I used to think that relationships were only ruined by bad sex.
What happened to me this morning proves that’s not always true.
My teachers, Gay and Katie Hendricks, once taught me about a concept called “withholds”: the facts, feelings, and thoughts we have that we don’t share with our partners. Essentially, our withheld truth. Many of you might be familiar with this concept.
Sharing withholds has been a life-changing practice that I’ve done for many years. When we don’t share our unedited facts, feelings, and thoughts with our partners, we grow distant from them. We withdraw to some degree because we are holding back. We then project our own bullsh*t onto the other person. This happens not only in sex, but also in every area of a relationship.
Here’s a classic example that I’ve experienced myself: I wanted to connect with my partner sexually and asked him to come to bed with me. He said he’d be right up—but then he stayed downstairs for another half hour watching TV. I felt angry and upset when I was alone in our bed, waiting for him. By the time he came to bed, I was too tired (and too annoyed with him) to want sex.
But I didn’t tell him this. I didn’t tell him the details of my emotions, thoughts, and reactions. Instead, I rolled over and went to sleep.
I often rationalize why I don’t tell him my feelings by telling myself that it’s late and we’re both tired. He’s already in a bad mood, so it’s not the right time to tell him. Or I tell myself, “It’s not that big of a deal so why rock the boat?”
Afterward, I still don’t tell him what happened. And I start to feel wary of him. I start to think he doesn’t care about me, or that I’m not beautiful or desirable. I even believe these thoughts are true.
In fact, the source of the thought, “I’m not desirable to him,” stemmed not from his behavior or my reaction to it, but from me withholding my reaction from him.
When we share the truth of our facts, feelings, and thoughts with each other, we build intimacy.
For many years, I’ve understood this and practiced it. I’ve shared all sorts of facts, feelings, and thoughts—many of them difficult and upsetting. A typical withhold for me involved sharing something I judged as “bad”: I felt angry with you last night; I felt attracted to someone else at my work event; I thought, “He always wants sex!” when you gave me that look last night.
I always believed these “bad” withholds were what would tank a sex life or marriage. And certainly, they do. However, after this morning I know it’s not just the “bad” ones—it’s the really exquisite, fantastic ones, too.
This morning, I shared a completely different type of withhold with my guy; a withheld fact and feeling that was astronomically “good.” So much so that it rattled me.
For the last few days, I’d been feeling snitty with him. I’d been questioning him in my mind, feeling more distant than usual, and worrying that the magic was fading from our relationship.
I realized this morning after talking with two girlfriends that the source of my snittiness wasn’t because he was doing anything wrong or that anything was fading—it was because something truly wonderful had happened between us and I hadn’t told him about it directly.
It was this: Three days ago, I had the best sex of my life with him.
Flat out, the best. And that’s coming from me, mind you, a sex educator with a lot of, er…personal experience in my subject matter. I’m lucky to have had several lifetimes worth of amazing sexual experiences.
It wasn’t that the sex we had was so physically pleasurable, it was that I felt more love during that sexual experience than I ever had before. By miles. It was staggering for me—heart-opening, expansive, and deeply touching in a new way.
I told a few girlfriends about my experience the next day, but I realized I hadn’t told him yet. This morning, I came home after driving my kids to school and caught him right before he left for work.
It was hands down the most difficult withhold I’ve ever expressed in my life. It took me at least five minutes to say it, with much hiding behind my hands and fearing that such vulnerability would lead to my demise.
Funny how easy it is for me to say, “I was so mad at you last night!” but saying, “Three nights ago I had the best sex of my life with you,” just about killed me.
At first, I only told him, “It’s about sex!” So for the first three minutes he was probably sweating bullets thinking I had something awful to share.
Finally, I said it—and I was met with love and presence. I felt more intimate with him again, and all the snittiness I’d been feeling vanished.
Another teacher of mine, Nicole Daedone, said that almost every relationship problem she’s ever seen didn’t stem from something bad happening—it stemmed from something so incredibly good happening that there were hardly words to talk about it. I believed this was true, but had never felt it so profoundly for myself.
And what I learned is that unspoken and withheld goodness can damage our relationships and lead to as much distance in a partnership as withheld upset. The best sex of my life drove my partner and I apart for a few days—until I shared with him just how much he had impacted me and how much I loved him.
My questions to you are:
What profound, beautiful, heart-opening, joyful thought or feeling have you not shared with your partner or lover?
In what relationship do you feel a little snitty and critical?
Can you trace your feelings back to a moment that was so moving, fantastic, or pleasurable that you didn’t know how to talk about it?
Are you willing to talk about it now with your partner and share just how great it was for you?
I challenge you to give yourself the rewards of vulnerability. I know it’s scary—I just did it this morning! But it was worth it because now I get to be close to my partner again. And have more great sex!
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