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Adventures in Parental Monogamy

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In her video series, Darnell enlightens people about the science of pleasure. "The truth is intercourse is really only one thing out of a hundred that you could do in any given situation."

In her workshops, she teaches that a deeper understanding of sexuality can actually help develop deeper connections with people in general. "Sex is about connection. Sex is about communion. Sex is about communication, and it's also about removing the space between us."

The Ripple Effect

Rebecca Wong, a relationship therapist in New Paltz, is full of ideas for intimacy that reach beyond the bedroom. Someone might be nursing the baby or playing on the floor with a child when partners hold each other's gaze across the room. "There are probably things that you did before the kids," Wong says. "You probably gazed at each other at a party. You probably found a few minutes while skiing or something, and just gave each other a nice long, lingering kiss. But now that you have kids, those moments are much more interrupted and your attention is more dispersed. The key is remembering to come back to one another." Wong and her husband enjoy prolonged kisses, even while their five- and seven-year-olds crawl between them. It's not overtly sexual; it's a moment to reconnect.

With training in postpartum mental health, infant loss, and sex and relationship therapy, Wong frames parenting, in some measure, as a time of grief. "Most of the time, parents are mourning a part of themselves that they've lost. When you go from being single to being married to being married with kids, there are pieces of your individuality that get lost in there, and that you forget how to get back. So grief is a big part of parenting."

Lately, intimacy in parenting relationships is becoming the focus of her work. She recently launched an eight-part blog series, called Reconnecting Parent Couples, to unpack the emotional issues around maintaining long-term intimacy: mindfulness over monotony; thriving rather than surviving. It dovetails with a new website, connectfulness.com, where Wong posts content driven by collaborations with other clinicians around the country. These growing resources, Wong hopes, will answer the question, how can you have a really intimate life with all the people who matter to you, and still be connected with yourself in the process?

It's not all roses on the bed. Wong says it can't be, if you're spending a lifetime together. And in modern unions, where people live longer, it's not uncommon for a marriage that lasts to do so for fifty or more years. Couples watch each other age, lose it, and evolve. "So the goal of the intimacy then changes and becomes a place to grow together," Wong explains. "That's what intimacy is: you are literally a mirror for the biggest trigger stuff. You're there to help each other grow and heal and make the most meaning out of each other's lives." Wong says it's about being comfortable in each other's vulnerabilities.

Over time, people develop new passions, work provides different avenues, midlife crises shift a person's focus. Wong feels it's an opportunity to see different connection points and to open to each other in new ways. "If we only think that our partner is who they were when we met them, then we're missing everyone they've become since we've known them."

When couples take up the couch in Wong's therapy office, it's often years after the problems have begun, and now they're noticing behavioral problems in their children. "So the way we treat everybody in our home is really significant because it sets the framework." Wong sees children as the ripple we send out into the world. "They start to bring those pieces of how they relate at home into their community." Just one shift in the family environment can transform things for everybody. Wong calls it relationship mindfulness.

"We often only look at betrayal when it happens in the bedroom, but betrayals happen every day all the time," Wong says. When we're too busy, too involved with others, joke at our partner's expense, those are betrayals. "So when those betrayals add up, over and over again, it creates an environment where that's the flavor, and that's the stuff that gets into the bedroom. It usually starts somewhere else; it doesn't start in bed." To help couples bring back intimacy, it takes an openness and a playfulness in other aspects of their lives. They have to feel safe with each other. That's where those non-sexual intimacy moments come in. It's what sex, intimacy, and relationship therapist Dr. Lily Zehner calls, non-sex sex, where intimacy happens without intercourse and the focus moves to sensuality.

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