The low point came several weeks before the couples’ workshop when Ron, my significant other, said he’d rather undergo root canal surgery.
Or maybe it was a few days before we left for the workshop when he “joked” about getting prepared for “emotional waterboarding” (waterboarding being that infamous form of torture the U.S. military employs).
Oh, he wasn’t having second thoughts about going — he’s committed to me and our relationship and was determined to see it through (much like root canal surgery). But it was his prerogative to attend under protest, and he knew it.
Of course, it’s his authenticity that I find so appealing, even though I wanted him to want this adventure as much as I did.
At any rate, clearly, I was the “dragger” and Ron was the “draggee” to a five-day couples retreat called “Sharing the Path” (surprise: not all the draggers were women). We and 13 other couples lost ourselves in an exploration of all aspects of our most intimate relationship. Although I can’t speak for the other couples, Ron and I came away flush with new skills that have enhanced our communication, our intimacy and our lovemaking.
After this workshop, I’m convinced that, as a culture, most of us learned our basic sexual skills in the back seat of a ’60, ’70, or ’80 Chevy. And those “basics” — clumsy and primitive as they are — ushered us into adulthood.
It’s too bad. I’ve heard of indigenous tribes where, as part of a coming-of-age ritual, older women are assigned to school a young man in the art of lovemaking. Now that’s civilized.
I need to pause here to share with you the real definition of lovemaking, a workshop gem that is serving us well.
Lovemaking goes beyond sex. Lovemaking is also showing your partner how much you care, in unlimited ways. It could be a soft and knowing touch, a neck rub, a kind word, running an errand for your partner, a generous hug, or a heartfelt “thank-you.”
Judith and Robert Gass, our amazingly wise relationship teachers (with plenty of experience, having been married to each other for more than 40 years), gave an example of themselves that many of us can relate to: Judith is working intently at the computer and Robert comes up behind, touches her shoulders, and kisses her neck.
Instead of waving Robert away, snapping “I’m busy, leave me alone,” she tries a different approach.
It goes like this: pause, breathe, acknowledge the adoring gesture, and say something like, “Sweetheart, that’s very nice and I love your touch, but I need to concentrate on this right now.”
Sensitive interactions like this keep each partner coming back for more. With this approach, you’ve just made love to each other and it had nothing to do with the bedroom. (Or perhaps it has everything to do with the bedroom, as it puts you both in a very generous mood toward one another.)
And as for the Chevy back seat, while having desire is one thing, possessing technique is quite another.
For the evening sessions, we were split into men’s and women’s groups. Judith, with the women, and Robert, with the men, encouraged us to speak openly (and always confidentially) about our sexual history and how it has shaped our perceptions, for better or worse.
Their instruction on advanced physical loving spanned a wide girth, from pleasuring approaches and staying present, to tantric sex (eye-gazing, synchronized breathing). Practice sessions were encouraged.
Ron was warming up to this workshop stuff.
Of course, discussions of sex are always provocative. It was the other assignments Ron dreaded: they required daring emotional spelunking into the very core of one’s shadow self. These jagged, often unexplored, recesses are deep emotional wounds that, when probed, can evoke outpourings of anger, fear, unworthiness, and/or abandonment (to name just a few; you probably know yours).
These reactions are toxic to intimate relationships. The good news is that when faced with the courage and caring and skills that Judith and Robert taught, newly learned behaviours can catapult our intimacy to higher levels.
Despite his earlier dramatics, Ron was a delightfully able partner, helping guide me through some particularly dicey emotional moments.
I already have my eye on Robert and Judith’s advanced couples’ workshop. Ron is talking about scheduling a dentist appointment.
Check-out Robert and Judith Gass’ website for their “Sharing the Path” workshops