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Progress faster with a sex therapist

If you want to learn how to ride a horse, you will usually progress further and faster with the help of a professional riding instructor. The same applies with relationships. It’s better to seek the help of an experienced relationship and sex therapist, and don’t wait until it is too late.

Unfortunately, most people in dysfunctional relationships leave it very late to seek assistance.

Unfortunately, most people in dysfunctional relationships leave it very late to see assistance.

Most people decide to seek relationship therapists one to two years after they really should and sex therapists are only consulted as a last gasp, if at all. three years after a crisis has been reached. There is still a widespread misconception that sex and relationship therapy is for people with extreme issues. Yet, we know that therapy can help most people improve their interactions with their significant other.

I have seen one couple in their sixties, who had recently got together, but had both endured failed relationships in the past. They wanted to make sure that they started their new relationship on the right foot. I have also counselled young couples who were embarking on new relationships but felt that they could improve their sex lives for the better.

How do you know if you are in a dysfunctional relationship and need help? There is nothing wrong if you have rows and get angry with your partner from time to time. But well-balanced couples fix problems and settle rows in a clean way without leaving bitterness and resorting to passive aggressiveness. My own father had did not express anger in obvious ways, but would sulk for days when we upset him, so I learned how to tiptoe around people who were close to me. It took me years as an adult to see how this was affecting my relationships in a negative way, and it was hard work to change it. I had to learn to speak up and be clear, so I did not simply repeat my father’s patterns.

Over the years, I have identified four types of roles in dysfunctional relationships. The first is the boss.

Over the years, I have identified four types of roles in dysfunctional relationships. The first is the boss.

This is the person who expects to be in charge and expects deferral. The boss will become upset and angry if he or she doesn’t get his or her own way.

The people pleaser expects to defer to his or her partner and will go to great lengths to keep the peace. Boss roles and people pleasers often end up in dysfunctional relationships together because it is all they know. However, these relationships are unequal and usually unhappy.

The loner has often tried to be a boss or a people pleaser but failed or decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Instead, the loner withdraws from the relationship emotionally.

The self developer is the person who recognises that they have issues in relationships but wants to change their behaviour and attitude to move away from dysfunctional relationships and towards becoming a fully functioning emotional adult. The ultimate aim is to be in a relationship where there is emotional interdependence but neither partner is relying on the other to be happy and balanced as an individual. Therapy can help all of these characters move towards a healthier relationship.

When it comes to sex therapy, it is not ‘hands on’. There are some sex therapists who work alongside sexual surrogates, and will guide physical sessions, including orgasm workshops, but this is not really necessary during the session itself. Instead, I talk to people about the problems they are facing, which may range from vaginismus caused by some kind of psychological block, to lack of confidence about body image, or inability to have an orgasm or problems getting aroused (or getting an erection). Some studies suggest that around 45 per cent of couples have unhappy sexual relationships but the good news is that sex therapy is usually effective. I set homework, including cuddling, intimate touching and massaging, which the couple can do at home. This may involve step by step moves towards intimacy that may have been absent for many years. One couple spent 10 months practising exercises before they could reignite a sexual relationship which had been dormant for 25 years. Even if couples don’t do their homework, it gives me valuable insights into sticking points in their progress, which although on the surface might seem to be about a lack of interest or simply being too busy, usually has a deeper underlying motivation. This can include fear of pregnancy, or anxiety about getting too close due to a fear of losing their partner.

Therapy can take weeks, months or years, depending on the issues that are facing people and their commitment to the process. Some of my clients are happy to move on after 10 weeks, others are still seeing me for ‘top up’ counselling after four years. They report that therapy has made them calmer, happier and less over-reactive and more considerate towards their partner. Everyone has a tendency to think that what has gone wrong is someone else’s fault. In fact, the situation is much more complex than that. It is my job to make sure that people accept their own responsibility in helping to create a mutually beneficial relationship which satisfies their physical and emotional needs.

Juliet Grayson is a UKCP Registered Psychotherapist and author of “Landscapes of the Heart: The working world of a sex and relationship therapist” Landscapes of the Heart.
Juliet Grayson

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