You are currently viewing Episode 295: How To Talk About Sex While Grieving

Episode 295: How To Talk About Sex While Grieving

In this episode, we explore grief through the lens of sexual intimacy… For many couples, sexual intercourse is a safe space where they can be vulnerable, knowing that they can reach out to their partner and their partner will reach back. No matter what you are experiencing while working through sex and grief, the goal is not to force one behavior or another but to communicate so that you can return to that safe space when the time is right.

As therapists, we often see clients who successfully navigate the emotional aspects of grieving while failing to address the sexual side of their relationships.

It’s not uncommon for us to work with couples who are not having sex. Often, those couples can trace the loss of intimacy back to a period of grief. It’s understandably a difficult position: How do you maintain a sexual connection with your loved one while honoring the grieving process?

Grieving is a complex topic. Sex is a complex topic. Talking about both may seem awkward – but for anyone in a relationship, the reality is, sex and grief will eventually converge. When couples are faced with the terrible loss of a loved one, this conversation can comfort and add to their security with each other when they need it the most.

In memory of Mary Louise Faller


Laurie Watson 00:02
So we’ve got a tough topic today we’re going to talk about grief and how it impacts us. And we’ve got some tough news to share.

Laurie Watson 00:12
Welcome to Foreplay radio, couples and sex therapy. I’m Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller 00:18
And I’m George Faller, a couples therapist,

Laurie Watson 00:20
and we are passionate about talking about sex and helping you develop a way to talk to each other.

George Faller 00:26
Our mission is to help our audience develop a healthier relationship to sex that integrates the mind, the heart and the body.

Laurie Watson 00:36
Hey, sign up for our Couples Retreat on October 1, Great Love, Great Sex. Just the two of you more details at the end of this episode. How you doing? Man?

George Faller 00:47
It’s been a rough week, you know, everybody knows you’re gonna lose you. Yeah, mom. But when it happens, it’s never ready for it. So.

Laurie Watson 00:56
So George has lost his mother this last week. And it’s it’s rough. Losing a parent i think is so complicated, too. There’s so much that leaves us kind of the next generation and brings up I think so, so many feelings about our families. And we have to do a lot of processing. It’s just sad.

George Faller 01:21
I’m officially an orphan now. I lost my dad like five years ago. But I think there’s something about your mom that that unconditional love that. You know, despite everyone short comments, the you know that there’s one person that’s rooting for you that if you committed murder would still kind of take in and you know, so there’s an emptiness that happens, you know, and certainly I believe, I’ll meet her again someday. And that brings me great comfort. But you know, that transitionary period, it just sucks.

Laurie Watson 01:56
It does, it does. This is such a tough thing. And you felt like she loves you unconditionally. That’s a blessing. That’s a good thing.

George Faller 02:06
That’s certainly a blessing.

Laurie Watson 02:08
I know that you told her about Foreplay, she was happy for us and for our success. That was fun to know about her.

George Faller 02:16
You see these old ladies sitting together talking about a sex podcast. So it was pretty fun. I’m not sure she ever had the courage to listen to it. But she liked the idea. That’s and there were millions of downloads. Really? So that was fun for her.

Laurie Watson 02:33
That’s great. So what’s your favorite memory of your mother?

George Faller 02:37
You know, I had the fortune of doing her eulogy. So that was not easy, either. You know, there was just so many stories, but she was actually her father died in a bomber flying over Germany in World War Two. So she actually was only an infant when she lost her dad. And I think that that experience and her mom remarried in blended families and I’m not sure how much she fit in. And you know, I think that really influenced and shaped her. She was quite a resilient person who was fiercely loyal and kind of wanted her family to come first. And so we were raised with that really tight knit family and wow, beautiful. We didn’t have a lot of and we had there were eight kids besides the countless neighborhood kids and I think because she had a feeling of being left out when she was younger. She didn’t want anyone else to feel left out. So she everybody was welcome. And that sounds great in theory, but when you’re don’t have a lot of money, it you come home, your friends eat your dinner, it’s like it created some problems. And she always figured it out. She always had a way of just kind of making it work. And she’s just, she stretched it and there were times lots of pasta. We would actually eat mustard sandwiches. I remember one time we went out. She went out to get some cold cuts for sandwiches. Instead she bought me a Star Wars figure, Darth Vader when I was like five years old, and I was at the eulogy. I took out my Star Wars figure. I still have it all these years later. 45 years later. Yeah, that lovely. She had a way still making people feel special. When either you’re in a big family. It’s easy to get lost and feel invisible. But yeah, she had that unique way of doing that which was really cool.

Laurie Watson 04:29
And you were the middle I was number five Yeah, right. Number five. Okay. Ah, that’s great memory. That’s a great memory.

George Faller 04:38
Yeah, there’s so many stories and you know, we do a fourth of July party honoring my father where my whole family comes together on July 4 weekend and you know, this time she comes running to hobbling to get on the boat for a trip. She gets on a boat she goes this will probably be my last boat ride and we’re all laugh at our site. Yeah. You say that every year it’s not, you know, but maybe she knew something and you never think it’s going to be your last boat ride. You wish this you could have said something if you knew it was the last boat ride, you know, the things that we take for granted. But you know what I’m hoping is it it? It certainly brought my family closer together again, you know, the siblings and cousins and it’s, you know, life is short. We all work hard and are so busy. And how do you learn these lessons to before you know, it’s going to be us?

Laurie Watson 05:34
So everybody came to the funeral?

George Faller 05:37
Yeah, I mean, crazy times we COVID. But there are a lot of people came in, came back to the house and I had my monster moment. Never in the Bible, Martha and Mary, Martha was the one working like crazy. Nobody was getting ready, they thought I was yelling at people who’s got the fool who set up the projector for the slideshow, who’s doing this setup, just bossing everyone around. And then I had this bobet say you don’t hear all these people, some of them I haven’t seen in years, even decades, you know, the point is to connect with them and not take just kind of keep on working, which is normally what I can do. And so it was a nice moment for me to just kind of stop that. And just, you know, whatever, someone else will take care of it. Let’s try to just hang out. My father’s brother to hickeys, who have not, you know, we’ve kind of lost touch with it was he’s 97 years old. And he came. So he’s really fine. Six, seven.

Laurie Watson 06:33
That’s awesome. So do you have any other living relatives on your father’s side?

George Faller 06:38
Yes, it was my father’s uncle. And my mother’s uncle, both in their 90s are just sitting there chatting away at each other, neither could hear the other person. But they still had a great time, it was just so cool to say

Laurie Watson 06:52
that is so great. I’m glad to hear of these loving memories that you have her. That’s such a good thing to believe somebody loved you and you felt loved by your father as well. Right?

George Faller 07:05
I did. See her many didn’t have their boatload of problems and shortcomings. But no, not one department, which when you know, as a therapist, most of the time when I’m working with parents, and they’re coming in with so much guilt, and you know, what could they have done differently? You know, that they’re willing to show up at the office? To me is they they’ve accomplished the most, they’ve tried that best. That’s all we could do with it, just try to love well. Isn’t that the point?

Laurie Watson 07:35
That is definitely the point. So I know that grief is, you know, really difficult. And I know that my husband and I have lost some of our parents and you know, it’s, it’s just the weirdest thing. You know, there’s this huge heaviness that kind of hits you like a tidal wave in the beginning. And then I remember I, I didn’t wear makeup for a couple months, because it would just sneak up on me and I’d start crying, like out of nowhere, you know, not even really thinking about and suddenly something would wash over me. I think it’s so important to let ourselves do that. Right given to that.

George Faller 08:16
Yeah, I was, there were a lot of people there. And I think digenova piece in so many women are wailing and crying and can express themselves. And there are so many of the men who are trying to be strong and not crying, you know, where I see a few of my brothers and they’re, like, stoic and, and just that idea. I mean, I’m glad of the work that I’ve done that I can express just that emotional signal to let it out that there’s so much health even letting tears flow and let the stress hormones out. You know, most of the time, I’d be fine. But you know, I’d see her best friend kind of break down at the casket and it’s like, Oh, my, he just rips your heart out. Well, you see her great great grandkids going up there no way you’re going down. I mean, it’s just Oh, staying sick, just how does it not just impact you and just grief in that sadness and to let it out. And, you know, I that would be my encouragement, especially to a lot of men listen in that, you know, we’ve been so trained, I was so trained not to cry. And to see crying is a weakness. And my father would tell me, he’d give me something to cry if I kept crying. So you know, and that ability to turn off my feelings is worked really well for me. But that that temporary solution really, I think starts to harden your heart over time, unless you kind of intentionally try to and maybe that’s not the appropriate place publicly, but just find a space where you can access that sadness and just let it do its work.

Laurie Watson 09:51
Yeah, that’s so true. As a woman, I could cry and nobody really thought anything about it. And I think that that We don’t expect that out of men, sometimes we don’t even want that out of men. And it’s, it’s so limiting and it just keeps it all the feelings in their little heart and, you know, then we can’t comfort them and they can’t be comforted. It’s it’s really a different experience. I’m glad that you feel like you could let some of it out. As I was listening to you talk about being Martha at the house afterwards, and just kind of bossing everybody around and being angry. You know, it’s like, it’s another way, right? It’s at least some emotion coming out. Yeah, and I think we often allow men to be more angry than we allow them to be sad.

George Faller 10:43
Yeah. I wrote this quote I want to read quick on on Facebook by Francis Weller. Okay. Grief asks us that we honor the loss and in doing so deepened our capacity for compassion and empathy. When grief remains unexpressed, however it hardens, becomes a solid as a stone, we in turn, become rigid, and stop moving in rhythm with a soul. When our grief stagnates, we become fixed in place, unable to move and dance with the flow of life. Grief is part of the dance, keep on dancing.

Laurie Watson 11:19
It’s part of life. We have to feel that or we can’t feel the other things, right.

George Faller 11:28
Yeah. And it’s the logical brain gets it. But the heart wants to say no, it’s not fair. It’s not the right time. It’s all these protests.

Laurie Watson 11:38
I just want to say, gee, that, you know, I’ve been thinking about you a lot these last few days. And I didn’t know what you were going to want to do today. And I’m so appreciative that you would share with us this and open up to us about it and be so vulnerable about what you’re feeling. I just appreciate that. Thank you. I wish I could had you.

George Faller 12:00
Virtual hug, virtual hug. And I appreciate all the support and notes and people donate it to tunnels to towers say raise a couple $1,000 from my mom, and you know, it’s a great cause. So it’s it. I’m trying to make the best make lemonade out of these sour lemons that life has dealt me here.

Laurie Watson 12:18
Yeah. Okay, so we’ll come back and talk some more about the impact of grief….

Laurie Watson 12:24
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Laurie Watson 14:41
I want to talk about the stages of grief and what we kind of go through we know we’ve studied it a lot but as we mourn the ones that we’ve loved and and also Other losses, you know, I’m aware of many losses that people suffer, particularly divorce dealing with a lot of divorce people. And there’s just so much grief in that, as they go through that. And obviously, you losing a parent, there’s so much grief, it’s many things that we need to grieve in there, there turns out there is kind of this set pattern that we go through. Would you lead us through that pattern? And

George Faller 15:27
yeah, no, I appreciate you just trying to distinguish different types of loss. I mean, you have the big ones, the loss of a child or a parent that we all experience loss on a daily day, loss of dreams, loss or relationships, loss of friendships, and, you know, these, these emotions, when we experience loss are going to be very predictable. And, you know, so you have the Kubler Ross grief cycle and basically, and they don’t necessarily need to go in order, you know, but,

Laurie Watson 15:56
We bounce in and out of those.

George Faller 15:57
We bounce in and out. And basically, you have states of denial, you have states of anger, states of bargaining, states of depression, and states of acceptance, right, and they’re broad categories, but I think, you know, you most of us experienced initial, I can think about me, the initial shock when I got the phone call it you know, four in the morning, like this can’t be happening, this is a bad dream, right? And my I went immediately to bog and and like, the way God has kept you happy that we you know, and what can you do, and like, you know, that almost like infant childhood brain that just wants to say, I’ll be good, and you know, just give me this or what if I did that, and, and how quickly it can turn then towards the anger, just the unfairness of the situation, or the anger itself for kind of what I could have done or, you know, wish I would have spent more time I would have went on a vacation a year would have done this and and then you know that what you talked about that depression, I just kind of sneaks in at all times, such as the pain of the separation, right? The pain or the disconnection, the emptiness that happens when, you know, you just can’t pick up that phone call. I mean, my mom would call me all the time and say, you know, I’m praying for you, you know, I’m just thinking about you like, just knowing that you have that constantly happening in the background, that now it’s hopefully still happening from heaven, but you know, that, you know, there’s a loss of that there’s a loss of somebody rooting for you, that’s just always there whenever you need that. So that’s so lovely. Yeah. And then not acceptance. I mean, I can feel moments of it, of just, you talk about post traumatic growth of just making meaning out of it of, of kind of knowing her suffering, it’s is ended that she’s kind of in a better place. She’s connected and, you know, they dig, there are times of some peace. And you’re like, Okay, and then boom, Here it comes again, you go through the whole process all over again.

Laurie Watson 17:58
Yeah, exactly. Even just hearing you talk about it, it feels so sad to me, I loved that idea of your mother, you know, there in the background, just a sense of a constant for somebody who’s praying and caring for you. And yes, and I’m sure she is still rooting for you and praying for you. And I saw her beautiful pictures as well on Facebook. She’s just she was a really lovely, lovely woman. And I was struck by how much you know, you have her eyes?

George Faller 18:37
Well, you know, there were a lot of moments, she was opinionated. I thought she was always right, that I would take the phone and I would just put it to the side for 30 seconds. He was just kind of lecturing me and, you know, but that’s the part of any relationship. But yes, it is. It is a real blessing that I had that I didn’t doubt her love for me. And I think that that secure attachment is so often what as therapists what we’re trying to help people create in their relationships, right, you’re always gonna fight, you’re always going to miss each other, you’re always gonna have differences. But when you have that sense of, if I need that person, they will be there for me. Yeah, like that’s a beautiful safety to carry in a world to know that no matter what happens, that person has your back. And I certainly had that with my mom.

Laurie Watson 19:27
And I think that we carry that forward in our hearts. Yes, I mean, even before they die, we’re able to access that sense of I’m a good person, because my parents loved me and, and that’s what we carry into our own relationships. That’s what makes us able to do vulnerability to reach out to our partners and believe that they’ll reach back. You know, obviously, we’re a sex podcast and I’ve seen people manage grief so differently. You know, some people really do Reach out for the arms of their partners. They make love and they feel that tenderness and they feel the comfort. And then others just, you know, they can’t do it, they kind of are licking their wounds and need to be left alone. And I wonder if we could advise people about how to respond to their partner in these different ways. I mean, certainly, if your partner is reaching for you, in love and needs that physical comfort, you know, hopefully you can find it in you to answer that and to give to them and to be with them.

George Faller 20:34
I had never thought about this, but the importance of communicating, of having a real conversation around both the partner who’s lost their parents, and the partner trying to support them. I mean, it’s so easy to miss each other and have different strategies on how to cope, that you can see how this could really impact a sexual relationship. So I think people can tend to go to two extremes, they either lose all sexual feelings, right? Because you’re in depression, you’re in loss, you’re in that sadness, you don’t feel to arouse you don’t really like your body, you just kind of don’t want to have sex. And that could last for months for people. Yeah, versus the other extreme, where people try to avoid the feelings and turn towards sex as a way of kind of feeling something good in their lives, and they over focus on sex. So like, where do you fall on that continuum of either wanting too much and not wanting it at all? And how do you talk about that with your partner who has no idea what’s going on for you or how to support you. So so many couples I work with, you know, the grief really can wreak havoc and sex life.

Laurie Watson 21:40
You talked about the Fourth of July as the the time that your family gathers, we, we both my husband lost his father on the Fourth of July. And my father, who knew jack Watson, we kind of supported both of them as they were aging in our community and went down that day, like he fell and never really recovered. And I think both both of us felt differently about how to be comforted, you know, my husband, he was able to really grieve and and learned, I think, through that process, about how to cry and how to let it out. And we, you know, it’s it’s August right now, we’ve just gone through the fourth, you know, but it’s, it’s tender for both of us again, and I think that talking about what we needed from each other was pretty possible at that point in our marriage, you know, asking each other for the space and for the connection. No, because there were times that we just, I think needed to be almost like children crying in the corner, you know, and other times that we needed our partner to come toward us both sexually and emotionally and hold us. I think we did a lot of processing about our childhoods out loud with each other. You know, as we talked about those losses, somebody told me and I’ve never forgotten this, it was it was a beautiful thing to say. But she signed her card for all the things that were and for all the things that weren’t. And, and I think that some of the grief is we we lose the loved one. And we also lose all the possibilities for things that we had wished for as children, and

George Faller 23:25
it’s beautiful. It’s so counterintuitive to want to have a sex conversation during this period. It is right. But if you don’t have the compensation, you’re left with your own assumptions. And it’s never it’s typically not the safest way to move forward in your relationship. So I, you know, how do you find that right? Um, I wish, you know, I haven’t had that conversation with my wife until we were doing this thinking about this podcast, I was saying, I don’t know if anybody know we ever had one of those conversations. But it’s such a setup to miss each other sexually. Like, what what an opportunity? I mean, yes, you can talk about your childhood. And I think this is where the emotional bonds really becomes important. And a lot of couples can straight them because they’re there for each other or not, which is beautiful, but to not how to translate that into a sexual conversation,

Laurie Watson 24:22
Right? Because then we’re talking about what we need from each other right now. And yeah, it’s it’s a difficult conversation.

George Faller 24:31
Right? If you’re the podcast, wanting to be supportive, and this is the closest you’ve been emotionally in yours, it would make sense why your body responds to that and kind of wants to be more intimate, right? But if you can’t talk about that, you’re probably going to feel rejected by the partner who’s depressed and it’s not really interested. Right? And then you can’t say anything because you don’t want to make them feel guilty. So we just kind of shut these parts of ourselves off. But then I think that’s, that’s, I mean, one of our main points in this podcast is, is when we lose parts of ourselves, you know, the levels of engagement in a relationship start to go down, you know, a lot of couples that I work with that don’t have sex, oftentimes you get, you could trace it back to it starts at one of these periods, you know, a big emotion of a mess of a loss of something. And then before you know it, they go a couple of months, and then it gets just hard to kind of talk about or get back and before you know what a couple of years have gone by.

Laurie Watson 25:27
So maybe we can guide people a little bit about what to say, I think, first, as a partner, starting with what you feel, you know, I, I listened to you and I, I feel so tender, and I want to make love to you. But I am wondering what you’re feeling. And if you want that if you need that. Or maybe the person is saying look at normally I would be wanting to be with you and but I find myself kind of more in this state of pulling away. And I’d appreciate you holding me right now. But I’m not ready to make for some reason or just being open about it. Because that that will help educate essentially your partner give them insight into what’s going on, we just would want to encourage people to be as plain as you can, knowing that, you know, making love is such a connector. And yet, sometimes you may not be ready for it as especially I think because it can break you up in and maybe you’re not ready to be broken up in.

George Faller 26:30
Yes. And there’s no normal response, whatever your experience, heightened need for sex or no access to desire, right, that’s totally normal. It’s just great to name that. And to kind of reflect upon that, and to use that as a springboard to connect with your partner. And if you’re not having sex, you can talk about what it’s like to not want to have sex with your partner, and you can still engage in the hug and be with each other. Because that’s, that’s a place it’s, it’s very confusing for a lot of people to know, this is something they’ve depended on their whole life. I know a lot of men that I work with that lose their sexuality, you know, around this period, and they get thrown off, you know, and then it starts to create worry, like am I gonna perform and it just brings in all of this insecurity that they’re not used to. And you know, that’s an opportunity, it’s an opportunity to go to your partner and have a different type of conversation. But if you hide those places, then you know, again, it just creates more this isolation at a period when you’re already feeling isolated and loss. It just gets exacerbated.

Laurie Watson 27:39
Right? If ever there were a time we needed connection, it’s when we’re in grief. Hey, man, thanks for listening.

George Faller 27:46
Keep it as hot as you can. And gotta we dedicate this podcast to my mother, Mary Louise Fowler.

Laurie Watson 27:52
If you’d like to support tunnels to towers, which helps the survivors the firefighting families right after 911. George had two brothers that were firefighters as well as himself will post the link in our episode show notes.

Laurie Watson 28:08
Our Couples Retreat is coming up. And we’d love to invite all of you. We’ve already had four signups. So that’s exciting. It’s going to be on October 1st, which is a Friday and from 10 to 4:30. Eastern Standard Time. We’re offering an early bird discount for the first 20 people who fully pay and sign up. And you know, we’re gonna do all kinds of cool stuff. And we talk about male and female arousal and how to get to the best sex and what the sexual attachment cycle is all about and how to resolve problems. And I just want you to know that all the exercises are private. So you’re only going to be doing it with your partner. You can ask questions and talk in the group, but it’s not necessary. So we welcome participation, but it’s never going to be demanded of you and I, I just thought, George, I would read something that people who have gone through this have said to us cool, here’s a little bragging, Laurie and George are a great team. They invite couples to have conversations about sex and connection in a comfortable and trusting way the information shared and the activities planned are purposeful and supportive. And the day flows nicely. The hosts are professional couples will leave thinking about their partners and their own styles and desires more deeply. It’s nice to carve out time for this important work and worth the effort. Thank you for this offering.

George Faller 29:25
Very, very cool, Laurie. I mean, that’s that’s our promise, that if you devote some space intentionally to talk about topics, most of us don’t get help talking about, you’re gonna leave the day in better shape than you came in. I think that’s a great investment of time.

Laurie Watson 29:39
We’d love to have you sign up. It’s on our website: and it’s under the Resource section.

George Faller 29:46
And help spread the word if you can’t make it, refer a friend or a family member. we could all use the help.

George Faller 29:52
So for all you therapists out there listening to our show, I really want you to check out, our new training website that we believe is taking online therapist training to the next level. It’s so focused on moment by moment practical moves, less theory, to really get people to have immediate success, right, we’re trying to measure targets of change. So we can see if we’re on target or we need to adjust. And the feedback we’re getting is really excited. We’re incorporating that feedback to continually adjusted to change the schedule and come join us, SIV.

Laurie Watson 30:34
Also I’ll just put a plug in for it as well because I am one of the learners. This kind of instruction just is not out there how to do the micro moves that change people’s hearts toward each other. It’s so good so it’s reasonably priced. I just encourage you to go over to and sign up, it’s great training.

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