Marie, 35, came to see me. ‘I’ve been married for six years and our sex life is good, but very vanilla. I was very turned on by the Fifty Shades film and the books, and I really want to try something new, but my husband thinks I’m being ridiculous and seems threatened by the idea. We end up arguing if I ever bring it up.’
Marie explained that when she met her husband Dan, she was more experienced than he was. ‘I made the mistake of telling him how many men – and women – I’d slept with, so I think he feels insecure. What can I do to help him feel more confident so we can make our sex life more exciting?’
This is a situation that many couples grapple with in my therapy room, long before Fifty Shades. For her, it’s how to tell him what she likes without being overly instructive or critical. For him, it’s how to open up to her requests and hear it from a place of care rather than control. Her lament: ‘I have tried to tell him, but he doesn’t hear me. I do things he likes; how many times do I have to tell him about what I like? He doesn’t seem to care.’ His response: ‘The minute I do something that she doesn’t like, she reacts so aggressively. I can’t do anything right.’ Sound familiar?
Although Marie thinks her husband is insecure, she recognises that she’s just assuming this. He may not even know. It’s unhealthy to mind-read, no matter how well you think you might know your partner. In reality, we can’t really know if we don’t ask. We all change over time; what used to turn us on might become boring or even a turn-off after a while. So it is important to have regular check-in points with one another and make sure you are still feeding each other’s wants and needs.
Marie could start by talking about their past together over the last six years – and discuss how they have both evolved and how they connect and relate to each other, not just in their sex life. Marie needs Dan to feel ‘secure’. She could ask him if there is something he needs from her in the sexual part of their relationship. If she wants to increase the chance that he listens to her and is open and interested, then it may be good to start with what he needs from her in order for him to feel more confident in the ensuing conversation. Marie should ask him to tell her more about new sexual experiences. What does he think it would be like? What’s the best and worst that could happen?
If he brings up her past sexual history, Marie can reassure him that she chose to marry him and that sex is only one part of their relationship. It sounds like Dan is anxious about his performance too, since Marie feels he experiences feedback as criticism (and many men do). It’s always how we give feedback that can make a difference. When you try something new together, neither of you is the expert. That mindset and approaching the whole experience as sexy play can really make a difference.
Now, back to Fifty Shades. Marie should not presume that men understand women’s erotic needs. Women themselves can be quite perplexed by their fantasies. So, talking about what turns you on in the plot between Anastasia and Mr Gray would be a good beginning.
Check out: the marriage course at the School of Life
Book yourselves in: the Making Love Retreat in various locations in Europe.