Category Archives: Modern Love, Sex & Relationships

Millennials Reject Marriage…Some Adults Want Polyamory…What’s Happening?

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October 21, 2014

As our society, culture and world become increasingly co-mingled and diverse, I think we’re witnessing a corresponding evolution in what men and women — straight, gay; younger and older — look for in a relationship that they want to enter and build with a partner. Part of this shift includes the variety of ways people are constructing their intimate partnerships. It’s important to understand and learn from — whether one “approves” or not; or rejects as “unacceptable,” based on one’s own point of view.

For example, baby boomers’ children are accustomed to varieties of relationships that their midlife parental generation opened the door to. Today, we see LGBT relationships; interracial relationships; permanent cohabitation rather than marriage, even after having children; open relationships; redefining what “family” is; even polyamory as well as a movement to decriminalize polygamy. The capacity to understanding and make sense of change is important in life, but it’s especially crucial today as the definition of love relationships as well as families steadily evolve.

One part of the societal shift towards more open diversity of relationships includes changing views among millennials of how they perceive the relevance of marriage. Continue reading

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Can Distancing Yourself From A Conflict Help A Relationship?

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September 30, 2014

By “leaving” a conflict you can gain the expanded perspective needed to solve it. That means stepping out of your limited ego, and some new research shows how that can help.

It’s easy to become rigidly fixed and sclerosed within a view of who you are (“This is just the way I am”) — unable to envision possibilities for expanding your personal capacities, your thinking or emotions — outside of that fixed view. Unfortunately, that disables you from enlarging your perspective, which can be essential for solving conflicts or problems that you feel stuck inside of, unable to change or alter. That’s especially true for solving relationship difficulties.

President Eisenhower once said that if you’re having difficulty understanding a problem and how to solve it, “enlarge” the problem. Certainly that applies to life beyond the battlefield. That is, “enlarging” how you envision the problem or situation you’re stuck within can free yourself from the limitations of the perspective that imprisons you to begin with.

How can you do that? Some new empirical research shows that, in effect, distancing yourself from a problem or conflict enhances your reasoning; it helps you find new solutions through a broadened perspective. And that provides greater wisdom to bring to bear on the conflict. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan, as reported in Psychological Science, examined “the ability to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and recognize the possible ways in which the scenario could unfold. The research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would.” Continue reading

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How Positive Relationships Help You Grow And Thrive

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September 16, 2014

It’s always good to see research that reveals how and why positive human connection in necessary for emotional and physical health, wellbeing, and growth — especially during adverse circumstances. A new study, reported in Personality and Social Psychology Review does that.

The researchers, Brooke Feeney of Carnegie Mellon University and Nancy Collins of University of California at Santa Barbara, looked at the ways in which relationships can promote or hinder “thriving” in life. That is, not just with what helps people “cope with stress or adversity, but also in their efforts to learn, grow, explore, achieve goals, cultivate new talents, and find purpose and meaning in life,” said Feeney.

The researchers focused on five aspects of thriving: : happiness and life satisfaction; having purpose and meaning in life and progressing toward meaningful life goals; psychological well-being (positive self-regard, absence of mental health symptoms/disorders); social well-being (deep and meaningful human connections, faith in others and humanity, positive interpersonal expectancies); and physical well-being (healthy weight and activity levels, health status above expected baselines).

They found that positive relationships fuel thriving in two ways: One is enabling the person to embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Here, the “support provider” serves as an active catalyst for thriving. This form of support emphasizes that the promotion of thriving through life opportunities is its core purpose.

The other function relates to situations of adversity. Here, positive support not only helps buffer individuals from negative effects of stress, but also by enabling them to flourish either because of or in spite of their circumstances. “Relationships serve an important function of not simply helping people return to baseline, but helping them to thrive by exceeding prior baseline levels of functioning,” Feeney said. “We…emphasize that the promotion of thriving through adversity is the core purpose of this support function.” Continue reading

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Does Your Sex Life Improve By Fighting With Your Partner?

Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 12.02.38 PMAugust 26, 2014

“Of course, we fight!” John said, “All couples do; that’s normal!” He looked at me incredulously, as Mary quickly added with a tight smile, “But then we have ‘make-up sex. And that makes things better.” Nevertheless, they sought therapy over their concern about the long-term impact of this “normal” pattern.

Perhaps you share John and Mary’s experience views. Many do. But the sex lives and relationships of couples today often descend over time into diminishing sexual excitement and passion; and increasing boredom and routine. Call it “marital sex,” in contrast to what couples often experience at the beginning of their relationship. In “marital sex” you’re bringing into the bedroom all the other parts of your relationship – the logistics, disagreements over finances or even over trivial things, like where to place the furniture or where to vacation. Or parenting challenges, which become a large part of any couples’ relationship. And aside from your relationship and family issues, each of you have your own, individual concerns – about your career, perhaps your own aging parents, or sibling relationship issues (“I don’t want us giving money to your dysfunctional sister!”)

Couples often assume that fighting and conflict are inevitable – “normal,” even, to be tolerated and managed, at best. They may not recognize that their diminished sexual and romantic life is interwoven with how and why they conflict as they do in their relationship overall. Then, they may focus on ways to re-energize their sex life, as though it’s disconnected from the rest of their relationship; and as though that will compensate for their relationship conflicts.

There’s a huge marketplace for that: Volumes of books and articles; websites like Your Tango, all of which offer ever-“new” techniques purporting to bring back passion and better orgasms. Of course, if they worked, there wouldn’t be an endless stream of them. This disconnect between what people want and what they do is visible, for example, in a recent survey of women who go to Ashley Madison in search of an affair. It found that most were looking for more sexual excitement, but they also wanted to keep their relationship with their partners.

Why Fighting Is Destructive

Most couples who seek help for their relationship conflicts want to stay together but often assume that they need to accept a slow downhill slide; inevitable conflict and fighting. And that if they can just learn how to manage it better, things will be fine; as “good as it gets,” perhaps. But they’re wrong. Emotional and physical damage accrues from how couples relate to each other while dealing with conflict and disagreement. And that has direct bearing on their emotional sexual intimacy.

Think of fighting as different from Continue reading

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Do Couples Who Share Housework Have Less Sex?

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 11.13.29 AMAugust 19, 2014

Well, now, this is interesting: A previous study found that couples who divide housework along traditional gender lines have more sex than those in which the man does traditional “female” work. But a different picture emerges from a new study that took a closer look at the evolution of marriage relationships. It found that division of labor in the home does not lead to a decrease of sexual frequency or satisfaction. In fact, the researchers found that the early study failed to accurately depict the current state of American relationships.

The previous study examined data from the late ’80s and early ’90s, but the new research used data from a 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey. It was conducted by Georgia State researchers Daniel Carlson, Amanda Miller, Sarah Hanson and Sharon Sassler. They revisited the idea of housework and couples’ intimacy in their new study, “The Gender Division of Housework and Couples’ Sexual Relationships: A Re-Examination.” Their results show an equal division of labor in the home does not lead to a decrease in sexual frequency and satisfaction. Egalitarian couples have similar and sometimes better sex lives than their conventional counterparts.

Although women still do most of the housework in most households, the research suggests that this is steadily evolving. Carlson believes this new research proves Americans have grown to favor flexibility not only professionally, but personally. “Attitudes are a big difference,” he said. “Couples today have role models to look at to make this work. In the ’80s, egalitarian couples were at the forefront of change. Today’s couples have those examples to look to. It makes it a lot easier, resulting in higher quality relationships. I think we’ve moved to a place where a very stark division of labor is not something people want nor is it something couples want. It is clear what the vast majority of people want,” he said. “It’s just that right now our social institutions are lagging behind our cultural values. Eventually, as people continue to argue and fight for policies that promote gender equality at home and at work, people will be able to achieve their desires.”

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At Midlife, Arguing Can Kill You!

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August 5, 2014

This is worth heeding, if you’re in midlife: Frequent arguing with partners, children, other relatives or neighbors may significantly increase the risk of middle-aged death from all causes, according to a new study. Reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Healththe study is described in Medical News Today

All of us have engaged in arguments with others in the past, whether it is with partners, relatives, friends or neighbors. Although these experiences are stressful, we do not necessarily think about the health risks they pose. But a new study suggests that frequent arguing may dramatically increase the risk of middle-aged death.

According to the research team, led by Dr. Rikke Lund of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, past research has indicated that good social relationships with others have positive effects on general health and well-being. But they say there are limited studies looking at how negative relationships impact health. With this in mind, the investigators set out to determine whether there was a link between stressful social relations with partners, children, other family members, friends and neighbors, and all-cause mortality. Continue reading

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Having Trouble Resolving A Conflict? Detach Yourself From It, Says New Research

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July 8, 2014

We can become rigidly fixed and sclerosed within a view of who we are (“This is just the way I am”) — unable to envision possibilities for our personal capacities, thinking, and emotions outside of that fixed view. That also disables us from an enlarged perspective, which is necessary to solve conflicts or problems that we feel stuck inside of; unable to change or alter. President Eisenhower reportedly said that if you’re having difficulty understanding a problem and how to solve it, “enlarge” the problem. And that applies to life beyond the battlefield — “enlarging” how you envision the problem or situation you’re stuck within can free yourself from the limitations of the perspective that imprisons you to begin with.

Some new empirical research demonstrates this. It shows that, in effect, distancing yourself from a problem or conflict enhances your reasoning, and helps you find new solutions through a broadened perspective. That provides greater wisdom to bring to bear on the conflict. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan, reported in Psychological Science, examined the ability to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and recognize the possible ways in which the scenario could unfold. The research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would.

“These results are the first to demonstrate a new type of bias within ourselves Continue reading

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Having a Life Purpose Increases Your Longevity

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In the “all things are connected” department, a large-scale longitudinal study has found that people who having a sense of purpose live longer. The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that those who had died over the course of the study had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors.

Summarized in a report from the Association for Psychological Science, the study also found that having a life purpose consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, whether for younger, middle-aged, or older participants.

According to the lead researcher, Patrick Hill, the findings indicate that creating “…a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose.” The study examined data from over 6000 people, including their self-reported level of purpose in life, across a 14-year follow-up period.

The study also found that a sense of purpose had similar benefits regardless of retirement status, a known mortality risk factor. And, that the longevity benefits of life purpose held up even after other indicators of well-being, such as positive relations and positive emotions, were taken into account. “These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity,” says Hill.

Can Your Create a Sense of Purpose?

I think he’s right, but it’s more likely that they are interwoven factors: A sense of purpose is likely inseparable from a positive spirit about living, which infuses both physical and emotional wellbeing over the long-run.

So how can you create a sense of purpose within today’s turbulent, often confusing world? Most people acknowledge there are “parts” of themselves – desires, imaginative capacities — that remain stifled or dormant. Family experiences and conditioning into your beliefs and values often result in a limited, constricted definition of who you are. For example, Continue reading

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In a Depressing Marriage? Here’s Why

 

Screen shot 2013-05-22 at 12.30.57 PMThis is an updated and extended version of my previous post on Progressive Impact. This current version was for The Huffington Post.
May 10, 2014

This is a no-brainer, but it’s always good to see research that confirms what seems obvious — or resonates with your personal experience. This study found that stress within your marriage can make you more vulnerable to depression.

That is, people who experience chronic stress within their marriages have diminished enjoyment of positive experiences, as well as a higher incidence of depressive symptoms. I think these findings are important for two reasons: First, they add to the accumulating research showing the interconnections of all “parts” of ourselves, and how our mind/body system is affected by our “outer” life experiences and situations.

The second reason is that the findings point to a crucial question: What happens in so many marriages today that depression, unhappiness and stress often arise? This is not only important to unravel, but increasingly timely: Another recent study finds that midlife depression is linked with higher incidence of dementia.

Based on the first study, researchers are looking at what might help people become more resilient to stress and strengthen their ability to enjoy positive experiences. These are good steps, but I think it’s important to uncover the sources of stress and depression in marriages today to begin with. And, how partners could learn to relate to each other in ways that increase positive connection and vitality over the long-term. Doing so in today’s stressful world is especially challenging. Continue reading

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Depressed and Married? Here’s Why

 

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This is a no-brainer, but it’s always good to see research that confirms what seems obvious — or your personal experience.

This study found that stress within your marriage can make you more vulnerable to depression. It found that people who experience chronic stress within their marriages have diminished enjoyment of positive experiences, as well as higher incidence of depressive symptoms.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and published in the journal Psychophysiology. In a summary by the University of Wisconsin News, Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the UW’s Waisman Center states that “This is not an obvious consequence, if you will, of marital stress, but it’s one I think is extraordinarily important because of the cascade of changes that may be associated. This is the signature of an emotional style that reveals vulnerability to depression.” He adds that the findings are important because “…they could help researchers understand what makes some people more vulnerable to mental and emotional health challenges.”

By understanding the mechanisms that make individuals more prone to depression and other emotional disturbances, Davidson is hoping to find tools — such as meditation — to stop it from happening in the first place. “How we can use simple interventions to actually change this response?” he asks. “What can we do to learn to cultivate a more resilient emotional style?”

As reported by the UW’s News, the researchers thought chronic marital stress could Continue reading

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We Need To Wake Up To ‘The Next America’

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 2.22.27 PMThe new report from the Pew Research Center describes significant shifts and ongoing evolution in American culture. This emerging face of “the next America” will have profound impact upon our lives, work and politics. I plan to write a longer piece about the implications of the Pew report as they relate to new challenges for personal relationships, careers and public policy. But among the basic findings are that America is becoming less white, more diverse and older.

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza has summarized the key findings and their implications, writing, ” The America of today bears little resemblance to the country of 50 years ago. It is older. It is less white. And those two demographic trends will only accelerate over the next 50 years.” Cillizza quotes Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center: “Each of these shifts would by itself be the defining demographic story of its era,” writes “The fact that both are unfolding simultaneously has generated big generation gaps that will put stress on our politics, families, pocketbooks, entitlement programs and social cohesion.”

For Cillizza’s full article, click here.

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The Passing of Peter Matthiessen

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 12.41.47 PMSo sad…the unexpected passing of Peter Matthiessen at 86. A great literary figure, non-fiction & fiction; Zen teacher, environmentalist, human rights advocate…

My personal contact with him was minor, really, and scattered over the years. But he’s always been a model for me – disciplined and focused; a gifted writer, keenly aware of the nuances of human character. Always generous with his time, I found him humble and wise; open and authentic…

The New York Times obituary appeared, ironically, on the same day a scheduled retrospective of his career and life was published in the Times Sunday Magazine. From the obit:

Peter Matthiessen, a roving author and naturalist whose impassioned nonfiction explored the remote endangered wilds of the world and whose prizewinning fiction often placed his mysterious protagonists in the heart of them, died on Saturday at his home in Sagaponack, N.Y. He was 86.

His son Alex said the cause was leukemia, which was diagnosed more than a year ago. Mr. Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday by Riverhead Books. Mr. Matthiessen was one of the last survivors of a generation of American writers who came of age after World War II and who all seemed to know one another, socializing in New York and on Long Island’s East End as a kind of movable literary salon peopled by the likes of William Styron, James Jones, Kurt Vonnegut and E. L. Doctorow.

In the early 1950s, he shared a sojourn in Paris with fellow literary expatriates and helped found The Paris Review, a magazine devoted largely to new fiction and poetry. His childhood friend George Plimpton became its editor.

A rugged, weather-beaten figure who was reared and educated in privilege — an advantage that left him uneasy, he said — Mr. Matthiessen was a man of many parts: littérateur, journalist, environmentalist, explorer, Zen Buddhist, professional fisherman and, in the early 1950s, undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency in Paris. Only years later did Mr. Plimpton discover, to his anger and dismay, that Mr. Matthiessen had helped found The Review as a cover for his spying on Americans in France.

For the rest of the obit, click here. For the Sunday Times Magazine article, “Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing,” click here.

 

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How To “Grow” Your Mental Health

Screen shot 2014-03-21 at 7.50.11 PMDespite our advances in understanding and treating emotional problems and the more serious mental disorders, we don’t know much about what mental health is, in contrast. I’ve been thinking about this issue for the last several years, and it was brought to mind again recently by the comments of two psychotherapy patients. As I reflected on them, in relation to some recent research findings from outside the mental health field, it struck me that we can identify some features of a psychologically healthy life in today’s tumultuous, stressed-out, digitalized world.

In fact, there’s a great deal of information that you can use and apply in your daily life to increase your mental health. But you’re more likely to find it from outside the mental health profession than within it.

To explain, consider this 40-year-old woman. Her career and family life feel to her like running on a permanent treadmill. She’s been depressed for years, and her long-standing use of anti-depressant drugs don’t make much of a dent. Moreover, they create many side effects. Nonetheless, she won’t consider how some research-based alternatives suggest ways she might help herself. She’s terrified that she’ll become more depressed if she tapers off her medications.

Then there’s the man with a successful career and seemingly stable marriage. He tells me that despite feeling “pretty normal,” now – he had several years of therapy in the past that helped him with some lifelong relationship issues – he experiences a kind of dullness in life. He works hard, is engaged with his wife and children, but feels little spark or excitement about his day-to-day existence, now or in the future.

Neither person knows what a fully healthy life would look like, or that they might be able to “grow” it. That’s understandable: Ironically, the mental health field doesn’t really deal with mental health. Continue reading

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Why Your Therapist Should Go “Back to the Future”

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 9.22.27 AMI recently spoke to psychology doctoral students about the innovative contributions of some pioneering psychoanalysts in New York and Washington and who collaborated during the 1930s -1950s. Several found commonalities in their work to expand traditional psychoanalytic understanding about emotional conflicts and their treatment. Some were European, having fled the Nazis; others, American. Among the most prominent were Erich FrommKaren Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan. Their ideas were often rejected—or attacked—by the psychoanalytic establishment back then.

After I spoke to the students about the contributions of those three, it struck me that both the emerging generation and current psychotherapists could help patients by reclaiming their legacy. And not just their creative mindset, but an overlooked, core part of their contributions.

That is, most therapists today recognize the significance of interpersonal and relationship issues that those three contributed: that our sense of self and much dysfunction is rooted in the web of relationships we experience from birth. That part isn’t overlooked. What many ignore is that Fromm, Horney and Sullivan also drew attention to social and cultural forces in our “outer” world, forces that shape—for better or worse—who we become: Our values, attitudes, personalities and level of emotional health or dysfunction. That dimension of their work became increasingly marginalized and disregarded over the decades, with few exceptions. That loss diminishes therapists’ capacity to discern the roots of patients’ conflicts and provide effective help.

Ironically, those early analysts’ insights about social conditioning are highly relevant to life conflicts in this second decade of the 21st Century—a time of great transition and turmoil affecting peoples’ relationships, career and life challenges. It would benefit psychotherapy patients if more therapists went “back to the future” in two ways:

First, Continue reading

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Caught Between “Longing” vs. “Settling” In Your Midlife Marriage?”

Screen shot 2013-12-24 at 11.50.23 AMOnce the world was new
Our bodies felt the morning dew
That greets the brand new day
We couldn’t tear ourselves away
I wonder if you care
I wonder if you still remember…

The Moody Blues, “Your Wildest Dream

Linda, a 53 year-old psychotherapy patient, was talking with me about a recent New York Times article about the rising numbers of midlife men and women who are divorcing. That, despite other data that the overall divorce rate has dropped somewhat, to around 40 percent. Linda was worried. She and her husband had been experiencing more conflict lately, especially since their two children had finished college and were off on their own. She said it felt like they were on different wavelengths about nearly everything – sex, money, lifestyle. “Sometimes I think we’re ‘on the brink’…” Linda said, not wanting to use the “D” word. “Maybe we’d both be happier going separate ways. Life is short…”

Linda is prone to anxiety, and has a lot on her plate with her career as a public relations executive. But given the rising numbers of midlife divorce, marital conflict is an understandable concern. (Disclosure: I’m a midlife baby boomer; been there, done that). There are several likely reasons for this trend, but I think there’s a particular dilemma that may remain under the radar. It’s that many midlife baby boomers are caught between feelings of longing for a relationship ideal that they think might be real but unfulfilled; and a pull towards settling for what they have, with all it’s imperfections and disappointments. This is a huge conflict. It’s worth understanding what it reflects, in order to deal with it in a healthy way; especially in the context of transformations occurring in people’s emotional and sexual relationships today.

Linda and her husband know of couples who had announced they were getting divorced, often to the surprise of many: “They seemed perfectly fine; no hint of trouble.” They knew of more than one couple in which one partner said, “I just felt the need to experience more of my own life, at this point.”

Linda wondered, were she and her husband mismatched to begin with and just didn’t realize it, back in their 20s? Had they grown in such different directions that they no longer wanted or cared about having a life together in their years ahead? Or had their work become their true “lover” rather than each other?”

Good questions for any long-term couple. But what is it that’s made baby boomers more prone – or receptive – to divorce? Continue reading

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“Husbands” and “Wives” Who Don’t Marry…And Want It That Way

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 6.17.14 PMAnother part of evolving views about intimate relationships, as well as the definition of family in our society, is this emerging trend: Couples who chose not to marry, but continue to use the terms “husband” and “wife.” Koa Beck’s recent article in Salon describes it. She cites Brian: “Having been with his ‘wife’ for five years, he does not intend to legally marry her any time soon. He views marriage not so much as ‘a path to happiness,’ but simply a legal contract that doesn’t innately legitimize a commitment, which he feels he doesn’t need.” Brian says, “I don’t think that it’s a good fit for me, and the usage of the term ‘wife’ lets other people know about the permanence of my relationship, despite our legal standing.”

Beck describes another person, Frances, who “uses ‘partner’ interchangeably with ‘husband’ when referring to her children’s father, but reverts to nuptial language when in the presence of those from a ‘certain generation’ due to lingering social expectations. Frances, the mother of three, says that “The main reason that we use these words is to avoid the judgment that people have for unmarried couples with kids.”

I think this trend reflects a broader movement towards more diverse attitudes, values and behavior about how people define their relationships and the forms they take. Our society and culture is becoming more diverse, and more accepting of that diversity. That includes people who choose to be less confined by conventions that have, in many cases, constrained healthy development in personal and family relationships. For the full article, click here.

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As Sexual Relationships Change, So Do Families

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 12.29.20 PMMy ongoing writing project aims to recast what we think describes and supports a psychologically healthy life in today’s world — one of interconnection, uncertainty and rapid change technologically, culturally and socially. In my view we need to reformulate and describe the emotional attitudes, mental perspectives, values and conduct that will support career success, internal well-being and also contribute to the common good, all within the context of our changed — and changing — world. Doing so includes combining new thinking and empirical research that joins Western and Eastern perspectives about human growth, development and “evolution,” psychologically and spiritually.

One major part of this transformation includes rethinking psychologically healthy relationships in general, but also within one’s sexual and romantic relationships. A recent New York Times special section, by Natalie Angier, focused on the changing notions of “family.” I think those articles portray the implications for families of an ongoing shift in how people conduct their intimate relationships. That is, how what people seek and want in their sexual and romantic lives is affecting family life; what “family” really means. This New York Times special section is right on target about that.

From the Times article: “Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.” And, “Researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years, the transformations often exceeding or capsizing those same experts’ predictions of just a few journal articles ago.” For the full series of articles, click here.

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Why Reading Serious Fiction Benefits Your Psychological Development

Screen shot 2013-11-26 at 12.37.38 PMThe recent death of Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing—one of the most significant writers of our time, in my view—brought to mind that serious fiction spurs your spiritual and psychological development, your essential soul. It’s a gateway to “evolving” yourself during your lifetime, rather than stagnating within the person you’ve become. The latter path—which so many people descend into to—was captured by Norman Mailer in The Deer Park: “It is a law of life that one must grow, or else pay more for remaining the same.”

Delving into serious fiction engages you in the core human issues that everyone grapples with, consciously or unconsciously. The prime one is the question of, “What’s the meaning of life; of my life?

And, there are related issues concerning moral judgment, the impact of social conventions, conflicting paths in life, and so on. When you’re awakened — or threatened — by portrayals of those in good literature, you’re often forced to confront your own life choices and dilemmas in new ways, with new perspectives. You’re likely to resonate with the George Eliot quote, “It is never too late to be what you might have become.”

Lessing’s vast body of work is especially relevant to stimulating your soul’s evolution. Or, in Western psychology’s language, your “true self.” She portrayed the intertwined political, personal, sexual, cultural and ideological forces in people’s lives from pre-World War II, through the sexual and social revolution of the ’60s, to the present era. Among her novels is an interconnected series under the umbrella title, Children of Violence. Thery chronicled a woman’s character and life development via her social, sexual and political awakening.

Her final volume of the series, Continue reading

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The Orientation of Millennials at Work Highlights a Social Transformation

Screen shot 2013-11-19 at 10.09.06 AMA recent article in the New York Times by Tom Agan, co-founder and managing partner of Rivia, highlights a significant transformation underway in our culture. Although it’s linked with the rise of the millennials, I think it’s part of a broader shift of mentality, values, outlook on life, and behavior — and will increasingly impact how people conduct their personal relationships, what they seek from their careers, and public policy. Agan’s essay describes how this shift is visible in the workplace; and why embracing it can enhance innovation and creativity, especially when joined with the experience of older workers.

Agan writes, “Social media permeate the personal, academic, political and professional lives of millennials, helping to foster the type of environment where innovation flourishes. So when compared with older generations, millennials learn quickly — and that’s the most important driver of innovation.”

And, “If corporate cultures don’t align with the transparency, free flow of information, and inclusiveness that millennials highly value — and that are also essential for learning and successful innovation — the competitiveness of many established businesses will suffer. Millennials are becoming more aware of their rising worth. Coupling their ability to learn quickly with their insistence on having a say, they pack a powerful punch.” For the complete article, click here.

An example of the innovative and creative energy of this generation is a report in Just Means that a group of Millennials have created an alternative website to HealthCare.gov: Three twenty-something programmers have created a functional website, HealthSherpa.com, that tells consumers what health insurance plans are available, based on their zip code, plan preference, and personal information. Users can find and compare plans and prices, and work with a subsidy calculator. The trio had each tried to get information from the marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act, but could not. So they built their own site, using data posted on HealthCare.gov and other information requested from state exchanges. Despite its limits (it can not sign up users), HealthSherpa.com has received 1.4 million views; the site’s “how to buy” buttons have been clicked over 150,000 times. It took the group just “a few days” to build out their minimal but useful site. The federal government should consider outsourcing to West Coast millennials instead of the “professionals” to get up a working HealthCare.gov.

 

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Why Men’s Self-Esteem Drops When Their Romantic Partners Succeed

Screen shot 2013-09-27 at 9.55.04 AMOne of the writer Gore Vidal’s famous bon mots was, Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.

Some recent research gives credence to that, at least where men in relationships are concerned. It found that men feel bad about themselves without realizing it when their romantic partner succeeds or excels at something. Even worse, if the man fails or performs less than his partner on the same task or goal, his self-esteem drops even lower. Yet women feel no worse about themselves in the reverse situation.

I was reflecting on this and a couple of other seemingly unrelated research studies, that strike me as illuminating hidden themes. One theme is that higher status and material success are associated with attitudes of entitlement and narcissism, but with a positive caveat. The other theme is that couples who drift into power struggles secretly long for mutuality and collaboration.

Taken together, I think these findings indirectly reveal a significant upheaval and transformation underway, regarding what men have traditionally learned to define as “manhood” and “success” in our culture. In effect, their implications constitute a harbinger to us males — an unraveling of the traditional definition of “maleness,” or the values and behavior that have defined being a successful male at work, in intimate relationships and in society.

That is, I think we’re experiencing Continue reading

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A Good Love Relationship Is Associated With Good Parenting

Screen shot 2013-09-21 at 11.08.26 AMThis new research, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, found that a positive, mutually supportive and sensitive love relationship was associated with positive, supportive and nurturing behavior towards one’s children. This is one of those “demonstrating the obvious” studies that I “love” from academic researchers, who always sound amazed at their “discoveries.” But it’s good for convincing people who are skeptical about believing their own experience and what they see around them.

I think the upshot of this “new” finding is that everything is connected in our lives — how we think, feel, relate, behave — are all part of an interconnected whole. The problem is that our life experiences often generate fragmentation, isolation, retreat into ego attachments which disconnect us from ourselves, within; and from others.

But to get to the research: The lead author, Abigail Millings of the University of Bristol, commented in a summary published in Science Daily, that the study sought to examine how caregiving plays out in families — “…how one relationship affects another relationship. We wanted to see how romantic relationships between parents might be associated with what kind of parents they are. Our work is the first to look at romantic caregiving and parenting styles at the same time.” Previous studies had looked at similar caregiving processes within romantic relationships or between parents and children, but rarely for both groups.

The research found – no surprise – that “a common skill set underpins caregiving across different types of relationships, and for both mothers and fathers. If you can do responsive caregiving, it seems that you can do it across different relationships.”

Millings added, “It might be the case that practicing being sensitive and responsive — for example, by really listening and by really thinking about the other person’s perspective — to our partners will also help us to improve these skills with our kids.”

Well, yes…

The full summary of the research in Science Daily: Continue reading

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An ‘Inside-Out’ Life Helps You Redefine Success

Screen shot 2013-09-17 at 9.18.35 AMIn a recent post I explained that you can’t balance work and life because both are part of your outer life, while “balance” comes from guidance by a strong inner life. Since then, many have asked me to describe more about the inner life — where your true self lies — and explain why that’s the core of redefining success –away from fixation with money, power and position, and towards more balanced, healthy and integrated lives.

In the present post I explain more about the inner life and why it’s so crucial for success and well-being in our society during these times of rapid change and turmoil. Previously, I’ve emphasized the parallel need for supportive, positive leadership within companies; and that we can already see examples of workplace and career trends that are redefining success for our “post-careerist” culture. All these shifts — underway and needed — reflect the rising awareness of the inner self and the need to respond to it.

Moreover, these shifts of consciousness, which propel what I’ve called the “4.0” career orientation, are visible among men and women across the generational spectrum: older baby boomers seeking “encore” careers of more meaning and service, and Millennials, who embrace transparency, collaboration and constant change in their careers. All seek career success within the economic climate and historical moment they live within but also feel the pull towards fulfilling something missing from the soul, the psyche, from relationships and life, itself — missing when only outer life criteria are the measures of success. Continue reading

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J. D. Salinger — New “Revelations” Miss the Vision Within His Glass Family Stories

Screen shot 2013-09-10 at 11.59.18 AMThe new book and documentary about J. D. Salinger by Shane Salerno and David Shields promote themselves as revealing substantial new information about Salinger’s writings and his famous reclusiveness. I think the most intriguing information from it is confirmation that several new works from Salinger will be published in the next few years. However, I think this new project misses the point about his writings and their meaning, as have previous critics over the years — including Mailer, Updike and others. They seem fixed on interpreting his work and life as indicating withdrawal and detachment from the world. However, quite the opposite is reflected in reading his Glass family stories. Contained within them is a vision of engaged connection and love — that’s his overriding theme, within an acknowledgement of our human flaws and failings (including his own.) No wonder Salinger disengaged from responding and replying to those who tried to interpret him within a Hemingway-esqe framework.

Now, in a very thoughtful and insightful piece about Salinger’s vision contained within his Glass stories, beyond the Catcher In The Rye, Andrew Romano presents a more accurate understanding of Salinger’s work. He writes in The Daily Beast, “Neither Mailer nor any of his fellow travelers seemed to notice that Salinger was trying to accomplish something different than what he was after when the Glass series began in the late 1940s.” And, “By the time Franny and Zooey came out in 1961, followed by Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction in 1963, Salinger’s style had changed. Gone was the idiomatic cool, the chic minimalism, and the formal shapeliness of “Bananafish”; in its place was something shaggier, more digressive, more self-conscious, and more explicitly spiritual.”

Romano’s essay is well-worth reading and reflecting upon. Click here for the entire piece.

 

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Do Couples Prefer Conflict Over Shared Power and Emotional Exposure?

Screen shot 2013-08-27 at 10.20.29 AMWant a fast track to divorce? Paul and Kim can show you the way. Like many couples, they jockey around for power, control and “winning” arguments when there’s conflict. And their intimacy fades, as a result. Even when one of them apologizes for their role in the conflict, nothing changes. Neither of them realizes that they hold the key to turning things around before it’s too late. New research and observations from therapy show how that’s possible.

A typical situation of theirs: Married about 15 years, they’re on a long road trip to a vacation at the beach with their kids. They’re already locked in combat, having arguing over how much time to spend on a stopover visit to one set of in-laws. They fought until one of them just gave in and acquiesced to the other one’s wishes. That’s how they tend to “resolve” conflict. As they drove along the crowded highways they hunkered down into a mixture of sullenness and half-hearted efforts to change the subject. But the residue of their fight hung in the air, like dark clouds threatening rain at any moment.

Both know that “winning” doesn’t improve their relationship, but their conflicts often end with one “giving in” to the other, but then remaining angry and resentful. The “winner” feels smug with power, but also realizes that’s not a path towards a lasting, positive relationship. Both tend to turn inward and shut down regarding their feelings. Doing so has diminished their intimacy. They know they’re adding another brick in the wall, and that they could be headed down a path to a chronic, adversarial relationship or eventual divorce.

Periodically, new research and clinical insights pinpoint what it takes to reverse course and turn towards deepening your intimacy and connection. The latest is a large-scale study from Baylor University. It found that couples really long for Continue reading

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Couples In Conflict Want Shared Power And Intimacy, Not Adversarial Strategies For “Winning”

Screen shot 2013-08-09 at 10.28.45 AMHere’s an interesting study that confirms what I find clinically true for couples, whether they’re in conflict or seeking to sustain positive energy and connection for the long-term. The research confirmed that couples seek what I call “mutuality” and “transparency” in their relationships. The researchers described those desires as seeking “shared control” and more investment in “sharing intimate thoughts, feelings and listening.” The research was published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology and summarized in Medical News Today. I have found that mutuality — shared power in decision-making; transparency — two-way openness, showing and receiving each other’s intimate feelings, hopes, and fears; and “good vibrations” — an engaged physical/sexual connection — form the basis of sustaining positive connection in an intimate relationship; the source of feeling that you’re growing together, emotionally and spiritually. I’ve written about these in previous posts, here. This new research study focuses on two of those: mutuality and transparency, and provides empirical evidence for them.

From the report: Continue reading

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Why “Learning” Compassion Leads to Greater Altruism

Screen shot 2013-06-08 at 10.12.13 AMIt’s good to see research that demonstrates our capacity to awaken and evolve our consciousness and become more fully “human” – in our mental perspectives, our emotions and our behavior towards others. Two recent strands of such research illustrate this. One is the increasing, legitimate research on the beneficial powers of psychedelic drugs, especially psilocybin and MDMA (ecstasy), being conducted after a long stretch of unwarranted legal prohibition. The other strand provides accumulating knowledge of how we are able to alter our brain, our attitudes and conduct through conscious effort and practice. And, that meditation is powerful vehicle for this.

For example, new research demonstrates that you can “learn” compassion through specific meditative practices fairly quickly; and, intriguingly, that teaching yourself to become more compassionate directly translates to altruistic behavior. This latest study was summarized in a University of Wisconsin press release. Conducted at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, founded by Richard Davidson, the leading researcher in this field, it investigated whether you can train adults to become more compassionate; and whether that results in greater altruistic behavior and changes in related brain activity. Well, you can, and it does. Continue reading

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Train Your Brain To Become More Compassionate

Screen shot 2013-06-01 at 4.36.21 PMThis isn’t new, but it’s good to see accumulating research demonstrate that we are able to alter our consciousness, attitudes and behavior in positive directions. This research, published in the journal Psychological Science, and conducted at the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, examined whether training adults in compassion can result in greater altruistic behavior and related changes in neural systems underlying compassion. It found that it does.

“Our fundamental question was, ‘Can compassion be trained and learned in adults? Can we become more caring if we practice that mindset?'” says Helen Weng, lead author of the study. “Our evidence points to yes.” In the study, the investigators trained young adults to engage in compassion meditation, a Buddhist practice to increase caring feelings for people who are suffering. In the meditation, participants envisioned a time when someone has suffered and then practiced wishing that his or her suffering was relieved. They repeated phrases to help them focus on compassion such as, “May you be free from suffering. May you have joy and ease.”

Participants practiced with different categories of people. They began with a loved one, someone whom they easily felt compassion for, like a friend or family member. Then, they practiced compassion for themselves and, then, a stranger. Finally, they practiced compassion for someone they actively had conflict with called the “difficult person,” such as a troublesome coworker or roommate. “It’s kind of like weight training,” Weng says. “Using this systematic approach, we found that people can actually build up their compassion ‘muscle’ and respond to others’ suffering with care and a desire to help.”

I’ve found this to be true, clinically, with psychotherapy patients, and also with others to whom I’ve recommended some exercises that help expand and enhance their experience of empathy and compassion. That is, Continue reading

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Is It Good To Sacrifice In A Relationship?

Screen shot 2013-05-22 at 12.30.57 PMAn interesting new study indicates that it may not always be good or useful to make sacrifices or be giving to your partner in a relationship. It may depend on the level of stress you experienced during the day. The study, from the University of Arizona, suggests that while making sacrifices in a romantic relationship is generally a positive thing, doing so on days when you are feeling especially stressed may not be beneficial. Researchers found that individuals who made sacrifices for their significant others generally reported feeling more committed to their partners when they performed those nice behaviors. But when they made sacrifices on days when they had experienced a lot of hassles, they did not feel more committed.

The study found that the daily hassles reported by an individual affected feelings of closeness and satisfaction for both partners, regardless of which one experienced those hassles. The study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships is summarized in the following report by Science Daily: Continue reading

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The Link Between Depression And Your Love Relationship

Screen shot 2013-05-09 at 2.38.38 PMAn interesting new study of 5000 adults conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan finds that there’s an important link between what goes on in your relationship with your intimate partner and the likelihood of depression over the years. That is, the poorer the quality of the relationship, the more likely the person was to become depressed over time, Researchers found that people with the lowest quality relationships had more than twice the risk of depression than people with the best relationships. The quality of a person’s relationships overall was also linked with future depression potential, but the relationship with one’s spouse was most significant.

From the research, published in PLOS ONE, and reported by Science News: The study assessed the quality of social relationships on depression over a 10-year period, and is one of the first to examine the issue in a large, broad population over such a long time period. Nearly 16 percent of Americans experience major depression disorder at some point in their lives, and the condition can increase the risk for and worsen conditions like coronary artery disease, stroke and cancer. Continue reading

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6 Keys to Well-Being and Growth Relevant to Life in Today’s Unpredictable World

Screen shot 2013-04-23 at 11.10.31 AMJim, who’s in his early 40s, consulted me about a troubling dilemma. He told me that he’s worked on himself for years, both with and without the help of therapists, and that he’s “tamed many demons” from the traumas and family dysfunctions he experienced growing up. He’s now living a stable and reasonably successful life. Yet he finds himself asking “Now what?” and “Is this it?” He explained that he’s learned to manage and cope pretty well with the residue of conflicts that had, in the past, derailed successful relationships as well as his career. Nevertheless, he feels trapped by the past actions that continue to have a shelf life. And, especially, he wants to experience a more fulfilling, expansive existence, beyond the “flat-lined comfortableness” that Cheryl, a 38-year-old small-business owner, described about her own life.

They and others reflect the impact of living in today’s world, especially since the new century began. Our lives now exist within a new normal of uncertainty and turmoil, of unpredictable events and rapid social change, as well as ever-evolving technology that infiltrates every aspect of daily life. This new environment raises an important question: What describes a fulfilling, positive and psychologically healthy life today? Moreover, what can you do to create it?

That’s where our traditional thinking and prescriptions fall short. Continue reading

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Daily Stress Affects Long-Term Mental Health

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMOnce again, we find more evidence that daily stress has a long-term negative impact on mental health. Any research that highlights this fact is helpful, but it also draws attention to the role our social conditioning plays in generating the stress that debilitates mental health. And that’s not addressed as much as it should be. I’m referring to the ways we learn to behave in our public and private roles – in relationships, in our careers — that define “success,” and what you learn to do to achieve it, in ways that steadily create emotional conflicts. Without addressing those issues, which include over-emphasis on manipulation, self-centeredness, domination-submission struggles, to name a few — it’s difficult to describe what can support the “emotional balance,” the researchers cite as crucial for avoiding long-term emotional problems.

The latest research about this, published in the journal Psychological Science, was conducted by Susan Charles, UC Irvine professor of psychology and social behaviour, and her colleagues. Here’s what they reported:

Our emotional responses to the stresses of daily life may predict our long-term mental health. The research suggests that maintaining emotional balance is crucial to avoiding severe mental health problems down the road. The study examined this question: Do everyday irritations add up to make the straw that breaks the camel’s back, or do they make us stronger and “inoculate” us against later tribulations? Using data from two national, longitudinal surveys, the researchers found that participants’ negative emotional responses to daily stressors – such as arguments with a spouse or partner, conflicts at work, standing in long lines or sitting in traffic – predicted psychological distress and self-reported anxiety/mood disorders 10 years later. Continue reading

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If Everyone Is Disturbed, Then Who’s Healthy?

Screen shot 2013-04-01 at 8.51.31 AMFollowing a recent talk to a group of business people, a man cornered me and said, “I work hard, I’m pretty successful, I have stable, second marriage and kids who are doing well…and yet I often feel unsatisfied with my life and don’t know why. Am I disturbed?”

His question reminded me of an ongoing controversy over the forthcoming revision of the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5. Many are criticizing it for turning normal variations of human emotions and behavior into mental disorders. That’s likely to generate more diagnoses for depression or ADD, for example. Its most prominent critic is Allen Frances, the psychiatrist who chaired the committee that drafted the previous edition. Among his and others’ criticisms is that the revisions will lead to more drugs to “treat” ever-expanding definitions of mental disorder.

This drift towards defining mental disorder upwards is troubling. But I think it masks another important, but largely ignored, problem on the flip side: There’s no good definition of what psychological health looks like in today’s world, in contrast to disturbance.
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How Fears Shape Your Political Views…And Much More

Screen shot 2013-02-15 at 12.17.30 PMMobilizing your fear of an opposing political party’s agenda and policies has become pretty commonplace in political campaigns, today. Now, some new research sheds light on a previously unrecognized link between fear, its source, and just how it shapes one’s political position on polarizing issues. However, I think these findings also point to a much broader but overlooked role that fear plays in many facets of people’s lives. That includes career dilemmas, conflicts around personal values, and problems in intimate relationships. Fears can be subtly conditioned by society’s norms and family pressures. They remain largely unconscious, and can fuel a range of emotional conflicts and dilemmas about life-shaping decisions.

To explain, let’s look at the research. Conducted by a team from Brown University, Penn State, and Virginia Commonwealth University, and published in the American Journal of Political Science, it found that some people appear to have greater inborn tendencies toward social fears. That is, they tend to experience fear at lower levels of threat or danger than others. In effect, they’re wired that way.

The researchers found that such individuals tend to have more negative attitudes toward “outside” groups, such as immigrants and racial-ethnic groups. When the researchers looked at the self-reported political attitudes of the research participants — on a liberal-conservative scale — they found a correlation between negative attitudes toward those groups and conservative political views.

However, as the researchers pointed out, Continue reading

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The Harmful Effects Of Loneliness Are Rooted In Our Culture

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A recent psychotherapy patient, Ms. A., tells me that she’s felt lonely throughout her life. Her intimate relationships have been brief; her friends, few. In recent years she’s been suffering from one physical ailment after another. Another patient, Mr. B, has an active social life with friends and business associates, a long-term marriage and an extended family. Despite this socially full life, he complains of feeling lonely “right in the midst of everyone around me.” He, too, suffers from frequent illness.

Some new research finds that loneliness can harm your immune system and set the stage for a range of illness. Of course, our mind/body/spirit is all one. Each “part” affects each other “part,” so that’s no surprise. But there’s a lot more to the story. People like Ms. A and Mr. B appear different, yet are alike in other ways. That is, some people’s loneliness reflects an absence of positive relationships. That, in turn, may be rooted in long-term emotional issues that interfere with forming and maintaining relationships. Yet others have a full social life but feel lonely anyway. These apparently different situations raise a question: What promotes or creates the conditions for loneliness in today’s society? And, what would help alleviate the painful isolation and disconnection that some feel, regardless of the extent of their social connections? Continue reading

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Loneliness Can Harm Your Overall Health

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A new study finds that loneliness has a negative impact on your immune system, and makes you more susceptible to illness. This should be no surprise: Everything is connected; we are one mind-body-spirit interwoven system, interconnected with the social and other “external” forces that shape our experience of life. The research, conducted at Ohio State University, was summarized in Science Daily as follows:

New research links loneliness to a number of dysfunctional immune responses, suggesting that being lonely has the potential to harm overall health. Researchers found that people who were more lonely showed signs of elevated latent herpes virus reactivation and produced more inflammation-related proteins in response to acute stress than did people who felt more socially connected.

These proteins signal the presence of inflammation, and chronic inflammation is linked to numerous conditions, including coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease, as well as the frailty and functional decline that can accompany aging. Reactivation of a latent herpes virus is known to be associated with stress, suggesting that loneliness functions as a chronic stressor that triggers a poorly controlled immune response. Continue reading

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The Fallen Generals…And Our Own Private Truths

Reading about General Petraeus’ affair with Paula Broadwell and General Allen’s voluminous correspondence with Jill Kelley – and their ignominious fall from grace – brings to mind the Egyptian myth, Osiris. He was killed and dismembered, and each of the 14 pieces of his body was buried in a different place. His wife Isis found all the parts and put them back together. Then Osiris came back to life, and they conceived a child together.

Later, I’ll explain what this myth can teach us about this latest “sex and power” scandal, which signifies more than just different views about affairs and adultery among high-profile people. One the one hand, some contend that adultery among military personnel is a personal matter, as foreign policy and military analyst Thomas Ricks said in a recent interview. In fact, Ricks argues in The Gamble that the significant issue for the military is the failure and decline of leadership. But others are morally offended by what they see as personal character flaws behind the sex scandal, and that such behavior indicates poor judgment on the part of leaders, as well.

But step back: I think this scandal is just a more extreme, titillating version of deceptions and lies that many people maintain in their public behavior, at the expense of private truths. For some, the chasm between public lies and private truths is driven by Continue reading

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Can True Solitude Be Found In A Wired World?

This article, by AP writer Martha Irvine, highlights an issue worth deeper exploration: the simultaneous upside and downside of being always wired. Especially its impact on both well-being and a sense of interconnection, of community. The latter is visible during Hurricane Sandy’s impact on our lives.

She writes:

When was the last time you were alone, and unwired? Really, truly by yourself. Just you and your thoughts — no cellphone, no tablet, no laptop. Many of us crave that kind of solitude, though in an increasingly wired world, it’s a rare commodity. We check texts and emails, and update our online status, at any hour — when we’re lying in bed or sitting at stop lights or on trains. Sometimes, we even do so when we’re on the toilet.

We feel obligated, yes. But we’re also fascinated with this connectedness, constantly tinkering and checking in — an obsession that’s starting to get pushback from a small but growing legion of tech users who are feeling the need to unplug and get away.

“What might have felt like an obligation at first has become an addiction. It’s almost as if we don’t know how to be alone, or we are afraid of what we’ll find when we are alone with ourselves,” says Camille Preston, a tech and communication consultant based in Cambridge, Mass.

“It’s easier to keep doing, than it is to be in stillness.”

One could argue that, in this economy, Continue reading

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Have Doubts About Marrying? You Should Heed Them!

Here I expand on a previous post that described some interesting research findings:
 

Would it surprise you to learn that according to new research, men and women who harbored doubts about marrying their partners have a higher rate of divorce after four years of marriage? It sounds like one of those no-brainer discoveries. But it reminded me of what one of my graduate school professors said some decades ago, that it can be useful to “demonstrate the obvious.”

Here’s why, in this case: The research underscores how often people know an inner truth, but don’t act on it. They might hold back because of various fears, such as fear of affirming themselves. Or, from pressure to acquiesce to what their families or conventional thinking tells them their “right” decision should be.

I’ve seen several examples, such as a corporate executive I’ve been helping to better integrate his leadership role and his personal life goals. While reflecting on the latter, he said, “I remember, as I was walking down the isle – literally – to marry her, I said to myself, ‘I shouldn’t be doing this. I’m making a huge mistake.’”

Let’s look at what the new research found, and what it tells people that’s important to heed – for those at the entry point of marriage, and for those much further down that road. Continue reading

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Doubts About Marrying? You Should Heed Them!

One of my grad school professors decades ago said that there can be value in research that demonstrates the obvious. Here’s a good example: A UCLA study of 464 couples found that those who harbored doubts about marrying their spouses had a much higher divorce rate after 4 years, than those who didn’t. The study, reported in the Journal of Family Psychology, found that 47 percent of husbands and 38 percent of wives said they had doubts about marrying their partners. But after marriage, women divorced more: That is, 19 percent of women who had pre-wedding doubts were divorced four years later, compared with 8 percent of those who did not report having doubt; while 14 percent of husbands who reported premarital doubts were divorced four years later, compared with 9 percent who did not report having doubts. Old but true idea: Listen to your inner voice!

Here’s a summary of the study and its findings, from Science Daily:

In the first scientific study to test whether doubts about getting married are more likely to lead to an unhappy marriage and divorce, UCLA psychologists report that when women have doubts before their wedding, their misgivings are often a warning sign of trouble if they go ahead with the marriage. The UCLA study demonstrates that pre-wedding uncertainty, especially among women, predicts higher divorce rates and less marital satisfaction years later. Continue reading

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Leave Your Lover To Re-energize Your Relationship

Paul Simon’s song, “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” may come to mind here, but I’m referring to a different kind of “leaving:” departing from how couples typically relate to each other in day-to-day life — struggling over power and control while also longing for greater mutuality and equality.

Power struggles and lack of equality are visible in what couples actually do with each other in their interactions, their decisions; in how they behave towards each other around differences of needs, desires, and personalities. In my recent post about “radical transparency I explained that two-way exposure of your inner life generates emotional and sexual vitality. Not your personal fantasies or crazy thoughts, which we all have from time to time, but rather, your intimate feelings, fears, hopes, and vulnerabilities. Another source is building “whole person sex,” which I’ll discuss in a future post.

 But here, I explain why learning to relate more as equals, as collaborative partners, is also crucial. It’s similar to what many people have had to learn in today’s rapidly changing workplace, by necessity. “Leaving” your lover in the ways I describe builds greater equality because it’s more than just learning new communication skills or new sexual techniques. They won’t create mutuality or equality by themselves. What it does is shifting away from how you’ve learned to envision a relationship to begin with. And then, shifting to serve the relationship itself; not just whatever serves your own desires.
To explain, power-struggles are features of Continue reading
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Why A Transparent Relationship Is The Key To Emotional And Sexual Intimacy

A couple drives to a dinner party in stony silence. Each is harboring feelings about a disagreement over a financial matter from earlier that afternoon. Both had shut down after a few minutes of talking about it. Neither one revealed their deeper concerns, which were the true source of the disagreement. So now, they continued driving in silence, hoping the residue wouldn’t weigh on them throughout the evening as they tried to stay engaged with their friends. But the unspoken thoughts and feelings added another brick in the wall between them.

Like many, this couple often concealing parts of themselves from each other, especially around deeper, more intimate feelings and thoughts. Practicing what I call Radical Transparency could have helped them stay connected while getting to the root of the conflict. This post explains why a transparent relationship is essential for sustaining intimacy in a romantic relationship.

Consider this irony: Transparency is burgeoning all around us, but relationships seem to be stuck in a last-century time warp, untouched by the changing world and the public exposure of most everything that used to be easy to hide. That is, our hyperconnected, social-media dominated world bursts with transparency via public exposure of truths and realities that appear almost immediately via YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, blogs and a host of other vehicles. The lies of politiciansatrocities by despots who try to deny their actions, ethical transgressions by corporations and their executives all become quickly exposed to the world.

The Problem

Relationships are hard. Couples grapple with Continue reading

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Macho Men Have Worse Romantic Relationships — Here’s Why

I’ve seen this repeatedly over the years working with men & women in their careers and personal lives: The research finds that men who are not so traditional in their masculinity have better quality relationships with their female partner. It’s summarized in Science News, from the journal Sex Roles:

Macho men whose partners earn more than they do have worse romantic relationships, in part because the difference in income is a strain for them, according to a new study by Patrick Coughlin and Jay Wade from Fordham University in the US. Conversely, men who are not so traditional in their masculinity do not place as much importance on the difference in income and, as a result, appear to have better quality relationships with their female partner.

The work is published online in Springer’s journal Sex Roles. The breadwinner role for men is still the accepted norm in marriage, and allows for and supports the husband’s power and authority in the family. It is therefore reasonable for a man who earns less than his female partner to feel removed from this traditional gender role, and feel a void because he does not fulfil this role. However, the reality is that marriages in which both the husband and wife work are becoming the rule rather than the exception. It is increasingly possible for both partners to either earn equal amounts, or for the female to earn more than the male.

Coughlin and Wade were interested in the effects of this growing trend on the experience of marriage and the quality of romantic relationships in particular. Is the extent of men’s masculinity ideology, in other words, emotional control, success, dominance, violence, power, and anti-femininity and homophobia, an influential factor on relationship quality?

A total of 47 men, who were involved in a romantic relationship, and had a female partner who had a higher income, took part in the study. Through an online survey, the researchers assessed their beliefs about masculinity, the quality of their relationships, and the importance of the disparity in income between them and their female partners.

They found, on the one hand, that the stronger a man’s endorsement of traditional masculinity ideology, the more likely he was to report a low-quality romantic relationship, and the more he perceived the difference in incomes as important. On the other hand, the more a man endorsed non-traditional masculinity ideology, the more likely he was to have a high-quality relationship with his female partner and not place too much importance on the income disparity.

The authors conclude: “Our results demonstrate the importance of masculinity ideology in understanding how and why men with higher-earning partners will have low or high quality romantic relationships. The findings are relevant to men who are married as well as non-married men in a romantic relationship.”

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Why Some Affairs Are Psychologically Healthy

Some time ago I described six different kinds of affairs people have, today, and mentioned that an affair could be psychologically healthy. Many readers have asked me to explain that more fully, so I’m doing that here.

Previously, I described the psychology of six kinds of affairs: the It’s Only Lust affair, the “I’ll-Show-You” Affair, the “Just-In-The-Head” Affair, the “All-In-The-Family” Affair,the “It’s-Not-Really-An-Affair” Affair, and the “Mind-Body”Affair.

I described their psychological motives and consequences, neither advocating nor condemning them. However, affairs usually reflect something about a person’s existing relationship that’s not being faced. Easy to do in today’s culture, where surveys indicate adultery is no longer the major reason for divorce, and it’s increasingly accepted, even advertised. Nevertheless, affairs can be psychologically healthy for some people. Here are four kinds:

A Marriage In The Dead Zone

Some suffer in a dead relationship, beyond repair. Research shows that an unhappy marriage, marked by daily conflict, damages your physical and emotional health. Yet, some settle into just accepting it, becoming numb and depressed without hope for change. Here, an affair can be a healthy act. It may reflect an unconscious or semi-conscious awareness of a desire to become more alive, to grow. That is, an affair can provide feelings of affirmation and restore vitality and can activate courage to leave the marriage, when doing so is the healthiest path. The affair can generate greater emotional honesty and mature behavior. Continue reading

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Music And Life…

Some interesting reflections on how music can impact your life, from Mark Edmundson, Professor of English at the University of Virginia, and author of Why Read? This essay, “Can Music Save Your Life?,” was published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. He writes:

Who hasn’t at least once had the feeling of being remade through music? Who is there who doesn’t date a new phase in life to hearing this or that symphony or song? I heard it – we say – and everything changed. I heard it, and a gate flew open and I walked through. But does music constantly provide revelation or does it have some other effects, maybe less desirable?

For those of us who teach, the question is especially pressing. Our students tend to spend hours a day plugged into their tunes. Yet, at least in my experience, they are reluctant to talk about music. They’ll talk about sex, they’ll talk about drugs but rock ‘n’ roll, or whatever else they may be listening to, is off-limits. What’s going on there?

When I first heard Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” in 1965, not long after it came out, I was amazed. At the time, I liked to listen to pop on the radio, the Beatles were fine, the Stones were better. But nothing I’d heard until then prepared me for Dylan’s song. It had all the fluent joy of a pop number, but something else was going on too. This song was about lyrics: language. Dylan wasn’t chanting some truism about being in love or wanting to get free or wasted for the weekend. He had something to say. He was exasperated. He was pissed off. He’d clearly been betrayed by somebody, or a whole nest of somebodies, and he was letting them have it. His words were exuberantly weird and sometimes almost embarrassingly inventive and I didn’t know what they all meant. “You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat / Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat.” Chrome horse? Diplomat? What?

I sensed Dylan’s disdain and his fury, but the song suggested way more than it declared. This was a sidewinder of a song, intense and angry, but indirect and riddling too. I tried to hear every line. Dylan’s voice seemed garbled, and our phonograph wasn’t new. I can still see myself with my head cocked to the spindle, eyes clenched, trying to shut out the room around me as I strained to grab the words from the harsh melodious wind of the song. “Ain’t it hard when you discovered that / He really wasn’t where it’s at / After he took from you everything he could steal.”

Click here to read the full piece.

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Can You “Grow Up” At Midlife? Here’s Five Ways

Not long ago conventional thinking about midlife held that it’s a time for holding on as best you can in the face of steady decline and loss. But if you’re a baby boomer, you know that’s shifted as fellow boomers show more attention to health and want continued vitality — even new growth – emotionally, sexually and creatively.

Nevertheless, many remain fearful of “going forth” or finding their “true self,” partly because they know that illness, tragedy, unpredictable events and death can and do occur. I’ve written about these themes in some of my previous posts. For example, about depression during midlife. But overall, I find that learning to embrace both the “positive” and “negative” experiences of midlife is the path to growing up into full adulthood. That’s especially relevant to the “Post 50″ years. So — here are five suggested steps:

Elevate and Expand Yourself

Build the core emotional and mental strengths of empathy and compassion. Much research shows that this realm of your inner life is the foundation for well-being as well as for positive engagement and harmony, with people and events. Meditation helps “grow” those capacities. Research also shows that meditation leads to greater creative thinking. Another part of this step is “elevating” your perspectives about people and life situations. A broadened, more tolerant vista is especially crucial at midlife because seeing things from a “1,000 foot view” is the foundation for wisdom.

Embrace Death And impermanence

True, our culture avoids acknowledging death and change. But embracing them can lead to more intense connection with what really matters to you — what to go after, while there’s still time; and what to let pass by. Research conducted by the University of Missouri and the University of Leipsig confirms this, finding that awareness of death spurs re-thinking about your goals and values. It can also lead to greater physical health, through increasing your focus on healthy practices.

I wrote about change and impermanence in a previous post, and now, during midlife, Continue reading

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Life’s Turning Points: The Mystery of the Self Within Your Self

While driving in my car the other day I heard an old song that instantly transported me to a vivid scene in my life. Im a not-yet teenager, sitting in the kitchen and having an after-school snack. I reach for the radio to tune in a Yankees baseball game, as I usually did (back then, games still played in the daytime). But for the first time, I hesitated. Instead, I turned the dial to a rock and roll station.

I recall feeling at that moment that something had just shifted in my sense of who I was; who I was becoming. I believe it was more than just the rumblings of impendingadolescence, or thinking about that new girl in class. It was a new awareness about who this self was, inside me; that I was no longer just the person I thought I was a moment before. It was a turning point in my consciousness about myself.

We experience many turning points in our lives, whenever we shift direction this way or that. Perhaps a decision about a relationship, or what interests to pursue. Maybe about an educational orcareerchoice. Some turning points are conscious, others less so; some may be imposed by family or other persuasive people. But all involve turningawayfrom one path, andtowardsanother. And they shape theselfthat you experience and define as you, along the way.

In my work, I often ask people to describe what they think were the positive and negative consequences from their key turning points, because theres always a message contained in what you turned away from, or towards. Its a message from Continue reading

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Live With Impermanence…And Discover Your True Self

When the reality of impermanence and change in life hits you, it can feel sad, even terrifying. Seeing your children grow up before you eyes. The end of a love relationship. Losing your job, fearing you might never get “back on track.” The death of someone close. Some freeze with fear when faced with how impermanent everything is, especially the things we’re attached to and define us. Others can’t redirect what they were aiming for, with damaging consequences.

But consider this: Learning to embrace impermanence is the portal to discovering your true self and letting it emerge from beneath all you’ve learned to believe about who you are. Considerable research shows that you can learn to embrace the flow and flux of life’s impermanence. That enables you to awaken and act upon your more authentic self: Your capacities, unique facets of personality, your talents and birthright to fully flower as a connected, engaged, loving human being; a person who can thrive in the face of present and future unknowns.Of course, people know in their heads that everything in life is impermanent, that change is constant. The Eastern traditions, especially, describe the underlying reality that all is constant flux, evolution and change. It has been and always will be. Our planet circles the sun, which is about midpoint in its own lifespan. All life on our planet repeats the cycles of birth, growth, death, including the cells of our physical body,

Yet it’s difficult to incorporate that awareness, flow with change, yet retain energy and wellbeing. Impermanence doesn’t penetrate so easily because what you fear losing when it confronts you is largely external - beliefs, values, “needs,” and all that defines who you are. The culture conditions us into defining ourselves by such external criteria. That creates a false, surface ego. Social conditioning of self-definition is powerful, visible, even, in brain activity differences between people of different cultures regarding their self-definitions.

Then, when change occurs, it subverts your conditioned attachments and you can become unglued. The essential falseness and illusion of much of your world is suddenly exposed.

Living With Impermanence – And Flourishing

The key is looking for the upside in whatever situation now exists. Flexibility in the face of change, rather than dwelling in it. But also, creating a vision of what to aim for now, in this moment. Research confirms the brain’s capacity to modify itself and strengthen emotional attitudes that enable you to do just that, as Richard Davidson and Sharon Begley describe in Your Emotional Brain.

Several studies show that depressed people tend to remain stuck on negative thoughts, while people who focus on positive emotionswithin their situation experience greater wellbeing and healthier lives. Moreover, research also shows that people can learn to change their personalities with intent and practice. You can promote such shifts by disengaging from negative emotional reactions, as Eastern meditative practices have indicated. For example, according to the lead researcher in a University of Michigan study, Ethan Kross, “Reviewing our mistakes over and over, re-experiencing the same negative emotions we felt the first time around, tends to keep us stuck in negativity. It can be very helpful to take a sort of mental time-out, to sit back and try to review the situation from a distance.”

Other research finds that the stress associated with change can actually help you make better decisions. It focuses you more on the positive potential rather than the negative aspect of your situation. A man in his late 20s, who had become overly dependent, financially, on his family, illustrates this. When he was cut off following a painful falling out with his parents, he focused like a laser beam on how to arrange what he needed to do to support himself and become more fully independent, whatever it took.

In a relationship, remaining fixed on what’s changed – refusing to acknowledge it or sinking into regret about it – undermines the potential for new growth within the relationship as it now exists. Interestingly, studies have found that women are happier in their relationships when men expose feelings of pain or disappointment. That’s understandable — it brings both partners into confronting the reality of the moment they’re living in. That opens the door to dealing positively with what’s changed. An example happened in a couples therapy session, when the man suddenly shouted, “No more lies! I don’t like our relationship! We’ve got to deal with this, regardless of where it leads!

Consider a person whose lifelong dream to become a musician ended. She experienced loss, but then retrained for a different career that provided alternative fulfillment. Contrast that with the man who became bitter, comparing himself with peers who had “gotten farther ahead” in life. He berated himself for getting a degree in the “wrong” field. He languished, entrapped himself, and couldn’t envision the possibility for moving in a different direction that could become more fulfilling. People who are unable to find a career foothold in the realm they hoped for, but then seek a different path towards another kind of work, experience greater psychological health and fulfillment. In a similar vein, some baby boomers who left their careers to do work that involves helping others report feelings of growth, connection and service.

Whether in your relationship or at work, embracing impermanence and change pulls you out of the fixation with your own thwarted wants or desires. It enables you to put your energies into another form, another venue, that could lead to new kinds of fulfillment and positive energy.

The Indian Sufi mystic Hazrat Inayat Khan, who lectured in Europe and the U.S. in the early 20th Century, pointed out that “Inner life is not separate from outer life. Nor does it require leaving the world renouncing all pleasures and comforts. It is the enrichment of life with qualities that will last, with a source of energy and love which is truly your own… What we (have been) seeking slips out of our hold sooner or later. We depend upon things outside ourselves. Let us find our real being.

Some guidelines to help you live an impermanent life and affirm your true, inner self when facing change:

  • Self-examine what your “successes” and “failures” reveal about your true self; where you resonate, or don’t. Look at what that tells you about what you may have been trying to express through your life choices.
  • Open yourself to looking for new possibilities or directions that feel more in tune with your true self. Pursue them fully, vigorously, with great intent. Look for the feedback your actions give you until you see whether it’s the right path or not.
  • Infuse your actions with a spirit of service and love for what you’re engaging in, each moment. When you consciously display kindness, compassion, generosity, and justice in your thoughts, emotions and behavior, you keep your ego contained. You can see your true self with greater clarity.

When you embrace life’s impermanence, you become better able to recognize the kind of relationship you desire and feels right for you; the right mesh. And the kind of work or career that’s more in synch with your talents. And, you’ll know what actions contribute to a positive future for those to whom you are, right now, a future ancestor.

So, let it go and let if flow…

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The End Of Mental Health — And Why That’s Good

The idea of mental healthas we know ithas reached a dead end. It doesn’t describe much of anything relevant to people’s lives today. If you Google “mental health,” most of what comes up describes mentalillness, not mentalhealth. Both practitioners and researchers focus more onunderstandingand treating emotional disturbance, than on describing what health is or how to build it.

That’s good, actually, because it opens the door to a needed, broad re-thinking of what psychological health looks like in today’s worldin your emotions, thoughts, attitudes, values and behavior. In this post I explain what’s brought us to this dead-end, and I sketch some features of psychological health that reflect new challenges and realities of today’s tumultuous world.

First, let’s look at why we’re at this dead-end. The aims of treatment for emotional conflictswhether via medications,psychotherapyor a combination of the twohave been, in essence, goodmanagement, coping and adaptation. That is, management of emotional conflicts that create dysfunction and symptoms like depression and anxiety. Coping withstressor sustained conflict in your work, relationships and other parts of your life. And good adaptation or adjustment to the norms, values and conventional behavior of the society or group you’re part of. Thosegoalsare useful, per se, but there are three problems with them. One is that Continue reading
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Hoping For Good Sex During The Holidays…But Disappointed? Here’s Why

You might have been looking forward to this holiday season as a time for more exciting sex with your partner. Like many, you might have been hoping that a holiday schedule would create the right atmosphere for some good, maybe even great sex. But, like many, you may feel disappointed that it hasn’t happened. And you wonder why.

I’m often asked that question by men and women who feel puzzled about why things didn’t go so well, just when the situation seemed ideal. It’s ironic, they think, because they’re absorb the flood of advice and prescriptions for having super sex out there. The magazine covers touting “10 new techniques to drive him/her wild;” the online e-zines like Your Tango or Libido for Life. Some of the advice is pretty sound, like that from the respected sociologist of sexual relations, Pepper Schwartz, or the advice on sexual matters that’s useful for both straights and gays from Dan Savage. But there’s so much more that’s not so good. It touts juvenile-sounding, superficial advice.

In fact, the majority of the advice, strategies and techniques overlook the core of a sustaining, mutually energized sexual connection: It’s Continue reading

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Does Your Midlife Feel Like Just “A Long Slide Home?”

That’s how a man in his 50s described his life to me not long ago: “It’s my long slide home.” He was feeling morose, anticipating the long holiday period from Thanksgiving through the New Year and what he knew it would arouse in him. I often see the “holiday blues” strike people during this time of multiple holidays (Hanukkah and Christmas; as well asAshurah,Bodhi Day, andKwanzaa). The tendency to reflect and take stock of one’s life often triggers sadness, regret, or depression — especially during midlife.

For example, this time of year can intensify feelings of losses you’ve experienced as well as fears about change, in general. In aprevious postI described how you can become frozen into a mindset and perspective that your life is fixed and will spiral downward from your middle years onward. Such a mentality restricts your vision. You can’t see that it’s possible — and necessary — to continue evolving your life, while reframing your emotional attitudes about the life changes that will continue to occur. I’ve always liked a line from one of Norman Mailer’snovels, “It is a law of life… that one must grow, or else pay more for remaining the same.”

Many of 78 million baby boomers, now in the thick of midlife, are vulnerable to feeling demoralized about their lives. For some Continue reading

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