Beyond communication skills: What DOES improve intimacy?

Last week, I showed you why focusing solely on couple communication in therapy won’t fix sexual intimacy issues. This week, I’m building on that theme and asking the question: where DOES couple connection fit in the conversation about sexual intimacy? You might be surprised by the answer.

As therapists, we work very hard to build couples’ communication skills. We help our clients learn to listen to one another, reflect back what they’re hearing, check their assumptions, stay curious about their partner’s viewpoint, and make good repairs when necessary. But when these skills aren’t enough, we’re left wondering: why is it that couples with good communication don’t always have satisfying intimate encounters?

Here is where improving connection fits into therapy about intimacy: your clients must make strong choices right in the middle of a disappointing and possibly embarrassing moment. They must choose connection over performance as a measure of success. Your role as a therapist is to support this growth stretch, and it can be a very challenging learning curve.

First, we have to get at the root of the issue. We have a deeply embedded cultural mythology about what a “good” intimate interaction looks like. People judge themselves and their partners against these myths–and when they don’t measure up, the emotional consequences can be devastating. As a therapist, you are also a myth-buster–uniquely positioned to help your client understand why these cultural assumptions aren’t realistic expectations for themselves or their partner.

Unfortunately, understanding that mythology isn’t enough to end the trouble. You have another key role: drawing out and supporting your clients’ values-led goals. You can help them work through emotional blocks and unruly feelings that arise when intimate interactions don’t go as planned. You can help them check their assumptions, and begin to choose to stop judging by performance and start being a good teammate.

Read last week’s post here, and make sure to check out  my blog post titled “When Sex Doesn’t Go as Planned” for more information and some specific examples.