Archive for July, 2011

Getting Your Sex Life Back In Gear

July 25, 2011

IMAGO Director, Tim Atkinson interviews YourTango.com Expert & Sexologist, Tammy Nelson for her thoughts.

Is it just a natural part of getting older together that our sex life is going the way of the Dodo?” asked Brenda and Simon. “We really care for each other, but on the rare times it happens, sex is pretty dull.

Tammy Nelson made quite a stir in 2008 with her book Getting the Sex You Want in which she applied Imago Relationship Therapy to restoring the love lives of couples like Simon and Brenda. “Sometimes couples wonder if their marriage is simply past its expiration date” she told me. “They are asking whether it’s time to trade in their partner for a new model.

Simon doesn’t want to be unfaithful, but makes up for lack of action in the bedroom with internet porn. That leaves Brenda worrying that it might not just be the sex that’s wrong, but that the whole relationship is fading away. “We don’t even really know how to talk about it” they shared with Tammy.

Not knowing how to talk about sex is extremely common in relationships, and Tammy’s response is to use Imago Relationship Therapy to get Brenda and Simon talking about the deeper things that really matter.

Step 1 – Talk about what it is you are missing in a positive way

Shortly before my last marriage ended, my wife would say to me things like “get some help with your sex technique.” Other days she might complain, “You don’t find me attractive anymore.” From Tammy I learned that these comments are painfully common, and are just as effective as saying nothing and silently seething. Instead, it’s important to find a way to share your concerns in a positive way. “I’m feeling distant from you” might be one way, or “I’m missing those wonderful times we had together.”

Step 2 – Talk about what sex means to you

“Usually at least one partner feels guilty and anxious about the lack of sex” explained Tammy “So it’s helpful to start connecting around sex in a way that looks at the deeper needs, rather than the physical details.” Tammy coached Simon and Brenda in a way of talking called the Imago Dialogue. She would ask each partner to share what sex means for them. One might say “Sex for me is about being emotionally connected”, and then the other would mirror that back, repeating what they heard. The mirroring process helps build connection, because each partner feels really heard. Mirroring becomes more important the deeper the conversations go.

Step 3 – Appreciate your partner

When couples talk about what is going wrong, things go more wrong. For example, men tend to avoid sex altogether if there is any suggestion of dysfunction. It’s easy in these conversations to shift the blame on other things, like too much stress at work. Soon discussions about sex get blocked, waiting for the external world to change. And it rarely does.

Instead, turn the conversation around. Tell your partner “One thing I really appreciate about you sexually is…” This will be even more effective if you can both use the mirroring process described in step 2. You can add “One thing I really like about our sex life is…”

Tammy encouraged Simon and Brenda to talk more about the whole sexual experience. “It’s not all about the finish line” she says “but finding the delight in each moment couples share together.”

Step 4 – The weekly sex date

I was quite taken aback when Tammy told me that her advice for a couple wanting to resuscitate their sex-life is to set aside a regular time for sex. “Same time, same day of the week, whether you feel like it or not.” she prescribed. “Even if you are angry or tired!”

I always thought that sex should be spontaneous, but Tammy changed that. “Marking a regular date in the calendar sets up some anticipation, and helps couples begin to look forward to it. Simon and Brenda were resistant, but willing to at least try it. They found, like many, it worked well for them for a few weeks, and started to get the sizzle back.” She explained.

But after about six weeks many couples hit a wall. That’s when it might be time for some good “nuts and bolts” type conversations about what happens in the bedroom, and maybe get a little specialist advice.

Step 5 – Get exciting

Now is the time to start using the Imago Dialogue to explore more about what you really want sexually. Stay in the positive, telling your partner “Something sexual I enjoyed in the past…” and then expand into what you would like more of in the future.

At this stage Tammy starts coaching couples to share fantasies. “These aren’t necessarily things that couples are really going to do” explains Tammy “it’s more important for their partner to understand what these fantasies mean to their partner emotionally.” Tammy calls it sexual empathy.

One example may be a partner who wants to be blindfolded, but her partner didn’t want to do this because he felt it was degrading to her. Through Imago Dialogue he learned that his partner felt that being blindfolded would free her from insecurity about her body, and enable her to be more fully engage in pure sensation. It became a new point of connection.

Tammy’s work is deeply rooted in Imago Relationship Therapy, where creating deeper connection is all important. She believes that eroticism is an important part of that connection, bringing a fresh energy into the relationship. As sex becomes a world of new adventure and discovery, Brenda and Simon can fall deeper in love than ever before.

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I Cheated! Now I Want My Partner Back!

July 12, 2011

In this post from YourTango.com, Tim Atkinson interviewed Maya Kollman, MA, Imago Master Trainer

John only had a short affair. And it was a long time ago. Years later the truth came to light and his marriage to Maryanne hit the critical list. Maryanne didn’t want the marriage to end. But how could she ever again trust John? John desperately wanted to be forgiven for the past, and find a way for the marriage to continue.

By the time they came to see me for help, they were completely stuck, hopeless and miserable. Unfortunately they aren’t alone. I’ve worked with many other couples in a similar situation, and always my goal is to leave them with a much more rewarding relationship than they ever had before.

Here are the steps that John and Maryanne were able to take, which illustrates how many couples can rebuild trust and transform their nightmares:

Step 1: Make a Clear Decision

When there is an infidelity, there’s a decision to be made. The unfaithful party must immediately cease all contact with the person they have been seeing; no phone calls, no emails, no texts, no cards or notes, no drive-bys. John’s essential first step with Maryanne was to commit willingly and wholeheartedly to emotional and physical fidelity – and to mean it.

Step 2: Shift from Guilt to Remorse

John felt guilty about his affair and horrible about himself. Unfortunately feeling guilty didn’t help at all. It led John to be quiet and keep his distance. But what he couldn’t see was that as a result Maryanne felt shut out. This formed a downward spiral, leaving her feeling even more tense, unhappy, and unloved.

Guilt is useless! Don’t let it ruin your relationship. Guilty people are so absorbed in their own feelings that they can’t even see what is happening for someone else. John’s guilt was driving his wife even further away from him.

The dramatic change came when John made the huge shift from guilt to remorse, and focused on the pain Maryanne was experiencing instead of his own. He got interested in what was going on for her. Feeling compassionate rather than self critical, John was able to begin creating connection with Maryanne rather than distance.

Step 3: Be willing to sit and listen

If you are going to leave an affair behind, sooner or later you have to talk about it. John had to be willing to let Maryanne ask for whatever details she wanted to hear. What’s more, he needed to listen to her feelings of betrayal and hurt in a supportive way. That’s extremely tough to do, which is why John and Maryanne chose to do this part with me, over several therapy sessions.

To make it easier, I taught John and Maryanne a three-part communication skill called the Imago Dialogue. We worked together to bring respect to the dialogue structure by eliminating shame, blame and criticism as John and Maryanne learned to focus on their own deeper feelings and express them.

John and Maryanne found a deep understanding of one another. A deep connection was building, perhaps deeper than they had ever experienced before.

Step 4: Re-imagine your role in the relationship

Although John felt and understood Maryanne’s pain, internally he still had plenty of excuses for the affair. He still wanted to justify his actions to her in some way, but every time he did he undermined his attempts to rebuild trust.

Instead, I coached John to take on a new role, as protector of the relationship.
He prepared himself, like a martial arts expert might. He knew that he would have to be able to absorb Maryanne’s anger and yet still hold his ground. Just like in Aikido. He worked on calming his reactive tendencies with breathing exercises, used music to calm himself, and learned to sit in a grounded position when he talked with Maryanne.

Creating new mental images was another important step. In addition to seeing the pain he had caused, he also recalled positive times in their years together, and all the things that led him to fall in love with Maryanne. All of these actions helped John’s romantic, creative side come alive, and he began to court Maryanne much like he had when they first met.

Naturally, Maryanne responded by beginning to feel more trusting and secure.

Step 5: When it’s time – explore and repair

Up until now, we’ve really only talked about John examining himself. But it takes two to make a relationship. For complete healing, John and Maryanne became a team to understand how their histories and their present day dynamics may have made them vulnerable to an affair.

But it’s important to complete steps 1 to 4 first. That’s because Maryanne can’t feel safe to explore until she truly feels John’s remorse.

This is very tender territory and can be aided tremendously by the coaching of an Imago therapist. Just like steel rods are broken and re-soldered many times to make them stronger, a relationship can emerge from a betrayal stronger than before when the couple are willing to climb the above steps.