Tag Archives: decline of romance

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

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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.

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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

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

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October 21, 2014

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

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

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

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Is It Good To Sacrifice In A Relationship?

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

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

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Gun Violence And Its Social Roots

Screen shot 2012-12-19 at 11.54.15 AMIt’s quite likely that nothing at all will happen following the Newtown elementary school killings, in terms of curbing gun violence. But if there is a sea change of attitude and action, it would result from a critical mass of Democrats and Republicans who summon the courage to oppose the NRA’s threats to defeat their reelection campaigns, and then enact and enforce reasonable gun laws. Such laws would occupy the “middle ground” that respects the rights of sportsmen, target-shooters, and hunters, as well as those who want to possess firearms for protection of their homes; and yet, limits the availability of assault-type weapons that serve none of those purposes. At the same time, legislators’ actions would also include creating additional resources for mentally disturbed people, including helping families, schools, and the general public recognize potential signs of disturbance and greater sources of help. Legislation that protects the public from the easy availability of assault weapons and multiple rounds of ammunition would recognize the rights of people to be protected from the use of such weapons for killing.

But keep this in mind: Most mentally disturbed people never become violent. In fact, most killings aren’t committed by the severely mentally disturbed. Moreover, we can’t predict who might become violent. We know that certain combinations of emotions, such as intense anger, fueled by alcohol or drugs, may result in violence. But many people fit that profile and never commit a violent act, let alone murder anyone.

A deeper, more complex issue is harder to address. It concerns underlying cultural attitudes and norms within American society that Continue reading

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Have Doubts About Marrying? You Should Heed Them!

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

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

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

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

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

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Doubts About Marrying? You Should Heed Them!

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

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

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

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Leave Your Lover To Re-energize Your Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Problem

Relationships are hard. Couples grapple with Continue reading

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Macho Men Have Worse Romantic Relationships — Here’s Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hoping For Good Sex During The Holidays…But Disappointed? Here’s Why

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

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

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Reversing the “Death Spiral” During So-Called Midlife

You may ask yourself: well… how did I get here?
You may say to yourself?My God!… what have I done?
Letting the days go by/into the silent water
Talking Heads

A woman in her late 30s was telling me about her work-life conflicts. She has a busy career, three children, and a husband who travels a great deal for his own job. She suddenly paused, recalling a recent, terrifying dream: She’s on one of those moving sidewalks, and can’t get off. Passing by on either side are scenes of herself, but living different lives with different people. Suddenly she recognizes the Grim Reaper standing at the end of the sidewalk, arms outstretched, awaiting her.

She wakes up, screaming.

You might think her dream sounds more typical of someone in the throes of “midlife.” In fact, I think it reveals the need for new thinking about what we’ve called “midlife.” That is, changes in our culture and in how people live require tossing out old notions of “midlife” and the “midlife crisis.” With people living longer, healthier, productive lives, what used to be a narrower “middle” period of adulthood has greatly expanded.

Instead, think of a broad period of true adulthood that starts somewhere in the 30s. From that period onward men and women face a range of truly adult challenges of living and working in today’s world. This new, longer adulthood extends for several decades — recent surveys find that about 80% think “old age” begins at around 85 — so the term “midlife” is no longer accurate.

No surprise, then, that 30-somethings are reporting symptoms associated with a “midlife crisis” – marriage boredom, careers flatlining, work-life juggling, trying to keep it all together, trying to maintain sanity…and, wondering what the point of it all is, like in that Talking Heads song.

To better explain all this and how to reverse that “death spiral,” let’s look at recent contradictory Continue reading

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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Our Adolescent Model of Adult Love and Sexual Relationships

Like most men and women today, you and your partner are almost guaranteed to descend into what I call the Functional Relationship. One that lopes along OK, but with declining energy and connection, emotionally and sexually. Thats because most people learn a way of relating within romantic and sexual relationships that is a version of adolescent romance. But Im an adult, you may protest. I grew out of that teen-age romance stuff long ago.

Not quite. Were socially conditioned into intimate relationships that are basically extensions of the adolescent experience. That is, the features of normal adolescent romance shapes and defines most of the expectations, behavior, and experience about romance and sexuality that you carry into your adult life. Few realize it, because most dont learn any other way. And thats a big problem, because adolescent romance is incompatible with building an adult love relationship.

Take a look at some typical features of adolescent romance: Short-term intense arousal from a new partner. Infatuation and idealization of the new love, often followed by deflation and feelings of loss. Intense longing and yearning — especially when the person is unattainable or elusive. Emotional upheaval and turmoil. The novelist Graham Greene captured much of this in The Heart of the Matter, in which he described …the intense interest one feels in a strangers life, the interest the young mistake for love.

Emotional tumult and intense emotional-sexual arousal by a new partner are part of what a person experiences when such feelings are new – physiologically and emotionally. Thats a part of normal developmental experience for hormone-driven teenagers. Dion captured the anguish this can cause in his classic song, Why Must I Be A Teen-Ager In Love? The problem is, most people are still singing the same tune at 40.

Men and women tend to become frozen within the residue of adolescent romance by the time they enter adulthood. It morphs into the Functional Relationship the longer a couple stays together. The reason is that adolescent love extended into adulthood undercuts sustained the vitality and connection needed for a long-term relationship. You can see the features of adolescent romance in what adults do when they are seeking or forming a new relationship. For example, manipulation and game playing; trying to find the right strategy to get and possess the partner; jockeying around for control, and so forth. Generally, we learn to associate intensity of feelings with real love.

Even though most people dont really enjoy being caught up in all this, most learn to accept it as part of normal love relationships. But a more accurate understanding is that such experiences reflect an enthrallment with our own feeling of being in love, much more than a response to the other. The former is part of the adolescent experience. Continue reading

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Understanding The ‘Marriage Gap’

American society is undergoing some major shifts in how men and women think about marriage –whether to enter it, stay within it, or consider alternatives to it. But some recent explanations about what these shifts mean contribute more confusion than clarity.

First, some facts:

The divorce rate continues to hover at around 50%, regardless of greater awareness of the potential emotional and financial impact of divorce upon couples and their children.

Polls find that about 60% of those surveyed accept affairs; and about 30% actually admit to having had one.

The marriage rate has dropped by 37% in the last four decades

Cohabitation has risen dramatically during the same period

In 1960, 430,000 unmarried couples were living together. By 2000, that number had soared 12-fold to 5 million. Today, only 2.3 million couples marry in a year. Its possible that cohabitation is on its way to becoming the dominant form of male-female unions.

Clearly, people are thinking and behaving differently about marriage than previous generations — especially how necessary or desirable they think it is compared with other forms of intimate partnership. This raises questions about how best to understand these shifts, and what they portend for the decades ahead.

Some answers have been provided by socially conservative organizations, such as the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values. But these answers are shaped by an ideological agenda, rooted in two convictions: First, that divorce and cohabitation are social evils, to begin with, and should be curtailed through legislative action, whenever possible. And secondly, that the best social arrangement is the traditional marriage (heterosexual only, of course) in which the wife is a dutiful subordinate; an unequal partner.

Such self-described pro-marriage groups seem especially annoyed by Continue reading

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