Marie Woods, LMFT, CSAT
Primary Therapist, Gentle Path at the Meadows
When addressing an intimacy disorder such as sex addiction, one of the biggest struggles patients face is the ability to be relational. In fact, addressing these issues is at the very core of our program at Gentle Path at the Meadows. The answer to many of our patient questions in treatment are answered with strategies for being relational. For sex addicts, and many others as well, this concept can seem foreign, so we often use the following key points as a guideline for learning and practicing the art of being relational.
Sharing Thoughts and Feelings Appropriately
First, being relational requires sharing thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants appropriately. For many sex addicts, this is a huge hurdle. Perhaps they learned through various life experiences that their thoughts and feelings weren’t valuable, so they have learned to keep them to themselves, making it difficult for others to get to know them and form relationships with them. Others may have learned that in order for their thoughts and feelings to be heard, they had to be loud or rage, possibly causing people to avoid being in a relationship with them. One of the first steps to practicing healthy relational skills is learning how to share thoughts and feelings in an appropriate way. This includes speaking calmly, respectfully, and from the “I” position.
Letting Go of Resentment
The second step in practicing these skills is letting go of outcome and resentments when we share. It can be easy to assume that once we share our thoughts and feelings, others will listen, understand, or even agree, but this is not always the case. Often the most difficult part of sharing our thoughts and feelings is doing so without an underlying agenda to manipulate or control.
It is important to remember that the point in sharing thoughts and feelings is to practice intimacy, being known. When we share, it is important to let go of how the information is received and know that we have done our part.
What often comes next is a negotiation. If we have been brave enough to share our thoughts and feelings we may find ourselves in a conversation with others that requires negotiation. Perhaps they disagree or have a different perspective. Sometimes the discussion can simply be left at that, and other times, within a relationship, for example, there might need to be a negotiation where both people feel heard and respected in the ongoing relationship. This will likely require several rounds of the first two steps followed by the next step.
Following negotiation is the concept of setting boundaries in regards to what is and is not acceptable in the relationship moving forward. This really helps set the stage for building a deeper connection with the other person after having successfully navigated through a difficult moment. Despite how hard this can be, it often helps develop trust and respect between individuals thus a framework for a healthy relationship.
Developing Balanced Relationships
The idea behind this equation is not to oversimplify the concept of being relational, but rather to provide a basic framework to embark on this process. The ability to be relational is at the very core of what sex addicts struggle with. The steps above can seem terrifying, and thus sex addicts may resort to other less intimate coping skills that leave them isolated and lonely. The goal of practicing the relational skills mentioned above is to develop a balanced, equal relationship between individuals which is critical for deep-rooted ongoing recovery. It is through these relationships versus withdrawal and isolation that sex addicts experience some of the most meaningful insights and healing.