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Terri sat in a black leather chair across from me to avoid Raymond, who was sitting on the couch. As she spoke of his verbal abusiveness, her tone remained calm.

Then, her hazel eyes flashed with rage, and she said, “You treat me with a delicacy of a hunter preparing fresh deer for the freezer.  I live in terror of your words, but in even more terror of your freedom to grab me when you want me. How dare you?"

Her eyes narrowed into slits as she spat, “I doubt that even Dr. Coche can help us with this. You learned intimacy skills the way a 3-year-old learns a foreign language. It may be too late to save our marriage. Sometimes, I hope it is.”

I looked at Raymond, who feigned boredom and complacency.  My heart went out to both of them. Their relationship was dangerous for their physical and mental health, but there was hope.

If they were willing to address patterns of intimate sexuality absorbed early in their relationship, their sexual script could be rewritten. I hoped for their sake that they would.

When couples tell me they are interested in improving their lives together, I speak with them about a topic couples therapists call "Sexual Scripting" - What is that?

A script provides the foundation for dramatic productions. Not only does the script tell us the story of the play, it provides a foundation for the performance of each character. The goal in a drama is for the actor or actress to put their personality deep in the script, so that the script will direct their behavior, as well as the way their character thinks.

Our beloved heroes in the film "Romeo and Juliet" did not have a license to say whatever they wanted. A professional scriptwriter adapted the Shakespeare classic and provided both heroes with a road map of what to say and how to say it.

I speak with clients and teach colleagues about Sexual Scripting. Are you aware that you inadvertently fall into patterns in daily living, which may be useless and unconscious? For example, if the first boy who kissed you was so drunk that it repulsed you, your hesitancy to engage in delightful forms of loveplay may be more related to this trauma than to a set of realistic expectations in adulthood. 

These patterns of tenderness are rooted in earlier learning. Dr. David Schnarch, a sex therapist and author, says, “Intimacy is not for the faint of heart.”

Your early experiences with physical love have created your script about being close to another person. It is vital to know that you can change this if needed.

It is wise to integrate knowledge about the foundation of your sexual and intimate scripts into present and future relationships.

Here are key concepts:

  1. Become aware of these dynamics by speaking with your partner, or through psychotherapy.
  2. Overcome automatic non-verbal adult reactions to your lover or partners if their behavior reenacts earlier childhood trauma about intimate interactions.
  3. Learn to speak about these issues with your partner directly, so both of you can discern more effective ways of managing treasured intimate time.

For example, if you were trained to be demure as a young woman, you may shy away from expressing natural enthusiasm about desiring someone you want as a partner. One couple I know created a delightful world of intimacy that was only possible after they spoke of how terrified the woman was in the presence of older brothers who teased her, roughed her up, and threatened to hit her if she told their parents. As a result, she carried severe abuse into a coupled partnership that she hoped would become lifelong.

Her scripting taught her that intimacy is dangerous, and that she needs to keep these “dirty secrets” to herself.  She carried embarrassment and shame into dating, used psychotherapy, but used therapy to write a new intimate and sexual script for herself.

To Consider: Did you know you can author a new intimate and sexual script that gives you more of what you need? How valuable could this be in your life?

Would you go out of your way to learn those skills? How glad might you be if you did?

To explore: David Schnarch, Ph.D., Passionate Marriage, New York: Norton and Company, 1997.

ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com.