ERP 371: Why “Learn To Compromise” Is Often The Worst Relationship Advice — An Interview With Dr. Alexandra Stockwell

By Posted in - Podcast May 9th, 2023 0 Comments

You’ve probably heard the well-meaning relationship advice to “learn to compromise.” It seems like a reasonable solution to navigate differences and find middle ground. But what if I told you that this popular advice might be doing more harm than good?

In this thought-provoking discussion with Dr. Jessica Higgins and Dr. Alexandra Stockwell, we explore why the conventional wisdom of compromise may not be the ultimate solution for relationship harmony.

If you’re tired of settling for less and yearn for a relationship that thrives on passion, understanding, and unwavering closeness, then this episode is an absolute must-listen. Prepare to embark on a journey towards uncompromising intimacy, where compromise takes a backseat, and authentic connection takes center stage.

Known as “The Intimacy Doctor,” Alexandra Stockwell, MD, is an Intimate Marriage Expert who specializes in coaching ambitious, successful couples to build beautiful, long-lasting, passionate relationships. She is the bestselling author of “Uncompromising Intimacy,” host of The Intimate Marriage Podcast, and creator of the Aligned & Hot Marriage program.

Dr. Alexandra has been featured in the Huffington Post, Rolling Stone, USAToday, Cosmopolitan, Business Insider, Thriveglobal, Mindbodygreen, FOX NEWS, and many more.

In this Episode

5:17 Dr. Stockwell’s personal journey that led her to focus on relationships and intimacy.

12:46 The significance of personal transformation and setting positive examples for others in fostering healthy relationships and self-discovery.

17:21 Challenging the notion of compromise in marriage: Discovering a vibrant and satisfying intimacy.

27:41 Uncompromising intimacy: The Key to vibrant and fulfilling relationships.

32:53 The impact of unspoken compromises: Nurturing vulnerable honesty for deeper connection.

38:40 Embracing authenticity and empowering relationships through uncompromising intimacy.

51:11 Cultivating sensory awareness and unleashing the power of pleasure in intimacy.

56:07 Connect with Dr. Stockwell and learn more about the tools and principles for a committed partnership and creating lasting and fulfilling connections.

Your Check List of Actions to Take

  • Be curious about your partner and ask questions to understand their desires.
  • Practice mindfulness and be fully present to strengthen your connection.
  • Seek pleasure and find joy in everyday activities.
  • Communicate openly about your desires and set clear boundaries.
  • Embrace new experiences to keep your relationship exciting.
  • Prioritize genuine connection and emotional closeness.
  • Commit to personal and relationship growth through learning and self-improvement.

Mentioned

Uncompromising Intimacy: Turn Your Unfulfilling Marriage into a Deeply Satisfying, Passionate Partnership (*Amazon Affiliate link) (book)

The Intimate Marriage Podcast (*Spotify link) (podcast)

Aligned and Hot Marriage (program)

Relationship Map To Happy, Lasting Love

Shifting Criticism For Connected Communication

Connect with Dr. Alexandra Stockwell

Websites: alexandrastockwell.com

TikTok: tiktok.com/@intimacydoctor

YouTube: youtube.com/channel/UC_NFfwXTz2n6C_2QdmrfEVg

Instagram: instagram.com/intimacydoctor

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/alexandrastockwell

Connect with Dr. Jessica Higgins

Facebook: facebook.com/EmpoweredRelationship 

Instagram: instagram.com/drjessicahiggins 

Podcast: drjessicahiggins.com/podcasts/

Pinterest: pinterest.com/EmpowerRelation 

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/drjessicahiggins 

Twitter: @DrJessHiggins 

Website: drjessicahiggins.com  

Email: [email protected]

About Today’s Show

Dr. Alexandra Stockwell, thank you so much for joining us.

I’m really glad to be here. Thank you for the opportunity. 

Yes, and I am really excited about our conversation. I know that I’ve had my own sentiments around the topic of compromise in relationship. It’s something that I think the average person might repeat that that’s part of what helps relationship. I love that you have a different perspective on this, and I might share some of the similar perspective that you do. So I can’t wait to get your voice on this. 

Before we get started, I would love to hear a little bit more about you, if you’re willing to share, and also, what got you interested in this particular area or topic of relationship?

Yeah, so there are really two different pathways that converged. One is the professional context. So I was a practicing physician, I had a small holistic practice north of Boston. Actually my husband and I met the first week of medical school, and we’ve been married 27 years now. Anyway, we were together, we have four children; at the time, we had three. We lived in a house that I really liked. In other words, I had worked really hard and accomplished all of the things that I had intended to accomplish. I think I had some idea that continuing to practice medicine, I loved being a doctor, I loved practicing medicine, and care for my family. Essentially, just do more of that for the next four decades, hopefully, that it would be really fulfilling. This is what I had given about 15 years of my life to create. 

But I didn’t have that sense of deep satisfaction. This was a while ago, 2005. This is before the phenomenon of physician burnout, which is really common now. I wasn’t burnt out, I wasn’t depressed. It wasn’t anything like that. It’s just that I had worked so hard with all that it takes to get to that point, and it just didn’t feel like I had arrived or it was worth it. Everything that I Did, I was really in the paradigm of it being a means to an end. So even when my family went on vacation, it was the means to the end of making good memories. I wasn’t really present, really mindful, really gratified in the moment. I wanted to be able to activate some dormant part of me that could really feel, I think contentment is the best word. Because it’s not contentment in suffering, that’s a whole other matter. I’m talking about, in all the good that I had created, not feeling content. 

So eventually, having tried different things, time management, and this and that, I eventually arranged to take a sabbatical, in which I gave myself permission to do things just because I felt like it. That actually was very confronting for somebody ambitious and hardworking, to even know what I would want to do when I could just do it because I wanted to. Still, I had three children. It’s not like I was in bed with my iPad for hours and hours. But I sat by the river, I took a painting class; things that were just because they pleased me. In expanding and learning to be more connected is essentially was what I would now call my desire and my inner vitality, my life really got brighter and more meaningful. 

I got to where the last frontier was sensuality and sexuality, and I wasn’t going to stop before. Like, this was the area to bring mindfulness and presence and gratification and a way to put all of this in more sexual terms. It’s like, I wanted to enjoy the foreplay, regardless of where it ended up. Although, it was more likely to end in glorious places when I did that. 

Anyway, I didn’t know how to really bring this new awareness into the bedroom. I took a very in-depth training on sensuality and sexuality, which happened to double as a coach training. But that’s not why I went, I didn’t even really know what a coach was back in those days. I just went because I wanted to learn how to have more richness in my life in the sensual sexual realm, and I was curious. So I went to the teaching lab, and I thought: “Oh, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.” I actually transitioned out of medicine, and have been doing relationship and intimacy coaching ever since. Although, for me, sure, in the professional realm, in terms of credentials and things along those lines, it seems like a very big change to step away from medicine and become a coach. But in terms of the motivation, from my heart, it actually feels like a very consistent through line. I’m just wearing different clothes, but it’s very much the same me serving from the same place. 

Wow, what a journey! I’m really touched by what you’re describing. I have a couple of follow-up questions. So one of my things that I feel really touched by is, so often, as you really beautifully described — didn’t say it in these terms, but what I’m getting is — we’re motivated by these outside drivers, or what we might imagine is going to provide a certain quality of living, and with the ambition and the achievements that you accomplished, likely it was driven from some internal place as well. It sounds like helping and being of service and healing in some capacity. But what I am really touched by is that you have the listening to your inner world. Then also, as you discovered, I’m totally projecting, but it sounds as though you were being motivated and driven from within and listening to that in your responsiveness to what was engaging you. Am I hearing that right?

You are. It really started at the level of a whisper, but it caught my attention. There are two more things that gave it context. One is that in my early 30s, first one, and then two years later, my other parent died. I’m sure that that had me considering my life in a way that I might not have if I hadn’t been through those experiences. The other thing, which is, when I initially answered, I said there’s a personal and a professional. So even though my professional response has a lot of personal qualities, that was really the response in terms of professionally. Personally, at this time, my daughter turned nine. I remember her birthday, she was so radiant, and feminine, and strong, and joyful, just self-expressed in this really beautiful way. She’s my oldest. So on the one hand, I just felt so happy that she got to really be her, that that is what life had allowed for her, and that I had obviously helped facilitate. Simultaneously, I freaked out on the inside, because I realized I’m not that way at all. 

“There’s something that happens for all of us, whether we’re in a healing profession or not, where when our children get to an age where something important happened for us, we can sort of either consciously or unconsciously recapitulate it.”

It just became so clear that when I was nine, which was the year my parents got divorced, there’s a way in which I had divorced from a part of myself. Like, something had shut down. But I didn’t realize until I was in the presence of Josephine’s radiance, that I hadn’t actually completely reconnected with whatever got shut down in that transition. 

There are lots of things I could say, moving into adolescence, whatever, whatever. The relevant thing for me in that moment, was to realize that, and also to know that because mammals learn through imitation, children learn so much about relationships from the parents they live with, or don’t live with, I suppose, I should say also. That I knew another nine years at home, if she left for college at 18, if I didn’t activate my own radiance and my own self-expression in a comparable way, in my version, with my personality, and my age, and my life circumstances. But if I didn’t really learn to reconnect with more of my own juiciness, that there’s no way that she could sustain how she was in the presence of a more contracted woman. So this in a way was external mode of motivation, if you want to put it that way. But I was much more capable of dealing with this, I want to say. It’s not really a thing you deal with, but opening to this, softening to this. Really, it felt like figuring it out, even though it’s not really a problem to be solved in the traditional sense. But I was motivated because if she had gotten to nine with all of this, I wanted her to get to 18 too.

No kidding! Especially, I would wonder, and I feel like for the average person in a world where there’s certain messages that are getting delivered in school with peers, that that contraction also, there can be other forces of that contraction. So to have modeling and examples of that radiance is so vital. One of the things I’m also hearing that I’m very much, again, touched by and moved by, and I don’t know if you had this awareness in the moment where you were observing your daughter celebrating her ninth birthday, that it all came more clear, or that you felt more awake to it and thus turn towards it. But that paying attention to the scope of what you were able to reach back in your own life and recognize the learning that occurred for you, in the circumstances with your family of origin, and the impact of that, and also being able to forecast your role in helping shape your daughter and your other children. That there’s a lineage there that we don’t always speak to.

Absolutely. I’ll respond by saying something which may also function as a segue into our main topic. Because my parents were divorced when I was nine, my husband’s parents were divorced when he was six. Our step parents, various ones, have had multiple marriages. The day that we got married in 1996, I don’t mean this technically, but I felt almost like a split personality. Because on the one hand, I was really in love with my husband, I was so excited for our future; there was so much harmony in our relationship, and also in our way of approaching things and valuing personal growth for one another. There just was so much that seemed so right about our relationship. I had no illusion there wouldn’t be challenges, but he was the one I wanted to go through them with. On the other hand, I just was sure we’d get divorced. Like, there was part of me that just couldn’t picture it would be otherwise. That didn’t, for me, mean, therefore don’t get married. I get to have this beautiful experience. But I just had no question that of course, we would end up divorced, because at some point, that would be the right thing. Then actually, when my daughter was born, we had her within a year. I remember this was before cell phones and video cameras. I mean, video cameras existed, but it wasn’t a time of memorializing everything and taking photos and video. So I would, in my mind, consciously, just really try to deeply remember how it felt and how beautiful things were. Because I was sure, once we were divorced, I’d want to tell my daughter how wonderful a family we’d had together when she was little. 

Now, I also was really in love and creating a good life. This wasn’t anything that anybody knew, but it wasn’t vague. I consciously had this in mind. Then at some point, I don’t actually remember how many years into our marriage, it occurred to me, “You know maybe we won’t get divorced. It doesn’t look like that’s where we’re headed in this moment. Maybe that’s not the case. So what do I need to do, who do I need to be, how do we need to evolve, so that we actually can have a life together, which is the thing that we both wanted?” That’s when I really started to dive in — this was while I was still practicing medicine, for sure — and begin to find what were the ingredients. Because we were not going to stay together because of some religious edict, we were not going to be staying together because we couldn’t afford to divorce, we were not going to be staying together because we couldn’t imagine getting divorced. There are many, many things that provide a glue, other than the vitality and health of a relationship, and that glue was not in our home. So what I came to realize is how important it is to let go of compromise. I have a lot more to say about that, but let me just pause for a moment. 

Well, please continue, because I’m already with you, and I usually like to reflect back. But it sounds like there’s just such an awareness. I know we all have this capacity, some of us are a little more aware or tracking it. Just your ability to notice these different parts of you, and just the dialogue and the noticing, and then just even what emerges through this stability and perhaps security that you were feeling, that allowed for you to even start to get more comfortable with: “Oh, this could last, or this could be something we nurture and develop beyond maybe what I’ve known.” I love just the wondering there, and also how compromise fits into this.

Yeah. Well, I’ll just share another story, which is, I was seeing a wonderful therapist after my mother had died. At the time, Josephine, who seems to come up multiple times in this conversation, when she was six at that time, things started to feel really weird in our marriage, and I couldn’t figure out why. I mean, things had felt weird before; we’d have a disagreement about something, or one or the other of us would be particularly sleep deprived, or there’d be something with an extended family member. There just were various complications, of course, or miscommunication. But none of that was going on, and it just felt weird between us. I mentioned this to my therapist at the time, who has a depth of experience in family constellation work. One of the things she said to me was, how old was your husband when his parents got divorced? I said, six. That is exactly how old our oldest child was. She said, hmm, and explained to me how when a child gets to the age that we’ve been through something, it can bring it up again. I went home and I shared this with my husband, and it was the most amazing thing. Because we felt good with one another, and he started to feel a lot of different things and went on his own journey with exploring this for himself. But the point is that I knew that how things had been was an influence. So I’ll just leave that there. 

So clearly, if you look at the data, we don’t really know how to do marriage well as a society. If you base it on the percentage of divorce, it used to be about 50% of first marriages. It’s a little lower, but that’s because people are getting married later; there just are fewer marriages to get divorced. If you skip the people who aren’t getting married in their 20s and 30s anymore, then it lowers the divorce rate. But it’s still essentially around 50%, 60% of second marriages, 73% of third marriages. But then you look at the people who are married, and most of them are not really truly enjoying the experience of being married. They don’t want to split. But I actually think there’s an epidemic of what I describe as conflict-free, passion-free relationships, where there’s just a lot of toleration, a lot of putting up with things and putting attention on the kids, on work, on gardening, whatever it is. They’re not inspired marriages, the majority of marriages, I would say. So I started thinking about this. 

“Far and away, the most common relationship advice that is given when it comes to marriage, is that you need to compromise. If you want to have a happy marriage, you’ve got to be good at compromising. That is just completely wrong.”

Thank you. I couldn’t agree more.

If you want a bland, pleasant companionship, compromise will deliver it. It’s the best compromise has to offer. I think this whole message about “we need to compromise” is contributing to the landscape of marital relationships, as I’ve described it. It used to be, people got married to maintain good political relationships among the aristocracy in Europe, or as a deal between the fathers. There were all these different contexts for why people get married that are completely irrelevant now. It may be that when those were the reasons, compromise actually was a useful skill. But that just has no place in creating the vibrant, alive, erotically adventurous, or in any case, erotically satisfying, intimate marriage. So for that, I talk about uncompromising intimacy. But I really like to define the terms. 

“When we’re talking about compromise, what we’re really talking about is withholding your desires, sometimes even your challenges, your internal realities, and withholding them so your partner is not uncomfortable.”

So the longing and the discontent and withholding that in service of this idea to keep things stable, or like you’re saying, not confront your partner make things uncomfortable for them. I love the way you just said that.

Yeah, that we essentially prioritize our partner being comfortable over the truth within us. So when I talk about uncompromising intimacy and being uncompromising, I am not talking about the usual use of the word uncompromising, where it means you get your own way, my way or the highway. Because that’s not the solution either. That’s too much of an either/or paradigm. But I’m talking about being uncompromising in the sense that you share the truth of who you are, and you learn to do that in a way that your partner can receive it, and invite them to do the same. Just to tidy up the loose ends, I have found, both in my own marriage and in hundreds of clients I’ve worked with, that learning to be uncompromising in this sense really ends up being the key to lush connection, to good communication, to emotional, sensual, and erotic intimacy, to allowing the goodness in your relationship. To fuel, both your sex life and your communication, and really, the hopes and dreams in the rest of your life as well. 

I couldn’t agree with you more, I’ll just say that. The way I’m feeling, as you’re describing, it’s like keeping the spark of one’s life alive. This idea that we get super comfortable, and that’s the priority, and we start cutting off or limiting certain aspects of ourselves. That can be extremely restricting. Also, to your point about passionate, it’s one of the biggest passion killers.

It really is. I come back to what is my favorite saying in personal growth, which is, how you do anything is how you do everything. If we are just contracting, sometimes it can feel like amputating little parts of ourselves, big parts of ourselves, what we’re talking about, it’s in terms of where we live, whether or not to have another child. But it’s also in terms of where you go for dinner, and whether you go for Italian because that’s what the rest of your family wants, and you feel like some Thai. But you even forget you feel like that and that you love it, because you’re always doing what is going to work for everybody. Even though, in some ways, it doesn’t work for you, having it work for everybody is so important. 

When you move through daily life with compromise as a priority, and most people do it habitually without even choosing to compromise. I mean, it’s a very enlightening exercise to just start paying attention. If you just said what you wanted, when would you be speaking up when you’re not? I’m not saying you should. I’m just saying notice in yourself. If you honored yourself that way, just start noticing how much more you might have something to say about what’s happening in the moment. But anyway, if you’re in the habit of trimming parts of yourselves, keeping things quiet, being disconnected, making things remain dormant and compartmentalized, rather than bringing them into your relationship in your day-to-day interactions, there is no magic switch, that when you get to the bedroom, you can flip it on and be fully present, fully expressed, bringing your whole self in the way that makes for really wonderful lovemaking. I enjoy saying it in a more provocative way, which is as follows. 

“In a long-term, committed relationship, everything which isn’t sex functions as foreplay. It’s either bringing you closer together, or pushing you further apart. Interestingly, what brings you closer together can be saying something that your partner doesn’t want to hear, but doing it in a way that is respectful and self-expressed, rather than critical or blaming.”

Absolutely. It’s so counterintuitive, that it’s actually incredibly sexy to feel the shape of one’s partner, even if it means we have a conflict or there’s a difference here. Again, I love that you’re really spelling out: with kindness, consideration, and tact. We’re not talking about just word vomiting or attacking our partner, and expecting them to find that sexy. You’re talking about a deeper connection with oneself, and to be able to bring that forth.

Yeah, I really love that you make that distinction. So having a fantastic relationship is a learnable skill, and I have a program that really teaches how to be uncompromising. Because we can talk about it, but how to actually do it in the day-to-day when we have our usual patterns, is not so easy. Anyway, one of the things in my program is, I distinguish between vulnerable honesty and brutal honesty, and they are not the same. Brutal honesty is not a part of uncompromising intimacy, that is just more in the direction of narcissism or selfishness. That’s not really contributing to grow and cultivate the intimacy. But vulnerable honesty, I have to say, it was astonishing to me when I learned some of the things that I could say, if I just said them in a way that respected our connection. 

Exactly. I think the converse of this, that I think is really important to spell out, is that when we, collectively or any of us or one, is in the habit of prioritizing this comfort or not making one’s partner uncomfortable or even the relationship tension, the cumulative effect of that is huge. Do you want to speak to that at all? Because I think It’s really important to paint that red.

Yeah. I’ve heard somebody give the analogy that there’s this clear glass window, let’s say, between two people. Every time there’s something a little unspoken, or a lot unspoken, any kind of dialing down to calibrate for the impression that will be made, for approval, for emotional convenience, it just adds a little layer of dirt to that window. Sometimes maybe it’s more like a splash of mud. But sometimes it can be super subtle, just a thin little cobweb. But over time, you cannot see one another anymore, and in a way that this analogy doesn’t really work with, you can’t feel one another anymore. If you can’t see one another, and you can’t really feel who that other person is, in a way that’s only possible if you can be receptive and not be shut down. Even if you’ve shut down in service of being happy, it doesn’t change the actual impact. 

There are so many consequences of the built-up grime between individuals, one of which, which is, for me, heartbreaking, although this also can evolve and change with attention on it, is that so often, both men and women, in whatever constellation of relationship they’re in, they lose touch with what they actually want, which in some ways is losing touch with who they are. So if I ask, let’s say, an ambitious, successful woman, let’s say she has two or three children, she’s been married to a man for 20 years, she runs some department in some successful company, the household is taken care of. In any given moment, she knows exactly what everyone in her sphere needs. I say to her, but what do you want? “Well, I want to make sure that everyone has what they need, and the lunches are taken care of, and I have to get the tickets before they go up for the vacation.” Yes, but what do you want? It’s a very humbling, confronting, vulnerable, cluelessness. Because when we accomplish all kinds of things, but through the lens of compromise, we dial down our connection with ourselves. That inherently is dehydrating, and also erodes passion. Just like you said, compromise is the ultimate passion killer in relationships. 

I appreciate you giving an example so people can relate. I would also add that if this gets further down the line, it can look like depression, it can look like anxiety, it can look like questioning one’s entire life, or maybe even hurting people, not intentionally. But because they’re reaching a threshold where they can’t do it anymore, but then they’re already so far down the road, it feels like the best option, is to just perhaps blow up on life or abandon ship or whatever terms we want to use here.

I just want to say I really appreciate that you said that. Because anyone who’s in what I’m going to very inadequately call a bad state, who wants to get to good, connecting with what you care about and what you want is a really essential part of that journey. I emphasize more the part of the journey of going from good to great, where getting in touch with what you want is also an essential part of the journey. So yes, the whole spectrum of feeling more alive, feeling increased capacity for connection with anyone you love, knowing what you want, which by the way, we don’t choose. We always have a choice with how we respond to what our desire is, whether we take action, whether we just smile and know it for ourselves. We always can choose that. But we don’t choose what we want, it comes and finds us.

Well, I’m really appreciating that you’re giving different versions of this. Because when you were speaking a moment ago, one of the things that I feel sometimes is challenging for people who didn’t grow up in an environment where they felt encouraged to be advocating for themselves or be really clear about what they want, just that invitation to even have that connection, so that this might feel like a lot of energy. So there’s that where people haven’t necessarily been getting a lot of experience with flexing these muscles around knowing what they want, and then being in service of it in relationship. 

The other thing that I know to be true, I’ll say for myself, and tends to be true, it tends to be a little more difficult to tolerate the tension of having polarity or differences or things that are unresolved. The mind, I think just our system, wants to, and you probably can speak to this as a physician, or I don’t know if you still call yourself a physician. But it requires a lot of energy, and it’s like dissonance. Holding different parts that don’t seem to fit, and to stay in the unknown, to stay in the wonderment of “How do we work together? How does this fit? It doesn’t seem apparent, and we don’t have a solution.” That is uncomfortable. It requires a lot of energy. Sometimes this isn’t going to be resolved immediately. Sometimes it’s a process, and that takes time. So to stay in that engagement. I remember interviewing Dr. Ellyn Bader, and she’s part of the Couple’s Institute in Menlo Park, which you might know, in your neck of the woods.

Oh yes, I’m familiar with it. 

Yeah. She was talking about people who, likely either one person is the entrepreneur, or they’re both entrepreneurs, and she was talking about decision-making. She really highlighted that if the couple can say, “Okay, you have 65% or 60% decision making, and I have 40%, we basically both weigh in, but you’re going to make the final decision. Or you have 90%. I trust you, whatever you do, you got this.” Then the 50-50, she said, that is really hard to come to. It’s not as easy. It’s not as efficient. It’s not as quick. So I think part of what we’re asking and inviting here is the acknowledgement of the benefits of being in an uncompromising place that requires some energy. So I wanted to get your input on this. I hooked on to what you said, because it maybe doesn’t need to look like: “Oh, I’m having all these sweaty, 10-minute conversations with everyone in my life, and throughout the day.” That just could seem like a lot, and maybe not even, to your point, appropriate. It could look like, I know it for myself, and I smile. Or I do something differently that I don’t necessarily need to engage others in, but that I’m showing up for in some form or fashion. But I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Okay. Well, so it really depends. I’m talking to you, listener, where you are. So if you feel like there are things you know you want, but you haven’t presenced them in your relationship, then that’s the next step for you is to learn how to do that successfully. How to ask for what you want so it feels really good to give it to you, rather than being a threat or an accusation or some indication of inadequacy? So that is one situation. 

For the listener who isn’t really sure what they actually want, it’s not something that’s been cultivated before. Because it wasn’t modelled, you didn’t give yourself permission, you thought it was inconvenience. Actually, it doesn’t matter why. But if that’s your situation, then the transformation begins by just opening to what you might want. Sometimes I’m talking about this in terms of some sexual adventure or some experience, and that’s way too much for somebody to start with. If noticing your desires is essentially foreign and you don’t even really know exactly what we’re talking about, even though it sounds good. So in that situation, start noticing which is your favorite mug to drink your coffee or tea with. Don’t just grab it, because you probably already know what your favorite mug is. But just actually enjoy that you have your favorite mug. Like, is it heavy, is it light? What’s the shape of the handle? When you put your beverage in it, let the aroma come to your nose, whether it’s coffee, or chamomile tea. It really doesn’t matter. In other words, let the fact that you desire it, and you’re experiencing it, be part of how you feel. That is a good next step. 

Or when you’re getting dressed in the morning, you can get dressed based on what’s proper or convenient. But instead, again, when it’s the right moment for this, pay attention to what kind of fabrics do you want on your skin? Do you want to have silk? Do you want to have wool, like cashmere, whatever it is? It doesn’t need to be fancy. That’s not my point. I mean, fancy might be what you desire. But I’m just saying that just paying a little bit more attention to what your sensual experience is, it’s one of the access points to desire. 

The other thing that I wanted to say in response to this very beautiful question you’ve asked, is that so much of life, we look at through a binary perspective. I’m not talking about gender right now, although that’s also true there. But what I mean is that if we want something, then either we have it or we don’t have it. Those are the binary options. Yes, or no; we either have it or we don’t have it, or we have it a little bit and don’t have it a little bit. That’s really not the nature of desire. I’m going to use sex as an analogy, just because it’s easier to understand it that way. But we know that we’re not not having sex, and then we are having sex, in the sense of intercourse. There’s a whole process; there’s arousal, there’s desire, there’s some foreplay, and maybe you have a drink of water, and then things build, and they have a life of its own, and then you get to where whatever form of sex you’re having occurs. Then there’s also what happens afterwards. Are you going to lie together and cuddle until the energetic waves go all the way down to neutral? Or are you energized, and you’re going to take this fuel, and I don’t know, go do something important? Or do you want to just lie together and giggle? There’s so many elements of the before, during, and after, which many couples don’t do. Yet, we can understand how that would be appealing. 

Similarly, there is a whole arc with desire, and the first thing is perceiving it. “I’d like to go to Bali this summer, wooh!” I’m just going to perceive that and enjoy that that’s what came to mind. It’s not anything I’ve ever thought before. It’s just happened in this moment. Then it can be very tempting, if you’re in more of a binary mode, to be like: “Oh, I’m not going to go.” Or, “Oh, let me start planning and figure out the budget and dates, and get into the logistics.” That’s important if it’s actually going to happen. But that is not the next phase with desire. 

“There’s something about yearning, which is uncomfortable in the way that you described, but is a part of the desire cycle. It’s the foreplay in desire.”

So sometimes the yearning can be “I want to go to Bali, and that’s my little secret that this arose for me. I don’t need to tell anyone.” Or it could be that I say to my husband, “You know, I was talking to Dr. Jessica Higgins, and this thought came in my mind that I want to go to Bali. Let’s see if there’s any movies about it to watch together. Or have you ever wanted to go to Bali?” I literally could just keep talking about the infinite number of ways that one can be in relationship to one’s desires, both just privately, and with my husband or with one’s partner, whoever might be involved, that you just want to share something. It’s a little bit more vulnerable to share something like this, and let them know another part of you. That is something that can be practiced and cultivated, starting with the most benign things. Like, instead of saying, “I want to go to the movies tonight at eight,” to say, “I wonder about going to the movies together,” and take your time choosing which show. Not as a practical activity that you’re going to discuss the options, watch a few trailers, and make your decision. But more kind of like smelling wine before tasting it. 

I’m so appreciative of what you’re describing. First of all, when one uses the word sensual or sensation, it depends on the context obviously. But in the realm of couplehood, it so closely is associated with sex or even intercourse. I hear the invitation here to access all senses, through eyes, through seeing, looking at the steam in a cup, perhaps, or the smell or the aroma, and maybe even listening; all the different senses. That that’s a part of our living and experiencing, and that can be accessed throughout one’s day, and that it has a big influence on one’s desire. Then, I really appreciate you describing. Well, first of all, am I hearing that right?

Yes, absolutely. I’ll just add to that, that for someone who’s depressed, they’re not really aware of the sense experiences. If someone is anxious, they’re also not, in the moment, aware of the sense experiences. If someone is neither depressed or anxious, but just very much in a doing mode, they’re also not really, in a way that can feel numb, even if you’re accomplishing a lot. So I’ve coached many couples, particularly in a heteronormative couple, where the woman wants to experience more pleasure. Often, my first coaching is: “Okay, well, in any context of your life, where do you have pleasure, where do you have enjoyment?” I remember this one woman, this very high-achieving physician with three children, and a devoted husband who really liked sex, and she didn’t. 

The one thing she could identify in her very busy life, besides being with her children — but then she was in a caretaking role, so that wasn’t going to serve what I was after for her — is she loves coffee. So my first assignment for her was that she make a point of actually enjoying her coffee, because that is a way to thaw; not coffee specifically, for some people. For someone else, I might say, sit on a bench and feel the way the sun caresses your face. I’m not talking about the heat of the summer. But you’re going to be outside sitting on that bench anyway. Bring your attention, and let yourself feel it. It’s why I think it’s so consonant with your message about mindfulness, because pleasure is a state of mind in many ways. Don’t start focusing on that when there are body fluids, and someone else’s ego is on the line, and there’s a sense of performance. No, start at just the right size, so that you have more delight in your life. This is a way of being uncompromising, is to give yourself space to actually enjoy the feelings that you’re having in your body. Then by all means, titrate up to have that be the case in the bedroom too.

To be fully present and there, and to be in service of what’s true in the form of desire that will look and be different depending on whatever moment or time that is. 

Well, Alexandra, I’m just recognizing that there’s so many questions I still have, and I know that we’ve already spent a significant amount of time with you. So I will just invite people to access your book, and then whatever else you want to invite people into to learn more. I can say, for me, the questions I still have are like, what are people typically feeling when they’re engaging in this awareness and presencing of their desire? You talked about it can be confronting, and we haven’t really gotten back to that. You also talked about the cycle of desire and what that typically involves. Just even that anticipation, I’m aware, for some, that could feel incredibly arousing and exciting. For others, it can feel like: “Oh, I just want to get to it already. I don’t like to have that.” It’s not as comfortable for them to be in that space. So I love that you have some insight and wisdom to share around that. I think there was another thing I was going to ask you. But I know you wrote a book, and I would love for you to tell us a little bit more about it here, if you’re willing.

Yes, thank you so much. It’s called Uncompromising Intimacy. I tell a lot of stories in there, because we learn so much from stories. But also, I just detail the very, actually simple-to-implement ways, that you can be more attuned to yourself and create more intimacy with your partner. The book is written for anyone who’s in a committed relationship, or wants to be, and wants to know what does that landscape look like if you haven’t experienced it before. My goal in everything that I do is that what I share is useful for the rest of your life. These are tools that my clients use on a daily basis, years after they’ve completed coaching with me or reading my book. So it’s all there. Whatever questions arose in our conversation, the answers are in the book. 

Although, I don’t spend a lot of time explicitly talking about desire. I spend more time in the book making room for that, when your desires arise, how you navigate that with your partner. I will say, they’re very easy things to understand, but more challenging to implement. Because for example, it all really starts with curiosity. Because for so many couples, with the beautiful stability that comes with familiarity and the security of the relationship, we end up giving up curiosity. But if you think back to the feeling of being in love, we are filled with questions. “Where is that scar from? What vegetables did you like to eat when you were a child? If you weren’t in this profession, what profession would you choose?” Like, there’s a way that we can turn up the desire, turn up the intimacy, turn up our presence, without sacrificing any of the stability. That’s really what I’m after. 

“There’s this artful, ever-evolving way, to have novelty and depth and erotic delight, in the context of the stability and long-lasting commitment that you share with someone.”

Well, I’m so excited you’re doing what you’re doing. I’m so excited you wrote a book about this, and you’re helping people with this. My experience of you here today, Alexandra, is that even though we’re on video, I can see you moving your body, I can hear it in your voice, and in the story and the presencing, and just how I’m feeling you modeling this and being this. So I appreciate the work you’ve done to cultivate that. You’re speaking about your coaching. Is there anything you want to say about how to direct people towards if you are accepting new clients, or how you work? Is there anything you want to let people know?

Sure, and thank you. My website is AlexandraStockwell.com, and that’s really the place to go. You can download the first chapter of my book for free, and get the rest if you’d like to. You can find my podcast, The Intimate Marriage Podcast, where there’s more of all of this, and my courses and programs. I have a Work with Me page. I have a $49 course called Intimacy, and then my signature program, The Aligned and Hot Marriage, and also private coaching on relationships and intimacy. So really, the place to go is AlexanderaStockwell.com.

Perfect. Well, I’ll make sure to have the link on today’s show notes. Again, thank you for sharing your valuable time with us here.

Thank you so much.

Signing Off

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