Welcome to Better Sex With Dr. Lexx, a monthly column where sex therapist, educator and consultant Dr. Lexx Brown-James shares expertise, advice and wisdom about sex, relationships and more. Approaching education about sex as a life-long endeavor — “from womb to tomb” — Dr. Lexx (AKA The #CouplesClinician) is your guide to the shame-free, medically accurate, inclusive and comprehensive conversations for you, your partner and your whole family.
Lovers, It’s the end of January. This means the shiny energetic excitement of the new year has passed and all the stores have started to put out Valentine’s Day decorations. The pressure to be in love — or at least act like it — by buying roses, candy, valentines and stuffed bears is strong. All over the country, lovers are fretting over gifts, building expectations of wondrous proposals, and even delaying breaking up all for the sake of the much-anticipated “Love Holiday.”
The hardest part about the commercialization of love, aside from the pressure to perform love and put it on display for others to see, is the expected re-ignition of intimacy — and, sadly, that doesn’t always come. It’s my hope for all lovers that there is genuine intimacy that is created, maintained and perpetuated.
As a clinician for over a decade who works with lovers, I want to share three key ways I have witnessed lovers form true and lasting intimacy — and unsurprisingly they don’t take the form of your typical commercial Valentine’s Day romance. So consider this a loving “anti-Valentine’s Day” approach to loving up on your relationship.
Take risks with one another
Taking risks with one another can be as grandiose as sky diving together or as quiet as sharing previously private topics with one another during pillow talk. A risk is taking a chance to expose your true inner self to someone while inherently asking “Will you still love me?” Having that question answered with a resounding “Yes, and can I share this with you?” builds long lasting trust and begets intimacy.
I know you’re wondering what happens if that answer is “no” or the share is met with disdain, what do you do? Remember that not all private matters are deal breakers and some private matters might need healing. Also, and this is the hardest part, recall that rejection is a way someone puts up a boundary for themselves. This means that they know that they are not the right person to support or validate you. This is important information and does not mean they will automatically leave you or no longer love you. It means, they might not be the right person for this piece of yourself. Even that learning, which is assuredly hard, is intimacy building — because you are both learning about each other in ways others do not know you.
“…recall that rejection is a way someone puts up a boundary for themselves.”
Practicing vulnerability always sound almost ethereal. Like it’s something made up or a magic key that you must beat the biggest villain to find. It surely can feel that way. In our world, we are often praised for ‘being strong’ which often means not making a ruckus when we are hurt, offended, or wronged. It also often means showing a brave face when we are suffering. Instead of ‘being strong’ with your lover, practice vulnerability. Let them know the true feeling behind the wall. Are you afraid, exhausted, feeling helpless, feeling desperate, feeling appreciative because you didn’t know how to ask for help? By communicating the feelings under the presentation, you are showing your humanness to you lover, letting them know you are not perfect and that you do need (and value) their support. This builds longevity and compassion for each other and your lovership.
I know, I know, this almost sounds anti-intimacy. There is this idea that to be completely involved with a person there are no boundaries between you. That you all become one flesh so to speak. And although a popular belief, therapeutically, we call this enmeshment. Enmeshment is when there are at least two people who lose their individuality and ability to feel and even function independently. You have probably witnessed this behavior. A couple cannot exist without each other at functions, one person cannot make mundane decisions without the other’s input, one person feels one thing and the other person feels it as well, even when the situation only involved one person. The popular buzzword right now is ‘co-dependency’ and for the sake of not using the buzzword — the clinical term is “enmeshment.”
Ensuring that your boundaries are in place in a lovership helps to build intimacy because it teaches your lover your needs and how to respect you. “Respect” here meaning being treated how you want to be treated. Boundaries can be physical, emotional, psychological, and/or all the aforementioned. Each time a boundary is expressed a person is saying, “I do not like that, and I want to be close to you.”
By letting a lover know a boundary, you are communicating to them that you want to stay close, and you need them to do something differently. Their response to that boundary setting is also telling. They either receive the message and reply with change so that they can remain closely intimate, or they refuse, and distance is created. Creating and maintaining intimacy requires that boundaries are expressed, respected, and validated.
So, along with chocolates, perfume, lingerie and hot sex this Valentine’s Day, how about we try some other ways to build true that helps your lovership last?