Each week, sex therapist Emily Power Smith answers your sex-related queries
Q My ex contacted me a few weeks ago and wants us to date again. We broke up 15 years ago because he punched me. I got a restraining order then and never heard from him again, but I've missed him loads. He says he's worked hard to change and that he's not like that any more. He's being really sweet and romantic, and the sex is amazing. I know I need to be careful, but I've been so lonely. I can't tell anyone who knew him before because they won't understand. How can I get others to see what I see, so I can have him fully in my life again?
A As I was reading your mail, I have to say that several alarm bells went off for me. The first is that he punched you, and you felt it was serious enough to get a restraining order. Research shows that people who hit partners tend to increase the violence and abuse with time, particularly if they are forgiven.
He tells you he's changed, but if I were you, I'd want some evidence of that, beyond the short time you've been seeing each other. Everyone, including abusers, puts their best foot forward in the early days. You won't really know who he is now until you've seen him deal with anger, disappointment and frustration.
In my professional opinion, it's not often that people who are abusive change on their own. I'd want to know how he's worked on his relationship with women, and his impulse control, for starters. I'd also want to know what he's learned around anger management and communication skills. What kind of help did he get and for how long?
If I was going to have that conversation with him, I would ensure I had it somewhere public and safe just in case it angers him and he hasn't changed as much as he says. If he has any problem with you asking these questions, that is another alarm bell. He punched you, so it's his job to prove to you that he's changed, not your job to give him the benefit of the doubt.
An alarm went off for me when I read that you've missed him loads and have been so lonely. While both these feelings can be hard, neither is a good enough reason to be with an abusive person. So I wonder what work you've done on yourself in order to heal and build up your self esteem?
If you haven't done any, then it's quite possible you're going to repeat patterns.
I'm wondering about the speed at which things are moving too. You're sleeping together and the sex is wonderful, and I'm all for great sex! But if you want to be careful, and give yourself time to get to know this man again, it seems a bit fast. That's an alarm bell for me.
A loud alarm is also sounding around you not telling those close to you. There is no good outcome from keeping this a secret. If he is grooming you to be his victim again, isolating yourself is exactly what he'll want. Avoiding the opinions of those who knew him before, and who know you now, means you're avoiding any possibility that he may be bad for you. That is typical behaviour and it's dangerous.
I urge you to talk to those who love you. They don't have to like it, but they should know what's going on in your life so you have support if things don't work out. They will also give you realistic feedback if you need to check if something doesn't feel right to you.
Finally, if you are determined to try this again, I urge you to attend couples therapy together so that you can tease all this out with a professional and ensure you don't go down the same path again, and so you're not blinded to warning signs.
Please be very careful, and please tell people.
Q My girlfriend of two years is great in many ways. But in bed, she's really selfish. She wants me to do loads of things to and for her, but won't do anything for me. She says she loves me and I'm the best lover she's ever had, but when I ask her to do things for me, she says she's not into it. I'm clean, I think I'm okay looking and my privates seem normal to me. So should I just accept this is her, or what can I do?
A Have you sat her down and told her that this is really serious for you? She may not realise that you're suffering, and might behave differently if she understood. If you do that, and nothing changes, I'd want to know what her expectations are of sex, men and women.
If you find she's got strong beliefs around how women should behave in bed, or what a man's responsibility is, there may be room for her to educate herself and to modernise her values. She may be behaving selfishly, but sometimes people are frozen sexually due to lack of confidence, poor body image, past bad experiences, fear of being judged and so on.
This could be a chance for her to grow and develop as a woman and lover, and could turn out to be a benefit for you both. So make sure she understands how you're feeling, but make sure you understand why she's got this block. You're in a relationship, so this is exactly the kind of thing you need to know about each other. Sex is important, but learning how to talk about it is just as vital for a healthy relationship.
If she really doesn't want to change the dynamic, even when she knows how important it is to you, the only solution may be to put up with it (if everything else is amazing), or to end the relationship.
There's nothing wrong with wanting your partner to make an effort in bed, and to give you at least some of what you need in order to feel loved and desired.
Believe her if she tells you this is how it's going to be, and make your decision based on what you deserve. We all deserve to feel attractive and celebrated by our partners, at least some of the time.
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