Survey Answers: How Do Lesbians Have Sex | Fisting | Threesomes | and More

Survey Answers: How Do Lesbians Have Sex | Fisting | Threesomes | and More

Lesbians answer the question: How do lesbians have sex and other personal questions 

how do lesbians have sex

It is not uncommon for lesbians to field random and often very personal questions, such as, “How do lesbians have sex?” I wonder how many heterosexual couples have been asked, “so, how do you two have sex?”  You might assume this is because everyone knows how heterosexuals have sex, but is that true? There is the obvious penis-in-vagina method, but does that mean that is all heterosexuals do and what they prefer? For the 75% of women who can not orgasm from the ole penis-in-vagina method of sex, I hope it’s not all there is to heterosexual sex! This question is just one of many that lesbians find themselves asked on a regular basis, so I created a survey to put these questions to rest!

The Survey Questions

  1.  How do lesbians have sex?
  2.  Is one woman “the man” in your sex life?
  3. If you are attracted to women, why do you have sex with women that look like men? (If this applies to you)
  4. How do you flirt with another woman? (i.e. How would I know if you are attracted to me?)
  5. Do you rely on toys for a satisfying sex life?
  6. Do you engage in fisting?
  7. Do you have threesomes with your partner and another person?
  8. On average, when you are having partner sex (not masturbation) what is the typical time of clitoral stimulation (or your preferred stimulation) necessary to achieve an orgasm?

About the Survey Responders

Of the 132 women who have completed this survey, the majority of responders are between the ages of 35-54 (66%), followed by 22% ages 25-34, 9% over 55 years of age, and 3% ages 18-24. Of these women, 64% report they are exclusively attracted to women, 20% state they are mostly attracted to women and some men, with 14% stating they are generally drawn to people, not genders, with 2% reporting they are primarily attracted to men and some women. All but one woman reports they are orgasmic. In general, research indicates that 10% of the female population is not orgasmic, so either the non-orgasmic lesbians shied away from this survey, or lesbians have special superpowers when it comes to orgasms. (I like to think it’s the later).

Question One: How do lesbians have sex?

The first, and probably most commonly asked question for lesbians is: How do lesbians have sex?  There are 132 answers to this question listed here for your reference. A loose summary of these individual responses reveals a common theme about how lesbians describe their own sexual activity. In general, the most prevalent response (58%) indicates the use of hands and fingers for touching and clitoral stimulation. A tie for the second most commonly reported answer to the question, “How do lesbians have sex?” is the use of sex aids (45%) and oral sex (45%). Penetration shows up less, with 20% indicating the use of fingers and sexual aids for penetration. Of note, 6% of lesbians said they simply do “what feels good,” and there were similar reports of communication, passion, and breast play. Very few (3%) included scissoring in their definition of lesbian sex, and even less (2%) included anal play.

Also, of note, a couple responders expressed disgust with the question, a few referenced that it’s the same as sex with a man, without the penis, and a handful simply stated their frequency of sexual activity rather than what they actually considered sex. My favorite response to the question, “How do lesbians have sex?” was simply: “very well, thanks.”

Question Two:  Is one woman “the man” in your sex life?

The majority of women (72%) indicate “no,” there is no “man” in our sex life. Some (14%) indicate that on occasion there is, and very few (4%) state that yes, there is. Clearly, how this question is interpreted can affect the way it is answered. There were a few people (10%) who preferred to explain their feelings about this question. The explanations seem to translate “the man” to mean a more masculine and/or dominant role in one’s sex life or the one who penetrates. Among those who expanded on their answers, there is still a little endorsement of the idea that one is “the man,” and my favorite answer of all is: “That’s like asking a pair of chopsticks which one is the fork and which one is the spoon. No, we are both women. Period.”

Question 3: If you are attracted to women, why do you have sex with women that look like men? (If this applies to you)

The majority of survey responders (47%) report that they do not have sex with women that look like men. As for those who do, (20%) selected the option that they “prefer women who appear more masculine, just as some men are more attracted to more masculine women,” and (16%) state that it is not about the gender presentation that they are attracted to, it’s the personality and other characteristics about her that she’s drawn to.

From the additional comments, it’s also important to note that many women are aware of the reality that gender presentation is a human-made concept and that in reality, as one woman said: “Those ‘looks’ are not exclusive to men. Just as women don’t OWN the rights to make up.”

As for the original question, then, “If you are attracted to women, why do you have sex with women that look like men,” it seems the answer has little to do with “looking like men,” in that only 20% of women report that they are expressly attracted to women with a masculine presentation. The remaining responders who do not deny attractions to more masculine men suggest that while a woman may have a masculine presentation, that is not the variable to which they are most drawn.  

4: How do you flirt with another woman? (i.e., How would I know if you are attracted to me?)

Sometimes it is assumed that if a woman is gay, she is romantically attracted to all women. Or at least that is the fear for some heterosexual women who might also be found saying something like, “I don’t care if she’s a lesbian as long as she doesn’t like me that way.” Fear has a way of impairing logic, not that lesbians don’t have a knack for also finding heterosexual women attractive. The point is, being a lesbian does not mean you will automatically fall in love with any and all women.  It simply means that when you do find “the one,” it will be a woman.

If you are wondering if she likes you, here’s what the women in this survey said about how they will let you know. Roughly half of the women (46%) will seek more time, conversation and interaction with you, and the other half (42%) will be more affectionate, complimentary, and use more eye contact. A small percent (4%) admit they are likely to be shy and withdrawn.

Some responders added additional comments. Two mentioned using humor, one likes to talk about sex, a couple others said they are very direct, one explaining that, “I don’t beat around the bush,” which gave me a good chuckle as I thought to myself, that’s probably a good idea, because someone might get hurt flirting like that, besides, how would you know if she even has a bush? (Ba-Dum-Dump)  One survey responder says she first becomes friends with her. Two others shared that it’s the “same as flirting with guys,” and two lesbians said they don’t flirt because they are married.  Though one of the married women did endorse flirting with her wife, “by smacking her on the ass and telling her how hot she is.” Lastly, one responder confessed, “I actually do not know how to flirt with women, or even tell if they are interested.”

5: Do you rely on toys for a satisfying sex life?

Sex toys, or as some prefer, sexual aids, are not an essential part of the lesbian sexual diet for 89% of the women responding to this survey. Only 11% report using sexual aids consistently during their sexual activity. The majority (52%) report using aids occasionally, 27% use them rarely and 8% do not use them at all. No additional insights about this were gathered from the comments.

6: Do you engage in lesbian fisting?

What is lesbian fisting? It is easy to visualize anything that involves a fist as being violent. However, in the case of lesbian fisting, this is a sexual practice where an entire hand is inserted either vaginally or anally. While many people associate fisting with lesbian sexual activity, only 76% of survey responders endorse ever having engaged in this practice. There are 16% of women who report that they do engage in lesbian fisting. Another 2% share they do not know what this fisting is. Some of the “other” responses include women who have been a giver but not a receiver, used to in a past relationship but not now or are “working up to it!” as one woman shared.

Before you set out to explore lesbian fisting, be sure to have a lot of lube on hand (pun intended), and position all of your fingers in a pointed position, pinched together (which is not the same as an entire fist inserted at once), and go slowly. 

7: Do you have lesbian threesomes with your partner and another person?

When it comes to threesomes, it seems that this is not a big draw for partnered lesbians. Among the responders to this survey, only 6% of women report that they have had a lesbian threesome with her partner, or with her partner and a man (it was not specified)  on more than one occasion and only 5% report that they have had a lesbian threesome (or a threesome with her partner and a man) once. If you add the lesbians who report having had a threesome while single, the total jumps to 31% of lesbians who have ever had a threesome under any circumstances.  A solid 58% of responders stated that they have not had a threesome with their lesbian partner and another person, and they would rather not. This leaves 8% of survey responders who have “not had a threesome, but would like to.” One responder added the comment, “we did once, and it was a disaster,” and another explained that she was in a relationship with a couple.

If you are wondering if that cute lesbian couple you just met wants to join you for a threesome, the odds are mighty slim according to this survey that you are going to get a “yes.”

8. On average, when you are having partner sex (not masturbation) what is the typical time of clitoral stimulation (or your preferred stimulation) necessary to achieve an orgasm?

The responses from lesbians completing this survey suggest that most women (34%) indicate that they need an average of 10-20 minutes of clitoral stimulation (or preferred stimulation) by one’s partner (not including masturbation) to reach an orgasm, and similar amounts of women (32%) state they can reach orgasm with 5-10 minutes of clitoral stimulation or other preferred stimulation. A few responders (7%) report needing more than 20 minutes. There is an impressive 23% of responders who report reaching climax with less than 5 minutes of partner stimulation.

Some women are self-conscious about the length of time it takes to climax, especially if she is partnered with someone who comes quickly. This bonus question is designed to validate the wide-ranging length of stimulation required for climax during partner sex. Most women can self-pleasure much more rapidly than they can with partner sex. Your responses may also vary from partner to partner, depending on different techniques and accessories used for stimulation.

As one woman commented, “Ok, this is not up to me…she can get me to orgasm in a few minutes or make me wait 15, 20, 30 minutes. She is in complete control and knows EXACTLY which buttons to push to drive me wild.”  Other responders clarified that they are indicating the length of time it takes for their first orgasm, but that they continue to have additional orgasms for another hour, and one woman shared that she continues to have orgasms for five or more hours after her first one.

Do you identify as a lesbian? Do you want to add your voice to #asklesbians?  Take the current survey here.

Got Questions?

14 + 11 =

Three Essential Lesbian Relationship Goals for Lesbian Couples

Three Essential Lesbian Relationship Goals for Lesbian Couples

lesbian relationship goals, lesbian couple goals, lesbian goals

THREE ESSENTIAL LESBIAN RELATIONSHIP GOALS

FOR LESBIAN COUPLES

 

Start your relationship on the right foot with these three essential lesbian relationship goals. Much of what we learn in relationships comes from trial and error. However, there are also some great strategies that you can intentionally practice to increase your odds of a happy and satisfying relationship. These three lesbian relationship goals will get you headed in the right direction.

1. Seek Security Within Before Expecting it From a Relationship

Security is the result of accurately predicting what to expect from your partner and responding effectively to that which you are not anticipating. You will know that you are secure in your relationship with yourself when you have faith that no matter what life brings you, you will be able to make the next right choice to move you into a better place. Sometimes we are unable to predict what our partner will do, say, think or how she will behave because many variables in life are out of control for both of us. An unexpected accident on the interstate could make her late coming home from work. A canceled flight could prevent her from making it back in time for your birthday party. The key to finding security within is to have generally accurate predictions about what you can expect from your partner, and to allow room for logical and believable explanations when your predictions are off, or to respond with confidence when explanations are not believable.

On the other hand, when there is a lack of security within your self and within your relationship, the confidence that you can predict what to expect is replaced by expectations, demands, and a need for her to be a certain way, and do and say certain things, in order for you to feel safe with her. When you approach relationships from this perspective, you will notice yourself feeling more reactive, panicky, worried and angry when things do not go as you want. 

The best way to improve your sense of security is to recognize what is your business, or “in your lane,” and what is not. The only thing in this life that you can control or influence is that which is in your lane. Byron Katie, the author of Loving What Is, says all things in life fall in one of three categories: your business (what you can control), my business (what I can control), and the business of the universe or God (what is not controlled by humans).  When you get good at recognizing what is “my business,” you will feel increasingly more secure in this world. Insecurity stems from trying to control the uncontrollable. 

 

2. Maintain Your Interests, Hobbies, and Friendships

Maintaining friendships (with the exception of your ex), hobbies and interests are the second of three essential lesbian relationship goals. Because security is one of the most important things to women (not just lesbians) in relationships, women will often trade their independence for a sense of security. When this happens, the differentiation of who I am, and who you are, begin to breakdown and lesbian couples begin to think and operate very similarly, even if it is not authentically how each of them feels. This is referred to as “fusion,” or “merging,” and one of the adverse side effects of this is that there is not enough distance between partners to create the feeling of longing or desire. 

At the start of a relationship, you have the opportunity to see your partner from a distance, with more objectivity and curiosity. She is someone you want to know better. You are literally drawn to her, eager to move closer, closing the gap that exists when we do not know someone well.  You see her in HER environrment, doing her thing, being who she is – separate from you. I call this the desire gap. The desire gap is created by the independence you express in your relationship that produces enough distance, but not too much, between partners to generate a desire and longing for closeness. 

The instinct for lesbians is to bond rapidly, commit quickly, settle in and nest with her new partner, and to stop nurturing self-interests, hobbies, and friendships that are not shared. In time, this begins to close the desire gap, leaving little to no distance necessary for desire and longing. There must be a “you,” and there must be a “her,” separately, for you to experience desire for one another. It is difficult to generate longing and desire for a “we.”

If you are already in a relationship and have allowed your interests to fall away, you can make a movement toward this lesbian relationship goal by slowly returning to your natural interests and nurturing your friendships and hobbies. While you may be met with some resistance, suspicion or even anxiety at first, the benefits to you and your relationship, in the long run, are worth the discomfort involved in getting to this point. 

 

3. Allowing Emotional Wiggle Room

The third of three essential lesbian relationship goals is allowing. I call this giving one another the emotional wiggle room to have feelings without having to process and rid oneself of them immediately. In my work with lesbian couples over the past two decades, I have noticed a recurring pattern of aversion to any form of negative emotion among lesbians, whether it is directed toward a partner or elsewhere. 

In the presence of strong negative emotions, lesbian partners will often respond in one of two ways:

1) efforts to minimize or fix the negative feelings by acquiescing to what she believes her partner wants; or defensiveness and;

2) personalization of the negative emotions that can result in an extended conflict, brooding by one partner, or a hard withdrawal by both partners.

None of these responses offers the partner with the original feelings the time or space to process her experience and allow her emotions to run their course, or the opportunity to be understood by her partner for how she is feeling.

Interestingly, commonly cited research, by John Gottman, reports that during fights gay and lesbian couples take things less personally than heterosexual couples. This is not consistent with my experience in working with lesbian couples for the past two decades. In fact, it is quite common for women in relationships with women to take very personally all of the comments made by her partner, and for the two of them to spend countless hours processing these hurt feelings. I am inclined to think that the sample of only 12 lesbian couples in Gottman’s study is not large enough to accurately describe the common lesbian relationship experience. 

Women are emotionally attuned to one another more intensely than other couple pairings that involve men (gay or heterosexual). While emotional awareness and attunement to one another is generally a very positive relationship characteristic, there are times when it can create obstacles and limit emotional wiggle room in the context of relationships. To strengthen your ability to allow your partner emotional wiggle room, begin to notice when you are responding to her mood and not her words. If you find yourself wanting to ask, “what’s wrong?” or to “fix” her mood by pleasing her, instead, extend an invitation to talk when and if she wishes to. You might say, “Seems like something’s on your mind. I’m here if you want to talk about it.” If she says, “I’m fine,” and her body language screams “My mouth is saying I am fine, but I am not fine,” it is important to honor her words and let her come to you if she decides to. Your anxiety will make this difficult. Tend to your own feelings in these moments instead of hers, and see what a difference that makes.

More article by Michele O’Mara, PhD, LCSW

How to make relationships work when you have no common interests

5 Common Issues for Lesbian Couples

How to learn what your relationship imago is

…………………………………………………….

❤️ Michele O’Mara, LCSW, Ph.D. is an expert lesbian relationship coach with a comfortable obsession with all things related to love and relationships between women. She is particularly fascinated by lesbian couples in blended families, issues of infidelity, lesbian sexuality, and recovery from lesbian breakups. She is the author of Just Ask: 1,000 Questions to Grow Your Relationship, which is available in paperback or Kindle on Amazon, as well as an app on Itunes /Google play. Lastly, she and her wife Kristen host Lesbian Couples Retreats in various destinations, and you can learn more about those here.

No Common Interests in Relationships

No Common Interests in Relationships

No Common Interests in Relationships?

Sometimes couples express concern about having no common interests in relationships with their partners. Last week, I visited two large arenas in Texas (AT&T Center and Toyota Center) where I paid ten times more for my stadium seats than I would have for equally uncomfortable seats in a movie theater. From a distance that exceeded the magnifying power of my glasses, I watched very tall men who donned expensive footwear as they played a game called basketball. I didn’t do this because I love the NBA. I did this because I love my boys. And, because I love them, I have made it a mission to get them to every NBA arena in the US (and one in Canada).

As it turns out,  I have no common interests in relationships with my 16-year-old boys. (Well, I guess it’s true that my sense of humor is well matched for a 16-year-old boy at times). What they love to do is often not the same as what I love to do. I don’t watch NBA highlight films on youtube, (unless Cameron says, “Mom, watch this.”) and I never play fortnight, ever, though I did play a new game on Mitch’s phone until he gave up on me for being so inept. <Sigh> I do, however, care that these things bring my boy’s such joy, and I do delight in knowing what interests them.

Have you ever said to your partner (or just thought to yourself), “Is it just me, or do we have no common interests?” If so, I can’t imagine it was said or thought as a good thing. I know, it’s pretty amazing how quickly I can pick up on these nuances, right?

Fortunately, research offers us reassurance that it is not essential to have common interests in relationships. Instead, what matters most is having an interest in what one another enjoys. In some cases, it is possible to find ways to blend your interests, without actually sharing the same joys. For example, if your partner is obsessed with birdwatching, and you love hiking, photography, or travel, there are obvious ways to combine these passions without sourcing your joy from the same part of your shared activities. In other cases, this may not work and what floats your boat may not be compatible with what floats hers. That’s okay too.

If you tell yourself it’s a problem that you have no common interests, then it is very likely that it will be a problem. The problem, however, isn’t the lack of shared interests, it is the belief that it is a problem. It’s funny how that works. We are inclined to believe that if we think something, it must be true. Silly humans.

Another key ingredient in happy relationships is to have a shared meaning.

Shared meaning is a mutual understanding of the purpose and meaning of your relationship. There is no right meaning, there is only the meaning that is right for the two of you. Often, the shared meaning is found in the little things that define your “story of us.” It is the end of this sentence, “We are a couple who…” or, “Our love story is …” or, “We make a great pair because…”

A shared meaning develops from stories about who you are as a couple, how you view relationships and what is unique to your partnership. Shared meaning is what gives shape to who you are as a couple. When you have shared meaning, you are on the same page about what your relationship stands for, who you are as a couple, and how you go about the business of being an “us” in a world where there is no one way, and no right way, to be an “us.” There is only the way that works (or doesn’t work) for the two of you.

When it’s all said and done, we all want the same things from our relationship. We want to feel loved, important, secure, free to be ourselves, valued, worthy and like we are enough just the way we are, and we want to be treated kindly and with respect and appreciation.
As for the boys and me, we only have 20 more arenas to visit before we reach our goal to see a game in all 29 NBA arenas.

no common interests in relationships
Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples for Five Common Issues

Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples for Five Common Issues

Relationship advice for lesbian couples

Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples

Lesbian couples are different in many ways from their heterosexual and gay male couple peers. However, lesbian couples are not particularly different from one another. There are some very common issues among female pairings, and I will be offering Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples for five of the most common issues.

Despite the endless stereotyping about what a lesbian is, women who love women are impressively diverse. If you find yourself doubting that, it’s because those who don’t meet the stereotype of a lesbian go unnoticed. When it comes to lesbian relationships, however, we are remarkably similar in the types of issues we experience.

Unlike heterosexual women, lesbians do not have easy access to information about what a typical lesbian relationship looks like. Rare is the lesbian who finds herself in the break room at work, sharing stories about her wife and their relationship. Additionally, the experiences that heterosexual women describe are often not relatable for lesbians. For example, how many heterosexual women do you hear expressing concern that her husband is best friends with the girlfriend he had before he married her? Or, how often have you heard a heterosexual woman express concern that her husband is constantly trying to read her mind and worries non-stop about whether or she’s feeling okay?

So, here’s today’s Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples. Rather than putting our focus on the common concerns, however, we will get right to the fixes for these common concerns. After all, we move in the direction we think — so let’s think solutions.

#1 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Allow Your Partner to Feel

It is okay if she is experiencing sadness, hurt, frustration or any other emotion that you find yourself wanting to fix or understand. As long as emotions are not used to communicate something (that’s good old fashioned passive-aggressiveness), let her feel what she feels without making it about you. The purpose of our emotions is to alert us to that which is joyful, dangerous, missing, violating, or any other situation that requires our attention. When you personalize how she is feeling, you interrupt an important and necessary process designed to help her clarify things for herself. Communicate with words and behaviors. Feelings are not a verb. We don’t anger. We express anger. Clarify what you are feeling. Then communicate with words or actions.

#2 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Facts are Your Friends, Stories Not so Much

I am sure you have a superpower. It’s just not mind reading. Trust me on this. When you are certain you know what she is thinking, feeling, wanting or not wanting, fact check. Believe her if she says you are misunderstanding her, or that what you are perceiving is wrong. They are her thoughts and feelings, so she really does have the final say about what is true for her. Even if she changes her mind later, believe her now. Focus on your feelings and thoughts, share those, and let her do the same when she’s ready.

#3 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Keep Your Friends, Not Your Exes

Independence is the first thing to go in lesbian relationships. If you want your new relationship to be your best, invest yourself fully and cut your emotional ties with your ex.

#4 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Forgive

If you are holding on to resentments that occurred more than one year ago, they have officially expired. Holding on to hurt as a way to protect yourself causes more hurt than good. If you are choosing this relationship, then you are choosing all of it, not just the parts that feel good. Deal with old hurts and resentments then let them go.

#5 Relationship Advice for Lesbian Couples: Flirt with her

My research tells us that lesbians want to be having more sex with their partner, but a lot of women do not want to initiate it. In the quest to commit, dating, flirting, romancing and all the good stuff gets rushed and sometimes neglected altogether. Time to go old school on your gal. Romance her. Flirt. Let her know you desire her. So get out your pretties, your boyfriend briefs, boxers or whatever does the trick for her and show some interest.

 

Got Questions?

3 + 12 =

Why You Find Yourself Saying What You Don’t Mean

Why You Find Yourself Saying What You Don’t Mean

Do you ever find yourself saying what you don’t mean?

 

Have you ever noticed that when we are most afraid of getting emotionally hurt, our natural instinct is to behave in ways that actually make things worse, not better? 

When we feel we are being blamed, our instinct is to blame the other and often this involves saying what you don’t mean.

  • When our feelings are hurt, our instinct is to hurt the other’s feelings
  • When we feel rejected, our instinct is to reject the other
  • When we are feeling ignored, our instinct is to ignore the other
  • When anything makes us uncomfortably vulnerable, our instinct is to protect ourselves


So much for “two wrongs don’t make a right.” 

Saying what you don't mean
Saying what you don’t mean happens for a reason, and there is actually an explanation for how we can KNOW one thing (I know I don’t want to leave her.) and say or do another (tell her I’m over this, we are done.)? We actually have two different kinds of “knowing” that we experience. 

  • LOGICAL/CONSCIOUS KNOWING – One part of knowing occurs in our conscious mind, also called our cerebral cortex. This part of our brain is logical, conscious, and the problem-solving part of our brain. We hold conversations with ourselves here (it’s our inside voice).

 

  • INSTINCTIVE/UNCONSCIOUS KNOWING – The second kind of knowledge comes from our reptilian brain. This part of our brain is unconscious. There is no inside voice here. The unconscious mind is responsible for our instinctive reactions. This is like a massive network of shortcuts that our brain has been programmed with to ensure our ability to respond quickly in a crisis.


The unconscious reptilian brain is reactive and acts quickly without consulting our logical mind. This part of our brain is famous for it’s limited, but the speedy-fast selection of coping responses that include: fight, flight, freeze, play dead or submit.

For example, some unconscious programming may look like this:

  • touch hot stove > move hand away quickly
  • car driving toward you > leap out of the way
  • baseball flying toward your face > put your hand up to protect face or dodge the ball
  • someone is yelling at you > *depends on early programming
  • you fear rejection > * depends on early programming
  • your feelings are hurt > *depends on early programming

* When it comes to perceived threats such as someone using a raised voice with you, how you respond is based on how you learned to respond to this behavior as a child. Everyone’s experiences shape their responses according to what you learned was most effective with the people around you. The opposite of this is an open and curious mind. (Do you have an open and curious mind? Read more here.)

Your early life experiences taught you through trial and error how to negotiate different moods, behaviors, personalities, etc. to get what you wanted or needed to feel emotionally or physically safe. Once our brain identifies the best response (the one that results in what we want or need to survive), we will use this response repeatedly and without thinking about it, when we are in a similar future situation. We will continue using this response until we realize with BOTH parts of our brain (logical and instinctive) that this response is no longer working. 

Our logical mind and our automatic brain each have their own version of “knowing.” The cerebral cortex knows what it is taught, and this knowledge is cognitive, intellectual, and conceptual. Our reptilian brain, which is unconscious, knows what has worked in the past to keep us alive. This knowing is intuitive, felt, sensed, also learned, and automatic. Sometimes what we learn logically does not match what our unconscious brain learned instinctively a long, long time ago. 

For example, imagine that growing up you frequently heard your parents have loud conflicts. You felt your heart rate pounding in your chest, and you felt sick to your stomach with fear about what might happen. Eventually, one of them would then leave the house for an unexpected length of time after these fights. As a child, upon your parent’s return, you expressed your disapproval, hurt and feelings of abandonment by not engaging with the parent who left; by shutting them out. 

Eventually, either your parent would respond in a way that helped calm your system (come to you, apologize and reassure you that everything is okay) or the silence was useful in creating enough distance from the source of your pain that you could calm your system and you could eventually reenter a connection with that parent. The successful resolution of your pain by being silent sent your brain the message that this was a good strategy. Now your brain is wired with the shortcut: raised voices > silence.

Fast forward to adulthood. Imagine that your partner raises their voice. Your system is alerted to danger. When this happens, your body quickly releases a chemical cocktail designed to protect you. Your body is suddenly sweating, your heart is racing, and you feel sick to your stomach (look for a future message about this chemical process, and how affects you). Your logical brain may be telling you that your partner isn’t mad at you, she’s just trying to share her feelings with you. But soon your instinct is to shut down, to be silent. So you do, and you stay quiet until your system feels safe again.  

It doesn’t matter to you if you are saying what you don’t mean, even if you know that you are making things worse for your relationship. At this moment, your system is more concerned about surviving this PERCEIVED EMOTIONAL THREAT than it is concerned with responding to the issues being communicated with a raised voice.  

What’s important about this information is:

• We are all operating with two parts of our brain at the same time: one conscious, one unconscious, and both are designed to help keep us alive and feeling emotionally safe.

• When we become activated or feel unsafe, we are at risk of responding with the same skills we learned at age 6 or 12 or 15, etc. when our automatic responses were first programmed

• Our failed efforts to protect ourselves from hurt are a clue that we are allowing our unconscious brain to lead the show. What we learned as a child to keep us safe now needs to be updated because it’s no longer useful.

• Being sensitive to, and patient with ourselves and our partner will improve our ability to grow into new and improved responses to our pain. Believe them when they say they didn’t mean what they said… it’s likely true.

• Though you can not communicate directly with your reptilian/ unconscious brain, you can observe your body’s reactions/sensation and notice when you are responding with behaviors that don’t seem to work. For example, my heart rate increased when her voice got louder, and I had an overwhelming urge to disengage and be silent.

• With these observations, you can ask yourself this simple question, “When have I felt this way before?” The answers will give you insight into what kind of programming is filed in your unconscious brain.

• Once you get clarity about the trigger (raised voice), and you notice how you respond (silence), you can be more CONSCIOUS (that’s the key) of this dance you engage in and begin practicing new responses to see what will work better now that you are an adult and have access to more coping response options.

Do you know what your imago is and how it can help your relationship?

Imago Therapy and my Imago Match

Imago Therapy and my Imago Match

Because I am certified to provide imago therapy, and I help couples unravel how they become an imago match when a couple comes to me for help with their relationship, one of the first things I ask is, “What did you have for dinner last night?” It is amazing how much I can learn from this question, unearthing volumes of information about the couple without their even realizing it. 

Uh, you know I’m not being serious, right? 
 
While my obsession with relationships stems as far back as I can remember, my desire for couples-counseling-super-powers started when I read this book: Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix. This book changed everything. It was just one of those moments where I knew. I knew exactly who I was, who I was to become, and the path I needed to walk. I was immediately fascinated by the power of understanding our imago match, and how imago therapy can help improve relationships.

That’s the thing about therapy – it’s easy to believe that anything a therapist says. I tend to be that way with mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and web designers. I generally assume that if this is their specialty, they know what they are talking about. Sometimes, however, like the time I had my transmission “fixed,” specialists are not so special after all.

What you want to be sure of is that your therapist has some additional training (beyond their counseling degree), that is specifically focused on relationship counseling. This is a specialty in itself. Certifications to look for are – Imago Certified Therapist, Gottman Certified Therapists, and EFT Certified Therapists. I happen to be Certified in Imago therapy and Gottman trained with partial EFT training that I plan to continue pursuing (because if I long to have couples-counseling-super-powers). I am also a Discernment Counselor, but that’s for couples who don’t want couples counseling; instead, they want to “discern” whether or not they want to make their relationship work before actually committing to couples counseling.

I returned to the School of Social Work for my MSW, and for nearly two decades now, I am still as passionate about the Imago theory, and about working with couples – maybe even more so!

The Imago theory is explained in the book, Getting the Love You Want, and the more you understand the theory, the more you realize how easy it is to answer the following four questions:

imago therapy, imago match

 

  • With what type of person am I most likely to create a passionate relationship?
  • With what type of person am I most likely to feel safe in a relationship?’
  • What do I most want to experience in my relationships that my partner has the most trouble helping me experience?
  • How do I participate in NOT getting the love that I want

See if this Imago formula will help you begin to find answers to these questions. I’d love to hear your feedback!

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