3 Myths About Sex and Relationships
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of my favorite psychotherapists, Jennifer Finlayson-Fife, to talk about relationships and sexuality. During our conversation, Jennifer debunked some serious relationship myths. I've been excited to share them with you from the moment I stopped recording.
What you're about to read is just the very tip of the iceberg. If you want to dive deeper, please listen to the episode (embedded above). I firmly believe everyone who wants a great relationship would benefit from sitting down with Jennifer, or someone like her.
I hope these words and lessons help to make you a better, more understanding, and more loving partner.
Edit: Jennifer's courses were some of the most important and impactful tools in helping me and my wife create an amazing marriage, and I just found out they're on sale for Christmas! The courses include "office hours" with Dr. Finlayson-Fife and are a cost-effective way to address and navigate marital challenges. This is a great opportunity! Here's the link.
Being Selfless is the Key To an Awesome Relationship
Whenever I tell people about this podcast, it's almost inevitable that they will share with me what they believe is the "Key to True Love." If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that the "Key to True Love" is to "put your partner's needs and/or desires before your own," I'd be a very rich man.
Granted, this theory isn't entirely flawed. There's virtue in taking care of one another. But just like most attempts at giving universal love advice, this idea has the potential to be very damaging if taken at face value, especially if taking care of our partner means sacrificing our own needs.
As Dr. Finlayson-Fife puts it, “When we won’t take care of ourselves, the fantasy is that somehow we’re being selfless and that this is blessing other people’s lives. But in reality, if you won’t manage yourself, you pressure everyone else to manage you… if you don’t take a hold of yourself and live a life you respect, you’ll suck the life out of everybody around you, which is very very selfish in the name of selflessness.”
It reminds me of how I used to abuse the Golden Rule. You remember the old adage from the Bible, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you?" Well, my version was "Do unto others as I expect them to do unto me."
I would do something kind for a girl and then get frustrated when it wasn't reciprocated. I would give compliments to friends and then get disappointed when they didn't offer compliments back. I would give of my time, energy, and resources - many times with what I felt were sincere and selfless intentions - then get discouraged and even angry when I felt like I was getting walked on or taken advantage of.
In many of these cases I felt like a martyr. "I am always the one putting in all the effort, and nobody else will reciprocate!"
Maybe this sounds familiar to you...
Once again, Dr. Finlayson-Fife chimes in with her wisdom. "Being a martyr is not a selfless position. It’s an extremely entitled position. It’s like saying, “I’m not going to take responsibility for my desires. I’m not going to be honest and straight up about what I want. But I’m going to demand that you figure it out and give it to me, and I’ll resent you enough if you don’t that I’ll go do what I want on the side."
At the end of the day, your partner is not responsible for discerning and then meeting your basic needs and desires. You are. You're responsible for asking for time alone if you need it. You're responsible for initiating intimacy if you want it. You're responsible for saying "no" if you're too busy to do something. You're responsible for your thoughts, feelings, desires, words and actions and how they come (or don't come) into fruition in your relationships.
Anxiety Means There's Something Wrong In My Relationship
One of the top excuses I hear people using to avoid or abandon something good is that it "doesn't feel right."
Anxiety is often the culprit for these negative feelings.
Don't get me wrong, there are definitely times when you should trust your gut, but remember, not all feelings are created equal. I mean, your primal instincts could be giving you that uneasy feeling because it sees a huge threat looming just out of sight. Or that gross pit in your stomach might be there because you ate a bad taco for lunch.
Anxiety is complex and misunderstood creature, and despite how you might feel, it's not always bad. As Dr. Finlayson-Fife explains, there are two types of anxiety:
Unproductive anxiety vs. Productive Anxiety
Unproductive Anxiety - When you try to control things you can’t control.
For example: I'm worried my husband will die in a car crash. I'm worried my wife might one day die of cancer. I'm worried that it will rain on our wedding day. I'm worried that aliens will abduct me in my sleep to do all sorts of tests.
You get the picture.
There are some things beyond your control. Period.
Productive Anxiety - This type of anxiety is a symptom of growth. It means you are willing to do things that are hard. You believe there is a positive outcome in the effort, in the stretching, in the seeking to understand and develop something.
For example: I'm learning a new instrument and I'm uncomfortable not being in a state of mastery. There's an important conversation I want to have with my partner that will inevitably bring us closer together, but I'm been scared to bring it up. I am ready to eat healthy and exercise, but it is stressful to change my cooking/eating habits and adjust my schedule for gym time. I've decided to ask for an evening of pleasure focused entirely on me, and it terrifies me to ask for something like that because I'm so used to taking care of everyone else. I want to share my deepest fantasy with my lover and I'm nervous they'll think I'm weird.
Sometimes anxiety just shows up when we bump up against our future, better selves. We're faced with the challenge, the growth, and the work that lies before us, and we're flooded with doubts. Our insecurities take over.
"Can I do this?" "What if I fail?" "This is scary." "It might not work out the way I want it to." "What will happen if I get rejected?"
On the other side of that anxiety is the version of you that you are so incredibly ready to become.
So if you're feeling anxious, ask yourself, "Is the thing making me anxious something I can control, or something I can't?" If it's outside your control, let it go. As the infamous Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them says, "My philosophy is that worrying means you suffer twice.”
If your anxiety is coming from something you can control, push forward! Future you (smarter, braver you) is waiting just on the other side!
Your Marriage Is Meant For Your Happiness
This part of the podcast was just too good for me not to quote Jennifer directly:
"One of the reasons Marriage is a divine institution is that you have someone institutionally there to give you feedback about your blindspots.
"The challenge of being human is that we’re so good at self deception. We’re so good at narrating our lives in the way that makes us comfortable:
"We’re good, they’re bad.
"I did everything I could, they didn’t do anything.
"And in reality we’re quite clueless about who we really are.
"People see us more clearly than we see ourselves. We’re much more readable than we want to believe."
The reason marriage is so incredible, and often times, so miserable, is that our partner is there for us to show us our weaknesses, shortcomings and flaws with the invitation to improve. Marriage is the ultimate self-development tool.
If you don't want to grow to be a kinder, more self-aware, and all-around better person, marriage is not the institution for you.
A good partnership will force you to ask yourself questions in order to become a better human and partner:
Where do I delude myself? What are the areas in myself that I don’t want to deal with? What are the things that I want other people to believe about me, and why am I invested in being seen that way? What’s hard about being with me? What’s hard about being married to me? What’s hard about being my brother?
Answering these questions may not be fun. It probably won't be easy. The answers won't necessarily make you happy in the moment... but they will make you better.
The truth will always make you better.
The truth will set you free… but first it might really suck.
What did you learn from this episode? How have your relationships stretched you, challenged you, and exposed you to truths about yourself? What are the hard questions you're being confronted with? How can you be (or prepare to be) a better partner? Which of these myths do you agree or disagree with?
Let's hear your thoughts in the comments!