, apparently help them to show a much greater interest in these areas. What they lack in language they definitely make up for in the love-making department. Many husbands nonetheless complain that their sex lives leave much to be desired because they never seem to get enough.

With these critical differences in key relationship areas identified, it may be interesting for couples to examine how they would rate each other as lovers. The following reflects an attempt at combining some of the traits/qualities which men and women are likely to prefer in the critical areas of communication, emotional intimacy, play/recreation and sex. If we give each quality two points (except in the category of sex where we should give one point to each) and understand that some of us will sometimes score half because the described trait is not consistently shown, then we may get a pretty good idea of how our partner is rated

HOW A WOMAN RATES HER MAN

Communication

v  Values hearing his woman’s opinion and communicates this by listening patiently in an atmosphere of encouragement and unconditional positive regard (not sure that this guy actually exists)
v  Is not threatened by his woman’s comfort, skill or facility with language but sees it as a plus for the relationship; therefore listens and responds without getting on the defensive
v  Responds with honesty, whether angry, sad, disappointed, overwhelmed or just plain happy
v  Is open to other opinions and points of view
v  Maintains eye contact

(10 Points Max)

Emotional Intimacy

v  Understands the importance of sharing his feelings and practices this actively in the relationship

v  Is not afraid to show weakness or vulnerability

v  Does not hide important elements of his present, past or future from his wife or significant other; has no secrets

v  Affirms and validates his partner

v  Accepts personal responsibility when wrong and does not project by blaming

(10 Points Max)

Play/Recreation

v  Is willing to do some recreational activities with his partner just as a means of having fun and also to strengthen the relationship bond

v  Does not allow recreation or sports to become a wedge in the relationship; puts his partner first

v  Is willing to be open, responsive and spontaneous in the relationship

v  Does not use play to compete with partner

v  Likes partner and shows it

(10 Points Max)

Sex

v  Understands that sex begins long before the actual touching starts

v  Will give it the way his wife wants it (hot, fast and passionate or long, tender and romantic) and not the way he thinks it should be given

v  Will not judge his partner based on her previous sexual experiences

v  Will not compare wife to his own previous lovers

v  Understands that superior testosterone does not necessarily make him a “master strokes-man”  where sex is concerned; he should demonstrate a willingness to learn new things and new ways to please his wife

v  Focusses on his woman in bed and not the fantasy in his head

v  Adores his wife with his body and uses sex to communicate love so that she feels valued and not used

v  Does not use sex to manipulate or control

v  Is considerate even if partner has a reduced or smaller sex drive than his

v  Is adventurous and spontaneous in bed

(10 Points Max)

HOW A MAN RATES HIS WOMAN

Communication

v  Values constructive conversation and does not talk unnecessarily

v  Is articulate and logical about sharing her issues and concerns; does not get personal

v  Communicates to affirm and validate and not just to criticize

v  Does not use nagging to wear down her partner or to influence his decision-making

v  Allows her partner to express his opinion without belittling him with her “superior” language skills

(10 Points Max)

Emotional Intimacy

v  Understands the importance of sharing her feelings honestly in the relationship, practices this actively but not excessively

v  Shares her personal life-story and especially her sexual past voluntarily; does not spring sexual surprises on her partner

v  Is not afraid to show both her strengths and her weaknesses

v  Although independent, allows her man to feel that he can still “take care” of her

v  Cries if she needs to but does not use tears to manipulate

(10 Points Max)

Play/Recreation

v  Supports her man unwaveringly and cheers him on from the sidelines when he competes in any field of play

v  Knows when to let her hair down and be carefree, spontaneous and playful

v  Is willing to share some sporting or recreational activity with her partner

v  Is not afraid of competition

v  Is a good sport whether she loses or wins a game or an argument and knows how not to hold a grudge

(10 Points Max)

Sex

v  Is free and uninhibited in bed, is willing to be sexually adventurous and tries new sexual positions

v  Initiates sex other than when she’s trying to get him out of a bad mood

v  Praises his sexual skill and his penis

v  Does not even think about comparing him with previous lovers/husband

v  Has sex regularly without having to be begged or persuaded

v  Refrains from using sex as a bargaining chip

v  Does not laugh at or belittle his efforts in bed

v  Is very enthusiastic about sex with her husband

v  Calls his name loudly at the right moment

v  Understands the value of sex to the marriage relationship

(10 Points Max)

While this rating exercise may not be terribly scientific, what it serves to drive home is the reality that men and women often expect different things based on their peculiar gender-based needs. It is worthy of note that what women desire in men and what men desire in women, is often linked to their own strengths and preferences. This is where the problem lies.  If a guy must choose between an evening of deep, meaningful conversation and a roll in the hay, the latter will win hands down every time. In the same respect, we women can enjoy deep emotional connection even when this does not progress to sex.

Instead of expecting that we will become clones of each other in every respect, as lovers, we must progress towards celebrating each other’s differences. These peculiarities are in fact the factors which fuel the energy and excitement in this man to woman tango called love. Striking a happy compromise is essential if couples are to experience any sense of relational well-being.

Renewing Your Relationship

If I were to ask how many of you love either receiving or shopping for new things, I am sure for most people both hands would go up; twice. We love the new with a capital L; that’s why a new romance is so exciting and enticing. We get to experience fresh new butterflies and a wave of pleasure we’d never felt before or which at least we might have forgotten. If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit that we often wish that some of this quality of “the new” could be preserved in our intimate relationships. If only it were as easy as it appears in the chick flicks we watch religiously.

Despite what we may see on television or read in romance novels, we must, however, recognize that great relationships don’t just happen. The truth is, a great love requires blood, sweat, tears and a dose of some good old common sense, which perhaps isn’t at all so common these days.

Because we women are more prone to comparing our relationships to some fantasy ideal, we are the ones who tend to take stock of our relationship barometer fairly regularly. Not that I’m suggesting that we should settle for any old crap and passively accept whatever hand life deals us, but there is room for a re-evaluation of our expectations, on the pathway to the emergence of a renewed relationship.

Now let’s face it girls, our partners won’t all look like the sexy Edris Alba nor will we all have the body of a Sanaa Lathan. Some of us are short and chunky, some a bit too much on the skinny side, some are overweight and still others of us are dissatisfied because our breasts are too small, hips too big,  or because some other part of our anatomy just doesn’t line up with the national average.

Then they are the failed expectations when our spouse just is not ambitious enough or doesn’t earn that multi-figured salary guaranteed to keep us outfitted in the latest from Versace or Prada. Maybe we have not yet bought our dream home or we never got to have that dream vacation in South Florida or Europe. Then outside of our materialistic, surface expectations, is the reality of a lack of intimacy, a boring sex life, a failure to communicate meaningfully and generally the acknowledgment of a relationship where we are not affirmed, encouraged or “blessed” by our spouse. Whatever the source of our disappointments, as we advance in our relationships, we learn, in the words of one of my poems “to get up, rise up, and make up the bed”. In other words, we learn to shelve these disappointments and get on with the business of living.

But how do we balance it? How do we “get on” with our life responsibilities without giving up on the relationship ideals or goals which we believe we deserve? How do we stay true to ourselves? I think the answer lies in reflection and renewal. We have to reflect on the reality of what we have, (assess it, make notes, devise goals for change) and then we have to allow the magic of self-change to work. No matter how much we beat up on our spouses in frustration, either literally or with our words, the reality is, we don’t possess the power to change anyone; (chances are, if we did, we would have zapped our supposed Prices back into frogs). That’s right, the only one we can assume responsibility for changing is us. And admittedly that is often a tough pill to swallow for us women who seem to be born “fixers”. The sooner we come to terms with this truth however, the better off we will be.

If what we want is a renewed relationship, then first, it must begin with us, (and if you’re a man, the same principle applies to you). Maybe these suggestions will help get your relationship started on the path of renewal:

  • Learn to love and affirm you: the truth is, we can’t love and appreciate someone if we don’t first love and appreciate ourselves. I am not referring here to a narcissistic, self-obsession which is rooted in selfishness. Rather I speak of a need to appreciate how blessed we are in terms of our strengths, gifts and talents. Self-love also means an acknowledgement of our innate worth which will enable us to be confident and to demand the respect we deserve. A woman who is confident in who she is and truly loves herself, will not tolerate abuse in a relationship because she knows her value. A confident woman is also generally sexy and irresistible to the man in her life.
  • Rethink expectations through the lens of reality: this is not a bid to encourage women to lower their standards and to accept anything on two legs with a penis who makes them some promises; not on your life! Standards are good, generally, but we must reassess our expectations in the light of our partner’s and our own capabilities. Can we really afford that cruise that everyone else is taking? What about a stay instead at a local hotel for the weekend? Is a mortgage right for us at this time, or should we continue to rent a bit longer? These are just a few examples, but dreams and goals, while good in a relationship, must be reviewed in terms of how achievable they really are. Take responsibility for easing some of the pressure off of an early relationship-dream by rethinking and re-languaging it in more realistic terms, taking note of the fact that we ladies are the ones who often apply the pressure when there is something that we want. Also, instead of always expecting your partner to be your “dream provider”, get involved in making your own goals happen.
  • Give without expecting to get: now admittedly this is a toughie and it goes against every human survival instinct. We love to get and we love to give in order to get but giving without expectation? humph, that admittedly is a tall order if ever there was one but it is not impossible. It involves stepping outside of ourselves to see the worth in our spouse in spite of the human failings, and glaring weaknesses which shout at us every day. Again this is not about self-abuse or any such thing but it speaks of cultivating what I call a higher-order love. Love that loves in spite of and one that therefore gives even when it does not receive. Now ideally, when this principle is practiced by both parties, everyone reaps the benefits. But even if it is not, there is a great satisfaction in knowing that you have stepped above and beyond in giving to the one you have chosen to be with. This type of love however calls for a deep humility and for a level of graciousness that is perhaps hard to find in today’s “me-obsessed” culture. It is perhaps, hopefully, more easily practiced by those with a spiritual base.
  • Get your sexy on:now there is no way I could deal with the concept of a renewed relationship without mentioning the ever-important three-letter word. Sex in a relationship builds and extends the relationship’s intimacy-capacity. In other words intimacy as a state is not fixed; it is dynamic or is always changing and the more great sex a couple has, the more their intimacy is expanded and strengthened. So you want renewal? Set yourself some specific sexual goals and initiate; don’t wait on your partner to bite (the bait that is), you can get the ball going. Perhaps you could suggest a sexual marathon (I don’t know a guy on the planet who would refuse) or do something new which you have never tried before. Find out what your partner really loves that you may not yet know and treat him to a sexual feast. Be at your partner’s beck and call sexually. Bring out the lengerie, the oils, the fragrances, the satin sheets and all that you love; I guarantee, your partner will feed off your enthusiasm and love it too. The law of sexual attraction will determine that what you put out sexually, you will receive in full return. Any sexually satisfied spouse knows that this rule of thumb works.
  • Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: renewal cannot be experienced in a marriage that is devoid of communication. If sex is the car that will take your relationship on a new journey, then communication is the fuel. Now this is no straightforward feat, especially when one partner is not a talker. Truthfully, we all communicate, because even when we say nothing, we are communicating with our silence. But we women, being the talkers that we generally are, expect our partner to share our exact communication style. Most men however do not. It is the rare man who enjoys deep, exploratory conversation; generally such  a man is either trained in the area, or is simply comfortable and in touch with his kinder, softer, gentler, nurturing side. This is why many a woman becomes very drawn or even attracted to her Pastor or Counsellor.  In him she finds a man who is attentive, who listens and will then talk back (in that order); very often validating her feelings. More often than not, her spouse is nothing like this. Communication will, nonetheless, foster renewal because through it we get to share needs, wants, disappointments, desires, goals and the like. Knowing where our partner is at physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually, will only serve to strengthen our sense of connection. We must take care however to monitor our partner’s unique communication style by perhaps doing the following:
  1. Learn to read non-verbal cues
  2. Learn to hear what has been really said and to also dissect what has not been said.
  3. Listen and respond to your spouse’s true feelings, even if they appear misguided or irrational.
  4. Encourage openness and honesty in conversation by modelling such behaviour in a non-judgmental, non-threatening way.
  5. When discussing sensitive issues, always begin with ‘I” statements, instead of “You” statements; in other words, assume responsibility for how you feel instead of accusing your spouse.
  6. If your partner is uncomfortable with overt efforts at communication, relax, take it slowly and love him anyhow.