The Power of a Curious Mindset

Today I want to talk about one small shift, a simple change in mindset, that can diffuse conflicts and help partners understand one another more deeply.

Imagine approaching a tense discussion with your partner first from an attitude of wanting to understand what they think, feel, believe, and prefer, and how they came to their conclusions before trying to get your point across.

This is leading with curiosity.

It’s easy to assume that you know what your partner means and why they think what they do. Perhaps you have had this discussion many times before, and you believe you know exactly what they will say.

However, you might be missing something important by making these assumptions. When you respond by debating, defending, de-railing, objecting, or any number of other ineffective responses, you don’t just shut down your ability to understand your partner, you also miss out on an opportunity to help your partner take their thoughts to a deeper level. When you ask your partner truly curious questions, in an effort to understand their perspective, you open up the possibility of an “aha!” moment of understanding that can deepen your connection.

Approaching with an attitude of curiosity can also help you manage your emotions during a tense discussion. If you’re able to maintain the mindset that your partner is simply telling you something about how they see the world, it can help you stay steady emotionally, and avoid taking on blame or thinking that your partner’s opinions are an indictment of your beliefs and preferences. We are all different, so it’s totally normal and to be expected that you and your partner will see things differently. No big deal! How interesting! I wonder how they came to think that, or respond in that way.

Next time you find yourself in a tense conversation with your partner, and you notice your stress rising, take a moment and breathe. Remind yourself, “We have plenty of time to work this out, and we don’t need to come to a resolution right away. It will help us both if we proceed with as much understanding and information as possible, so I’m going to spend this time just trying to figure out where my partner is coming from and what they really mean, before I react to what they’re saying. This is an opportunity to learn something new about this unique person that I love. What they’re telling me is a reflection of their life experiences, and I truly want to know them.”

Set aside the part of you that fears being judged, or wants to be heard first, or has the right opinion. Then, ask a question–not a loaded, “how could you say that…”-type question, but a question of honest curiosity:

  • “That’s so interesting. Tell me more about how you see that.”
  • “What just happened for you? How did what I said get under your skin?”

When you do this well, your reward can be a revelation–a peek into how your partner sees the world. What could be more rewarding than that?

3 Ways to Connect With Your Sexual Self

Last week, I wrote about why I believe it’s essential to cultivate a good relationship with the erotic side of yourself. I talked about how it can improve not just your own health and happiness, but your relationships. I also shared a series of questions that you can ask yourself if you want to release some negative ideas or stereotypes that you may be carrying about self-pleasure. If you missed last week’s blog, you can find it here.

This week, I’m going to be building on last week’s installment by sharing some tips for ways to improve your relationship with your erotic self. Some of these are activities, and some are shifts in attitude. This isn’t a prescription, just a set of ideas–you can pick and choose from this list based on what sounds exciting, enjoyable, and useful to you. Happy browsing!

  • Connect with your senses. Many people don’t feel very connected to their bodies–and particularly their experiences of bodily pleasure. They’re tuned out from their senses. They may notice when something feels bad, but they don’t necessarily check in and notice when something feels good. So take some time to pay attention to the small moments of pleasure you experience throughout your day. It doesn’t have to be sexual–you can try paying more attention to the feeling of warm water hitting your back in the shower, or the delightful feeling of freshly-washed sheets, or the sweet smell of flowers in your garden.
  • Consider your “erotic theme.” Most people have certain fantasies that they return to again and again. As diverse as these fantasies appear on the surface, there’s often a core theme or themes running through them. For instance, a variety of different fantasies might be united by the idea of being so wanted by someone that they are willing to break a taboo or act totally out of character, just to be with you. Think about the fantasies that you return to, and ask yourself what unites them. Why do they continue to resonate with you? What’s the spice that makes them sexy? Understanding your erotic theme can help you identify fertile new ground to explore, as you can develop new fantasies that fit into, expand, or develop your core erotic themes. If you’re able to express what you discover to your partner, it can be a fun, sexy conversation, and also help them understand where you’re coming from and what sex means to you.
  • Release yourself from expectations and pressure. One of the most common reasons that people don’t explore new sexual activities, fantasies, or experiences is that they’re afraid that they won’t be aroused enough to get hard and stay hard, or to reach orgasm. They might also be worried that they won’t reach orgasm quickly enough. Any time you try something new, it is likely to take some time to figure out how it works. That’s just life. But there are so many benefits to switching things up sexually that it is more than worth the journey. Plus, the journey itself should be fun. Imagine just exploring pleasure without a lot of outcome goal or time pressure. You can do this either alone or with a partner, but for the moment I’m focusing on self-pleasure. Next time you try this, make sure you won’t be interrupted, and create an intention of deep self-loving, not just “getting off”. Take the time to allow arousal to ebb and flow. Remind yourself that there is no rush. Allow yourself to explore freely–you can always return to your usual style of touch or your favorite fantasy when you want to.

If you’re interested in learning more about the many benefits of switching up your sexual routine, you might want to check out these previous posts:

What Makes Good Sex Good?

Getting What You Really Want Out of Sex

Good Sex Over a Lifetime

Are Vibrators Habit-Forming?

Flexibility is the Key to a Satisfying Sex Life

Desire Discrepancy Lesson #1: Normalize Variation

Last week, I wrote about why desire discrepancy can be such a challenging issue for couples therapists to work with. If you missed last week’s post, you can read it here.

If you think about it, it’s not all that surprising that desire discrepancies are common. People vary widely from one another in preferences, desires, experiences, and beliefs. Of course they’re going to vary in terms of their level of desire for sex. It’s completely to be expected!

You wouldn’t assume that two partners would have the exact same preferences about how clean to keep their kitchen, what they like to do for exercise, how much money they want to put in savings each month, or how often they want to travel. Couples have desire discrepancies of all kinds, in all sorts of areas, and very often they are able to resolve them gracefully, while acknowledging the validity of each partner’s perspective. So why do we so often expect our partners to have similar levels of sexual desire to us, and feel such pain when that is not the case?

Our cultural ideas about love and romance are responsible for some of the distress. We are taught to think about love as “two souls merging into one.” Romance upholds similarity as the marker of a good relationship–two perfectly-matched people meshing seamlessly together.

That messaging is particularly strong when it comes to sex. Rather than acknowledging that everyone is unique, and that strong couples can (and must!) learn to value and embrace their differences, our culture teaches us to see differences in sexual desire between partners as a flashing warning signal that something is terribly wrong. In this way, what starts as a perfectly normal variation in sexual desire between partners can get so loaded with shame, stigma, and pathologization that it begins to drive the partners apart.

That’s why I make a point to normalize variation whenever I can. There’s no “normal” or “right” amount of desire for sex. Some people want lots of sex, and that’s healthy and okay. Some people want no sex at all, ever, and that’s also perfectly healthy and okay. Also, it is very usual and expectable for desire to shift over time, with age, stress levels, physical health, and hormone changes. It is just not productive or helpful to pathologize your own or your partner’s (or your client’s) level of desire.

Normalizing variation, and helping your clients see their desire differences as simply one aspect of their unique individuality, and not a sign of something wrong in the relationship, is a wonderful first step.

Stay tuned for more on working with desire differences and associated stresses, and I commend you for diving in to conversations about sex and sexuality with your clients!