Addressing Limiting Beliefs in Intimate Relationships: A Psychologist’s Perspective

As a Relationship Psychologist, in my practice at Core Elements Counselling I’ve observed that many couples grapple with deep-seated beliefs that hinder their sexual satisfaction, particularly among women. These beliefs often originate from societal norms and expectations that have been passed down through generations. One stark example of this is the prescriptive narrative found in the 1945 publication ‘The Art of Marriage,’ which suggested a woman’s role was primarily to fulfill her husband’s sexual needs. If you have been in my office you have seen it sitting on my table as a reminder of how far we have come!

Despite the progression of time, the residue of these outdated beliefs still lingers, subtly influencing the dynamics of modern intimate relationships. As a relationship psychologist, I’ve seen firsthand how these ingrained notions can create an imbalance, leaving one partner’s needs overshadowed by the other’s.

Changing deeply ingrained beliefs about sex is no small feat. It’s a complex process that often requires us to confront and question long-held ideas that have been shaped by a multitude of sources. These beliefs are not just personal; they are woven into the very fabric of our society, influenced by family, culture, religion, education, media, and our social circles.

Consider the messages we’ve received from our parents or guardians; they are often our first and most influential teachers in life. They set the initial boundaries of what is deemed acceptable or taboo. Culture and religion further reinforce certain perspectives on sexuality, which can range from open and accepting to restrictive and shaming. Teachers and educational systems may provide us with the basic mechanics of sex but often leave out the emotional and pleasure-focused aspects that are crucial to a healthy sexual understanding.

Moreover, social media, with its pervasive reach, bombards us with images and ideas of what sex should look like, often creating unrealistic expectations. Friends and peers can also play a significant role, as their opinions and experiences can either challenge our beliefs or reinforce them.

Recognizing the multitude of voices that contribute to our sexual belief system is the first step in the process of change. It allows us to identify and critically assess the validity of these beliefs in our own lives. With this awareness, we can begin to consciously choose which messages to accept and which to rewrite, paving the way for a healthier and more fulfilling sexual experience.

The path to a mutually satisfying intimate relationship begins with confronting and dismantling these limiting beliefs. It involves an open dialogue where both partners feel safe to express their needs and desires. In therapy, we work towards building an environment of mutual understanding and respect, where pleasure and satisfaction are shared goals.

Some suggestions:

Starting with self-reflection.Individually consider their your own desires and boundaries. This self-awareness is crucial before coming together to share and understand one another’s perspectives.

Another recommended practice is the use of ‘sensate focus’ exercises, a technique developed by Masters and Johnson. This involves a series of steps where partners take turns touching each other with the goal of focusing on the sensations rather than sexual performance. This can help couples build intimacy and reduce performance pressure. I often have partners start with assessing pleasure by touching hands, or fingertips and asking each other on a scale of 1-10 how pleasurable the touch is, progressing to other parts of the body.

It’s also beneficial to create a ‘pleasure list’ together, where each partner writes down what they enjoy and would like to explore. This can serve as a guide for both partners to understand and prioritize each other’s pleasure. You can make a pleasure list for before, during and after any sexual intimacy.

Lastly, the practice of scheduled intimacy can be helpful. While spontaneity is often romanticized, setting aside time for intimacy ensures that both partners are mentally and emotionally prepared, which can lead to a more fulfilling experience. Ask your partner ” how do you want to experience pleasure right now”.

By integrating these practices into their relationship, couples can co-create a new narrative around intimacy—one that’s built on mutual understanding, respect, and pleasure. Moving beyond the shadows of the past, we can help partners to forge a present and future where their intimate life is a source of joy and connection.

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