Wellness x 2

Is Couples' Massage for You?

By Leslie A. Young

Since my first session more than 20 years ago, massage has been my secret escape—a chance to check out, regroup, focus on me, and reconnect with my body. A wonderfully healthy, insightful retreat.
This summer, my boyfriend and I went on an Indonesian vacation. Brad’s a relative newcomer to massage therapy, but with his blessing, I booked massage sessions at a highly recommended spa in Bali. We figured a wellness break would be a great way to spend a hot, humid afternoon.
Bodywork is widely available in Bali, and the therapists pride themselves on their own specialized modalities and oils that source local ingredients. In America, hot stone is one of my favorites, so I booked the Balinese version for 90 minutes each. We couldn’t wait to get to the spa and experience it for ourselves.
Imagine my surprise when I realized that—thanks to a language challenge—we were booked for a couples’ massage in the same room. Yikes! But I’m a trooper when I travel and so is Brad, so we decided to just go with it. He actually seemed relieved.
Our therapists stepped forward and introduced themselves. They treated us to footbaths, no doubt to save themselves from our hot, tired dogs. We each chose massage oil infused with fresh ginger for our session.
They escorted us into the treatment room. I was still trying to get my mind around this couples thing. The space was roomy and decorated with Hindu art, typical of the country. They excused themselves as we undressed in the relaxing surroundings and settled in under our respective sheets. The lighting, tables, and temperature were perfect. We talked for a few minutes, then our therapists returned and started.
It doesn’t take me long to give in to a massage session, but I was worried about Brad. He was on this trip because of me and signed up for this experience because of me. After just a few minutes, I thought I’d quietly whisper, “How’s it going?” when I heard him begin to breathe deeply, as he relaxed. Then, he began to snore. Ah, perfect. Now I could let go, too.
At that point, the session became a blended experience where we both honored ourselves, but also shared space. It was comforting in this faraway environment to know that Brad was right there, enjoying the session. The journey to Bali was long and our bodies really welcomed the stones.
That night at dinner we compared notes. Brad told me he was more comfortable with the experience because I was in the room and said that aspect made the session even more special. His therapist was much more experienced than mine. Her touch was much more aggressive and his athletic body really liked that and needed that. My therapist’s touch was somewhat tentative, although her communication with me was solid. In all, we agreed we’d made the right decision to devote the afternoon to massage therapy.
Before this lucky miscommunication, I would have never booked a couples’ massage. Now I’m open to it. In fact, I have it on my gift list for the next time we have a free afternoon.

Tips for trying couples' massage

1. Don’t force the issue. Make sure you only try couples’ massage with someone who’s open to it, and not uncomfortable in their own skin. (And definitely don’t spring it on them as a surprise gift!) Otherwise, your experience may be diluted by their fears and you’ll both waste your time—and the therapists’ time.
2. Make sure your partner knows all the details. Share all the specifics of the modality and the process ahead of time. Knowledge is power, particularly if someone has never tried massage before. Talk about disrobing, proper draping, and that it’s fine to communicate with the therapist about pressure preferences.
3. Give your partner some control over the situation. This goes a long way to alleviating nervousness. Don’t be heavy-handed in making all the decisions about modalities, session length, or other choices available for your session.
4. Accept that each of you will have your own experience. Aside from an initial quiet comment or two, don’t talk too much during the session. Let yourselves both mentally escape—separately, though you’re together. And tell your partner ahead of time that less talk (or no talk) is the best way to relax during a session.
5. Honor your partner’s experience. Don’t be judgmental before, during, or after the session. If you’re a connoisseur of massage therapy and your session didn’t quite measure up, but your partner thought it was amazing, don’t dent the experience by being negative.
6. Be open to trying new modalities yourself. Like vacationing together in a place where neither person has been, you can experience the healing benefits of massage therapy in a new way, together.

Leslie A. Young is the editor-in-chief of Massage & Bodywork magazine.