Do you fight in bed? Or is there some other block that happens? For instance, do you frequently feel that your partner is holding back in some way? When other issues are simmering beneath the surface, they often show up at inconvenient times during lovemaking. I was once in the middle of lip kissing Tim - my favourite kind of kissing, without tongues, and I have to say I experience such exquisite sensitivity in the lips when we explore in this way - and felt anger arise suddenly.
I realized immediately that this was linked to something that had happened earlier in the day. Tim had expressed some sharp irritation with me for trying to organise him in a way that he didn't like; I was hurt but didn't say anything at the time. Then we found ourselves in this intimate interlocking, at the same time as I was experiencing anger surging through my body.
Naturally, it was not what either of us wanted at this juncture. We would much preferred to have been in a state of presence and pleasure in the midst of this delicious kissing but this wasn't what was actually happening. I had a choice - I could either act as if nothing was wrong and carry on, which might seem the best option in that it didn't rock the boat. Or I could stop and be honest, thus risking a break in our sensual dynamic.
It would of course have been preferable to express my hurt earlier, but not everyone can be in touch with his or her vulnerability enough to show it instantaneously and, even if you are, it can be so challenging to share it for fear it may not be well received.
And so, what to do in this difficult situation? I chose to stop kissing and say that I was feeling angry linked to something I'd not expressed earlier, that I needed to take some space and go in the other room, and that I would return. It's really important to say the latter in order to avoid unnecessary reactions in your partner, of abandonment for example, a core wound for most of us.
Barry Long - Australian spiritual teacher and writer - made what is a very helpful distinction between the terms feelings and emotions, typically used to mean the same thing in most languages. The essence of his teaching is that feelings are the domain of the present whereas emotions are the domain of the past, in other words, emotions are feelings from our past that were not allowed expression and so we learnt to suppress them. They are stored in our bodies.
When we come into intimate relationship, our partner only has to say something or look at us in a particular way that reminds us of something painful in our past and suddenly we are back in the original experience. It happens so quickly, we often don't realise and we go into a defensive place to protect ourselves, which typically fuels arguments, blaming each other and saying things we might regret later. We are not bad or wrong for being emotional, we are human. The key though is to be aware when we are emotional so that we can make a choice not to dump on our partners.
Tim and I have an agreement that when feelings of anger come up, we take space physically. It could be going into another room or going out and moving the body physically in some way. Dance, walk, shake, run etc. Emotions are literally energy in motion and they need to be released. When we come back together, we can tell instantly whether things have changed or whether we need to separate for longer and move a bit more.
Taking space can be a wonderful resource in these circumstances. It is simple but incredibly effective. And we are still practising. Although we teach couples this work, we don't pretend to be perfect, we just try to be as real as we can be. That way, everyone knows they can trust us.
This is a challenging route, in that it's hard to do at first, but ultimately in terms of increased intimacy and more satisfying lovemaking, it is worth it. With bells on. I never knew such depth of intimacy was possible.
Five Ways to Face Conflict in the Bedroom
1) Learn to recognise when you are emotional (signs are wanting to blame and argue, not being able to look your partner in the eye, a charge that is disproportionate to what's happened). The more aware you are of your own emotions, the easier it will be to own them and move to a place of peace.
2) Make an agreement with your partner, that when either of you is feeling emotional, you will admit to it ie I am feeling emotional, and commit to taking some space alone. This may mean just going to the next room or going for a walk.
3) Make a commitment to recognising your own role in the conflict. The quicker you can see your role, the easier it is to move on.
4) Understand that it is not a good idea to suppress feelings of anger and irritation with your partner, because ultimately you are creating a barrier of distrust between you, which blocks true intimacy and, in turn, fulfilling lovemaking.
5) Gain some understanding around projection and what you tend to dump on to your partner that belongs in the past, often with parents. This simplifies conflict.