Reconnection Research: My Six To Do’s

I finally did some research for my No Sex/Reconnection Experiment.

Which brings me to my first action item:

1) Agree to reprioritize sex [1]

As it has taken me over a week to follow up on my goal to research intimacy-building, and my husband hasn’t pushed this forward whatsoever on his own, this point is clearly number 1. We both obviously have our reasons to not touch on the topic, but things will never get better if we don’t make them a priority.

2) Check in about feelings daily. Not about work.[2]

That’s the kicker. I skipped over all the suggestions about talking because we do: we talk all the time, and quite often about our feelings. But, 90% of the time, we’re talking strategies: improving work situations, increasing our financial standing, goals and dreams for the future. A focus on how we feel and where we stand in life and with each other is going to be the next thing to implement. Daily.

3) Pillow talk![3]

This is one of my favourite things – spending time together cuddling and chatting just before bedtime – but we usually stay up much too late, hop in bed exhausted, and pass out. Not sure if I’ll combine it with #2, because I’d prefer pillow talk to be much lighter conversation. Will make this a to-do at least 3 times a week.

4) Connection moments [3]

These would include things like “Soul Gazing” and “Forehead Touching.” I think these are really sweet and an easy way to be intimate and close physically without pressure. The trick will be to make the space to do this so it doesn’t feel rushed and out of nowhere. Aiming for 3 times a week. (Truth: I had a hard time even writing that. Maybe not so easy).

5) Hang out together.

I’m adding this one myself. I’m a quality time kind of person (he’s a ‘touch’ if we’re speaking the Love Languages), so for me, spending time cooking dinner together or reading to each other or playing some sort of game is a valid way of connecting. He’s really only into the reading bit but I’d like for us to step out of our usual routine of one of us making dinner and then eating it in front of the TV. 3 times a week.

6) Work towards the physical touch

A lot of websites cited “putting yourself in the mood for sex” or even just having sex as a way of building emotional intimacy, but that’s a bit much for me. So instead, I’ll add work towards back rubs and make out sessions once a week.


That actually sounds like quite a few things to do but in the end these are things I’d like to implement through the next month (which is quickly becoming a very long month indeed).

The relationship coach from two of those links also has a 14-Day Relationship Revitalizer that I’d like to implement ideas from (again, not all as sexual intimacy is included), and has a post on non-sexual ways of reconnecting as well. A lot of his articles seem pretty decent actually (more in-depth than many without being too research sounding), so if you’re interested in reading anything else on these topics, it might be worth a browse 🙂

Wish me luck!

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The Experiment: An Update

The truth is that as I’m catching up with my context for this blog, time keeps passing. The “Experiment” was actually initiated over two weeks ago now – it was what prompted me, finally, to start writing here – but it feels like I’ve barely participated in it.

To update thus far on what did happen:

Communication lines were open. 

We had a long chat about everything, where we were coming from, the circumstances under which we get uncomfortable, how to deal with those situations, and agreed that we did still want to be together and get back to being intimate.

More importantly, we’ve managed to check in with each other a few times after things have come up in social situations (even something as simple as talking about sex), and that has been a weight off my shoulders.

We got touchy.

When he got gropey, I didn’t push him away or make faces. He didn’t take it any further and even though there were moments where it felt unnatural and I wanted to resist out of habit, going along with it turned out to be not so bad and made him almost disproportionally happy.

We got giggly.

Being really open with one another and allowing ourselves to enjoy being touchy made us a lot more relaxed, close, and just fun. We giggled a lot, felt lovely dovey like teenagers. When you’re not also going through puberty when you feel that way, it’s pretty much awesome.

However.

Passively, the ‘Experiment’ has been alright, but I knew from the beginning that it would likely need to be a conscious, active experiment to actually work. Letting things continue as they were with only the agreement that we weren’t going to have sex had a bit of a honeymoon effect, and without a consistent check-in, our conversations on the topic became a bit halted, I started resisting his touchiness, and our lovely dovey-ness went away (partially anyway).

So this week, I’m going to research some intimacy builders and start again participating actively. I don’t love the idea of forcing ourselves to give each other massages or bubble baths so I will have to post an update on what I find!

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The ‘No-Sex’ Experiment and why I think it’ll help

Fast forward almost a year into our marriage. Life is ambling on with unrelated ups and downs until one Friday, my husband has a conversation with a friend which makes him think about All The Things:

He feels not only rejected and depressed, but embarrassed, ridiculed even, as if this is a joke I’m playing on him, or a lesson I’m teaching him for something he’s done in the past. (I don’t know any of this at the time, but immediately assume what happened based on his silence). He clams up, gets distant. I shrink with vulnerability, feel pushed away, dread divorce. The weekend isn’t ruined but each night we go to bed silent and upset.

A month later, during a women’s retreat, I finally tell someone. I tell a whole group of someones. I never bring it up myself of course but when I’m asked how often my husband and I have sex, I feel like a shower curtain has been flung open and I am standing there, exposed. It’s as if I’m admitting that I’ve been lying to them this whole time, that I acted like I was ‘normal’ but really I’m this sex-withholding wife and life is horrible and my relationship is a lie. But they just want to understand. Questions are asked, suggestions are made.

And then one catches my interest:

What if I gave myself a break and decided to not have sex for 30 days?*

Yes, it’s ironic, because obviously we’re already not having sex, but this was different. This wasn’t a ‘not having sex because I can’t.’ This was a ‘not having sex because we choose not to’, or, ‘because it’s forbidden.’

My first thought? What’s forbidden is always more tempting and this basically always turns me on. But the second thought was more of a surprise: relief. I could already feel a wave of relief coming over me: How amazing it would be to be able to enjoy my husband? To flirt with him, hold him, cuddle him, look at him, and touch him without worrying that A) sex would cross his mind and he’d expect it and then feel rejected when it didn’t happen, or that B) sex would cross his mind and he’d know it wouldn’t happen and he’d feel rejected preemptively.

So when I returned, I nervously/full of hope explained this experiment to him – we rarely never discussed the topic so openly and he remained silent as I talked. I thought he was upset – that I told someone, that random people were suggesting things for our sex life like it was an interactive game, that I’d be willing to ‘experiment’ on something so serious.

Instead, he said he was open to anything. So we discussed some rules.

For him: If the ‘issue’ gets to him at any point and he feels upset, communication lines need to remain open – he can’t clam up and get distant like he usually does, otherwise the intimacy we’ve been building goes out the window for me and I have to start from scratch.

For me: When he initiates touch, I’m not allowed to make ‘icky faces,’ especially not at his penis, which essentially pushes him away.

For us: Touch and play and flirt and cuddle without the pressure of either of us thinking/hoping/dreading that it might lead to sex.

So I will put updates on here about that 🙂

This might seem like I’m treating the situation lightly, being ironic or making it sound ‘easy’, but I’m taking this quite seriously. I don’t know that the experiment will work but the immediate relief from pressure is already worth trying it out.

I also think it’s important to say that I’m not sure I would’ve necessarily been up for it even a few months ago, and so don’t think this is something that could work for everyone.

But I’m excited. And I’m finally open to trying something and that is a big step in itself.

 


*  It started with the Big Magic podcast. It was about a woman putting so much pressure on herself to write that she couldn’t. The suggestion? Stop writing. No writing for 30 days no matter what. At worst, it’ll give her a break. At best, she’ll go so crazy not writing and she won’t even last the 30 days.

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Admitting is the First Step

A few months after that one visit to the doctor, I decided to give sex another go. At this point, we were averaging probably not even a handful of times a year, though I preferred not to count.

I tried so hard not to think about it, tried not to psych myself out, tried to get into it – within mere minutes it was painful. So much discomfort. But this time I tried to pinpoint exactly where it was and decided to do some research. I came up with the following:

  1. It was some sort of horrible disease, probably related to cancer (thanks WebMD!), or
  2. It was vulvodynia – have chronic vulvar pain with no known cause1 which could be consant or inconsitent, general or localized.

Neither helped, and neither offered what I wanted: an instant solution – a pill, a cream, a food I should avoid, a hypnosis session…I was so desperate to just make it go away; anything that required longer than ‘right now’ seemed futile.

Resigned, shortly before our wedding, I went and got a referral to a gynaecologist. She had her own two theories:

  1. It could be a side-effect from the birth control I was using, which could lower my testosterone and as “both estrogen and testosterone receptors in the vagina contribute to lubrication, it is understandable that low testosterone not only makes things drier, but also more painful, a condition known as hormonally mediated vestibulodynia”2 However, this was unlikely as it was usually a consistent pain, and would be present when putting in/taking out my Nuva ring or the Diva Cup or even a finger, which it wasn’t.
  2. It’s a psychological issue. Not that it’s necessarily “all in my head,” but that psychological (mental/emotional), not just psychiatric (medical), help might be necessary.

But I was willing to try anything, so I stopped using my Nuva ring immediately and got the fancy shmancy cream she prescribed that could help heal the little spot of irritation down there. But I knew deep inside that the cream wouldn’t help – I didn’t trust it to help, so I wasn’t willing to try to see if it did – which promptly brought me back to the psychological issue.

So I went to see a sex therapist. I tried to be all facts but talking about how I feel like a fraud, that I’m embarrassed and ashamed and disappointed in myself, always brings up all the emotions. 

[Sidebar: It was a relief to tell someone who understands, someone who had not only clinical knowledge but also emotional empathy and psychological wisdom to help with. I had only told one friend about this beforehand and while the reception was of a caring variety, it was shallow and quickly forgotten. It made me resent saying anything. So this was nice.]

There were, once more, two options:

  1. A thorough exam conducted by specialists in pain, followed by participation in a program that helped me deal with it.
  2. Rebuilding the foundations of intimacy

The therapist emphasized that it wasn’t “all in my head” but rather that following some sort of trauma it’s normal for a psychological connection to form between sex and pain. As an example, your toe wouldn’t just hurt if you thought about it, but if you stubbed it and it hurt really bad, you might then become averse to even touching it out of the expectation of pain (which might then actually reproduce the pain).

Since there’s so many other variables involved in sex for women (and I had since stopped wanting sex with him almost regardless of the pain), the plan would be to work on rebuilding those foundations – spending time together, reintroducing touch, etc. – and from there hopefully eliminate that connection to pain.

This made sense to me as the route we should take, especially since my gynaecologist had already done that very thorough exam on me (and even if I wanted to do the program, it’d be a long wait to get in).

Except, thanks to a perfect storm of completely unrelated events that followed, I never went back.

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