Has your sex life lost its sizzle and neither side seems willing to budge? Couples counselor Anne Asch, MFT, looks to her natural horsemanship background for a solution.
The vast majority of couples that come see me have little to no romance or sex left in their relationship. Many have not had sex for months or even years. Men often, although not always, have a higher sex drive than women in heterosexual relationships. Often sex is a way to feel close for men (although men report more satisfaction with their sex lives when there is a foundation of supportive emotional connection in the relationship). In contrast, women are typically less interested in having sex unless they already feel close and connected.
With a history of dog and horse training, I sometimes find myself using examples from these fields in my therapy office. Although it might sound odd, there are many similarities between teaching a frightened horse to get into a trailer and re-building the romance and sex in your relationship.
A Vulnerable Situation
Horses are prey animals. Their every instinct tells them to avoid strange noises, stay off of unstable surfaces and, above all else, never let themselves get cornered or trapped. So why in the world would a horse ever let you put them in a trailer and drive them down the freeway at 60 miles an hour? Likewise, why would you expect to have a good sex life when you don’t feel close and connected in day-to-day life?
It is possible to have a passionate “fling” with someone you have been committed to for years… but, unlike a one-night stand, it takes some groundwork first. If your trailer is falling apart and about to collapse, your horse is going to back away from it even faster. Your partner is probably as insightful as a horse when it comes to moving away from something or someone that doesn’t feel safe and secure.
Pressure Isn’t the Answer
Some horses are hesitant to get in a trailer and some are absolutely certain they will never step foot in one. It is very common to see people unsuccessfully bribing horses to get into a trailer with food, trying to pull a lead rope attached to a horse who is leaning away from the trailer, looping ropes around its butt in case pushing and pulling at the same time works better. Frequently the horse is crowded and whipped until it fearfully leaps into the trailer and has the door closed quickly behind it. As you can imagine, this doesn’t set the stage for the horse to look forward to it’s next trailer experience.
You might be more familiar with the bedroom version of this. The proverbial “I have a headache.” It looks more like:
“I’m too tired.” (continues reading book)
“You always say that. Why don’t you go to sleep if you are really so tired? You say you are tired and then you read for another hour. Last night you said you were too tired and then you spent 45 minutes re-organizing the linen closet!”
“Why are you always guilt tripping me? You have no idea how much I have to get done everyday… and then it’s always me putting the kids to bed because you are too stressed out.”
“Well, if we ever had sex, maybe I wouldn’t be so stressed out!”
Rebuilding the Foundation
Good horse trainers have a lot to offer in changing this dynamic. Twenty-five years ago, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to bring my horse to a clinic taught by a cowboy named Ray Hunt. This was the one of the horse trainers that inspired the movie The Horse Whisperer. During this clinic, Ray worked with a horse who had to be sedated in order to get in the trailer to come to the clinic. He spent about an hour and a half working with her on trailer loading. At first she was wild eyed, stomping, pulling and snorting at the mere sight of the trailer from across the arena. Ray worked with her calmly. There was never any pressure that made her uncomfortable. By the end, Ray was taking her to the front of the truck and sending her back around the truck and trailer to load up by herself. He described a horse he had had decades before that was wild and aggressive. “And pretty soon I learned that to get respect, I had to give respect.”
It’s Not About the Trailer
The relationship between this lesson and romance is surprisingly simple. Ray wasn’t actually teaching that horse to get into the trailer. He was building a foundation of relationship, of trust and communication. The trailer was only a vehicle for the creation of a loving, safe, and supportive partnership. One of Ray’s students and colleagues, Pat Parelli, has a horse training video entitled, It’s Not About the Trailer. It is also “not about the sex.” It is about the strength of emotional connection. A good sex life is the byproduct.
Pat Parelli describes this perfectly in the following quote. As you read it, substitute the words “trailer” with the words “romance/sex” and substitute the word “horse” with “partner.”
A horse trailering problem isn’t about the trailer. It’s usually about your relationship with your horse. It’s about inspiring confidence in the horse and getting him to trust you… The more you push…, the less the horse will trust you and the less he will want to follow your lead. Your success with easily loading your horse into a trailer starts a long way away from the trailer. You need to know how to get your horse to trust you… The trailer loading is somewhat incidental, although it is an important goal.” –Pat Parelli
Anne Asch, MFT: I am an individual and couples therapist in Marin County, California. I work with clients on issues relating to depression, anxiety, life transitions, parenting, and relationships. I grew up on an Arabian horse farm and was first introduced as a teenager to natural horsemanship at a Ray Hunt clinic. I love how much horses have to teach us about ourselves and our human relationships. Check out my blog here.
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