Dr. Ethan Schwab

Seattle Couple, Family, and Sex Therapist

Author: Ethan (page 1 of 2)

Discussing Sex vs. Intimacy

When people come into the office that have conflict around sex, my first question is often whether they are trying to have the same conversation or two separate ones.

It can be tremendously challenging to validate your partner(s)’ experience or meet a need if you aren’t sure what that experience is, but are making an assumption around what you think they are saying they need.
When trying to communicate about sex, assumptions about your partner(s)’ experience can get you into trouble. Assuming sexual preferences, what is consensual, what’s erotic, what fantasies look like, what preferable touch feels like, what is a turn on, and what helps keep your them feeling safe can lead to hurt and disappointment, as well as a lack of understanding and invalidation.Sex vs. Intimacy Conversations

To help avoid these assumptions when trying to understand clients(s) sexual experiences in the office, I often ask everyone to consider delineating their sexual needs (which we define here as pleasure) and intimacy needs (which we define here as emotional closeness). These experiences are often interrelated, but don’t have to be. They can also be confused or lumped together in an unclear way leading to assumptions being made. Teasing them apart can help clarify sexual needs and lessen sexual conflicts.

Understanding you and your partner(s) sexual identity through the lenses of both physical pleasure and emotional closeness can help clarify experiences and lead you to knowing your partner(s) better. Thinking about sex and intimacy at two interrelated components of sexual experiences can provide a useful jumping off point to understand what helps your partner(s) feel safe, valued, and a priority, as well as what helps them feel good in their body.

Again, it can be difficult to prioritize an experience or need for someone we value if we don’t clearly understand the need in the first place. Conversations around sexuality can (at times) be challenging. Discussing sex and intimacy as different parts of our sexual experience can be a useful tool for clarifying needs between partners, and understanding one another better.

Do you feel that you know your partner(s)’ sexual interests as well as how they experience intimacy?

If you or your partner(s) are struggling with clearly communicating sexual preferences as well as what helps build emotional closeness, sex therapy can help!

Call Dr. Ethan Schwab today at (425) 295-2189 for a FREE initial consultation. Learn to collaborate and clarify one another’s sexual and intimate needs.

“Not What I Signed Up For…?!”

Often these days, I find myself sitting in front of all sorts of different couples where a new passion or sexual/relationship preference has emerged from one member of the couple/partnership that was not present or divulged at the beginning of the relationship. Often these new sexual preferences, fantasies, and relationship dynamics leave the other partner scratching their head saying: “This is NOT what I signed up for!”Not What I Signed Up For

In many of these instances, one partner develops new sexual fantasies or preferences and feels a great deal of vitality or excitement wrapped up in these new thoughts or idea. This can often seem reinvigorating for the relationship (from that person’s perspective), or make you “hot” again for your partner.

Regardless of your partner’s new enthusiasms, their preferences may not be for you. These new interests may seem out of left field, or spawned by something he or she saw in a movie, or read in some steamy book. You may hear from friends or on the internet that anything out of the ordinary sexually in your relationship could be destructive or compromising. Or, alternatively that you need to meet your significant other where they are at and can’t or shouldn’t be “vanilla.”

Regardless, just as your partner is entitled to have their own sexual preferences, fantasies, kinks, hopes and dreams, so are you. Too often are we hyper critical of one partner’s experience or the other, as both experiences and realities are valid. Socially, we typically talk about sexuality as binary or totalitarian, where we function under the rule of one culturally acceptable sexual script. Remember, our experiences are broad and unique (often not paralleling societal norms), that is, there are many ways that are either right or wrong for us to be in our intimate relationships. Whether it is sexually liberal or conservative, no individual’s experience is invalid. Sexually exists on an individual as well as relational level, and in the context of your partnership, can be co-created in a preferable fashion with work and compromise.

It is difficult to be authentic, remember that. ”New” relationship or sexual desires or preferences may be a part of who someone is or was…their preferred narrative, not shared previously due to quilt, fear, or shame. Inauthenticity is everywhere…We compete with neighbors to have a more successful seeming life, compete with our appearances or our children’s accomplishments, forget about the lust we share with our partner, but aren’t true to ourselves. We’re told to be, but have incongruent adult experiences that teach us otherwise. Our true selves, beliefs, and preferences can become bottled up, and eventually overflow.

Coming to a sexual or romantic realization can be cathartic or powerful, but can seem terrifying from the outside, because it was not what we signed up for in the beginning of the relationship. Inevitably, while differing sexual preferences between partners may be incompatible, we can work toward understanding the purpose and nature of our partner’s sexual interests, and if possible, ultimately moving toward a consensual common ground where each partner is heard, understood, and validated.

If you find yourself and your partner struggling with reconciling sexual interests that were not disclosed at the beginning of your relationship, and conflict or unclear communication has ensured, couples and/or sex therapy can help!

Call Dr. Ethan Schwab today at (425) 295-2189 for a FREE initial consultation. Learn to communicate your boundaries, preferences, fantasies, and what is erotic in ways your partner understands and welcomes.

Fights That Go Around in Circles

Have you ever heard the phrase: “The definition of crazy is going around and around in circles, trying the same things over and over, but expecting different results?” Truth be told, we all have. We’re all guilty of getting stuck in problematic cycles with our partners expecting that if we try harder, yell louder, love them more, or keep explaining ourselves that things will change and get better.

When we aren’t heard or validated, are unable to share our primary emotions, or do not feel safe, we can get stuck. When disagreements are important enough or our anxieties are high enough, we will keep fighting and fighting to be heard. If nothing changes and you find yourself having the same arguments over and over, this becomes a whirlpool like process, pulling the couple further and further downward, until the relationship hits rock bottom or ends.Seattle Sex Therapy

Regardless of the content (problems) causing these patterns of interaction between you and your partner, whether they are financial, marital, sexual, parenting, religious/spiritual, a difference in core values, or disagreeing about how the dishwasher should be loaded, couples therapy can help. There are many strategies to help intervene and solve the core problem, getting you out of the cycle and back into a preferable place together.

Couples (or partners) therapy can be tremendous helpful in interrupting problematic cycles of interaction or recurring fights about the same issue. Integrating Narrative, Emotion Focused, and Gottman couples therapy techniques, I help couples slow down, clarify communication, create shared goals, and move toward a preferable outcome. In this process, couples/partners work toward fostering greater levels of affection and trust for one another, ultimately strengthening the security of the relationship and the attachment bond.

If you find yourself and your partner getting into fights that go around in circles, struggling with “the same old issues,” and communication is only becoming worse or more heated, couples therapy can help!

Call Dr. Ethan Schwab today at (425) 295-2189 for a FREE initial consultation. Learn to communicate your preferences, needs, practices, and what is important or necessary for your relationship in ways your partner understands and welcomes.

Understanding Kinky Partners

So, what if you find yourself in a situation with your new or long term partner where you come to the realization he or she has vastly different sexual interests than you. 50 Shades fans aside, what if you find yourself discussing your very own partner’s experience with the real thing (and you never knew before)? What if he/she enjoys BDSM, cuckolding, swinging, soft swapping…etc? You may be wondering what kinks are in the first place. For many people who are uninitiated or unfamiliar in these arenas of sexual practice, the thought of your once innocent seeming partner enjoying and regularly engaging in these activities is terrifying! On top of that…what if he/she wants you to participate too? What if it is a deal breaker?

By no means is having a kinky partner (when you aren’t) a death sentence to the relationship. In many ways, it can bring excitement and growth to the relationship. Sex Therapy At the very least, couples and partnerships in this scenario often learn to communicate far more openly about sexuality and their preferences, fantasies, and what brings them pleasure. More often than not, your kinky partner is enthralled by you, loves you, and is genuinely happy to be with you and vice versa. Just because preferences are different, doesn’t mean you aren’t enough for them. More often than not, I see couples in this circumstance where the non-kinky partner feels incompetent and that they are sexually inadequate in some way. I invite anyone in this position to consider their partner and how their interests may be in addition to you, rather than something inadequate about you.

Truth be told, even if your partner hopes you’ll participate in kinky sex, or if you are kinky hoping for your partner to participate, by no means is there only one possible outcome for the relationship. If you aren’t kinky and have no interest, that’s just fine. There isn’t anything wrong with that or you for that matter, and sexual play can be negotiated to encapsulate the interests of both partners. Granted, like all parts of a coupled relationship, compromise may need to occur. Inevitably, if you find yourself in this position, feeling intimidated and lost in what your sexual relationship will look like, fear not. Progress and fulfillment, with a little help, are very possible!

Many partners are left with the question: “What does all of this mean, and what is the purpose?”

If you are trying to answer this question, find new sexual meaning, or be better at understanding kinky partners, sex therapy can help! Call Dr. Ethan Schwab today at (425) 295-2189 for a FREE initial consultation. Learn to communicate your preferences, needs, practices, and what is erotic in ways your partner understands and welcomes.

Experiencing Different Levels of Sexual Desire?

What happens when you find yourself in a position with your partner(s) where he/she/they don’t have the same sexual intensity or drive as you? What do you do when you desire more frequent sex, or kinky sex, but your partner(s) doesn’t or is indifferent?Desire discrepancy.  Sex Therapy. If you’ve felt alone and isolated, you aren’t as abnormal and unique as you might think. Desire discrepancy is a common process between couples and partners when one party doesn’t possess the same drive as you. While physiological changes across the life span can impact anyone’s desire for sex (e.g., menopause, low testosterone…etc.), many life transitions can too…like becoming a parent (and being exhausted…all…of…the…time), or learning that what is or would be fulfilling sexually now is different than when you started dating or were first married.

I consistently see couples and partnerships where one partner has either a much higher drive for sex in general, or has the desire for a type of sex (often kinky sex) that the other(s) just aren’t into, or have never considered. Remember…variety is the spice of life, and despite differences in what is pleasurable between partners, it doesn’t mean that your relationship will or has to end. Regardless, it can be terrifying to hear that your partner(s) is unsatisfied with the frequency of sex or really wishes that you would be more domineering or sexually adventurous. Being in this position isn’t uncommon, and when you think about the scope of time you’ve been with your partner (especially if it’s been years), things can become stale, uninspiring, or no longer preferable.

If you have found yourself in this position, there are plenty of directions therapy can assist with. I have seen many couples who have renegotiated the nature of their sexual relationship, often to a better, more pleasurable, and more fulfilling position than it ever was at the beginning of the relationship. It is never too late to save, fix, or rediscover your sexual relationship, scripts, and chemistry with your partner!

Are You Struggling to Get on the Same Page as Your Partner Sexually?

Are you and your partner(s) struggling with a desire discrepancy? Are you trying to get on the same page or find common sexual ground? Sex therapy can help! Call Dr. Ethan Schwab today at (425) 295-2189 for a FREE initial consultation. Learn to communicate your hopes, needs, desires, and what is pleasurable in ways your partner understands and welcomes.

Speaking A Similar Language

Regardless of the relationship or sex problems many clients bring to therapy, what keeps them from making progress is an inability to speak the same language. Most couples enter my office with one partner metaphorically speaking Latin, while the other is arguing back in German. Funny thing is, most people are saying the same thing, but do not understand one another. Achieving what you want in your relationship or sex life often cannot be achieved without speaking a common language. Whether you are fighting/miscommunicating about sex and preferences, disappointment, trust, intimacy, finances, or even how to load the dishwasher correctly, the following suggestions hold true.

Conflict is good and healthy when done “right.” Many problems I treat started small and went nearly unnoticed. One partner typically has a preference or a need he/she wants fulfilled by the other. This partner assumes that the way the couple shares its needs is clear and understood, rarely following up with the other partner(s) to ensure this is the case. Do you remember in the original Die Hard movie where Bruce Willis’ character makes the comment to Alan Rickman’s about how “assumption is the mother of all f*#k up’s?” Here is the secret; it is true in any relationship, especially with your romantic or sex partner.

When you find yourself going around in circles in conversations with your partner(s), expecting a different outcome each time (stuck in the same pattern of interaction), something needs to intervene. Often, resentment can build, and we find ourselves becoming contemptuous or critical toward the other. Those sentiments are often met defensively.

3 Ways to Speak a Similar Language

So, when you both want to speak French, but one is speaking English and the other Spanish, what can you do to stop running around in circles and move toward progress? Here are a couple of suggestions.

  1. Try using a “soft start-up”

    • When you are having a difficult time having important discussions with your partner (especially about sex, or anything that usually produces an argument), try beginning conversations with a “softened start-up” or “I-statement”. Instead of blaming your partner for your own primary emotive response, begin conversations about topics needing resolution by naming what is going on for you in the situation, not what your partner is doing to you (NO blaming). For example, when you want to begin a conversation and open dialog about a desire discrepancy (where one partner wants more or different sexual activity than the other), instead of blaming your partner for not meeting your needs, you could say: “I feel disheartened when I am unable to connect physically with the person I love most in life. I need to find that shared pleasure, admiration, and closeness to feel fully alive.” See how that is fundamentally different than blaming the other party? You are taking responsibility for your primary emotions and showing your partner that when a situation (not them) occurs, something you do not prefer happens. Then, you are able to ask for help and explain to your partner(s) what you need.
    • Essentially, this is the formula: “I feel _____ (primary emotion) _____ when _____ (situation, No blaming!) _____ happens. I need _________________ to feel whole/alive/safe/better/etc.
    • This process allows each partner respectfully to begin discussing difficult topics without being immediately triggered, building up resentment for the other.
  2. Take a “time out”

    • Walking away and taking a break from a heated discussion is not always a bad thing. When you feel your heart rate accelerating there is a good change you are flooded/triggered, and are losing your ability to make thoughtful/intelligent decisions, as your body starves your prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain that controls executive functioning…i.e., the smart part) of oxygen, shutting it down. After this happens, it is all fight or flight. Best to negotiate ahead of difficult discussions with your partner about taking time outs to cool down when things get too heated. Get on the same page before trying this, otherwise, it will seem like you or your partner is running away.
    • One caveat, be sure to return to the discussion within 24 hours so it is not forgotten. Otherwise, we build resentment.
  3. Practice Mindfulness

    • Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction is a form of mindfulness that is clinically aimed at lowering anxiety through attentive breathing exercises, body scans, guided meditations, as well as other practices.
    • The point here is to work toward lowering anxiety and remaining present in any situation without “checking out.”
    • Start with the 4-7-8 breathing exercise, also known as Mindful Breath. You can find many great examples of the 4-7-8 breathing exercise online. It only takes a minute or two to practice.

Are You Speaking a Similar Language?

Are you and your partner(s) speaking a similar language? Call Dr. Ethan Schwab today at (425) 295-2189 for a FREE initial consultation. Learn to communicate your needs and desires in ways your partner understands and welcomes.

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