We need more divorces. This has been my relational battle cry for over a decade. There is no valor in staying trapped in an institution that no longer meets your desires or supports your growth or happiness. Individuals own psychological health and functioning must come before a rigid failing system of needless agonizing contracted commitment. Contracts are for business ventures, ownership, and vacation rentals. The bond that “marriage” creates often makes “love” and “commitment” tenuous and toxic. Being and staying in a relationship is best born out of interest, fulfillment, and love. Once these qualities have dissipated and are replaced with resentment or resignation, it’s time to reconsider the contract. “Love” and “commitment” should not be slandered and held together by a contract. Have enough integrity to want a partner that wants you, and not one that feels trapped, obligated, or stays under the duress of divorce. Leaving a relationship MUST always be an option, or we are talking about a hostage situation and imprisonment.
I want my clients and friends to have lifelong intimacy, support, and love, but “marriage” is not what builds or sustains this. The individuals own love and commitment do this. Contracted relationships instead erode and deteriorate as it introjects a wall of finite possibilities. Relationships are fluid, ever-changing organisms that do not adhere to social constructions such as contracts, fantasies, or “grand narratives.” The vision of lifetime dyadic synchronicity is both flawed and unrealistic. I cringe when I read articles and books by “experts” that promote “marriage” as the only or ultimate form of intimacy building, reified display of love, or the “healthy” form of relational configuration. Love is about choices and desires. Love is about wanting what’s best for your Other. Love is to take pleasure is seeing your partner happy, and not trapped. M Scott Peck had it right when he discussed the confusion between “love” and “cathexis”. What we often deem to be “love” for our Other is often just our own self interest and seeking of comfort. Your partner is not like your pet, whose life is solely built around always keeping you content and happy with restricted freedoms and autonomy (“cathexis”).
Date, have relationships, even get married if you want to, but the underscoring of commitment and love with a state sanctioned contract should not be needed to “hold it together” long term. This keeps many couples unhealthily tethered, abusively bludgeoning each other due to anxiety and stress about the work required for a divorce. Then add on the cumulative impact of culture, media, religion, and society policing and enforcing the primacy of the “marriage” contract above personal mental health and happiness, and you end up with catatonic immobility; freeze response due to impending death.
In my professional life, I aid many individuals in making their marriages work when the marriage is chosen by all and serving the desires of all involved. Marriage can be a beautiful sustainable venture, but it can also be poor decision making. Marriage is not forever; it is for now. Marriage needs to be renegotiated when desires change.
Masturbation, solo sexuality, is often relegated to a secondary position behind partnered sex. Our lack of concern for the quantity and style of sex with a girlfriend or husband elucidates our partnered sex bias, as though adding an Other valorizes and makes a sexual scenario “healthy”. The psychology field and sexual/relationally based 12step worlds often put limits and complete avoidance on masturbation while leaving partnered sex to roll on any way it wants. If a specific level of masturbation is villanized as abnormal, that same level should apply to partnership. The importance and serenity of solitary sexuality is due to it being a meditative and nourishing experience. It is a boundary-less space where socialization, shame, and pathology are rendered irrelevant and authentic full representation of ones sexuality is allowed to creatively run free. The complexity of partnered sex is obsolete, the concern of judgment about ones sexual desire, fantasy, and interest are absent, and the constraints of time, place, and reciprocity do not exist.
Anna Freud spoke about our “central masturbation fantasy” as providing the “key to our psychological life”. Within our fantasies reside our strengths, goals, and histories. It is the purest form of our sexuality, untainted by socialization, law, culture, and reflection. Do not let an institution or sponsor (plumber or dentist) breed this last vestige of freedom and creativity out of you.
The psychological, biological, and social benefits are vast and great. Masturbation is an accessible antidepressant, stress reliever, and self esteem booster. One is able to engage in their full sexuality in comfort, undeterred or interrupted by the responsibilities of a partner or relationship. Shame of sexual self is decreased as one finds a world supporting the vast array of all the parts of their arousal constellation. For those partnered, healthy relationships allow for a separate self to exist, and a sex life that is one with oneself is a powerful enactment of this truth that relationship does not mean the loss of ones selves. The solitary world of solo sexuality demonstrates the beauty of privacy and boundaries even while married or committed. One does not relinquish control of their sexual self to an Other, as erotic imprisonment.
Healthy sexual development includes exploration of various sexual behaviors, interests, scenarios, partner types and situations, object use, forms and levels of stimulation This is how one builds confidence and worth of self by liberalizing their attitude towards sex and allowing all parts of their arousal constellation to flourish. Disowned sexual parts coalesce as shame and create a tension that does not allow one to feel safe with self or Other. Shame is reduced first at the proximate individual level by accepting and caring for ALL parts of oneself. Until this occurs, one is not able to present themselves sexually or often at all, to an Other. Partnered sex involves this presentation of self to an Other
One’s views and relationship with their own and others masturbation is a large indicator of how comfortable they are with sexuality. Sadly I have heard clients, therapists, and 12 step sponsors erroneously saying “one doesn’t need to masturbate”, “I haven’t masturbated in years and I’m fine,” etc. My first thought is, “how boring.” Solo sexuality, fantasy, and use of pornography are healthy and safe ways to stimulate ourselves and expand our pleasure. Biologically, masturbation and orgasm are necessary(and needed quite frequently). It keeps sperm fresh, vaginal muscles tight, and pelvic floor muscles toned and functioning. It keeps the vaginal cavity lubricating, greatly reduces the risk of cancers, and relieves headaches. It relaxes, reduces stress, eases muscle pain…the list goes on and on.
This blog may sound repetitive or redundant, but many people still feel a need for permission to masturbate, even while married, in a committed relationship, or in recovery from “sex or love addiction.” None of the aforementioned need to take away the joy and benefits of solo sex.
The relational revolution is occurring faster than any current sexual revolution. The sexology field is bursting with writings about nonmonogamy, polyamory, and other formerly alternative relational styles. But many still want the traditional committed monogamy, some driven by anxiety and others by lack of time and ability to manage much more than career and a primary partner. Dating multiple people, open relationships, and polyamory are sometimes workable for those that have the time, energy, and high levels of relational skills to manage the multitude of interests, needs, and attention seeking of multiple partners and relationships, but few of us have such relational-sexual maturity. I tell my clients, if you cannot manage one relationship, you cannot manage two or more. And all of these relationships have various trajectories, so much so that plotting the subtypes becomes nearly impossible and we struggle both clinically and socially, limited by our vocabulary, to find ways to label and identify the myriad configurations. Our post-postmodern world of multiplicity and proteanism, is great on so many levels, while also confusing and disastrous on others.
The key words in relationships are “safe” and “comfortable”. Sometimes even with all the security building statements and behaviors from a partner, one is still left feeling anxious and uneasy. In this pluralistic relational time we are embedded within many relationships that can easily disrupt our sense of safety. Our friends, even with the best intentions, can dilute or aggravate a sensitive situation. Often they are driven by their own fears and are not stable enough to help hold you and your partner together. Do NOT get relationship advice from friends, because they are as lost as you are. Go to them for support and to hold you accountable to be your best. Its in relationships that we show the best of who we are, how healthy we are, and how much integrity we have. It’s our “big moment”. There is always another human being on the receiving end of all that we are doing, so take it into account and act accordingly with your integrity. Relationships challenge our “intimacy tolerance” and often our anxiety or dis-ease is a sign that we are being asked to grow. My mantra is when you want to “lean out” of the relationship, you need to “lean in”.
Evolutionary psychology describes mating concepts such as mate poaching, mate retention, and market values. All of these are dense ideas that speak to the complexity of the sexual-relational field. Dating is a social experiment and only the strong and passionate survive it. One must work to create time to tend to a relationship, work to maintain closeness and priority to this relationship, then protect it from outside “poachers” and disruptors, and also struggle with their own market value and that of their partner to keep a high status of worth and value. This is all driven by external forces outside the relationship which are either eclipsed and made irrelevant by the internal strength and passion the two partners create, or taken over by them due to no internal drive or interest. Part of long-term relational sustainability and success is how two people manage and navigate outside forces that can interrupt and derail the partner’s sexual-emotional drive to remain connected.
If outside forces aren’t detrimental enough, our own inner process can also be an enemy to our relationship. Far too many clients use their decoder rings to decipher their partner’s thoughts and actions, to then act and relate from what they think their Other wants. Early dating and relationshiping can be an uneasy time and is best dealt with by being more “self centered.” (There is a whole chapter about this in my upcoming book. Plug!) Do not direct your behavior around the fantasy you have of what you think your partner wants. Call as often as makes sense to YOU, make plans as often as YOU are comfortable, and let your partner set the boundaries they need to set and take care of themselves. Far too many clients struggle with attempting to act from the fantasy they have created of what their partner may want, when instead they should be “self centered” and act from what they themselves want. You have to trust that your partner is an adult and will tell you how they feel, if you do not have such an adult relationship, then build one or get out and grow up a bit.