suzanne iasenza knowledge project

Rewriting Relationship Narratives – Suzanne Iasenza on The Knowledge Project, Hosted By Shane Parrish

Check out The Knowledge Project Episode Page & Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “All sex is group sex”Suzanne Iasenza
    • If you think you’re in bed alone with your partner, you’re not; you’re joined by both of your trauma histories
  • For most men, it’s desire first → then arousal; for most women, it’s arousal → desire
    • “Once a woman gets aroused, she can feel her desire much more” – Suzanne Iasenza
  • The best romantic relationships are ones in which the couple is able to quickly recover from fights
  • Your love isn’t obvious; frequently express love and gratitude towards your partner
  • “Some people take care of their cars more than their relationships”Suzanne Iasenze
    • Don’t be one of those people—have date nights, spend time together, and nurture your relationship

Intro

Communication is Key

  • Suzanne describes herself as a couples and sex therapist, although she also does individual therapy
  • Most frequently, couples come to Suzanne to fix communication issues, often lacking the necessary skill set to find compromises
    • Suzanne notes that couples can have different perspectives on what a “lack of communication” means—it’s important for each person to share their definition before attempting to problem-solve
      • “Say what your truth is, even if you’re afraid it’s bad news for your partner. Let’s create a safe environment to get it out.” – Suzanne Iasenza
        • “Whatever you’re not saying truly—what you need or what you don’t want—is creating the reason why you’re in my office in the first place” 
  • It’s important to realize that a couple can have differences and still be happy together—they just need to work on managing them

Why don’t couples share the truth about how they feel?

  • Either they don’t want to hurt their partner, or they feel ashamed about the secret they’re hiding
    • After all, some truths can be so devastating that they make the other partner question their reality (i.e., “How did I not see the clues of his affair?”)

Secrecy vs. Privacy

  • Privacy is when you’re hiding something from your partner, but it doesn’t affect them in a negative way (i..e, a married man fantasizing about other women)
  • Secrecy is when you’re hiding something from your partner that would very likely have a negative impact (i.e. a married man cheating on his wife)
  • It’s important to understand that people may have different definitions of secrecy and privacy
    • For instance, some women consider their husband fantasizing about other women to be quite hurtful

All Sex is Group Sex

  • 🎧 If you think you’re in bed alone with your partner, you’re not; you’re joined by both of your trauma and attachment histories
    • “All sex is group sex”Suzanne Iasenza
      • “There are so many things (narratives), in bed with you unconsciously that you don’t know who you’re projecting onto a partner at any given moment”
        • (Narratives people carry with them into bed include their views on and experiences with sex, intimacy, and trust)

Let’s Talk Desire

  • When a couple comes to Suzanne, she’ll ask them to articulate their narrative or story as to why they’re seeking help. Common narratives include: “We’re a sexless couple,” “We can’t communicate,” and, “There’s a lack of desire.”
  • “Most couples come in with desire disorders” Suzanne Iasenza
    • Often, one person has a higher level of desire than their partner, or both partners don’t desire the other whatsoever
      • If a no desire couple comes in, Suzanne will ask them, “What makes you think you have to have desire to have a fulfilling sex life?”
        • (This question often makes the couple realize they’ve been telling themselves a false narrative, instead of looking at the facts)
  • For most men, it’s desire first → then arousal; for most women, it’s arousal → desire
    • “Once a woman gets aroused, she can feel her desire much more”Suzanne Iasenza
      • Arousal can be brought on by physical touch, mental fantasies, or by something relational (i.e., telling your wife she can take a bubble bath while you put the kids to bed and clean the house)
      • Connection, kindness, and intellect also play a role in arousal: “Some people sit down, have the hottest intellectual conversation, and then want to have sex”
  • 🎧 Not all desire is physical or sexual—sometimes, just hearing your partner’s voice can cause it to arise
  • Arousal can both increase and decrease as couples age
    • 80-year-old couples can still have “hot sex,” even if certain body parts don’t work anymore–a large part of sex is mental and emotional, not just physical
  • For women, the end goal isn’t to have an orgasm per se, it’s about experiencing pleasure:
    • “Pleasure is the measure … Pleasure is so much more of a helpful concept for sexual outcome than orgasm” Suzanne Iasenza

Having Differences Isn’t the End

  • 🎧 Differences between couples are expected—they’re not bad (and they’re often, in fact, complimentary)
    • You may have to learn some skills on how to manage your differences, but that doesn’t mean the relationship won’t work
      • The idea equating differences with incompatibility is a false narrative

Relationship Myths

  • No orgasm = bad (NOPE!)
    • Orgasms aren’t necessary for a fulfilling sex life, and you shouldn’t expect to have one every time you have sex
  • Open relationships = better (NOPE!)
    • Open relationships make things MUCH, much more complicated—they involve many more moving parts resulting in unnecessary jealousy, envy, and competition
  • A great relationship = no disappointments (NOPE!)
    • There’s rupture and repair in almost any authentic relationship
    • “It’s really important to develop your tolerance for disappointment—both to be disappointed by your partner, and to disappoint your partner” – Suzanne Iasenza
      • “If you’re really authentic, you’re going to hurt each other—not intentionally, but unintentionally because of your own wounds or your unconscious conflicts you yet to deal with”
    • The best romantic relationships are ones in which the couple is able to quickly recover from fights
      • To facilitate conflict recovery, listen to your partner and avoid thinking of counter-arguments while they’re speaking
        • A good listening strategy: After your partner is done speaking, paraphrase what they said back to them and ask if they agree (you don’t always have to agree with what your partner said, but you do have to demonstrate that you understood them)
      • Related tip: Don’t say, “You never listen to me,” say, “I need attention from you”
  • Good relationships = easy and low-maintenance (NOPE!)
    • “People don’t get that a relationship has to be nurtured—you have to water it like a plant. It isn’t to be taken for granted.” – Suzanne Iasenza
  • Love = obvious (NOPE!)
    • Instead of saying, “She should know I love her,” go and actually tell your partner you love them!
    • Actionable tip: Before going to sleep, share one about your partner that you’re grateful for
  • Falling in love = the end of a story (NOPE!)
    • (It’s the beginning of the story)
    • “Some people take care of their cars more than their relationships”Suzanne Iasenze
      • You need to have date nights, spend time together, and nurture the relationship

Additional Notes

  • A lot of gender scripts are narratives that simply aren’t true (i.e., Only men should initiate sex; if men talk about their feelings, they become less masculine; etc.)
    • Women can and should initiate sex; it’s not a male-only role
    • Men should also share their feelings with their partner
  • There’s a date that a marriage ends and there’s a date the couple separates (and those dates aren’t the same)
  • Everything in life is a learning experience
    • “Probably our most terrible experiences are our best learning experiences”Suzanne Iasenza
  • In a fight, DON’T:
    • Be passive-aggressive
    • Use sarcasm 
    • Say ‘You’ statements (i.e., “You never listen to me“)
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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