I'm an intimacy coach in S'pore who helps couples with relationship issues. Here's what I've noticed.

Common problems she's encountered among her clients include the 'seven year itch' and losing the spark in a long-term relationship, and of course — cheating.

Mothership | September 26, 2021, 02:54 PM

COMMENTARY: Why does the romance fizzle out after couples have been together for a long time, especially after having kids? What happens after one party cheats?

Certified intimacy coach Angela Tan shares more about the common problems she has noticed while working with couples, such as the lack of open communication regarding expectations, and how it has become easy for couples to lose the 'spark' when things get too comfortable.

Tan is the founder of the Academy of Relationship & Sex. She provides a platform where individuals and couples with relationship and intimacy issues, can have them all worked out in one space.

September is World Sexual Health Month, aimed at promoting education, awareness, and best practices in Sexual Health.

By Angela Tan

I have been an intimacy coach for the last five years, working with individuals and couples to find passion in their sex life and overcome hurdles using coaching, talk therapy, and education.

Some people think that being an intimacy coach means that I teach about sex practically, or give couples direct feedback on their sexual activity. But nope, my sessions do not include any form of nudity.

What I do instead is to help couples become more comfortable and confident in their sexual encounters, through workshops and 1-to-1 coaching sessions. My current methodology is a blend of my knowledge of human physiology as a doctor, and my skill set as a relationship coach for the last decade.

Some clients are initially shy about sharing their troubles, but once they have warmed up to me and realise I am non-judgmental and earnest in helping them, they are ready to pour out their woes.

Comfort zone

A common problem I’ve encountered over the years is couples hoping to rediscover the spark in their relationship. In long term relationships, things often become repetitive, and it is much more convenient to do things in the same old way that works.

To reduce the uncertainty and awkwardness the couple may have, I start off with a discovery call, to understand what they are going through and what they hope to achieve. With this information, I am able to formulate a plan to help them.

During the actual coaching session — which can either be online or in-person — we venture into the depths of the relationship, sexual histories, preferences in the bedroom, communication styles, and even childhood experiences.

This is because sex is not just an act; it is a complex framework that constitutes many parts of us. In a couple, two such frameworks merge together, and things can get pretty tricky.

Through creating a safe space for the couple to share these intimate details, I am able to get started on guiding them to resolve their issue.

Encouraging open communication

When it comes to adding spice into the relationship, my clients sometimes think that throwing in some toys, new techniques, or even attending a swingers party (before Covid-19 happened, anyway) is the way to do it. But the first and surest way to add some spice is by communicating preferences.

However, from what I have noticed, most of the couples I worked with tend to not discuss sex openly with each other. In fact, many of them first talk about it candidly when they meet with me.

Apparently, shyness is the culprit.

Many couples assume what their partners like. But meeting with me, they are often enlightened: “Why didn’t you tell me you don’t like having sex in pitch darkness? I am scared of the dark too.”

And now, we have some light.

In a conservative society like ours, it can be challenging to talk about sex.

Due to the negative connotations placed on people of all genders who dare proclaim that they like sex, many people avoid admitting they enjoy sex. Or even if they do, it is coupled with guilt, which then makes pleasure in the bedroom hard to attain.

Nevertheless, it’s still important for couples to learn how to communicate their expectations.

For instance, I usually encourage my clients to talk about sex at a neutral setting at a neutral time, and to constantly update each other on their ideas and perspectives of sex.

These conversations should also allow them to come to a consensus on what sex means for each of them and what they each hope for as an outcome from each sexual encounter.

Is romance dead?

For some of my clients, the multiple roles that they undertake in each other's lives sometimes become a big passion killer. Beyond being just lovers, now there are bills to pay, chores to do, kids to worry about; the to-do list never ends.

Couples tend to become more functional and task-focused rather than relationship focused — while they grow to become great teammates, the intimacy component is neglected.

I often encourage couples to create protected time for each other. Especially with kids and full-time careers in the way, couple time becomes even more crucial in maintaining the relationship.

In addition, I also tell couples who are parents to stop calling each other “mum”, “dad”, or even “oi”, simply because your partner isn’t your mum or your dad.

By addressing one another as such, we unconsciously have locked our partners into these roles, thereby reducing the intimacy. And calling your partner “oi” — there’s hardly any intimacy there, right?

My clients were shocked when they realised how they had unknowingly fossilised each other’s roles. Although it took a while to make a change, they saw the benefits of it.

As an intimacy coach, what thrills me the most is when each individual finds themselves again through love.

Once, a couple who had been together for more than 15 years came to me for help. They weren’t quite able to enjoy sex, especially in the last eight years after their daughter was born. It was putting a lot of strain on the relationship, as the husband felt hurt getting rejected and the wife was filled with guilt for not liking sex anymore.

We could have just attributed the lack of passion to the stress of managing a high-needs child, followed by re-location and now an overwhelming workload.

However, as we delved deeper, we found that what was beneath it all was their guilt about losing their second child in the second trimester.

As they overcame their grief together, the love blossomed once again.

Cheating — the biggest relationship killer

In the last decade of my work as a coach and doctor, I have heard countless stories of those who have cheated, been cheated on, and have started cheating because they were cheated on.

One particular story stood out for me.

M was a successful woman with two adorable children; her husband never missed family events and contributed his share to the family.

Everything seemed perfect from the outside. However, in the bedroom, M’s husband had demands that M couldn’t meet.

Things fell apart when her husband told her he had been fulfilling his needs with paid sex. Her perfect world collapsed.

When she came to me, she shared how she was deeply hurt by her husband’s actions, but through our sessions, she gradually got over the pain. Moving out of a helpless state also empowered her to make the best decision for her and her family.

Of course, not everyone that comes to me for cheating issues ends up patching things up — some decide to break up. But for M, she decided to stay in the marriage and work things out with her husband on how best to manage each other's sexual expectations.

Riding ups and downs with clients

“You can’t avoid pain, but you can choose to overcome it” – Paulo Coelho. This is my mantra when I work with my clients.

In intimate relationships, we are bound to get hurt as we figure out how to get closer to someone and be vulnerable with them. We want someone who wants to learn how to love us, and is willing to put in the time and effort to do so.

I realised the power of love through working with M for several months — having grounded herself in her love for herself, she was able to provide love for her family and tide through the crisis.

Riding these ups and downs with my clients has added much fulfilment to my life. Every client is a learning journey for me too.

The greatest thing I have learned is to never have expectations, but instead to have faith that things will work out the way they need to be.

As a young coach a decade ago, I was pretty obstinate; I had an idea of the perfect ending to guide my clients towards, and as a result, I was unable to build rapport and trust with them, eventually losing the opportunity to change their life.

What is important is to do what is most empowering for the client, as opposed to what may be perceived to be the “right” thing to do. As a coach, neutrality is a source of empowerment, to have the faith that the client will do the best for themselves.

Even though I am someone who believes in “happily ever after”, I make it a point not to advocate for clients to stay in their relationships if that is not best for them.

My work is about being my clients’ advocate. Over time, I learnt to put myself out of the way and let my clients be the focus of the change.

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Top photo courtesy of Angela Tan, Lareised Leneseur/Unsplash.