You’re still heartbroken or maybe you are still feeling the sting of betrayal from your break-up. Whether it lasted for 14 months or 40 years, there is something still lingering from your last relationship...
Something that you really don’t want to follow you into the next relationship (although, right now, you aren’t sure if there will be a next one – that’s how deflated you feel).
Chances are, regardless of your age or circumstances, you will have another sexual and intimate relationship after your break-up. Maybe right now you are dating or contemplating starting to date but you just can’t help but feel that you are in a sort of hangover from your last relationship. A hangover that you want to have a sense of finality and resolution before your next encounter. This is smart, mature and makes sense.
Who wants the troubles, concerns and dynamics of your old relationship seeping into your new relationship? #nothanks
This year, I have had more women come through to sessions seeking my support as they reflect on what didn’t work in their last long-term relationship. They are seeking not just clarity as to why their sex life played out the way it did but a chance to feel renewal and correction before they date and/or have sex again.
So today, I’d like to share a little bit about what how we approach sexual concerns and issues when you aren’t in a relationship.
Let’s lift the lid on sex therapy and how I can help you through this notoriously confusing time.
Firstly, I just want to say that you don’t have to be in a relationship to talk about your sex life. In fact, I sometimes breathe a sigh of relief when one of my clients describes her life and circumstances in the first session and says that she isn’t in a relationship – especially when she describes how much she was used to people pleasing and placating others in sex. I say ‘yes! We can focus on you owning your sexuality – for yourself, by yourself’. It is a secretly perfect time to explore without any external influences or distractions.
Usually, in the introductory session, my clients cry regardless of why they decided to come and see me. When a relationship break-up is recent, she cries a lot. This isn’t because she hasn’t cried a lot already, more just that she now has the safety to really feel the sense of disappointment, betrayal and possible rejection that has strangled her libido for life and sex. These tears are a release and allow her to tap into a special vulnerability that has usually been under lock and key. It’s all natural and it’s all necessary. Our sex lives are the most vulnerable and personable parts of ourselves and talking about that is an un-bottling of all that has been pent up.
Those tears and words she speaks give her clarity and space to let go of what she doesn’t want to follow her.
From the second session onwards, we talk about what her sex life was like and what didn’t work. I have found some common threads. Yes, she loved her partner and no, she didn’t want the relationship to end (there are various reasons why it has). Oftentimes, she has felt like she became so ingrained in her roles as wife, employee and maybe even mother that she gets used to all the stuff in life that has tick boxes, leaving all the feeling/ambiguous parts of life in a box. That’s not to say it’s all her fault. There is always a back and forth happening in a relationship. Just that, sex and intimacy becomes scary when it feels like it will unravel something else entirely.
This isn’t helped if she is in a relationship where all touch has the expectation of sex.
Sometimes she is avoiding sex and intimacy because it feels like another pressure she can’t live up to.
The negative cycle continues – her partner wants intimacy (usually this intimacy is sought through sex), she avoids it and her partner asks (pesters?) her for more and she retreats more. Sometimes, she self-admittedly over- compensates for low levels of intimacy by doing more paid work, parenting, housework and other obligations.
Usually by session 4 or 5, she has had enough time to process what has happened in her relationship and break-up and although she is still healing (this takes time), she is able to look back at it all through a different lens AND she is starting to get a sense of the liberation that is possible within the next chapter of her life. She cries less and smiles a little more.
We use these sessions to look at the patterns and habits in life that were suffocating her sexual desire. We talk about whether she…
+over-gives in every sense of the word
+wants things to be perfect and none of that felt compatible with sex
+is able to recognise when she is depleted
+has lost her identity within the relationship
+is out of touch with her body (in strong favour of her mind)
+really knows her true worth and value
The themes that come through these patterns and habits are:
+boundaries : her own lines in the sand
+consent : her yes and no and whether she listens to them
+energy preservation : choosing what’s most important to her over what she thinks she has to do
+self-pleasure : in all of it’s definitions but in this context, learning to self-pleasure so that she can own what she likes and be clear on that within the next relationship
In short, we bolster her toolkit for navigating her body and relationships so that when her next relationship starts, she is a lot more confident about what she wants to give and what she wants to receive (receiving is commonly uncomfortable for women who love to give).
I know that leading up to dating and dating itself can feel like a kind of limbo. Like you are neither here nor there. But there is a lot to shed in this potent time of your life. It not only asks what do you want to shed from your old relationship but what do you want to shed within yourself?
What aspects of giving and receiving just weren’t working or what were you covering up?
What is now possible for you to feel within yourself and with a potential partner down the line?
The most important ingredient that my clients feel when they come to me during this chapter of their lives is…
It can’t be underestimated how powerful hope is. It is more powerful than any anti-depressant. More powerful than anyone saying ‘you look hot’. More powerful than money in the bank.
Feeling hopeful about where life is taking us and starting to trust again that your old relationship has a sense of completion (aka chapter closed) allows women to finally exhale. They aren’t clamouring for the past and they are no longer scared about the future. Over time, nervousness makes way for excitement and possibility – she senses she is on the cusp of something fresh when she has been given the permission to tap into the part of her that no longer puts predictability and certainty as the highest priority. She isn’t trying to get her life ‘back’, she is owning what her new life could be if she invests in it with curiosity and time.
If you’re wondering how on Earth a sex therapist can help you when you’re not in a relationship then I hope this article has brought you some clarity. Whether you are in a relationship with another person or not, the truth is that you are your longest sexual relationship and that having the space to work that all out is a form of empowerment so many women didn’t know was even possible. They just couldn’t imagine it when they were in a relationship that technically wasn’t working. The desire for the relationship to stay as is was overriding the energy input and effort required to keep it not just going for longevity’s sake but to keep it satisfying, loving and honouring.
That’s OK that it played out that way - we live and learn. All I ask is that you consider:
What will be different in your next relationship?
What are you going to do to give you the best chance of your next sexual chapter being and feeling different? (no magic wishes please!)
How can you own your sexuality as it is now? (not when you get a new partner or lover)
I promise, you are stronger than you give yourself credit for.
Never forget - you are the heroine of your own sex life.
P.S. If you need an anchor in this ‘limbo’ state, I’m here to help. Nothing is too big or problematic to talk about. As an impartial observer, I can always see a way in to dissolve the blocks and self-perceived limitations. You don’t need to stay in the darkness and confusion of limbo. When you step forward into an introductory session, I guarantee you will feel heard and acknowledged, just as you are. Will you consider it? To read more and book in, go straight to my sessions page and we’ll speak in person or via Skype soon.