Friday, August 17, 2012

Q&A with Kristin B. Hodson, MSW, LCSW and Alisha B. Worthington, BSW, SSW

Real Intimacy website: http://bit.ly/NihC59
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ARH – Kristin B. Hodson, MSW, LCSW and Alisha B. Worthington, BSW, SSW are co-author’s of Real Intimacy: A Couple’s Guide to Healthy, Genuine Sexuality. Thank you for joining us today, Kristin and Alisha.

Thanks you for having us, Angie! We are thrilled to be able to be here with you and your readers.

ARH – In the book, Real Intimacy, it states you are coming at this from a Mormon perspective, specifically the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Is this book supported by the LDS?

Although we, the authors, are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, we do not officially represent or speak on behalf of the church. Generally speaking, we are getting positive and encouraging feedback from our LDS Community and we hope to continue to receive that same support as more people read the book! Additionally, we feel the principles in this book cross all religious boundaries because human sexuality and intimacy are universal in nature. Christians, Muslims, Mormons and even atheists can all benefit from reading our book.

ARH – There was a little bit about an adult temper tantrum that caught my eye. What is your definition, and how could a person respond to that behavior?

We love that this caught your eye because frankly we often reserve the word and idea of a tantrum for those that are toddlers. However, the whole idea of a tantrum is an irrational, immature response to not getting something we want, having feelings hurt or unsure of how to effectively communicate a need. Adults very much still throw tantrums, they just tend to be more sophisticated and fly under the toddler tantrum radar because most adults aren’t (hopefully) throwing themselves on the floor, kicking, screaming and crying. Adults tend to punish their spouse by giving them the silent treatment, being overly critical, and being passive aggressive, to name a few. These are all in the name of not getting what they want, having their feelings hurt or having a need but not sure how to ask for it.

ARH – How do you suggest couples work it out when their personal definitions of intimacy don’t match?

First we would suggest getting in touch with what their partners idea of intimacy is. Perception is not reality so even if we think our spouses definition of intimacy is sex because they always seem to want it, this may be only one aspect of their overall definition. A good rule of thumb is, if you haven’t asked, you don’t know. Once you have a better understanding of what your spouses definition of intimacy is, then it’s talking about how to meet each other where the other is at because the real truth of the matter is most couples don’t have the same definition of intimacy. We have identified four areas of intimacy: emotional, spiritual, physical and sexual. We all need these aspects of intimacy with some areas being more dominant than others. It’s not a conversation about whose definition is right but learning what your spouse’s definition is so you can learn how to love them more in that way.

ARH – Do you have any suggestions on how to let your partner down when you just aren’t in the mood for sex?

This can be a pretty tough situation for many couples. How to say, “Not tonight dear, I have a headache,” without causing hurt feelings or frustration and/or resentment. And yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. Sex is an appetite and we compare it to “dining” in our book. Sometimes we are hungry, sometimes we are not. Sometimes we want gourmet food while other times a quick bite will do. Moreover, very often, we find one partner wanting to get a good steak, while the other wants a salad. In those situations we find ourselves compromising, willing to go to one restaurant over another agreeing that the next time it will be the other partner’s turn to choose. And, generally speaking, we are able to have this type of conversation without hurt feelings, resentment or frustration. We understand that our partner’s choice of restaurant, or type of food, has nothing to do with us, but is all about what they’re in the mood for, as well as that of ourselves. Talking about sex as you would your restaurant or food choice can take some of the emotional energy away once you realize you are simply expressing your desire for the type of intimacy you would like to experience as well as that of your partner. Saying the phrase, “Honey, I’m just not hungry tonight. I am still full and satisfied from our last encounter.” With the assurance that you will definitely want to “eat” again -- and soon -- can reduce the tension and create better understanding between you.

ARH – In the book you mention that people in their 60s can be having fantastic sex, and I immediately wondered is there a point where people are just too old?

We don’t think so because fantastic sex is all relative and we go through so many stages of sexuality in our life. For example, there was a man in his 80’s who spent 10 dedicated years caring for his wife who had severe Alzheimer's. After her passing, he re-entered the dating world and found a companion to share his life with. He said the sex and intimacy he was having was some of the best he had had in his life. His body functions were a bit different so he had to work with that, but he felt like he was still having fantastic sex. It’s all about not having a comparative reality. The fantastic sex we are having in our 20’s will be different then the fantastic sex we are having in our 30’s and so on. Older couples often report they are experiencing more intimacy than ever before because the changes in their bodies force them to communicate more about vulnerable issues which then increases their sexual overall experience. It becomes more about the actual relationship and less about just sex.

ARH – How does compromise work with regards to sex in a marriage? I mean, if people are at different points on the spectrum, how do they merge in a way that makes everyone happy?

This is one of the beautiful things about being in a relationship with another person -- there is never a guarantee that you will ever be at the same point on the spectrum. It’s beautiful because you get to work together to find solutions and compromises that will satisfy both partners. For example, say the wife has just had her second child and is trying to recover, not necessarily sleeping, and is feeling pretty out of sorts -- and definitely not sexual. The husband, on the other hand, is trying to be supportive but isn’t experiencing the same kind of physical struggles his wife is and hasn’t lost any sexual desire at this point. How do these two come together? This is where we often forget that intimacy is much more than just intercourse. We need to remember what it was like when we were dating. We held hands, kissed, hugged, rubbed feet, caressed necks and shoulders and even explored breasts and penises without necessarily having sex. Often, once married, that type of physical intimacy starts to disappear and we focus entirely on sex itself. Remember that there is a whole body to be intimate with can help two people come together who might be on very different point of the spectrum. You may not be feeling like intercourse is within your ability right now, but you could kiss and touch and rub. Opening our minds to all aspects of intimacy can help bridge those gaps.

ARH – I like how you talk about the honeymoon night as a learning experience. Do you think there is too much pressure to perform on the wedding night? My husband and I just went to sleep that first night, we agreed it was such an intense day that we’d rather wait until a better time.

Bravo! for giving yourselves permission and space to have real intimacy in your relationship and not buy into what society and Hollywood sells as what a honeymoon night SHOULD be. Yes, we do think there is too much pressure for a honeymoon night to be a certain way. This is also true not only for Mormons but any individual or couple that has “saved themselves” for marriage. There is a lot of hype around not having sex until you are married so the honeymoon tends to be perceived as the free-for-all instead of the springboard and foundation for a relationship based on intimacy, trust and understanding. Hopefully there is a lifetime of sexual experiences to be had and the honeymoon is just the beginning. Realizing your honeymoon isn’t an experience happening in a bubble, and starting your real relationship when you get home can help you set a positive blue print to work from.

ARH – You mention the benefits of Facebook and other social media in a marriage. When do you think it can cause problems?

There is a lyric by musician Ani Difranco that says, “Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.” Social media and technology are allowing us to connect in ways never imagined before. Spouses that travel for work, that are in the army and overseas or have varied work hours can use technology as a fun, quick way to simply tell your spouse you love them throughout the day. However, when technology is used to look up an old flame, to engage in pornography in a secretive way or to flirt with a co-worker, it becomes a threat to your relationship. The key is to use technology in a transparent way keeping the question in mind, “Would I be doing this if my spouse knew?” If your answer is no, it may be time to ask yourself what are getting from your technological connections that you are not getting from your real relationship and what conversation or emotions you may be avoiding.

ARH – Kristin and Alisha, thank you for sharing your time and experience with my readers and me today. I wish you much success with Real Intimacy.

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