He rolled over and lay his head on my chest.
I could feel his breathing, his rise and fall. Last night we had an argument, an argument we’ve had before and will have again. But the night washed over us, made the world foggy and distant. The only thing close was our skin.
“I need to kiss your breast…” His voice was soft, deep, I could feel it rumble in my chest. The 6 am grog hadn’t left my body yet. I didn’t think, I just lifted my shirt, and his is mouth found me. His lips and tongue cupped my breast, and his vibration turned to fire on my skin, in my flesh. Every part of me wanted him…
If life was like a movie, the lights would be low, candles would be lit, the sheets would be crisp and white. We’d look into each other’s eyes with hunger and love, tear off our clothes, roll and moan, and when we finished, we both would’ve orgasmed intensely, felt more connected and loved, and we’d look flawless and ready to go out to an elegant party.
Of course, life isn’t a movie. It’s filled with complications that can derail the passion in a relationship. But hat doesn’t have to be the end of the story.
While we may not look flawless and ready to roll out to a party, we sure as hell can have the best sex of our lives. Here’s how…
My husband and I met 22 years ago; we were kids, adults by age standards (we were 21), but we were kids none-the-less. We didn’t know who we were or what we wanted. We knew we were supposed to do things, be things, but everything was confusing, and we flew, as we all do, by the seat of our pants.
We didn’t know how to have a relationship. We didn’t even know there was a how. I mean who thinks about how? We just do it, right? You meet someone, fall in love, and the rest figures itself out, right?
Well, not actually. That may be how most of us start off — I mean, that’s how we started off, but if we don’t do the work, things definitely don’t just figure themselves out. In fact, it can go in the complete opposite direction.
It can be a tough struggle, and that’s one reason why so many relationships fail or end up passionless; both partners end up feeling distant resulting in a blah and infrequent sex life.
22 years have passed, and while I wouldn’t say we come anywhere close to passionless or infrequent, we definitely had (and still have) a lot to learn. In our marriage, we often had sex during a disconnect.
We’d argue, feel exhausted, or just be in a bad head-space, and instead of being honest, we’d pretend it wasn’t there. I’d omit or he’d deflect; It was a very symbiotic dysfunction, and it threatened to not just flop our sex life; it threatened to pull our marriage apart as well.
Poor communication is one of the predictors of a failed relationship, according to research performed by John Gottman at The Gottman Institute. It’s our main source of connection, and our main cause of disconnection.
It’s so easy to take it for granted. Often, my husband and I don’t realize that what we think we’re saying isn’t really the message we’re getting across, and at other times, we’re choosing to avoid communicating because we fear the consequences.
“The mistake most of us make in our crucial conversations is we believe that we have to choose between telling the truth and keeping a friend.”
― Kerry Patterson, Crucial Conversations Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High
Standing at the kitchen sink, I could feel him behind me, moving closer, his hands finally sliding around my waist. The warm flow of water rushed over my fingers, gathering the suds into the drain below.
My body tightened. I wasn’t ready. I was lost in thought, unpleasant thought, and my body still felt those emotions. I smiled, not wanting to reject him, not wanting to make him feel bad, not wanting this reality and wishing I could just flip gears suddenly like all those women in every show we’ve ever seen.
I sighed lightly as he nestled his mouth into the back curve of my neck… his breath, hot… his lips, soft. I could feel him press hard against my ass as he pulled me close and tight.
I love this man, but now wasn’t right for me. We argued the day before, and it didn’t feel resolved; I didn’t feel heard, and as I stood there washing the dishes, my head swirled in a negative space, ruminating in past traumatic events — things that just slip in whenever the door is open.
That’s the situation he unknowingly walked up to…
Shame and fear rose in me like a brushfire. I wanted to run, be someone else, so I pushed it all away, pretended it wasn’t there, and pushed my hips back into him.
His hand slid up my waist and cupped my left breast. I wanted him, but the want was distant — like an echo — because, now, I was distant.
That’s the thing about denying your reality, about forcing yourself to be, and think, and feel, in ways that aren’t fully grounded in your truth. You can’t choose which feelings to wall off; They all float off into the distance like an infinitely long string of balloons still tied to your throat.
Somewhere in my head I knew this, but the pain of dealing with that and dealing with his disappointment at the same time felt far too heavy. …You’re fine… Just go upstairs… I told myself. And I did. I turned and pressed my lips to his, and without saying a word, I lead him up to our bedroom and locked the door.
Seeing our parts
The scene above is how it often went. The setting changes, but the story remains the same. Sex would be on the plate, and I would already feel like I was somewhere else — somewhere that wasn’t connected to the moment, connected to him, and certainly not connected to my libido. But I wouldn’t honor that; I’d deny it to myself, and I’d omit it from my communication with him.
I’d choose the appearance of peace over true peace. I’d choose fear over love because I wasn’t willing to trust that I was worth it, that I’d be okay, and that he would respect and honor my feelings.
That was my part of our problem.
And this didn’t only happen when he initiated sex; this pattern was just the status quo of our relationship. Often, I would initiate sex because I felt the weight of obligation…
A week might have passed since we last had sex. It may have been because of our schedules, exhaustion, a difference in libido, or an internal conflict like the ones above. Regardless of the reason, it wouldn’t be acceptable to him. He would feel like I didn’t love him, and his reaction was to pull away, become depressed or angry, create more distance. He would become cold, talk less, touch less, and the little kindnesses like an afternoon text or making me a cup of tea when he made his own would go away.
That was his part of our problem.
I omitted my reality, and he gave messages that confirmed my choices were correct. Neither of us, however, realized exactly what messages we were sending.
I felt ashamed that I didn’t have the libido he wanted me to have, that I had stressors that made me feel disconnected from him, and that sex often was a trigger for negative emotions. I felt ashamed of my reality, like it wasn’t acceptable — so I pretended it didn’t exist. I tried to force myself to be someone I’m not.
And his messages to me confirmed those fears time and again.
That created a wall between us that grew thicker with each encounter. I felt a disconnect — from him and from myself. And it was painful for us both.
I wanted so much to feel free to love him, and he wanted so much to feel loved by me. How can you have great sex if your emotions are disconnected, though? And how can you connect if each attempt at communicating is met with a barrier that further corrodes your trust?
We woke one morning, a heaviness in my heart, my belly; I just couldn’t… “I can’t continue living like this…” It wasn’t the first time I’ve said those words, but they felt somehow heavier, sharper this time, pinning me down.
Losing him would hurt like hell, but all these years of this painful pattern was slowly killing me. I couldn’t keep riding this coaster, white knuckling our marriage, desperately trying to be what I thought he wanted. Something had to change, and it wasn’t just me.
I didn’t omit, and he didn’t react. The day moved past us, settling our morning words in our hearts, and that night, in the heaviness of our bedroom, he said it.
“I think we shouldn’t have sex anymore… for a while… I don’t know when…”
I felt the hard rubbery blow like I was just punched in the gut… What? Wait! This is bad… is he trying to punish me for my honesty?… Some part of me knew he wasn’t. There were plenty of times in the past when I felt abstinence was a needed, temporary solution. I was just always too afraid to say it, so like everything else, I held it back. Now, along with fear, as my mind tilted this way and that, fighting to make sense of the shift, I felt this incredible weight lift from my heart. …Maybe he really heard me this time?
“I feel like an idiot… I feel like I’ve been really bad to you… and I feel like I can’t trust if you really want to have sex with me…” All of those feelings made perfect sense to me. We both had our own very good reasons for the way we communicated, his reactions and my omissions, but it was no excuse for how we treated one another.
“I feel like I don’t even know you…” He was right. He didn’t know me. It took me all these years to know myself, and I’m still figuring it out. “We need to start over. We need to get to know each other again, and sex is just going to get in the way of that.” These are all things that I felt, that I thought and wanted to say but could never get the words out.
So we started over.
We began with waking at 5am every morning, and instead of running, we cuddled, kissed, and touched each other sensually but not sexually. We talked about what feels good and what doesn’t. We talked about how we felt emotionally. And we both listened.
Orgasms were not the goal, connection was.
During the days, we sent loving text messages and made each other smoothies or tea. We’d caress each other’s hands, wrap our arms around each other. I’d softly run my hands through his hair; he’d gently rub my neck and shoulders, and we’d kiss — long, deep, delicious kisses, the kind we rarely did anymore.
We spent two weeks doing this every day. Maybe we should’ve given it longer, but despite all of our conflict, our love for one another was still strong, and these moments began to build…
That morning, his lips began to trail between my breasts, slowly inching down my stomach… his voice softly rumbling over me… his breath… “Is the door locked?” He didn’t wait for my answer before disappearing beneath the blanket.
There were no candles, the sheets weren’t crisp, but we rolled and moaned, and we both orgasmed intensely.
He agreed, it was the best sex we’ve ever had. I was more present than I had ever been, with no pressure or expectation, it was all honest emotion. I felt free to give as I wanted to, and I wanted to give a lot. All of the physical and verbal love making that wasn’t sex-based layered a foundation of trust and respect. This was something we could build on; sex could be growing our love instead merely pulling it back to some baseline. For now, the distance was gone.
This was the beginning of a new path. It wasn’t that we suddenly fixed everything. This, like all of life, is a work in progress. There are dips and climbs, twists and turns. Rarely, is anything a strait away.
We have to continually come back to reforming this foundation because the stressors of life can quickly wear it away. The distance comes back, and when it does, we name it, and that’s our queue to step up. It’s our reminder to reconnect.
Quick Tips for Making the Connection:
- Know your truth. Explore your motivations, your past, and your obstacles.
- Know your part; know your partner’s part. Although they’re intertwined, they need to be recognized separately, and you both need to address them within yourselves.
- Use active listening to communicate your truth.
- Show joy when your partner enters the room. If you have an issue to take up, do it later, not when you first see one another. This first moment sets the stage. When our expressions looks distant or frustrated, our partners feels unimportant, and that immediately creates distance. Noticing them, on the other hand, showing them that you’re happy to see them, creates connection and trust.
- Explore touch. Discover the types of touch you and your partner enjoy, and spend time on those. Focus on what you know is pleasurable. Taking out the guesswork will take the experience to new heights.
- Find out what types of touch your partner doesn’t enjoy, and don’t do those. Simply avoiding unpleasant touch or respecting a boundary will build trust, helping you both feel loved and valued. When I’m touched in a place or a way that I don’t like, it immediately triggers my wall. It may not go up all the way, but it’s certainly not down all the way either.
- Find out if your partner enjoys fantasies or toys, and respect their preference. Just because you or your partner enjoys something, it doesn’t make the other obligated to partake, and declining has nothing to do with love. If you don’t like chocolate ice cream at all, will you eat a big bowl of it just because the one you love really wants you to?
- Send love notes. A simple I love you texted at some point during the day feels good.
- Spend time together. Cuddle on the couch or in bed. Do things that make you both laugh. Avoid the screen. In the hustle of the week, we forget to take advantage of little moments that can enhance our connection.
- Exercise together. My husband and I run together, but just taking a walk will do the same thing. It’s self-care and connection rolled into one.
- Take care of each other. Make your partner a meal, snack, some tea or hot cocoa. Just letting them know you care about their comfort makes a big difference.
- Remember the purpose of sex is connection. Sometimes we need to slow down to really see each other and to really see ourselves.
During sex, our bodies begin their own rhythm, a language without words, sending messages we could’ve never said, messages we could’ve never heard. We rise and fall like waves rolling and sinking into the shore. Our fingers press, our lips press, and our moments, if we add the kindling, build like fire.
This article was brought to you by PS I Love You. Relationships Now.