I have a friend who has not touched his beautiful wife in over 20 years. He was looking for a relationship outside of the marriage in order to satisfy his needs for intimacy and his desperate unhappiness.
I asked him why they were not intimate and he said “she has no interest in me.”
I asked him how he knew, and he told me that one day she was in the kitchen cooking and he came up behind her and put his arms around her and touched her breasts. She pushed him away and said “don’t touch me like that.” He walked away and never touched her again.
I asked him about his marriage, they have a great family, a wonderful life, he loves her dearly and has no interest in changing the family dynamics or leaving because of this deep love. He is a smart guy, very successful professionally, well educated and considers himself to be a very logical and cool headed human being. "Women are the emotional ones" in his mind, and yet, his intense emotional reactivity has created a situation where he is desperately unhappy on many levels for TWENTY YEARS.
This situation is fairly common, with less extreme emotional reactivity, but the one where one approaches, the other says “not now” or even "not in that way, please do it like this" the approacher feels rejected and reacts accordingly, and the other one feels irritated at the rejection reaction and both enter an ongoing loop of reactivity.
Here is the thing, when you REACT you are never reacting to the situation at hand, no matter how intelligent or “logical” you think you are. When you RESPOND to the situation at hand you can manage it, and yourself, and create a good result.
This man had no idea what his wife was going through at that moment, all he knew was that he wanted to touch her body. When she did not like that, he took his toys and left for good, so deeply hurt that he preferred to remain celibate for 2 decades and to eliminate the physical intimacy from his marriage punishing not only her, but himself. Had he been responsive instead of reactive, not only could he have been able to respect his wife’s needs in that moment but he could have easily generated the space for intimacy at a better time.
One person says something. The other reacts, the first reacts to the reaction and the loop begins. Frustration abounds. Intimacy destroyed.
To break out of this cycle you must learn to become RESPONSIVE, instead of reactive.
Another quick one, but more personal. There was an attractive man who had expressed interest in dating me, although we had not yet met in person. A few days after talking he sent me a joke meme which I thought was absolutely disgusting, way way out of line. I gently said that it was a little too much for me, that I like a good dirty joke and some banter but this was not for me. His REACTION was to tell me that other people would laugh at it, just move on, and that he would never send me anything again. This “Fine. I’ll never say anything ever again” reaction told me enough about him to know that dating this man would be an exercise in frustration.
What about my friend?! Well, he’s a friend, not a client, and unwilling to take responsibility for the intimacy in his marriage so this will not change.
Reactivity is the bane of relationships and the death of intimacy.
The good news is that you can heal your reactivity and improve your patterns of connection. The other good news is that it can be done with or without your partner. The third and final good news is that it does not take years or decades of therapy and talking about why you’re reactive. It takes willingness to put in the work to learn some new skills, some new patterns of response and to have enough responsibility to put them into action. This is not magical thinking, it is specific practical tools that anyone can put into use.
Are you ready for reactivity to stop ruining your intimacy?
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