Erotic Empathy

by bonnie on September 24, 2009

Friday, October 2nd is International Day for Empathic Action

It is a day in which  people  in every state, in every country, on every continent,  will gather in empathic listening, connecting, and action so that we may see all beings integrate suffering to become free, fully alive, and resolve differences peacefully.

In honor of that occasion I’ve decided to post a special blogs on the subject of “Erotic Empathy”.

In my Random House book The Fine Art of Erotic Talk: How to Entice, Excite and Enchant Your Lover with Words, I talk about “creating an erotic safety net with words” (Chapter 4, page 46) and wrote an entire chapter on “erotic nurturing” (Chapter 11, p. 175). Since then, I’ve developed another, even more effective method for creating connection and intimacy with a romantic partner.  I call it erotic empathy.

I coined the term after studying a superbly effective communication method and applying it to my work in intimacy and sexuality. It’s called nonviolent communication or NVC.   (If you’re already familiar with this method, skip to the next paragraph.   If not, don’t be mislead or put off by the term “non violent”. ) You see, Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, the psychologist who created his system, developed it during the 1960’s Civil Rights Movement to help heal the rift between groups in conflict. Though the term seemed appropriate for the time, the word “violent” now seems to trigger distorted perceptions. Thus, today, it is often referred to as “compassionate communication”, although the abbreviated “NVC” is also still popular.

Whatever name you give it, this communication tool teaches us to relate to one another in non-judgmental, compassionate ways. It is a wonderful tool for building trust and understanding between individuals and groups. What’s more, I’ve found that NVC is a wonderful system to help lovers feel mutually understood and deeply trusting. And it can be applied to all aspects of dating, romance, courtship, and marriage.

For example, let’s imagine that you and your partner are about to make love. In the “Creating an Erotic Safety Net” section of my book, I encourage partners to ask one another, “What do you most want and need from me right now?” But let’s suppose that your partner’s request is for you to do something that makes you uncomfortable or does not turn you on. What do you do now? How do you communicate your feelings without creating conflict, frustration and alienation?

Fear not! NVC to the rescue! If you use the 5 steps below, you will find it much easier to build trust and understanding with your lover, even when your desires, wants and needs seem to be at odds. While each of these steps is worth a separate article or chapter in itself, for the sake of brevity, I’ll simply summarize, using a somewhat lighthearted example
.
Step 1:  Observe what is being seen and heard without any added interpretation:

e.g. My lover has just asked me to do a strip tease for him. (Do not add any reasons to why you believe he has made this request. Simply describe the behavior.)

Step 2:   Separate your feelings from your thoughts

(for example you might have a critical thought toward him like,“he’s really kinky” or some self-criticism such as, “I’d look like a fool if I did that” or even, “I feel objectified or disrespected “” – which includes an interpretation of your partner’s intention. Instead, notice the emotions beneath the thoughts such as, “I feel uncomfortable” or “I feel scared or I’m sad”

Step 3:  Connect with the desire or unmet need beneath the feeling

e.g. “I feel sad, because right now I need affection, appreciation, compassion, respect”, etc.

Step 4:   Give Yourself Empathy for Your Unmet Need or Desire

Our needs and wants, even when unfulfilled, are precious gifts. They’re part of the energy that gives us our sense of aliveness, a crucial component of our humanity.

Step 5:  Make a Request for Connection

There are two kinds of requests: Requests for connection and requests for action. Since connection, understanding, the experience of being “gotten” are essential for creating trust and intimacy between partners, we’ll start with the request for connection:

You might try using one of the following,

“Would you be willing to tell me what you just heard me say?” or
“Would you tell me your understanding of my feelings and needs?”
or
“Would you be willing to listen to me talk about my experience?”

Before making an action request (asking for a specific behavior from your partner to help meet your need), I strongly suggest you first attempt to give empathy to your partner for the unmet needs or desires he or she may be experiencing . (It will help him move from any judgmental thoughts he may be holding toward you, like “she’s so uptight” or toward himself, such as “I should have kept my big mouth shut, now I’ve upset her”. Instead if you let him know that you acknowledge and respect the want, need or desire that may have propelled his request, it will draw you both closer. So try saying something like,

“I imagine my stripping for you would really meet your desire for fun and play”

or “I guess seeing me strip would really be exciting for you”.

Let’s assume you both now feel heard, understood or acknowledged by one another.

Step 6:   Making an Action Request

You might ask your partner:

“Would you be willing to tell me what you appreciate about me as a lover, or what you find most attractive about me?”

If he agrees, he may then ask you,

“Would you be willing to try doing a strip tease for me and if you start to feel uncomfortable, just let me know and I’ll come and hold you tenderly in my arms.”

With erotic empathy, I suggest that you add the following elements to your compassionate communication. They will help to keep the sensual energy flowing between you while you’re talking:

1)  Stay in physical contact – by touching your partner’s hand, knee, shoulder, or some other part of his body that helps both of you to feel safe, grounded and connected.

2) Keep your voice tone soft and encouraging  - a voice that generates reassurance, acceptance and caring will help your partner meet his or her needs for safety and respect.

3) Maintain eye contact - it will help you both to see the vulnerable, tender aspects of each others’ being an d make it easier to transcend critical thoughts and move into a place of acceptance and caring.

4) Access pleasurable memories - Gently recall the qualities your partner possesses that bring joy and pleasure into your life.

I’ll have more on this subject in subsequent blog posts and will go into the subject in detail in my soon to be published downloadable book, “ Empathy and Intimacy: Compassionate Communication for Lovers” ©.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

bonnie July 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Dear Shelley:

Here’s the link to purchasing the electronic version of my book
http://www.amazon.com/Fine-Art-Erotic-Talk-ebook/dp/B003N9AZH8/ref=sr_1_1_title_1_ke?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1310527820&sr=1-1

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