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|Heart of the Matter - Page 3|
In my clinical work, the vast majority of couples tend to fall within one of four styles.
Traditional Couple Sexual Style
These couples value mutual commitment and security above everything else. There are strong norms about avoiding conflict and strong emotion, especially anger. Both partners prefer traditional gender roles, eschewing drama. In these relationships, the man is the sexual initiator; the woman is open to his initiatives and imbues the relationship with affection and emotional intimacy. This is the least erotic style, with sex taking a lower priority.
Because the sexual roles and rules are clear, sex rarely becomes a contentious issue in this style. The traditional couple can accept an affectionate, but nonsexual, marriage better than couples with other sexual styles (although this strength can be a pitfall). This style doesn't work for many relationships, especially for partners who value gender equity. Many couples find this style lacking in mutuality and sexual playfulness. A particular concern for women is that their need for affection and intimate connection isn't validated since the man's need for intercourse and orgasm dominates the relationship. More than with any other couple style, traditional couples resist change.
Soulmate Couple Sexual Style
Soulmate couples enjoy sharing experiences and feelings, and give a high priority to meeting each other's needs. They're lovers and best friends, who value the highest possible level of intimacy with an emphasis on loving each other unconditionally and accepting each other just as they are.
When it works, this style comes as close as any human relationship can to meeting virtually all a person's needs for closeness, security, and eroticism. The key phrase here is "when it works," because it often doesn't. Many people discover that too much closeness can subvert sexual desire. Since eroticism requires a certain "edge," soulmate partners can de-eroticize each other by feeling so completely in emotional sync that it leaves no space for mystery or erotic playfulness. Each partner in these relationships is often reluctant to deal with difficult emotional and sexual issues for fear of hurting the other. Of all the couple styles, soulmates have the hardest time recovering from affairs and can easily stay mired in hurt, betrayal, and resentment.
Emotionally Expressive Couple Sexual Style
This is the "fun and erotic" sexual style filled with strong emotion and drama that's often seen in movies. Partners are free to share their passion, positive and negative, in word and deed. The sense of vitality and adventure that imbues this style often leads to the use of external stimuli, such as porn videos and sex toys, and /or playing out sexual fantasies. Partners experience high levels of spontaneity, vitality, and unpredictability. Yes, they fight, often with no holds barred, but they use sex to make up after a conflict, and overall, their sexuality keeps them resilient.
This is the most volatile and unstable sexual style, meaning that emotional and sexual conflicts can explode into fury and a sudden, dramatic dissolution of the relationship. Intimacy and security can be overwhelmed by the frequency and intensity of negative emotions and conflicts. Couples with this style run a major risk of violating personal and sexual boundaries or of blurting out unforgivable, deeply wounding remarks relating to the other's deepest vulnerabilities, which results in a high divorce rate among them. While they love the good times and great sex, they can be critical and hurtful, especially about desire and performance issues. They "wear each other out" by the frequency and intensity of emotional and sexual upheavals.
Complementary Couple Sexual Style
In the complementary style (the commonest sexual style), each partner feels free to initiate intimacy, to say no, and to request a different sensual or erotic scenario. In effect, both partners understand that the best aphrodisiac is for both to share responsibility for the quality of the relationship. Both realize that it's not the other person's role to give their partner desire or orgasm. Instead, they're receptive and responsive to each other's sexual feelings and preferences.
A major strength of the complementary style is that the combination of personal responsibility and an intimate alliance allows for variability and flexibility in sex roles. These couples are truly comfortable having "his," "her," and "our" bridges to sexual desire. But once a couple has established a satisfying sexual partnership, there's always the danger of going on automatic pilot. A couple's ongoing sexual connection is a dynamic experience: it requires fresh inputs and new energy. In addition, there's the challenge of major life transitions, such as the birth of a child, which can lead to frustrations and resentments that'll need to be addressed.