Dr Stella Resnick is a psychologist, sex therapist, and expert at helping couples improve their relationships. At the world’s top sexual health congress WAS, she gave Love Matters her sex and relationship tips for young couples.
What is your body language saying to your partner? How can you take the fire out of a fight just by breathing? And why is kissing so important to a healthy sexual relationship? Read on to find out how to infect each other with the love bug!
LM: How can being aware of each other's body language help a couple improve their sex life?
Dr Resnick: I think the most important thing is to be aware of your own body language and to recognize that when you're in a state of tension you're sending cues to your partner that will affect your partner's behaviour. If you're cross, you're angry, your face is going to be angry and your tone of voice is going to be clipped and your body language is going to be tight.
Your partner is observing that and very likely will be unconsciously mimicking your tone of voice and your body language and your facial expression as well. So that's how partners tend to infect each other. And it's called 'emotional contagion'.
Take a few deep breaths...
How you get out of that is by taking a few deep breaths so that you can, at that point, downregulate your tension and communicate to your partner in a more neutral tone of voice, so that the two of you can work things out without a lot of emotional contagion.
You certainly want to be able to express any kind of displeasure, any kind of desire for a different way of doing things from your partner. But what's key is to recognize that if you have a lot of emotion surrounding your partner's behaviour, it's going to interfere with your ability to request a new way or a different way of behaving.
Recognizing that a lot of emotion is wrapped up in an issue you’re having is important. But figuring out the cause of that emotion is not always easy. Couples’ therapy can help, says Dr Resnick.
Dr Resnick: Therapy is important for recognizing where the emotion is coming from. What's triggering you? What's making you angry? Is it your partner's behaviour? Is it your interpretation of your partner's behaviour that comes from leftover emotions or expectations from your past? Is it your fear? Is it your shame? Is it your guilt? Is it your expectation of disappointment? All of these things can affect how your partner responds to you, and how your partner responds to you affects how you respond to your partner.
So it goes back and forth, which is one of the reasons that therapy is so important. Because then you have a third person there who is empathetic with both of you and can help you see how you each may be bringing out the worst instead of the best in the other.
Talk about what's positive
It's that each of us really needs to be more aware of how we trigger each other. And if we do trigger each other, how can we trigger each other in a positive way? How can we trigger each other for empathy? How can we draw the other's love? How can we draw the other's desire to please? How can we evoke gratitude? And especially, how can we evoke each other's desire?
We trigger each other in a positive way through positive action. When we talk about what's positive that is contagious, we call that empathy. Positive contagion is empathy. Negative empathy is contagion.
LM: Therapy might not be an option for some young couples. Are there things they can do on their own to work on positive contagion?
Dr Resnick: The biggest difficulty is when two insecure people get together and trigger each other’s insecurities and they don't have any perspective on the fact that they're each part of the problem. The question becomes: How can you each be a part of the solution for each other?
I'll tell you how to be part of the solution: When your partner is feeling bad, how can you soothe your partner, rather than make thing worse? How do you soothe your partner? Hold each other and breathe together.
Hold each other, close your eyes, and kiss, kiss, kiss!
LM: What exactly is it about breathing that helps?
Dr Resnick: What breathing does is it balances the nervous system. When you're in a state of confusion and dysregulation, your sympathetic nervous system is firing "flight or fight." The other side of the nervous system, which is the parasympathetic, which calms us, is not online.
When you hold each other and breathe deeply, those exhales trigger the parasympathetic system. So now your sympathetic/parasympathetic systems are balancing and that enables you to be more empathic with your partner and to be able to look for solutions rather than to be focused on the problem.
LM: Do you have any other tips for young couples?
Dr Resnick: The other thing I would say is that a key aspect of having a good sexual relationship is kissing. So hold and touch each other lovingly, breathe deeply, look into each other’s eyes with warmth, smile, and kiss each other delicately with your lips somewhat parted and let your tongues find each other. Wet kisses allow you to exchange saliva which has good biochemistry like testosterone, the hormone of sexual desire for both males and females, and dopamine, a stimulant. So hold each other, look into each other’s eyes, smile, then close your eyes and kiss, kiss, kiss. That’s a great beginning!
Stella Resnick PhD is a clinical psychologist and author in private practice in Beverly Hills, California, who trains and supervises therapists in her “full-spectrum" approach integrating couples and sex therapy. Her recent book is The Heart of Desire: Keys to the Pleasures of Love. Her previous book is The Pleasure Zone.