In my previous blog I explored Mid-life women and Increased Sexual Desire. I will now discuss how many couples come into counseling with conflicts over Intimacy Issues. After years of parenting and living a domestic life together, deciding who takes out the trash, and arguing over dirty clothes left on the bedroom floor, how is it possible to integrate romantic desire? Will they ever be able to bring back the passion of their early years?
Esther Perel, (2010, p. 23) calls this double flame a paradox. In a loving secure relationship one flame is ignited and burns for the security of a committed life. This often conflicts with an opposing flame for the erotic, which requires excitement and novelty to ignite its flame, and to keep it burning.
For many couples this causes conflict in their relationship and they seek therapy. Jungian thought offers this type of paradox as a way to personal growth. James Hollis, a Jungian analyst states that, “We suffer authentically when we experience a conflict of opposites, a conflict between duty, say, and what we really want” (On This Journey We Call Our Life, 2003, p. 130).
Perel states, “Love is about having and desire is about wanting” (Lieblum, 2010, 23), but it does present a problem, in that it leads us to think we have to have one without the other. This polarized thinking, in Jungian psychology, is a generally known principal called “holding the tension of opposites”. In holding two opposing positions the possibility of a third emerges, an answer that can change ones perspective, offering growth and maturity at the same time. “ It is better to allow both options to continue to be present, working underneath the level of consciousness, …If one holds long enough, typically a third way emerges, an answer that one didn’t even realize was an answer to the original question” (Longpré, 2013).
In the case of Alicia and Roberto, Perel works together with this couple to discover their pattern, “negative escalation, and how it follows a sequence of complementary reactions” (Lieblum, 2010, p.33). This pattern consists of one partner pressuring the other for sex, causing the pressured partner to distance. This is a typical scenario presented to therapists in couples sex counseling. Perel creatively uses interventions that increase this couples awareness of their own sexual desire and patterns, bringing them from conflict to understanding.
She suggested Alicia carry a notebook to journal any erotic thoughts. This brought awareness to Alicia of her internal desires and how often they occur. With many women I have treated in couples counseling Perel’s technique has brought dramatic results. Perel stresses that owning these desires is an important component to this exercise, in that it will bring Alicia closer to Roberto by seeing her sexuality as part of herself, and not just Roberto, a boundary she needs to acknowledge.
Roberto is puzzled that, “Alicia talks about wanting to be intimate with the person with whom she is playing seductive games, but on the other hand, her predilection is for erotic games of anonymity, of not knowing the person” (Lieblum, 2010, p.36). This is another common tension in the relationship that when skillfully integrated can have beneficial consequences.
You may call Dr. Kerns for references or to set up an appointment at 949-285-5199.