Fostering Intimacy With a Romantic Sanctuary

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The couples I work with all too often struggle with making time and space for sex in the context of the rest of their lives. When we have families and careers to juggle, sex all too often falls by the wayside. Yes, time and energy are at a premium for many of us. But there is also deeper level to this dynamic. We often find that juggling our different roles also makes it difficult to keep the fire alive. It is hard to switch from our role as a professional, or as a parent, into a sexual being. Instead, we may find it easier to numb, ignore, and starve our sexual selves.

The process of reintegrating this part of our beings can be a complex journey, one unique to each of us. And while it would be impossible to address the totality of this dynamic in a single blog post, I can offer you one of the starting points that has fostered intimacy for many of the couples I see, especially those with children.

Create a romantic sanctuary.

Have one place in your house that can transform into a space where your sexual self can thrive. Set the intention to spend time here a couple of times a week, whether or not you choose to have sex. When we build a fire, we need a physical pit or fireplace—a special place for that purpose alone. We also need enough space for air to pass through, and enough time to nourish the flame. So too with the fire within do we need space to breathe and time for growth. We also need to send it the message that it is an important part of our lives.

Here’s how:

  1. Pick a place in your home for your sanctuary.

The bedroom is the obvious choice for many, though it doesn’t have to be. If there isn’t one place that can be just for you and your partner (say, for example, you are co-sleeping with your child in your room), pick a place you can transform with candles, music, pillows, etc. when you and your partner want to connect. You could even add soft lighting to a bathroom and take a bath together. Wherever it is, make sure it is a place where you feel safe, comfortable, and confident that you will not be intruded upon.

  1. Let your five senses guide you in your transformation of space into sanctuary.

What smells turn you on? How does temperature affect your sexual enjoyment, and what is your ideal temperature? How do the fabrics on your bed or couch feel on your skin? How does lighting affect your mood? How about sounds? This is you gathering the wood to fuel your flame.

Consider adding candles, twinkle lights, or other soft lighting, a way to play music, or aromatherapy to the room. Leave your phones, TV, and other screens off or outside.

  1. Make sure you feel safe and comfortable to be yourself.

If you are worried about being seen through the window, make sure you to close your curtains/blinds. If you are concerned with being heard, try adding a white noise machine by the door.

  1. Set the intention to spend time together in your sanctuary fostering intimacy, whether sexual or nonsexual.

Make actual dates, and follow through with them, even if they are only for 15-minutes a night.

And if you are too exhausted/triggered/anxious/etc to have sex, spend time in your sanctuary anyway. Listen intently to your favorite album. Give each other massages. Take a bath together. Have a meaningful conversation. Create art. Enjoy a good glass of wine. Fall asleep in each other’s arms. Find a way to harbor connection to each other and to your sensory experience.

Have fun!

 

 

Learning Emotionally-Focused Therapy

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A little over a week ago, I attended a four-day intensive training in Emotionally-Focused Therapy (EFT). Around seventy therapists sat in a windowless conference room, nestled against the rain and flood warnings pitter-pattering the cell phones we had agreed to tuck away for the sake of presence and connection. Banana bread and popcorn nourished us as we grew in understanding of the practice and in warmth towards one another. I was able to get to know some of my fellow trainees well, while others didn’t get a chance to meet. Still, by the end of our time, the room felt safe and intimate; there was a sense of the human bond running between us. It reminded me of sitting together with strangers to witness the wedding of mutual loved ones; though many of us did not know each other, what we had shared brought us to drink in the same joy, hopefulness, and love that we had all felt. And in that sharing, we had opened in connection to one another.

It is always hard to explain the inspired exhaustion that follows a good psychotherapy training. The best trainings I have attended stir their way into me so that I understand them in all layers of my being, from the cerebral down to the emotional, personal, and primal. When learning EMDR, this meant watching my own hidden shadows move and shift within the somatic realms of my body and mind, as I rode emotional waves into greater peacefulness. In the art therapy trainings and consultations I have attended, it has meant expressing my own feelings and experiences that have been silenced in colors, shapes, and symbols; I have always left with a greater understanding of myself. This is what Contemplative Psychotherapy is all about; it is my mission to continually get to know myself and my emotional process so that I can be as fully present and empathetic with my clients as possible.

It would make sense that an emotionally-focused therapy training would leave me feeling warm, close, and connected with those around me. EFT is based in attachment theory, with bonding at its center; it guides couples (and individuals) in shifting away from destructive cycles and disconnectedness by fostering the safety for each to vulnerably express his/her needs and emotions, creating a secure bond. Through EFT, this bond becomes reliable, consistent, and a source of support and strength. This not only helps the communication in relationships, but it attends to some of the most basic, primal needs as humans. In this way, it is holds great potential to heal mental illness and emotional suffering.

Each training day of lectures, watching sessions, and practicing/receiving EFT with my colleagues, I found myself in a place of more profound openness and connection, not only with those around me, but with my own loved ones outside of our cozy conference room. I felt increased appreciation, empathy, and curiosity towards my own partner’s experience in our marriage, and have found myself in deeper appreciation for the relationship we have built together. The experience has made me even more excited to bring this beautiful healing modality to my clients as I continue to grow from it, both personally and professionally.

Thank you to Jim Thomas, Lisa Palmer-Olsen, and the Colorado Center for Emotionally-Focused Therapy for a great externship experience!

A Thanksgiving Mindfulness Exercise to Cultivate Gratitude

IMG_3038Consider trying this practice by reading it aloud as you sit down to your Thanksgiving dinner.

Take a moment to notice your feet on the ground, your back against your chair. You have arrived at this table. It may have been a journey across the country, on a mere few steps into your dining hall. Either way, thank yourself for being here, for the efforts it may have taken to work through a family conflict or logistical hiccups to be able to come together.

Feel the clean air moving through your lungs. Find gratitude for the simple fact that the air has always been there to feed you, and for your lungs in their persistent dedication to sustain you, even when the rest of your body feels exhausted.

Let your awareness scroll down your body, from head to toe, noticing any places that may be holding tension or excitement, frustration or peacefulness. Just notice how you are feeling, without any need to change it. Your body is so full of wisdom, and it will alert you to what feels right or wrong, safe or dangerous. Discomfort can even clue you in as to when you may need to take action or make a change. Thank your body for its honesty and guidance, even in this instant, as it allows you to understand this exact moment a little more intimately.

Gaze around the table or onto your plate at all of the beautifully prepared food in front of you. Let your eyes rest on one favorite item—be it the stuffing or the potatoes or the casserole—and take a moment to ponder the journey it took to get to your plate. Imagine the labor that went into preparing it today. And before that, on the trek it may have made across the state or across the globe to arrive on your plate. Think about all those who contributed to bringing it from the soil to you: the weathered hands of farmers and packers, truckers and grocers. Think about the food and air and love that fueled them in their work.

Acknowledge that whether a turkey or a green bean, it was once alive. Take a moment to appreciate its spirit and thank it for sustaining you, without needing to feel guilty for this gritty part of the cycle of life.

Let your mind wander back to its origins: the sun and rain and nutrients of the earth that all played a part in it being here today. The entire universe exists in this bite of food; even its most basic atoms were once fused in the center of a star. Let yourself be baffled by that, and find gratitude for your world, a world that is still so full of mystery.

Lastly, look around the table at those around you, acknowledging the journeys each of them took to be here with you. Take a moment to touch into the infinite ways in which each one has added to your life: what you have learned from them, moments when they have inspired you, how they have colored your world in little or large ways—ways that no one else could. Reach your hands out to theirs, and give the ones closest to you a little squeeze, reminding yourself of the sacredness of connecting with another living being.

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Rachael Uris, MA, LPC is the owner of Atacama Counseling, LLC, offering sex therapy as well as individual and couple's counseling for issues surrounding sexuality, love, and pregnancy. All services are located in downtown Boulder, Colorado, and are provided in English and Spanish.
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