Tag Archives: adult love

Regrets About Sacrificing For Your Partner? This May Be Why

August 22, 2017

One of the hallmarks of a loving, healthy relationship is when partners envision their relationship as a kind of third entity—something in need of being served and supported in itself, by mutual accommodation; perhaps sacrificing what you want, sometimes, not just using the relationship as a vehicle for getting your partner to serve your own needs and desires.

But can accommodation and support for each other—mutuality—go too far, in ways that undermine the relationship? It can, especially when emotional issues, often unconsciously expressed, drive a partner’s agreeableness. That can give rise to depression and, especially, regret and resentment. We see that in psychotherapy often, with couples who bicker and foment over what each says he or she went along with for the other, but says it was “unappreciated.”

Recent empirical research documents how that happens, and why. Further, research shows that feeling supported by your partner is linked with greater willingness to take on new challenges and with overall greater wellbeing.

To explain and unravel all this, first consider that feature of positive, healthy intimate relationships. These partners consciously practice showing mutual support to each other’s needs, always with an eye towards what best serves their relationship long-term. They do this with an understanding that when differences arise, they’ll find compromise, a “middle way.” Sometimes that means “giving in” to the other’s desires in a particular situation—knowing that doing so best serves the relationship as a whole. But most importantly, that’s done with trust that neither one will exploit the sacrifice for manipulative, self-serving purposes.

But men and women don’t enter relationships in a vacuum. We learn gender roles in our intimate relationships. We form our patterns of attachment and connection from social norms and culture and from our experiences with our parents. That inevitably includes some emotional issues that may lie dormant, and intrude upon our relationships as adult. Many memoirs depict that with devastating, often painful accuracy.

Regretting Your Sacrifice To Your Partner

Foremost among those personal issues is the consequence of bringing a low level of self-worth or self-regard into the relationship. Or when you feel insecure about how much you can trust or count on your partner’s professed caring and love. The consequences can lead to accommodating and supporting what your partner wants as an ongoing way of relating to him or her. That fuels an imbalanced, unhealthy partnership, and is likely to generate a backlash of resentment, beneath the surface, until it erupts or just remains submerged, where it festers and creates a range of symptoms. That’s what we often see in both individual and couples therapy.

Now, a recent study from the Netherlands documents that, from a study of 130 couples. Summarized in this report, the research found that people with low self-esteem tend to feel Continue reading

Share

Is Just Sex The Key To A Lasting Relationship?

May 30, 2017

Is sex the key to a lasting relationship? It appears to be the case, according to some new research, but the full picture is complicated, and the findings raise an obvious question: What enables and sustains a couple’s long-term romantic and sexual connection to begin with?

Let’s take a look.

This study focused on recently married couples, and found links between frequency of sex and its positive impact on the relationship over time. (Previous research has also found a similar effect among older couples.) Needless to say, if both partners enjoy sex, per se, and presumably with each other, then yes, that’s likely to enhance their relationship satisfaction. But what enables that desire, in itself? We know that long-term relationships often head south over time: Diminished energy and intimacy in your relationship inevitably affects you and your partner’s sexual connection. That is, the state of your relationship will follow you into the bedroom.

So, just having sex, in the absence of a thriving relationship, is unlikely to be very pleasurable, nor will it translate into increased marital satisfaction over time; actually, it could diminish it. Mental health professionals who’ve worked with relationship issues recognize that from our patients’ experiences in therapy. True, some couples try to smooth over a flatlined or troubled relationship by trying to just have sex anyway, or by having “make-up sex” or even “angry sex” after a fight. Other couples look to recharge their sexual relationship by turning to the latest techniques or suggestions from books, workshops, or the media.

These are understandable but misguided efforts, and they reflect a broader problem: We absorb very skewed notions about sexual needs, behavior, and romantic relationships as we grow up. (I described some of the dysfunctions that result in an earlier post about the differences between “hook-up sex,” “marital sex,” and “making love.”)

But in contrast, couples’ actual experiences and some empirical research show what partners do when they are successful at sustaining positive connection, emotionally and sexually. In essence, they build and live an integrated relationship, one that combines transparency in communication, conscious mutuality in decision-making, and a commitment to create conditions for maintaining erotic energy in their physical/sexual life. Continue reading

Share

Hurt Your Relationship Through This Quick And Fast Way!

March 28, 2017

Kathy and Paul were talking one night after dinner about plans for a summer vacation, and soon found themselves disagreeing with each other’s suggestions. At one point, Kathy raised the idea of a trip to a national park area. Paul had a sudden flashback: A similar trip some years ago, which ended in disaster. Bad lodging, terrible weather, and bickering about why they had done that trip to begin with. Paul recalled that Kathy had been more interested in it than he was, but that he had gone along with it to please her.

Suddenly, Paul made a negative comment about a recent furniture purchase. He told her he thought it was too expensive — and ugly to boot, but had gone along with it because she liked it. “Why are you bringing that up now?” Kathy asked, angrily. “That’s got nothing to do with planning our trip!” Their conversation deteriorated from there, and they didn’t speak to each other for the rest of the evening.

So what happened? Some new research from the University of Waterloo sheds light on how and why. But relationships are complicated: Some other studies find that attempts to heal disagreements may have an opposite effect, depending on the situation and the needs or vulnerabilities of each partner.

First, the Waterloo research, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin: It found that when one partner recalls a negative experience from the past — triggered by something in the present that has no real connection to it – that partner is likely to bring up most any annoyance or irritation from the present. The researchers called that “kitchen thinking,” because partners throw everything but the kitchen sink into the argument.

The study’s co-author Kassandra Cortes said, “When memories feel closer to the present, those memories are construed as more relevant to the present and more representative of the relationship. If one bad memory feels recent, a person will also be more likely to remember other past slights, and attach more importance to them.”

That is, that if a partner’s past transgression or slight feels like it happened yesterday — even if it didn’t — he or she is more likely to remember it during new, unrelated arguments. So, even if neither partner mentions an old transgression during the current argument or disagreement, just thinking about it could erupt in ways that hurt the relationship in the present.

And then, the other partner is likely to feel befuddled; even angry, unable to understand why their partner has become so upset over something so seemingly minor. Moreover, that can have lasting effects: The researchers found that partners who tend to recall previous slights or wounds during new conflict tended to react more destructively, with more conflicts and more negative feelings about their relationships, in general.

Other studies, though, present somewhat contradictory findings about what helps couples deal with conflicts or emotionally distressing experiences. For example, research from SUNY at Binghamton found that being supportive and positive towards your partner in an effort resolve a conflict can backfire, and actually raise the partner’s stress level. And, in other situations, behaving in ways that appear unsupportive can have a paradoxical, positive impact.

On the other hand, another study, from the University of Alberta and published in Developmental Psychology, found that conveying empathy and showing direct emotional support to an unhappy or troubled partner enhances the partner’s mental health and helps the overall relationship. 

Psychologically, I think these seemingly mixed findings illustrate that people who experience underlying anxiety and insecurity in their relationships and who often fear abandonment – whether consciously or unconsciously — will tend to experience past slights as being closer in time to the present, and react to them in the present, compared to those who feel more secure. Moreover, their degree of security in relationships can lead to outwardly contradictory responses to either empathic or non-empathic communications from their partners.

Overall, I think that even couples who experience secure attachment personally and with each other would benefit from practicing what I’ve described here as “radical transparency”  — mutual disclosure and openness — especially when a situation generates conflict or differences. That is, become transparent right then, when the issue arises. Ignoring what you experience or thinking you can dismiss it is likely to render it semi-underground, where it brews…awaiting for an opportunity to infect a new situation.

Credit: Flickr/Sage Therapy

A version of this article also appeared in Psychology Today.

Share

Why Men And Women Want Different Kinds Of Help In Couples Therapy

January 31, 2017

I don’t this this will shock any psychotherapist who’s provided couples therapy – nor many of the couples who’ve ever sought it: A new study found that men tend to want a quick “fix” of the problems, while women seek a forum to express their feelings. Of course, that’s a typical feature of conventional gender relations, unfortunately. And it often plays out in daily life. But this new study documents empirically how it occurs it therapy, as well.

The study was led by researchers from the University of Portsmouth, and described in a report from the British Psychological Society. They asked 20 experienced therapists whether they had identified gender differences in any aspects of their work. All 20 of the reported noticing gender differences in one or more aspect of therapy, and that, in general, “men want a quick fix and women want to talk about their feelings.”

A second, related study from Northumbria University asked 347 members of the general public to say what kind of therapy they would like if they needed help. The men and women in this group, half of whom reported having received some form of therapy, showed similar differences. For example, men more than women expressed a preference for sharing and receiving advice about their concerns in informal groups. In contrast, more women than men preferred psychodynamic psychotherapy, which focuses on emotional experiences and past events. 

Interestingly, when it comes to coping with couples conflicts, the study found that women more than men used comfort eating, whereas men more than women used sex or pornography. 

One of the researchers, John Barry, pointed out that, “Despite the fact that men commit suicide at three to four times the rate that women do, men don’t seek psychological help as much. It is likely that men benefit as much as women from talking about their feelings, but if talking about feelings appears to be the goal of therapy, then some men may be put off.”

So true! 

Now this study was with a British population, but I think it pretty much mirrors what we experience in the US, as well. Despite shifts many men are making towards greater emotional awareness and exposure, the allure of just “fixing” the problem and “moving on” is still strong.

Credit: CPD Archive

Share

Why Good Communication Won’t Improve Your Relationship

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-11-51-10-amOctober 18, 2016

Couples often ask for advice about for how they can improve their communication. “If we could just find better ways to communicate with each other,” they say, “we would have a much better relationship.” So they seek couples therapy, they go to workshops for learning new relationship “skills;” and they read the latest books and articles about communication techniques and strategies.

But If better communication could create more intimate, loving and sustaining relationships, why are so many couples unable to find what works? The answer is that they may be on a “fool’s errand.” Good communication, per se, doesn’t make relationships better. Rather, good communication is a feature, an outcome, of having created a positive, sustaining relationship to begin with; not it’s source.

Some new research, as well as observational studies of couples that experience positive, lasting and energized relationships can help explain this. First, a recent study from the University of Georgia looked at the connection between communication and the degree of satisfaction that couples report. It found that good communication in itself could not account for how satisfied partners were with their relationships over time.

The researchers recognized that other factors must be influencing couples’ satisfaction; and that good communication can result from those other factors. According to Justin Lavner, the lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, the more satisfied couples do communicate better on average than those who are less satisfied. That’s expected: “In general…the more satisfied you are, basically, the better you communicate.”

However, in the majority of cases, communication did not predict satisfaction. “It was more common for satisfaction to predict communication than the reverse…satisfaction was a stronger predictor of communication. These links have not been talked about as much,he added. “We have focused on communication predicting satisfaction instead.”

The Roots of Positive Relationships

That may be why so many couples seek better communication only to discover that it doesn’t help much. Positive relationships — one’s that sustain vitality and intimacy at all levels over time  Continue reading

Share

Singles Experience Greater Personal Growth Than Married People

Screen Shot 2016-08-16 at 2.27.42 PMAugust 16, 2016

Our culture is witnessing growing diversity in how people choose to live; with whom, their traditions and norms. But it’s practically a stereotype to portray single people as unhappy, unfulfilled, and lonely; perhaps emotionally troubled. Of course, that can be true for some. We see some psychotherapy patients, for example, who are single and experience significant conflicts in their romantic quests.

But that’s also a misleading assumption. In fact, new research from UC Santa Barbara turns that picture of single people on its head: It finds that single people have heightened feelings of self-determination and are more likely to experience more psychological growth and development than many married people.

According to the study’s lead author, Bella DePaulo, “It is time for a more accurate portrayal of single people and single life – one that recognizes the real strengths and resilience of people who are single, and what makes their lives so meaningful,” DePaulo adds, “The preoccupation with the perils of loneliness can obscure the profound benefits of solitude.”

And there are plenty who are solitary. Currently, Bureau of Labor Statistics show that 50.2 percent of the nation’s adult population were single as of 2014. “Increasing numbers of people are single because they want to be,” DePaulo points out. “Living single allows them to live their best, most authentic, and most meaningful life.” Continue reading

Share

Two Hidden Ways To Sustain Romance and Intimacy In Your Relationship

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 5.28.57 PMJuly 28, 2016

The 18th Century Zen poet and teacher wrote “Not knowing how near the truth is, we seek it far away.” That describes the relentless search for new “truths” that promise to sustain emotional and sexual intimacy with your partner. But sometimes the most important information stares you right in the face; you don’t “see” it because it’s so obvious.

Here’s an example: It’s found in some new research on couples’ relationships from the University of North Carolina. It finds that couples whose partners feel and express appreciation to each other, and who take time to share in moments of joy tend to experience more ongoing, positive connections with each other. Such opportunities occur, especially, in the small moments that occur every day, in many people’s lives. But they’re often overlooked or ignored.

According to the lead researcher Sara Algoe, the findings point to the significance of “the little things.” They have big impact on relationship longevity and wellbeing. Moreover, we know that many other studies, have found that positive relationships are associated with greater overall health, over the years.

In a summary of the research, Algoe points out that one partner’s expression of gratitude reminds the other partner that he or she is a good relationship companion. The research method is described in detail here, but the upshot is that couples who expressed gratitude towards each other in those small moments reported that their relationships become stronger, more positive and flexible in their interactions with each other. Continue reading

Share

Why Women Who Have More Sexual Partners Are Less Likely To Divorce

Screen Shot 2016-06-25 at 3.46.37 PMJune 27, 2016

So often, what we assume to be true reflects an embedded set of conditioned attitudes. And those often reflect prevailing values and expectations more than real people’s behavior or trends within changing social and cultural circumstances. A new study highlights an example of that. Its findings contrast with “established” fact — that women who have multiple sex partners prior to marriage necessarily experience an increased likelihood that they will eventually divorce.

As our society evolves, people’s intimate relationships also evolve. That requires learning more about what supports lasting, positive partnerships, or their eventual dissolution. And how that information may show itself in changing survey data.

This new research from the University of Utah provides some insights into recent social and behavioral shifts. Although it found that women with over 10 sexual partners prior to marriage show an increase in divorce rates, so do those with only two. Both had higher rate of divorce. But the lowest was found in those with 3 to 9 partners. 

The research was published by the Institute for Family Studies and summarized in a report from the University of Utah. According to the lead author Nicholas H. Wolfiger, “In short: if you’re going to have comparisons to your [future] husband, it’s best to have more than one.” He added that sexual behavior has changed significantly throughout recent decades.

I think that’s definitely a no-brainer, but many may be unaware of just how much is evolving. For example, I’ve written previously about the increasing numbers of unconventional romantic-sexual couplings; and also that divorce or separation can be good for your health.  Wolfinger pointed out that the acceptance of premarital sex make more likely that its impact upon marriage instability would decline. He added, “All of the fanfare associated with hooking up is evidence that some young people have become comfortable with the idea of sex outside of serious relationships.” Continue reading

Share

Open Marriages, Other Forms of Sexual-Romantic Coupling: On The Rise?

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 4.06.43 PMMarch 24, 2016

I was recently interviewed for a New York Times article by Tammy La Gorce that portrayed the long-term open marriage of the actress Mo’Nique and her husband Sidney Hicks. The couple maintains that it works for them, despite the criticism and disbelief they often encounter. La Gorce’s article quoted my views about open marriage — what it means, and whether it “works,” from a psychological perspective. Because my views contrasted sharply with some of the others cited, especially those of Helen Fisher of the Kinsey Institute, I’m elaborating on them here.

First, the open marriage is just the current version of what became more visible during the early ‘70s because of the book, The Open Marriage, and the popular movie, Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice.” Overall, it’s part of a much broader shift, or evolution, underway today. It’s towards a sense of greater freedom to create and be open about different forms of intimate relationships; ones that people define for themselves as desirable and satisfying.

Increasingly, men and women seek to create and maintain an intimate relationship that they experience as fulfilling and meaningful. And that they define, themselves; not by others or conventional norms. How their relationships evolve down the road, over time, is something they will assess and judge for themselves. And we can see what the evidence shows.

It’s wise to suspend judgment, especially about psychological health, when views about the latter are contaminated by ideology or shared values and norms. As you grow through the adult years in today’s changing, increasingly diverse society, a broadened perspective enables you to realize that life can be complex; and can work differently for different people.

For example, Kim (not her real name) a divorced woman in her 40s, explained to me that she maintains a satisfying relationship with a man who also has a lifelong, supportive connection with a woman who is the mother of his three children. They find it works for them, given their life circumstances. And we can judge them from our own perspectives and life choices…or observe and respect what works for them. Continue reading

Share

Renewed Interest In Open Marriages?

Screen Shot 2016-03-10 at 10.12.00 AMMarch 10, 2016

This New York Times article by Tammy La Gorce looks at the practice of the open marriage from today’s perspective. She quotes my views as follows:

“Douglas LaBier, a psychologist and the director of the Center for Progressive Development...said that from a psychological perspective, people shouldn’t assume that openness in a sexual relationship is bad.

“What’s at the core of it is a desire to form a healthy relationship,” he said. “…people want relationships in which they feel emotionally fulfilled and connected, and for some couples that means being transparent about outside partners. In marriage, the motto of the future may be “live and let live.” 

“I see a much more tolerant, nonjudgmental openness emerging,” Dr. LaBier said. “Everyone is different. You figure out what works for you, and if it’s not imposing something on someone else or hurting someone else, it’s acceptable.”

My views may be “outlier,” but they are based on solid observation and data about shifts in our culture, as I’ve described in other posts here. Of course, such views will be criticized from other perspectives. For the full New York Times article, click here.

Share

Why Living Together Without Marriage Can Increase Your Mental Health

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 10.20.24 AMJanuary 26, 2016

I’ve written previously that we’re living through a steady, growing shift in our society, as men and women re-think what kinds of relationships they seek and prefer – whether straight or gay. For example, I’ve written here that part of this shift is towards increasing acceptance of a variety of emotional-sexual experiences of couples; including polyamory; and committed couples who choose not to marry.

Now, some new research adds to these findings, as well as to recent survey data, that younger people, especially, are more concerned with building a positive, sustaining relationship than with marriage, per se. The current study, described in this report from Ohio State University, found that both men and women experience as much of a boost in their emotional well-being whether they move in together or marry. It was a bit more for women, but interestingly, that boost occurred equally among men and women who had a prior relationship that didn’t work out.

That finding is significant for reasons that might not be visible on the surface: I think it reflects the reality that forming a lasting love relationship with the right partner requires a prior failure or two. Such experiences are like a “leavening” of your inner self. It builds the foundation for learning what kind of person – his or her values, character, outlook on life — meshes with who you are, along those dimensions. And that increases the likelihood that a couple will grow together, emotionally, sexually, intellectually and spiritually, rather than grow apart.

This new study was based on data collected throughout the 2000s. It found that, for young adults who moved on from a first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them.

The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study. “Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study, pointed out that “We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.” The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology.

Credit: Kari Layland

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

Share

Can Divorce Increase Your Overall Health?

Screen Shot 2016-01-24 at 5.08.44 PMJanuary 19, 2016

Whether you approve or not, there’s no question that intimate relationships are steadily transforming — what we seek from them, how we engage in them, and what we define as desirable and fulfilling. Men and women increasingly pursue relationships that they define as positive, meaningful, and healthy, though they may differ from traditionally accepted norms. And the latter includes, even, recent advocacy regarding polygamy, as well as support for legalization of sex workers, as Amnesty International has announced,  Such developments stir considerable emotional and moral reactions, which is why it’s helpful to find research that studies that show how some of these shifts may to lead to positive outcomes regarding emotional and psychological health.

Here’s one example: It concerns the mental health impact of divorce. It’s an illuminating study because it contradicts previous research indicating that divorced and unmarried couples are less healthy than married ones. This current study, conducted by London-based researchers, found evidence to the contrary. For example, it found that people who have divorced and remarried are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age. And physical health is interwoven with mental health, as many studied have confirmed.

The research examined the health outcomes of people who are divorced, as well as unmarried, cohabiting couples. The research found that people born in the late 1950s who experience divorce and separation or live together without marrying “…have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” said lead author George Ploubidis in a Medical XPress summary. Continue reading

Share

Living Together Or Married? No Difference In Your Emotional Health

Screen Shot 2015-12-10 at 4.35.14 PMDecember 8. 2015

This new research is consistent with recent surveys that show younger people, especially, are more concerned with building a positive, sustaining relationship than with marriage, per se. The current study found that both men and women experience as much of a boost in their emotional well-being whether they move in together or marry. It was a bit more for women, but Interestingly, that boost occurred equally among men and women who had a prior relationship that didn’t work out. 

That finding is significant. I think it reflects the reality that form a lasting love relationship with the right partner requires a prior failure or two. Such experiences are like a “leavening” of the inner self; it builds the foundation for learning what kind of person – his or her values, character, outlook on life — meshes with who you are, along those dimensions. That increases the likelihood that a couple will grow together, emotionally, sexually, intellectually and spiritually, rather than grow apart. 

This new study, described in this report from Ohio State University, was based on data collected throughout the 2000s. It found that, for young adults who moved on from a first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them. 

The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study. “Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study, pointed out that “We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.” The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology and will be published in a future print edition.

Credit: NPCC/CPD Archive

Share

Why Showing Gratitude Strengthens Marriage Relationships

Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 10.33.52 AMOctober 27, 2015

I want to highlight the findings of this new study from the University of Georgia  — that feeling appreciated and valued by your partner strengthens your marriage and increases your belief about its endurance. I think that these findings — though they are about marriage relationships — underscores something important about what builds positive relationships in general. That is, whether they are intimate, work-related, or those in broader societal contexts. Showing and feeling gratitude in relationships go a long way in building and maintaining positive, mutually supportive connections. And the latter are crucial for personal and societal wellbeing.

This study, published in the journal Personal Relationships, was based on surveys of 468 married couples. It found that that spousal expression of gratitude was the most consistent significant predictor of marital quality. 

“It goes to show the power of ‘thank you,'” said the study’s lead author Allen Barton. “Even if a couple is experiencing distress and difficulty in other areas, gratitude in the relationship can help promote positive marital outcomes.” Added co-author Ted Futris. “…when couples are engaging in a negative conflict pattern like demand/withdrawal, expressions of gratitude and appreciation can counteract or buffer the negative effects of this type of interaction on marital stability,” 

The study also found that higher levels of spousal gratitude protected men’s and women’s divorce proneness from the negative effects of poor communication during conflict. And, according to Barton, “This is the first study to document the protective effect that feeling appreciated by your spouse can have for marriages. It highlights a practical way couples can help strengthen their marriage, particularly if they are not the most adept communicators in conflict.”

Credit: WomenPlanet

Share

Why Are Women More Likely To Initiate Divorce?

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 11.08.14 AMAugust 25, 2015

Some new data about divorce and non-marital breakups contains an unexpected finding, and I think it underscores an ongoing evolution in what people want and seek in their romantic relationships. The study, based on a survey of over 2000 heterosexual couples, found that women initiated nearly 70% of all divorces. Yet there was no significant difference between the percentage of breakups initiated by women and men in non-marriage relationships.

How to explain? I find that this data is consistent with what I and others have seen clinically. When men and women seek couples therapy and then subsequently divorce; or, when either partner seeks individual therapy about a marriage conflict that ends in divorce, it’s often the woman who expresses more overt conflict and dissatisfaction about the state of the marriage. On the other hand, the man is more likely to report feeling troubled by his wife’s dissatisfaction, but “OK” with the way things are; content to lope along as time passes.

In contrast, I find that younger couples – who are more likely to form non-marital but committed relationships — experience more egalitarian partnerships to begin with. When the relationship crumbles beyond repair, both experience that disintegration. Both are equally likely to address it – and part, if it can’t be healed.

These clinical observations are consistent with what the study’s lead author, Michael Rosenfeld, suggests — that women may be more likely to initiate divorces because the married women reported lower levels of relationship quality than married men. In contrast, women and men in non-marital relationships reported equal levels of relationship quality. Rosenfeld said his results support the feminist assertion that some women experience heterosexual marriage as oppressive or uncomfortable.

He adds, “I think that marriage as an institution has been a little bit slow to catch up with expectations for gender equality. Wives still take their husbands’ surnames, and are sometimes pressured to do so. Husbands still expect their wives to do the bulk of the housework and the bulk of the childcare. On the other hand, I think that non-marital relationships lack the historical baggage and expectations of marriage, which makes the non-marital relationships more flexible and therefore more adaptable to modern expectations, including women’s expectations for more gender equality.”

Credit: Moms Magazine

Share

Divorce, Separation, Co-Habitation — Good For Your Health?

Screen Shot 2015-07-14 at 4.06.43 PMJuly 14, 2015

We’re in the midst of a steady, major transformation of how we think about intimate relationships — what we seek from them; and how we engage in them for mutual benefit. Increasing numbers of men and women pursue relationships that they define as positive, meaningful and healthy, although they may differ from traditionally accepted norms. So it’s good to see research evidence that sheds light on which of those shifts demonstrate positive outcomes with respect to emotional and physical health.

One recent study looked at the health outcomes of people who are divorced, as well as those who co-habit without marriage. Contrary to previous studies suggesting that divorced and unmarried couples experience less health than those who are married, this study, conducted by London-based researchers, found evidence to the contrary. Published in the American Journal of Public Health, the study found that individuals who have divorced and remarried are no more likely than those who have remained married to have cardiovascular or respiratory health problems in early middle age. The study has implications for younger generations as more people pursue unconventional relationships, and the reality of divorce continues to be an option for some.

“…Our research shows that people born in the late 1950s who live together without marrying or experience divorce and separation, have very similar levels of health in middle age to those who are married,” said lead author Gerge Ploubidis, in a Medical XPress summary. In fact, some even experienced health benefits, in the long term, despite going through divorce, according to the researchers. “Surprisingly, those men who divorced in their late 30s and did not subsequently remarry, were less likely to suffer from conditions related to diabetes in early middle age compared to those who were married.” In fact, although couples who married in their 20s and early 30s and remained married had the best levels of health, unmarried couples living together had almost identical standards of health.

The impact of a relationship, per se, was underscored by the finding that men and women who had never married or lived with a partner, had the worst health in middle age, with higher likelihood of conditions related to diabetes, cardiovascular and respiratory problems. In that respect, the missing element in this research, of concern to those of us in the mental health field, is what we can learn about the impact of shifting definitions of relationships upon psychological health. Recognizing that they are intertwined is crucial, and the subject of increasing study. For example, the links discovered between the gut, the brain, emotions, types of food consumed and inflammation.

Credit: Funologist

 

Share

Why Low Self-Esteem Will Keep You Stuck Within a Bad Relationship

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 10.20.38 AMMay 5, 2015

I’ve often worked with individuals and couples who experience a diminished sense of their self-worth; low self-esteem. And when they find that their relationships have entered the dead zone, they are often stuck within them, unable to push for revitalizing them, if possible; or leaving. Even as they uncover the roots of their low self-worth, they often remain frozen in a bad, even destructive relationship.

Some recent research provides some empirical confirmation of what we know, clinically. It found that the partner with diminished self-esteem tends to avoid confronting problems or conflicts. That avoidance often reflects feelings of insecurity about the partner’s feelings for them, and leads to hunkering down and withdrawing from conflict that might be resolved through more open, transparent communication.

The research, conducted by the University of Waterloo, confirmed in essence that partners with low self-esteem tend not to voice relationship complaints with their partner because they fear rejection. “There is a perception that people with low self-esteem tend to be more negative and complain a lot more,” says Megan McCarthy, the study’s lead author. “While that may be the case in some social situations, our study suggests that in romantic relationships, the partner with low self-esteem resists addressing problems.”

And, “If your significant other is not engaging in open and honest conversation about the relationship,” says McCarthy, “it may not be that they don’t care, but rather that they feel insecure and are afraid of being hurt. We’ve found that people with a more negative self-concept often have doubts and anxieties about the extent to which other people care about them,” she says. “This can drive low self-esteem people toward defensive, self-protective behavior, such as avoiding confrontation.”

A summary of the research points out that people with low self-esteem’s resistance to address concerns may stem from a fear of negative outcomes. Sufferers may believe that they cannot speak up without risking rejection from their partner and damage to their relationship, resulting in greater overall dissatisfaction in the relationship.

“We may think that staying quiet, in a ‘forgive and forget’ kind of way, is constructive, and certainly it can be when we feel minor annoyances,” says McCarthy. “But when we have a serious issue in a relationship, failing to address those issues directly can actually be destructive.”

Credit: imgkid.com

Share

Two Classic Ways To Damage Your Relationship

Screen shot 2015-02-11 at 12.23.46 PMFebruary 10, 2015

I’ve worked a great deal with individuals and couples in psychotherapy who are masters at damaging their relationships. They do so by engaging in a kind of dance: One partner withdraws, emotionally, when confronting differences or conflicts, and hunkers down, waiting – or hoping – for the conflict to go away somehow. The other partner conveys his or her desires or feelings by…saying nothing. The magical thinking, here, is that the partner will, of course, know how to mind-read, and then respond accordingly.

It’s classic – and you can almost hear a Strauss waltz playing as the couple does this little dance together. It’s very familiar in psychotherapy, and now some recent research has honed in on this pattern. It shows empirically the different ways in which both withdrawal and mind-reading harm relationships.

The research, conducted at Baylor University, examined these two patterns and demonstrated how they are harmful in different ways, and for different reasons. “Withdrawal is the most problematic for relationships,” said researcher Keith Sanford. “It’s a defensive tactic that people use when they feel they are being attacked, and there’s a direct association between withdrawal and lower satisfaction overall with the relationship.” And, “Expecting your partner to be a mind-reader” — which often reflects feeling anxious in the relationship – “…makes it especially difficult for couples to make progress toward resolving conflicts.

The study was published in Psychological Assessment, and is described in detail in this report from Baylor. It concluded that that withdrawal doesn’t necessarily influence whether a couple can resolve their conflict, but expecting or hoping the other person will be a mind reader has a direct influence on the couple’s ability to settle the issue.

The researchers found that withdrawing from a partner’s criticism or complaint can reflect feeling threatened, and is “more characteristic of unhappiness…you see more of that in distressed relationships.” Those who expect a partner to know what’s wrong without being told tend to feel anxious and neglected; vulnerable, rather than threatened. Conflicts in which one partner expects the other to mind-read were more likely to lead to negative communication and anger.

Either way, relationships suffer from any kind of hidden communications. Countless couples become entrenched in patterns that will undermine their mutual understanding, respect and intimacy over time. This research highlights the damage that results. In my view, it underscores the importance of building greater transparency throughout one’s relationship – “radical transparency,” as I’ve called it — as scary as that can feel at the outset.

Credit: Tetra Images/Getty Images

A version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

Share

Do Couples Prefer Conflict Over Shared Power?

Do-Couples-Prefer-Conflict

January 20, 2015

Want 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 Continue reading

Share

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

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 12.29.20 PM

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

Share

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.”

Share

Depressed and Married? Here’s Why

 

Screen shot 2014-05-06 at 10.46.51 AM

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

Share

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

Share

“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.

Share

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.

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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
Share

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

Share

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.”

Share

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

Share

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

Share

Baby Boomer At Midlife? Why Your Relationship May Not Survive

Whether you’re entering a new relationship or hoping to resurrect your existing — but flagging — relationship, the upheavals and changes of midlife can make anyone pretty apprehensive about what lies ahead. Thats particularly true for many of the 78 million baby boomers who face a long stretch of middle years with greater health, new desires for personal growth, but no so much certainty about what keeps a love relationship alive for the long run.

I think what helps support a long-term, positive relationship through midlife is not so much finding the righttechniques– for good communication, compromise, and so forth. We know how many of those are available in all the self-help books crowding bookstore shelves. Instead, its building your relationship’sspiritualcore. By that I mean your sense of purpose and life goals as a couple; and dealing with how your values and ideals change and evolve over the years. The challenge is whether these and other spiritual dimensions remain in synch over your years together.

In this post I describe a path that can help build (or resuscitate) your relationship’s spiritual connection. Continue reading

Share

How To Retrieve Your Love Relationship From The Dead Zone

When I read the news that Paul McCartney is going to remarry, it brought to mind the challenge and trepidation so many people feel today about their prospects for keeping a love relationship alive. Whether entering a new relationship, like the former Beatle who’s about to turn 69, or hoping to resurrect one from the dead zone, the old adage that remarriage is a “triumph of hope over experience” can give anyone pause.

Even worse, some become outright despairing and cynical about love relationships in general. That became evident to me from some of the comments and emails I received about my previous post, in which I explained why most relationship advice doesn’t really help. There, I argued that most “expert advice” mistakenly focuses on techniques rather than on the relationship’s spiritual core — your sense of purpose and life goals as a couple, and how your values and ideals change and evolve over the years. The challenge is whether these and other spiritual dimensions are in synch.

Here, I want to point out one particular practice — a perspective, really — that helps build or resuscitate a relationship’s spiritual connection: learning to “forget yourself” when relating to your partner. I’ve described this Continue reading

Share

Why Relationship Advice Won’t Improve Your Love Life

The other day I was browsing through Barnes & Noble, and as I passed by the rows of books about love andsex I felt annoyed. Seeing those volumes brought to mind the biggest open secret in today’s culture: Most relationship advice doesn’t really help you and your partner improve — or sustain — your love life.

Most people know this to be true. And ironically, the never-ending stream — books, magazine articles, workshops and now,websites ande-zines — confirms it, because If any of them really did help, there wouldn’t be so many of them. In fact, substantial research confirms that these programs and advice aren’t very effective at all.

I think the reason this: Most of the prescriptions for restoring emotional and sexual vitality focus on the wrong things. Most teachtechniques – actions and strategies for having better sex, for improving listening and communication, or for successful negotiating around conflict. But if you want to deepen intimacy and build greater vitality in your whole relationship, you have to nourish itsspiritual core. Acquiring new techniques won’t do it. However, there are some practices that help you nourish your relationship’s spiritual connection, as I describe below.

What Handicaps Most Relationships

Let me explain. By “spiritual,” I’m referring to a less visible, less behavioral realm than most relationship advice and strategies deal with. Your relationship’s spiritual core includes, for example, your sense of purpose and lifegoals as a couple; how your values and ideals may change and evolve over the years, as separate individuals and as a couple. The relationship challenge is whether these and other spiritual dimensions are in synch. Continue reading

Share

Why Bother Staying Married?

Life has changed a great deal since we entered the 21st Century. Massive, worldwide economic, political and social upheavals are impacting all areas of our lives. Marriages (and equivalent relationships) are no exception. In fact, long-term relationships face new stresses and challenges. People enter them within a world of shifting social norms, diversity, and increasing openness about emotional and sexual engagements, including ones that differ from the conventional.

These new realities raise a important question for couples to face, head-on: Do you want to stay married at this point in your life — in your relationship as it now exists, and at this time in our culture?

Consider this: It may be psychologically healthier to end your marriage. That is, I think that the conditions and challenges of the 21st world – the “new normal” – point to considering a more radical way of life: Engaging in two different kinds of marriages may be a better response to the emotional and sexual realities of our fluid, interconnected world.

On the other hand, you might decide to reconstitute you marriage in ways more in synch with how each of you are “evolving” in your individual lives; and more consistent with your vision of what you want a partnership to be as you become older.

Let me explain both paths. Increasingly, people recognize that our post- 9-11 world — the economic downturn, global crises and uncertainties, the impact of climate change, the increasing diversity of our population, global interconnection, and a host of other shifts – all of it forms a new era of uncertainty, unpredictability and diminished expectations of career and material success.

Part of this new normal includes turmoil in people’s emotional and sexual attitudes and behavior, and generates what looks like contradictions in relationships. For example, Continue reading

Share

Doing A “Relationship Inventory” Helps Build Sustainable Romantic and Sexual Intimacy

The overall theme of my blog posts is about revising what we think a psychologically healthy life is, in todays 21st Century interconnected culture. That is, what psychological health and resiliency look like in careers and organizations, and in intimate relationships. Some of my earlier posts have described features of healthy relationships in this new era, based on new thinking and research studies. And, that our culture undermines the emotional attitudes and behavior that support connected, energized intimate relationships ones that dont go south after that early rush of excitement and passion fades.

In this and future posts Ill describe more about what supports a positive relationship, emotionally, sexually and spiritually. What wont are the fantasized portrayals and simplistic formulas promoted by the advice and technique books and magazine articles. Most of them dont work anyway, and can do more harm than good because they can make couples feel inadequate if, for example, they cant find the right words to reflect back to their partner; or they discover that the new sexual technique or tantric exercise just doesnt arouse them.

This post is about a frequently overlooked first step towards a sustainable relationship with your current or future partner. Couples Ive worked with find it helpful because it builds the self-reflection and self-awareness you need for growing and evolving yourself in your relationship capacities. I call this first step doing a Relationship Inventory. With it, you can review, understand, and learn from your past relationships; and then face forward with greater clarity and capacity for creating and sustaining emotional and sexual intimacy in the present and future.

Begin by making a list of all your significant romantic relationships. For each, Continue reading

Share

Why Failure And Loss In Your Relationships Can Be Good For You

So often our romantic and sexual relationships end in regret, sadness, and loss. Initial feelings of excitement and connection just seem to slip through our fingers, and often we’re not sure why that happened. Nevertheless, men and women continue to hope for finding that elusive “soul mate,” a relationship of sustained vitality. But so often, partners descend into the “functional relationship,” or become lost in a maize of unfulfilling sexual connections or affairs.

In previous posts I’ve written about the roots of that seemingly inevitable decline and what helps. But there’s another part of relationship failure or loss that can be a basis of new growth. Let me explain. Over the decades I’ve witnessed countless examples of people drawn into new relationships that are simply new versions of previous, failed relationships — old wine in new flasks. And inevitably, disaster is lying in wait, right down the road. I think that often happens when an important part of the foundation for a positive, sustainable romantic and sexual relationship is neglected or overlooked.

That is, mental health practitioners focus a great deal on building better mechanics of listening, mirroring to each other, techniques of communication and compromise, and so on. All good stuff. But what can go missing is Continue reading

Share

For Adults Only: Sustaining Your Emotional and Sexual Intimacy

Here’s a typical couple’s lament: “We just see thingsdifferently.” That’s certainly true for many couples, but I see a deeper problem that undermines many relationships today. And it won’t be fixed by any of themarriage education, relationship improvement or sexual enhancement programs out there. That is, often the problem isn’t that you and your partner seethings differently; but rather, that you see differentthings.

Facing what that means can be painful. It may even feel relationship-threatening. But doing so can open the door to strengthening the true foundation of your relationship: Yourvision of life. That refers to what you’re really living and working for, both individually and as a couple.

That’s the fundamental core of a relationship, and it’s often overlooked or seldom discussed. When you do face it you may discover that you and your partner were never in synch about your vision of life. Or, that you may have gone off on different tracks over time. When either is the case, you end up seeing differentthings altogether.

That’s a crucial problem because your core vision of life will increasingly impact your long-term health and well-being in today’s world, whether you’re in a relationship or not. We’re now living in a totally interconnected, unpredictable, “non-equilibrium” world. My 35 years as a psychotherapist and business psychologist convinces me that our new era requires a new and revised picture of psychological health and positive resiliency — what it looks like and what helps build it – to support your outward success and internal well-being in the years ahead. Continue reading

Share

Love, Loss…And What Endures

As a young boy growing up in upstate New York, I sometimes roamed through some nearby woods and fields. As I did that one bright summer afternoon I came upon a large tree perhaps an elm or poplar. I noticed that its trunk had a deep scar; it looked like it had been struck by lightning some years before.

That memory came to mind recently, while reading two recent New York Times articles about loss and love. They appeared on the same day, and reflected two very different kinds of life events. Yet I think they go together, in a way.

One was the Modern Love column in Sunday Styles, titled Affirmation, Etched in Vinyl, by Connie May Fowler. It was about the loss of her father from a heart attack, when she was six years old. Both parents appear flawed, apparently alcoholic. But Fowler describes her mother as having been intent on portraying her father as malignant. She writes that

most of what I knew of him came from my mother, who considered him the embodiment of evil.

And most significantly,

My fathers death stole many things from me, including the sound of his voice.

Ever since, she had longed to be able to know and hear what his voice sounded like. Well, it turns out that her father had somewhat of a career as a country and western singer.

The lack of any memory of my fathers true living voice was all the more perplexing to me because before my birth, my father, Henry May, had enjoyed a reasonably successful run as a country-western musician. He had a television show in Jacksonville, Fla. He and his band, Henry May and his Rhythm Ramblers, were a major draw all along Floridas northeast coast.

In her essay, Fowler describes her search for a record that he had made along the way, as she looked in old record bins and on e-bay, over the years. Then, one day, she received a message from a stranger who had learned of her search and, in fact, had a copy of her fathers record in his possession. At last, she might be able to hear his voice. Heres Fowlers full story.

The other essay is First Love, Once Removed, by Lee Montgomery. It describes a drop-in visit by the son of her first lover, with whom she had many romantic and adventurous experiences in her early youth, during the 1970s.

When I think of Ian, I think of endless days hanging out in the woods and fields around our New England prep schools, sucking dope out of a metal chamber pipe. Ian showed me the world and taught me to live in it. New York City. The Great West. And Europe, where we lived for several months during his first college year abroad. He was socially connected and wealthy, two things I was not. For a long time, it didnt matter.

Eventually, their relationship ended. No surprise, for two 18 year-olds. She went on with her life, married, began a career. He inherited money, married

had no career that I knew of and shot himself when he was in his 30s.

The son, quite young at the time his father committed suicide, was now about the age Montgomery when she and his father were lovers. He had dropped by her office hoping to hear some stories of what his father was like. Montgomerys essay describes how fresh and alive the memories felt to her, as she drew into them and spoke with her young lovers son about his father:

Sitting across a booth studying this young man, I was overwhelmed. So many years later, I was stunned to find the feeling of first love still there.

The full article is here.

To me, these two essays read like bookends. Both portray the enduring loss of love and connection and how it affects us, permanently. No matter whether it comes from a childs loss of a parent, from the ending of an adult love relationship at any age; or from an unexpected death. Or, for that matter, if the loss results from something you did that harmed or damaged a relationship that was important to you. None of those experiences can be undone. Their legacy becomes woven into the larger tapestry of your life, where it remains, even as that tapestry expands over time.

And thats what brought to mind the old tree trunk. Damaged where the lightning had struck, I noticed that the trunk had continued to grow around it and gradually encompassed the damaged part within it. It was like ourselves: Even if we continue to grow and change, learn from our experiences and continue on with our lives, our losses nevertheless remains part of us. always there, a visible, enduring part of our lives.

Share

Hook-Up Sex, Marital Sex, and Making Love

This post is about the differences between “Hook-UpSex,” “Marital Sex,” and “Making Love.” I’ve found that confusion about those differences play out in many of the conflicts people experience in their sexual-romantic relationships, no matter what their ages or kinds of relationships.

First, some clarification about what I mean by each term. “Hook-Up Sex” refers to just plain f***ing; that is, a purely physical encounter. “Marital Sex” is the kind of sex life that most committed couples tend to have — married or not, straight or gay. And “Making Love” is a different kind of experience that transcends both of the other two kinds.

That is, the three kinds of sexual relationships occur on different planes, different levels of integration between your physical, animal being, and your relational andspiritual beings. The kind of sexual life you have – and its conflicts – are embedded in the overall relationship you learn and how you “practice” it with your partner. I’ve described some of these connections in my previous posts, here and on my Psychology Today blog, on ouradolescent model of love, thesoul mate, and the positive power of “indifference.” Most relationships limit the capacity for “Making Love.”

Hook-Up Sex

“You know how there’sgood sex,great sex, and thenreally great sex? That’s what it was like with her!” With gleaming eyes, Ken was telling me about his latest sexual encounter. He was a 44 year-old trust fund guy who lived with his mother and had never married. He enteredtherapybecause he wanted to learn why he hadn’t been able to form a lasting relationship.

In Hook-Up Sex you and your partner use each other’s bodies for your own pleasure. It can be extremely intense and arousing, especially when you feel lust towards a new partner. There’s a place for this kind of sex, but it’s also the most primitive, least evolved form of sex. It reflects the purely animal part of being human — our physiological needs and impulses. We share those with other animal species. From a human standpoint, though, it’s mostly void of relationship beyond the physical connection; a form of playing through using each other’s bodies.

Aside from Ken’s deeper emotional issues that he’d never faced or dealt with, another barrier to his forming a relationship was that he had turned sex into a technique-dominated sport. He saw himself as a great lover and, in fact, had become very proficient in Tantric sexual practices. Handsome and charming, he was able to find women eager to participate. Tantric and related practices are, in fact, part of “Making Love,” but they can also be misused. Ken’s mastery of them had become an end in itself, and they were entirely divorced from Continue reading

Share

The Paradox of Indifference – The Key To A Revitalized Relationship

Nora, 43, has a successful career as a free-lance magazine writer with two children. She’s been married for 15 years to Ken, a media executive. They’re typical of many couples today committed to their relationship and family as much as to their careers. Yet something troubles them. Its whats happened along the way during their marriage.

Theres nothing wrong with it, exactly. But the excitement and energy, the feelings of connection and passion that were once there have gradually faded over the years. The old feelings havent exactly disappeared, Nora says. Now and then it feels something like it used to. But mostly it feels like our relationship has ‘flatlined.

Another person, David, recently celebrated the eleventh anniversary of his second marriage. He describes a similar shift a bit more sardonically, saying that his relationship has settled into a state of depressing comfortableness. Hes thought about having an affair.

If these laments sound familiar to you, its likely because most men and women find that their long-term marriages (Im defining “marriage” to describe all committed relationships, straight or gay) tend to head south over time.

Gradually, they descend into what I call the Functional Relationship.

Most people think its inevitable, but theres a unique way to liberate yourself from it. Its learning to leave your relationship in order to transform it. You do that through becoming indifferent.

First, lets look at what typically happens in the Functional Relationship. The relationship continues to work fairly well, but mostly in a transactional way, around the logistics of daily life: I thought you were taking the car in for repair. Whose turn is it to take the kids to soccer practice on Saturday?

Sometimes, it becomes more adversarial: Why did you schedule the plumber for tomorrow when you knew you couldnt be here? I told you that I have a meeting I cant miss.

But even when functioning goes fairly smoothly, feelings of passion or even fun just hanging out together diminish, especially in contrast to how it felt early on in the relationship. As Ive studied contemporary marriages in our post-9-11/post-economic meltdown-world of the 21st Century, I find that couples experience this diminishment in three main ways:

  • Decreased emotional intimacy and sharing of feelings.
  • Less equality in decisions and daily interactions, which are often tinged by power-struggles and silent maneuvering for the upper hand.
  • And dampened sexuality, both in quantity and quality.

A note about that third item: Even when arousal is jacked up by Viagra or the new products purporting to enhance womens desire, your libido desire for the person youre with remains diminished. Thats no surprise, because the latter is relationship-dependent. It remains unaffected even if youre physiologically able to become aroused.

Overall, couples in a Functional Relationship report a diminished sense of connection with each other. Sometimes its a feeling of not being on the same wave-length.

Most people assume that the Functional Relationship is completely “normal;” just a sad reality of adult life. Some are resigned to it as just one more part of the long slide home, as one 47-year-old journalist described his experience of midlife. Of course, not everyone feels so bleak, but many would agree with this womans lament about her 18-year relationship: What was once a bright flame has turned into a pilot light.

You, too probably assume that romantic and sexual connections are supposed to fade over time. Common sense seems to tell you so. After all, youre seeing the same person day-in and day-out, not just when he or she is most attractive. And like the majority of couples today, youre probably dealing with the impact of multitasking, dual-career lives. Raising children in addition absorbs enormous time and energy. Just trying to carry on in this uncertain, unpredictable world adds another huge layer of stress.

If everyday experience doesnt convince you that the Functional Relationship is inevitable, there are the pronouncements of various experts. For example, some researchers claim that brain chemicals such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and phenylethylamine, associated with sexual excitement or desire, decline with familiarity. At the same time, oxytocin and endorphins, which generate feelings of quiet comfort and calm, rise. Therefore, they say, you are going to feel diminished desire for your partner over time.

Many marriage and relationship experts advocate just accepting this decline and learning to be happy with it. For example, in her book Surrendering to Marriage Iris Krasnow advocates learning to appreciate and live with the security and comfort that come along with the inevitable decline unless, of course, you want to go down the slippery slope of an affair, or dumping your partner altogether and look for a new one. Its easy to think its best to stop complaining about what you dont have and learn to live with lowered expectations.

If all of the above is really true, then youd better resign yourself to the fact that a passionate marriage is an oxymoron.

But before you do that, consider this: Descending into the Functional Relationship is neither natural nor inevitable. True, the experience is widespread. But most people descend into the Functional Relationship because its the natural outcome of how you learn to engage in love relationships to begin with. As I wrote in a previous post, its a version of adolescent romance. Its features like intense arousal by a new person; infatuation, often followed by deflation; manipulating and game-playing, are part of normal adolescent development. But we carry them into our adult experience. And that model of love cant sustain long-term connection and vitality.

Becoming Indifferent

Through my research and clinical work I’ve been discovering how and why some people defy the norm and generate new energy and vitality within their long-term relationships. Im convinced that theres a way out of the Functional Relationship. Theres even a way to avoid it altogether. I call it the art of Creative Indifference. Continue reading

Share

Having An Affair? But Which Kind?

The other day Tiger Woods began his �I did bad things� tour of the talk shows, and I recalled a recent moment with George (not his real name), who had consulted me about the dilemma posed by his new affair.� As he told me how it began, visions of Woods, Mark Sanford, and John Edwards began flashing through my head — along with the similar stories of countless patients over the years.

�She was standing off by herself during a conference break, leaning against a wall, sipping coffee,� George said.���As I walked by, our eyes met and I felt a sudden jolt — a rush of energy, real connection.��Suddenly we found ourselves talking, feeling like we had known each other for years.�� The affair �just �happened,� George added.

That�s an explanation I�ve heard many times.��Another is a bit more �strategic.�� For example, Jan, a 41 year-old lawyer, said her affair was a �marriage stabilizer�.safe and discreet, a perfect solution for me.� �She decided it was a rational alternative to the disruption of divorce.

Of course the public always enjoys being titillated with stories of public figures� affairs, especially when hypocrisy is exposed.� But cultural attitudes have clearly shifted towards acceptance of affairs.� They�re seen as a life-style choice; an option for men and women yearning for excitement or intimacy that�s lacking or has dulled during their marriage.� So given that new reality, I decided to write this piece, about the psychology of affairs — their meaning and their consequences.

Based on my work over the decades, I find six kinds of affairs that people have today. �I think a non-judgmental description of them (but with a tinge of humor) can help people who have affairs deal with them with greater awareness and responsibility.��Here are the six I�ve diagnosed: Continue reading

Share

Looking For Your Soul Mate?

Most men and women long to find a partner who is their soul mateeven if they dont think that such a person exists outside of the imagination. Over the years, Ive heard many of my patients describe their longing for a soul mate, and a few of them believe they were fortunate enough to find one. But most have concluded that its just an elusive dream, fueled by idealized illusions. And many of them have had to face how their longing for a soul mate drew them into relationships that ended up distorted or dysfunctional, partly because of their idealization of their partners.

Of course, one reason for that is the damaging impact of our adolescent model of adult love that I described in a previous post. Many people become socially conditioned into a view of love that they equate with an intense yearning for the feeling of being in love. That heightens desire for an idealized lover, especially when he or she is elusive or unavailable. Longing for the unattainable ideal is more of an enthrallment with your own experience of feeling in love, than a reality-based interest in the real person of your partner.

Beyond that flawed experience that colors most peoples romantic lives, many relationships that begin with a positive charge, emotionally and sexually, crumble under the weight of daily life, with all its pressures, conflicting desires, bills to pay, career conflicts, childrens needs, and so on. Therefore, many assume that boredom with your partner and the corresponding sexual decline is inevitable. And that can reactivate old yearnings or hope for a soul mate who might be out there, after all, beckoning you to a simple, pure, passionate love. Of course, thats what leads many people into affairs a subject Ill go into in a later post.

But I think theres another way to envisioning what the soul-mate experience is and how it can grow and develop, as part of a mature adult love relationship; something thats attainable in reality. In essence, sustainable adult love blends together erotic desire, friendship, respect and support of each others growth and development — as independent, different human beings. Think of the way in which a new substance can arise from the joining of two separate elements, like water emerging from the coming together of hydrogen and oxygen. Similarly, adult love is the product of two self-sufficient, non-needy people. Its more of an art that you practice and cultivate, not a set of techniques that you acquire from a how-to book.

So how do you build it? I think there are three sources of the adult version of a soul mate: what I call radical transparency; words-into-actions; and good vibrations, sexually-physically. Continue reading

Share