“It’s not ‘chemistry,’ It’s STYLE.” “Anyone who tells you there’s an easy answer to resolve problems in couples who have different world views is not an accurate reporter, or, more likely, is trying to sell you something. In my years doing couples therapy, the most difficult challenge is to work with couples who fight because they simply can’t see things the way their partner does. This is even more true when the subject is Sex. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It starts with understanding that there’s more than one ‘reality…’
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Couples simply can’t see things the way their partner does, so they make something up. Unfortunately what they make up usually isn’t flattering to the other person. Sexual chemistry begins with respecting differences. In this brief post, I want to talk about one area where couples differ. And in this area, it seems to the couple that it is nearly impossible that they could reconcile those differences:
Yes, sex. Couples have different ‘sexual styles’ and as a result, start to have less and less pleasure in physical sharing.
If you remember that old commercial, “Calgon, Take Me AWAY!”:
That’s the mentality of the style called “Trancers.” They like darkened rooms, quiet interactions, steady rhythms, not a lot of talking. They “groove” to sex in their own calm way.
Think of this song by Bobby Vinton, the “Polish Prince:”
You put those two together, and the latter says: “I love how your eyes close whenever you kiss me. I just love how you love me!” and the former (Trancer) says: “Can we just be quiet now and get into it?”
Sex is dramatic, with high self-esteem. All playfulness and creative. Sexual skills are valued. Novelty keeps things interesting.
“Sexy movies? Why sure! Sharing fantasies? Let’s start now...”
This one, called “Role Enactor,” would really conflict if together with the romantic Partner Engager who shouts:
“Why don’t you just love ME! Why do we need these outfits, movies, and sex in daring places!”
The Role Enactor shouts back:
“I do love you, but why do you have to be such a stick in the mud! You are so uptight!”
To get these couples to stop pathologizing, they have to understand that terms like “prude” or “nympho,” “objectifying” or “demanding” are hardly going to bring them to a better “mutual understanding.”
We might miss the fact, though, that neither of them will likely want to “negotiate.”
Why? Because they don’t speak the same language. They don’t frame things the same way. Two behaviors are likely to be seen quite differently because each of the come from a different place, with different intentions when they do that particular act.
Picture the scene:
One says: “I want sex 3 times a week!”
The other says: “No, that’s too much! Once or twice a month is more than enough!”
Will this couple be satisfied with once a week sex?
Of course not.
For one, it will be way too infrequent, while for the other, it will be way too often.
And in sex, like in agreements about what kind of future the couple should work toward, it takes “two to tango,” at least for a mutually good time.
Negotiation won’t work.
So what will?
Dr. K is the President and CEO of Couples Therapy Inc. She maintains her Intensive Couples Therapy practice over the winter in Miami, Fl and the rest of the year on the edge of the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts. She is a Gottman Certified Couples Therapist, has advanced training in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, and is a board-certified sex therapist.