Do you need a guru (or two)?
The Sunday Telegraph
More of us than ever are looking for help from life coaches, finds Tom Ough. So what do they really offer?
“It’s somehow assumed that good sex happens automatically,” says Michaela Boehm, “which is like assuming that if I put you on a bike, you know how to ride a bike.”
I, for one, would much rather teach people how to cycle than teach people how to have good sex. Then again, as Boehm tells me, most of us struggle to communicate about sex. So I suppose I am part of the problem, whereas Boehm, a 51-year-old Austrian known for working with Gwyneth Paltrow, is part of the solution. Boehm doesn’t supervise the actual sex, to be very clear, but she does help her students navigate romantic intimacy, whether that’s one-on-one, in workshops, via talks or her book.
She lives on an organic farm in California so we speak over the phone. “Nowhere other than in relationships and having children do we somehow assume that without any form of education or understanding, we will be good at it,” she says, “and it’s well shown we’re not.” Boehm, who has a degree in psychology and has training in cognitive behavioural therapy and in the Tantric tradition of Kashmiri Shaivism, finds that her students struggle in various ways. Men, she says, sometimes “have a hard time understanding how they should be with just one woman for the rest of their life”; while women worry about the right time to settle down, and wonder how to juggle a career with having children.
Later in life, people come to Boehm wondering how to keep their marriage exciting. She preaches generosity: “Giving your partner a bit of extra care and extra consideration, and generously assuming that your partner wants to do good by you and you by them.”
She also prescribes some degree of separation. Couples who’ve been together for years “do everything together, they have all the same friends, the same interests, all they do is talk about the kids and the dog and who needs to buy the milk”. This is antithetical to romantic excitement, says Boehm. “Finding your partner interesting is the best aphrodisiac. When you want to spend romantic time together, you have to have an agreement to not talk about what I call the ‘administrivia’ of daily life.” It’s reported that Paltrow has done just that: she and her husband, the film producer Brad Falchuk, are only just moving in together after almost a year of marriage. Boehm herself, married for 18 years, has what she calls a “she-shed” on the farm.
Her final piece of advice is about finding the right intimacy coach in an unregulated field. Beware of promises of quick transformation; look for experience, so the coach “can tell apart what are regular relational issues from what actually requires in-depth attention from a counsellor or a psychiatrist”. And don’t be afraid of asking questions: whatever it is, you won’t be the first. “Most people struggle with the same things.”
Michaela Boehm is the author of The Wild Woman’s Way: Unlock Your Full Potential for Pleasure, Power, and Fulfilment; michaelaboehm.com
Three questions I’m always asked
How do I find the right partner?
Do you want wild adventure? Do you want children? You should try to meet people who want things you want, whether that’s through friends or online or through social situations.
Do I need to be with the same person my whole life?
We have much more freedom than we used to, and most men are always going to feel they would like different women over a lifetime.
It’s useful to know that that particular urge for multiplicity is biological and not always the best use of one’s time and energy.
There’s no need to be with the same person your whole life, but if you want to commit to having children you should be able to imagine being with your partner at least until they grow up.
How do I juggle a career with having children?
It’s a real problem. Most women can only do it with a lot of help, ideally from parents, because a career and children together create a very high workload. The other part is that the mother’s body needs to be engaged and involved. If she overlooks the messages of the body, she will suffer fatigue or worse.