Tag Archives: flaws in love relationships

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

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

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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

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Does Fighting Really Energize Your Sex Life?

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May 24, 2016

A previous article of mine, posted on LiveYourVie.comcontinues to be relevant to many couple, today:

“Of course, we fight!” John said, “All couples do; that’s normal!” He looked at me incredulously, as Mary quickly added with a tight smile, “But then we have ‘make-up sex.’ And that makes things better.”

Nevertheless, they sought therapy over their concern about the long-term impact of this “normal” pattern.

Perhaps you share John and Mary’s experience or views. Many do. The sex lives and relationships of couples often descend over time into diminishing excitement and passion, and increasing boredom and routine. Call it “marital sex,” in contrast to what couples often experience at the start of a relationship. In “marital sex,” you’re bringing into the bedroom all the other parts of your relationship, like disagreements over finances, or even over trivial things like where to place the furniture or where to vacation—not to mention parenting challenges, which become a large part of any couples’ relationship. And aside from all of your collective relationship and family issues, each of you has your own individual concerns—your career, your aging parents, or other familial stressors.

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

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Stress, Success, And the Demise of Manhood

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It’s no surprise that surveys document increasing stress and emotional conflict among workers and within their intimate relationships. One recent example: A report from Fortune that American workers are more stressed than ever. Based on 500 Americans, it found that more than half said their stress level reached significant levels. And at home, career-related conflicts increasingly intersect with relationship issues in negative ways.

One study found that men automatically interpret a partner’s success as their own failure, even when they’re not in direct competition. Moreover, couples’ conflicts often involve differences about what success means. Those differences infiltrate their sex lives. As I’ve written elsewhere, some believe that “make-up” sex will cover over their differences about their life goals or values. But it doesn’t.

In my view, such findings and observations highlight a deeper and broader theme: Our views of “success” and traditional “manhood” are changing as a byproduct of our evolving, diversifying culture. That theme was hinted at by recent research findings that higher status and material success are associated with attitudes of entitlement and narcissism. Those, in turn, affect your view of yourself and how you relate to others you’re connected with, often with negative consequences.

In essence, we’re experiencing significant upheaval and transformation regarding what men traditionally learn to define as “manhood” and “success” in our culture. It’s unraveling the traditional definition of “maleness;” the values and behavior that have defined what a successful male is — at work, in intimate relationships and in society.

That is, many men feel unmoored regarding their identity, purpose and place in a world that’s evolving rapidly in ways that feel threatening to life as they’ve known it. Men who cling to traditional positions of power in society (including domination in their intimate relationships) — and who define their self-worth by such power — can feel terrified; in danger of losing what they thought “manhood” and a stable, successful life was. They may fear losing domination in their relationships and material measures of prestige and success

It can be frightening to experience one’s previously stable world under siege. Especially so, for those who’ve profited from or otherwise bought into a manhood identity centered around holding and using personal power for material ends, elite status and social recognition. To them, it may feel inconceivable that society would be anything other than stable and supportive of who they are; of their secure place in the world, and that they would be the perpetual beneficiaries of that stability.

Much of the political appeal of Donald Trump both reflects and taps into those fears. That stirs longings for restoring how things “used to be.” But reality has a path of its own. Old expectations are eroding in the face of major cultural and social shifts that give voice to demands for greater equality and shared power. This forces men to reformulate what they think supports positive, intimate relationships, and what they think defines a successful life as a man, in today’s world.

Consider just a few of these shifts:

The upshot is that our society is evolving towards greater interdependency, collaboration and equality at all levels. That means shifting away from the primacy of self-interest and towards serving the larger social good. The traditional definition of success and manhood, along with attempts to maintain the vested interests in it, can, indeed, feel like standing on crumbling ground when you’re hit with large-scale social change and transformation that you don’t understand; or are told is harmful and must be opposed at all costs.

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

Credit: The Huffington Post

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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

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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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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.

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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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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

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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

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Covert Sexism In The Workplace Is As Harmful As Overt Behavior

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Our workplaces are steadily evolving towards environments in which men and women are valued, recognized and rewarded for their ability to work collaboratively with others who differ from them – whether gender, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, or sexual orientation. It’s a gradual process, however, and it’s important to document and raise awareness of the attitudes and behavior that continue to undermine individuals and teams in organizations. A current example is this study: It found that that frequent sexist comments and management cultures that are covertly demeaning to women are just as damaging to women as acts of sexual coercion or overtly sexual conduct and behavior towards them.

The research, published in The Psychology of Women Quarterly, found that “Norms, leadership, or policies, that reduce intense harmful experiences may lead managers to believe that they have solved the problem of maltreatment of women in the workplace,” according to the authors. “However, the more frequent, less intense, and often unchallenged gender harassment, sexist discrimination, sexist organizational climate and organizational tolerance for sexual harassment appeared at least as detrimental for women’s wellbeing. They should not be considered lesser forms of sexism.” The research team analyzed 88 independent studies of a combined 73,877 working women, and found following associations:

  • Sexism and gender harassment were just as harmful to working women’s individual health and work attitudes as common job stressors such as work overload and poor working conditions.
  • When women are the targets of sexism and harassment in the workplace, they are more dissatisfied with supervisors than co-workers.
  • There was a trend of a more negative effect of sexism and harassment in male-dominated workplaces, such as the armed forces and financial and legal services firms. However, the authors suggested this required further research.

The authors added, “Our results suggest that organizations should have zero tolerance for low intensity sexism, the same way they do for overt harassment. This will require teaching workers about the harmful nature of low intensity sexist events, not only for women, but also for the overall organizational climate.”

Credit: Aiste Miseviciute/Alamy

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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

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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

 

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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

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The Enduring Impact of Loss…In Love and Life

Screen shot 2014-12-23 at 12.30.09 PMApril 28, 2015

As a young boy living in upstate New York, I loved roaming through the nearby woods and fields by myself, on summer days. One sunny afternoon I came upon a tall, thick-trunked tree that had a deep scar on it’s lower portion. It looked like it had been struck by lightning some years before, and was damaged there. Yet it continued to grow.

That memory came to mind recently, as I reflecting on experiences of loss in our relationships and lives, over time; and what endures from them. I recall an essay by the novelist Walter Mosley, who wrote about an awakening, as a small child – his first “mystery.” He described a memory of his three-year-old self in the backyard of his parents’ house, in which he realized, “These must be my parents” and he called out to them. “My mother nodded. My father said my name. Neither touched me, but I had learned by then not to expect that.”

He described ”an emptiness in my childhood that I filled up with fantasies,” and noted that “the primitive heart that remembers is, in a way, eternal.” Interestingly, Mosley grew into the acclaimed mystery novelist he is, today.

Sometimes an unexpected event triggers a memory of a once-meaningful adult relationship. It may have faded over time, but had etched itself onto our soul. For example, the writer Lee Montgomery described 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.”

Eventually, their relationship ended. 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. Montgomery describes how fresh and alive the memories felt to her, as she drew into them: “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.” Continue reading

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Is Your Sexism Showing? It’s All in Your Smile!

Screen shot 2015-04-17 at 4.05.32 PMApril 14, 2015

Well, this is interesting: A new study finds that sexist men reveal their degree of sexist attitudes — from more hostile and malignant to benign and patronizing — by the way they smile towards women in social interactions; and how they speak to them in those situations.

That is, the study, conducted by Jin Goh and Judith Hall of Northeastern University, and published in the journal Sex Roles, found that if you want to uncover a man’s true attitude about women, you need to watch how he smiles and talks to her. 

In this study the researchers examined how men’s word choice, attitudes and smiles show their version of sexism in different ways when they interact with women they’ve just met. The researchers carefully examined the interactions of 27 pairs of American undergraduate men and women. They were filmed while they played a trivia game together and then chatted afterwards. Researchers analyzed the men’s behavior, including nonverbal behavior and choice of words used during the interactions, as explained in the journal article.

They found that the more “hostile sexists” were viewed as less approachable, less friendly, in their speech. They also smiled less during the interaction. However, the men who were more of the “benevolent sexist” variety were rated as more approachable, warmer, friendlier and more likely to smile. Moreover, the benevolent sexists used more positive emotional words and were overall more patient while waiting for a woman to answer trivia questions.

The authors argue that sexism can range from hostile to benevolent; either form reflects negative or discriminatory attitudes towards women. They describe hostile sexism as an Continue reading

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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.

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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

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Post-Holiday Loneliness? It Has Many Sources — Here’s What May Help

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January 5, 2015

I was standing in a bar and watching all the people there
Oh the loneliness in this world well it’s just not fair

 — Brian Wilson, “Love and Mercy”

Holiday seasons often intensify feelings of loneliness for many – even if you’re in a crowded bar, as in Brian Wilson’s song, or in an unfulfilling relationship. Aside from what some people experience during holidays, loneliness can intensify at any point in the year. And it can have different roots for different people.

For example, Anne, a therapy patient, tells me that she’s felt lonely throughout her life. Growing up with an alcoholic mother and sometimes-present father, her intimate relationships have been brief and her friends, few, throughout her adult years. Now in her early 40s, she’s suffered from one physical ailment after another.

Another patient, Brian, has an active social life with friends and business associates, as well as a long-term marriage and an extended family. Despite this apparently full relationship life, he speaks of feeling lonely “right in the midst of everyone around me…something always feels missing.” Brian, too, suffers from frequent illnesses and allergies.

That both have physical complaints isn’t surprising, since our mind/body/spirit are all one. Each “part” affects each other “part.” In fact, some new research underscores this. It finds that loneliness can weaken your immune system, which then sets the stage for a range of physical illnesses. Continue reading

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Negative Relationships at Midlife Can Cause Mental Decline

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November 25, 2014

Hey, midlifers, this is definitely worth noting: New research led by University College London finds that stressful, difficult, or otherwise negative relationships can contribute to mental decline during the middle years of life.

The study was summarized by Reuters, and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. The study found that those who reported more negative aspects of close relationships also tended to have more rapid cognitive aging. People who reported the most negative aspects of close relationships were also more likely to have symptoms of depression and diabetes than others.

In the Reuters report, the lead author Jing Liao said “Any relationship involves both positive and negative exchanges, especially those close relationships that are most likely to evoke ambivalent sentiments. Negative aspects of close relationships refer to unpleasant social exchanges when the recipient finds the relationship ineffective, intrusive or over-controlling,”

Similarly, “Previous studies…have found that close relationships that involve strain and conflict are associated with poorer executive functioning,” said Margie E. Lachman, director of the Lifespan Initiative on Healthy Aging and Lifespan Lab at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts.

Liao pointed out that “There is evidence that, in general, those with a partner or those who are less socially isolated report better quality of life and live longer…but healthy people are more likely to have a partner and be more socially engaged.”

For Reuter’s full report of the research and how it was conducted, click here.

 

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Does Your Sex Life Improve By Fighting With Your Partner?

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

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

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

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

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

Why Fighting Is Destructive

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

Think of fighting as different from Continue reading

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At Midlife, Arguing Can Kill You!

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August 5, 2014

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

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

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

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

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July 8, 2014

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

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

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

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Cynical? You’re Increasing Your Risk Of Dementia

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Science continues to demonstrate the active interconnections between all “parts” of ourselves and the physical/social environment that we experience and deal with throughout life. This is more than “brain-behavior” or “mind-body” connection: we are biological-psychological-spiritual-social beings. All dimensions of ourselves are constantly at play. A recent study reveals a new connection between a personality dimension — cynicism — and the likelihood of dementia. The research, published in the journal Neurology, found that people with high levels of “cynical distrust” were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism.

I think such research shows the system-wide impact of the emotional attitudes and perspectives about life that we consciously create and shape — or let take root from unexamined, unresolved life conflicts — upon our entire being.

The researchers, led by Anna-Maija Tolppanen at the University of Eastern Finland,  defined cynical distrust as the belief that others are mainly motivated by selfish concerns. They assessed level of cynicism by asking people how much they agreed with statements such as “I think most people would lie to get ahead,” “It is safer to trust nobody” and “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.” The researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect dementia risk, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Moreover, the link between cynicism and dementia was not accounted for by depression; they appear to be independent factors. Continue reading

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In a Depressing Marriage? Here’s Why

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Moody Blues, “Your Wildest Dream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Health Effects of Childhood Abuse and Lack of Love Extend Into Adulthood

Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 2.31.03 PMThere are many forms of childhood abuse, including overt physical abuse, indifference, humiliation, neglect, denigration…

Certainly, all take a toll upon the developing child. And now, new research finds that early abuse takes a continuing, lasting toll on physical and mental health as those children grow into adults. The effects permeate one’s entire mind-body system.

As Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

The UCLA study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined the effects of abuse and lack of parental affection across the body’s entire regulatory system. It found strong links between negative early life experiences and health, across the board. According to the researchers, the findings also suggest that a loving parental figure may provide protection: “It is well recognized that providing children in adverse circumstances with a nurturing relationship is beneficial for their overall wellbeing. Our findings suggest that a loving relationship may also prevent the rise in biomarkers indicative of disease risk across numerous physiological systems.”

In a summary of the research published in Science News, Judith E. Carroll, a research scientist at the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA and the study’s lead author, stated, “If the child has love from parental figures they may be more protected from the impact of abuse on adult biological risk for health problems than those who don’t have that loving adult in their life.” That is, the researchers found a significant link between childhood abuse and multisystem health risks in adulthood. But those who reported higher amounts of parental warmth and affection in their childhood had lower multisystem health risks. The researchers also found a significant interaction of abuse and warmth, so that individuals reporting low levels of love and affection and high levels of abuse in childhood had the highest multisystem risk in adulthood. Their findings suggest that parental warmth and affection protect one against the harmful effects of toxic childhood stress.

A description of how the study was conducted and its data are found in the this research abstract.

 

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

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

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

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

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

That is, I think we’re experiencing Continue reading

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More Research Finds Humans Are Hardwired For Empathy and Connection

Screen shot 2013-09-28 at 9.01.15 AMResearch evidence continues to mount that humans are hardwired for empathy and connection. Despite our surface differences and conflicts, both minor and major, we are one, beneath those differences, like organs of the same body. But we haven’t evolved enough quite yet to enact that truth. The latest research, from a University of Virginia study, published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscienceindicates that we experience people who we become close to as, essentially, our own selves.

“With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves,” said lead researcher James Coan. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans (fMRIs), the study found find that “Our self comes to include the people we feel close to.” He added, “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”

“It’s essentially a breakdown of self and other; our self comes to include the people we become close to,” Coan said. “If a friend is under threat, it becomes the same as if we ourselves are under threat. We can understand the pain or difficulty they may be going through in the same way we understand our own pain.” And, “A threat to ourselves is a threat to our resources,” he said. “Threats can take things away from us. But when we develop friendships, people we can trust and rely on who in essence become we, then our resources are expanded, we gain. Your goal becomes my goal.”

The research underscores that humans need to have friends and allies who they can side with and see as being the same as themselves. And, as people spend more time together, they become more similar.

In my view, that indicates that our essential “sameness” emerges as we become familiar with people whom we initially experience as “different,” or threatening. Hopefully, we will continue to evolve in that directions before fear of “the other” and self-interest destroy us.

The research summary in Science News describes how the research was conducted: Continue reading

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

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

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

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

 

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Do Couples Prefer Conflict Over Shared Power and Emotional Exposure?

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the report: Continue reading

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Is It Good To Sacrifice In A Relationship?

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

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

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The Link Between Depression And Your Love Relationship

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

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

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How Fears Shape Your Political Views…And Much More

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

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

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

However, as the researchers pointed out, Continue reading

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The Fallen Generals…And Our Own Private Truths

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

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

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

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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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Macho Men Have Worse Romantic Relationships — Here’s Why

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why Some Affairs Are Psychologically Healthy

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

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

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

A Marriage In The Dead Zone

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

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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 Deal With Abusive Bosses And Unhealthy Management With “Engaged Indifference”

Inmy previous postI described how abusive bosses and psychologically unhealthy management harm both employees and business success, and I explained that such behavior in the workplace is increasingly dysfunctional intoday’s highly interconnected, interdependent economic and social environment. This follow-up piece offers some suggestions for dealing with such situations when you find yourself within them.

Many people struggle to find ways to better cope when subjected to unhealthy, abusive management. Often that means learningstress management techniques. They can be helpful, especially when you don’t think any alternatives exist. But ultimately, they aren’t enough. However, reframing how you envision your situation to begin with can open the door to proactive, positive actions in the situation you feel trapped in.

Cathy’s example contains some ways you can do that. She was at mid-level in her company and had a record of steady promotion. At one point, senior leadership in her area changed abruptly, and she was now reporting to a newly appointed boss. “I’m here to shake things up,” he told everyone when he took over. “Everyone’s job is on the line.”

Cathy’s assessment of her new boss was that he didn’t really know her area of expertise, nor was he very interested in learning about it. Nevertheless, he freely criticized her work. Moreover, he kept sitting on a promotion that she had been in line for.

It wasn’t just her: Her boss stirred up much resentment among others because of his arrogant, controlling, dismissive style. When Cathy researched something he had requested and presented it to him, he exploded, 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 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

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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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