Tag Archives: marriage conflicts

Regrets About Sacrificing For Your Partner? This May Be Why

August 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Regretting Your Sacrifice To Your Partner

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

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

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Is Just Sex The Key To A Lasting Relationship?

May 30, 2017

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

Let’s take a look.

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

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

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

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

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Hurt Your Relationship Through This Quick And Fast Way!

March 28, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Flickr/Sage Therapy

A version of this article also appeared in Psychology Today.

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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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Two Hidden Ways To Sustain Romance and Intimacy In Your Relationship

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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?

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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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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

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

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October 21, 2014

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

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

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

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Can Distancing Yourself From A Conflict Help A Relationship?

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September 30, 2014

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

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

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

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

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Does Your Sex Life Improve By Fighting With Your Partner?

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

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

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

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

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

Why Fighting Is Destructive

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

Think of fighting as different from Continue reading

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Do Couples Who Share Housework Have Less Sex?

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

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

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

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

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At Midlife, Arguing Can Kill You!

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August 5, 2014

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

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

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

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Depressed and Married? Here’s Why

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is, I think we’re experiencing Continue reading

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A Good Love Relationship Is Associated With Good Parenting

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

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

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

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

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

Well, yes…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Baby Boomer At Midlife? Why Your Relationship May Not Survive

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

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

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

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How To Retrieve Your Love Relationship From The Dead Zone

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

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

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

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Why 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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For Adults Only: Sustaining Your Emotional and Sexual Intimacy

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

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

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

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

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Hook-Up Sex, Marital Sex, and Making Love

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

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

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

Hook-Up Sex

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

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

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

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Building An “Inside-Out” Life

1. Why “Work-Life” Balance Is A Myth

Meet Linda and Jim, who consulted me for psychotherapy. Linda is a lawyer with a large firm; Jim heads a major trade association. They told me theyre totally committed to their marriage and to being good parents. But they also said its pretty hectic juggling all their responsibilities at work and at home They have two children of their own plus a child from her former marriage. Dealing with the logistics of daily life, to say nothing of the emotional challenges, makes it hard just to come up for air, Linda said. Sound familiar?

Or listen to Bill, a 43-year-old who initially consulted me for help with some career challenges. Before long, he acknowledged that hes worried about the other side of life. Hes raising two teenage daughters and a younger son by himself one of the rising numbers of single fathers. Hes constantly worried about things like whether a late meeting might keep him at work. He tries to have some time for himself, but its hard enough just staying in good physical health, let alone being able to have more of a life, he said. Recently, he learned he has hypertension.

Its no surprise that these people, like many I see both in my psychotherapy practice and my workplace consulting, feel pummeled by stresses in their work and home lives. Most are aware, at least dimly, that this is unhealthy that stress damages the body, mind and spirit. Ten years ago, a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that 70 percent of all illness, physical and mental, is linked to stress of some kind. And that number has probably increased over the last decade. Much of this stress comes from struggling with the pressures of work and home and trying to balance both. The problem seems nearly universal, whether in two-worker, single-parent or childless households.

I think these conflicts are so common because people have learned to frame the problem incorrectly to begin with. That is, theres no way to balance work life and home life, because both exist on the same side of the scale what I call your outer life. On the other side of the scale is your personal, private life your inner life. Instead of thinking about how to balance work life and home life, try, instead, to balance your outer life and inner life.

The Other Balancing Act

Let me explain. On the outer side of the scale you have the complex logistics and daily stresses of life at both work and home the e-mails to respond to, the errands, family obligations, phone calls, to-do lists and responsibilities that fill your days. Your outer life is the realm of the external, material world. Its where you use your energies to deal with tangible, often essential things. Paying your bills, building a career, dealing with people, raising kids, doing household chores, and so on. Your outer life is on your iPhone, BlackBerry, or your e-calender.

On the other side of the scale is your internal self. Its the realm of your private thoughts and values. Your emotions, fantasies, spiritual or religious practices. Your capacity to love, your secret desires, and your deeper sense of purpose. In short, it embodies who you are, on the inside. A successful inner life is defined by how well you deal with your emotions, your degree of self-awareness , and your sense of clarity about your values and life purpose. It includes your level of mental repose: your capacity for calm, focused action and resiliency that you need in the face of your frenetic, multitasking outer life.

If the realm of the inner life sounds unfamiliar or uncomfortable to you, this only emphasizes how much you like most peple have lost touch with your inner self. You can become so depleted and stretched by dealing with your outer life that theres little time to tend to your mind, spirit or body. Then, you identify your self mostly with who you are in that outer realm. And when theres little on the inner side of the scale, the outer part weighs you down. You are unbalanced, unhappy and often sick.

When your inner life is out of balance with your outer, you become more vulnerable to stress, and thats related to a wide range of physical damage. Research shows that heart attacks, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, a weakened immune system, skin disorders, asthma, migraine, musculoskeletal problems all are linked to stress.

More broadly, when your inner and outer lives become unbalanced, your daily functioning is affected in a range of ways, both subtle and overt. When operating in the outer world at work, for example, or in dealings with your spouse or partner you may struggle with unjustified feelings of insecurity and fear. You may find yourself at the mercy of anger or greed whose source you dont understand. You may be plagued with indecisiveness or revert to emotional default positions forged during childhood, such as submissiveness, rebellion or self-undermining behavior.

Even when youre successful in parts of your outer life, neglecting the inner remains hazardous to your psychological and physical health. Without a developed inner life, you lose the capacity to regulate, channel and focus your energies with awareness, self-direction and judgment. Personal relationships can suffer, your health may deteriorate and you become vulnerable to looking for new stimulation from the outer-world sources you know best maybe a new win, a new lover, drugs or alcohol.

And that pulls you even more off-balance, possibly to the point of no return. The extreme examples are Continue reading

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The Paradox of Indifference – The Key To A Revitalized Relationship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Becoming Indifferent

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

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Today’s Psychologically Healthy Adult — Neither Adult Nor Healthy

Becoming Sane….Part III

In previous posts on the theme of becoming sane in a turbulent, interconnected, unpredictable world, I described why conventional emotional resiliency doesnt work in the 21st Century; and what that means for building a psychologically healthy life in todays world.

In this post Ill explain why many of the conflicts men and women deal with today stem from this contradiction: The criteria for adult psychological health accepted by the mental health professions and the general public doesnt really describe an adult. Nor, for that matter, does it describe psychological health.

A contradiction, to be sure, so let me explain: As we entered the world of the 21st Century our definition of psychological health was largely defined by the absence of psychiatric symptoms. The problem is, thats like defining a happy person as someone whos not depressed. Moreover, sometimes what appears to be a psychiatric symptom reflects movement towards greater health and growth in a persons life situation.

But more significantly, our conventional view of psychological health is, in effect, a well-adapted, well-functioning child in relation to parents or parent figures. Or, a sibling who interacts appropriately in a social context with other siblings. Either way, it describes a person functioning within and adapted to a world shaped and run by parents, psychologically speaking.

That is, we pretty much equate healthy psychological functioning with effective management or resolution of child- or sibling-based conflicts. For example, resolving and managing such child-based conflicts as impulse control; narcissistic or grandiose attitudes; and traumas around attachment, from indifference, abandonment, abuse, or parenting that otherwise damages your adult capacity for intimacy or trusting relationships.

Healthy resolution of sibling-type conflicts includes learning effective ways to compete with other siblings at work or in intimate relationships; managing your fears of success or disapproval; containing passive-aggressive, manipulative or other self-undermining tendencies; and finding ways to perform effectively, especially in the workplace, towards people whose approval, acceptance and reward you need or crave.

Its no surprise, then, that many people feel and behave like children in a grown-up world. Examples permeate popular culture. A good one is the popular TV show, The Office. It often portrays the eruption of these sibling-type conflicts, as the workers act out their resentments or compete with one another to win the favor of office manager Michael, another grown-up child who is self-serving and clueless about his own competitive motives and insecurity.

Unconscious child-type conflicts are often visible within intimate relationships and family life, as well. They provide a steady stream of material for novels and movies. You can see, for example, fears of abandonment in a man who demands constant attention and assurance that hes loved; or low-self worth in a woman whos unconsciously attracted to partners who dominate or manipulate her.Of course its critical that you learn to become aware of and manage effectively whatever emotional damage you bring from your early experiences into adulthood. We all have some. Thats a good starting point for adult psychological health, but its not sufficient. A well-adapted member of a community of other children and siblings within a psychological world of parents is not the same thing as a healthy adult. Especially not within todays interconnected, non-linear world.

So without a picture of what a healthy adult would feel, think and do in the current environment, youre left with questions but few answers. For example:

  • How can you maintain the mental focus to keep your career skills sharp and stay on a successful path at work when you suddenly acquire a new boss who wants to take things in a new direction? Or if your company is acquired by another, or goes out of business?
  • How can you best respond, mentally, if you have a new baby and a drop in family income at the same time that globalization sidetracks your career?
  • How can you handle the pressure to work longer or do more business travel when your spouse faces the same demands?
  • Whats the healthiest way to keep your relationship alive with fresh energy or avoid the temptation of an affair?
  • And how do you deal emotionally with the threat of terrorism always lurking in the background of your mind while enjoying life at the same time?

We now live within a world where the only constant is change, and where a new requirement is being able to compete and collaborate with everyone from everywhere about almost everything.

Doing that with self-awareness and knowledge of how to grow and develop all facets of your being thats the new path to adult psychological health. But you need to know where to find the path.

Learning From The Business World?

Actually, I think we can learn a lot about whats needed for psychological health from changes occurring in the business world. Continue reading

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Becoming Sane In A Turbulent, Interconnected, Unpredictable World — Part 1

Why Emotional Resiliency Doesn’t Work In The 21st Century

It’s becoming clear that our understanding of emotional resilience – what it is and how to achieve it — (and, more broadly, psychological health) doesn’t mesh very well with today’s realities. Conventional descriptions of resilience and pathways to mental health don’t enable you to handle the challenges and stresses we face in the 21st Century.

Let me explain. Resilience is generally defined as the ability to cope successfully with misfortune or traumatic events. Being able to bounce back from adversity and keep on going. What helps you do that includes, for example, reviewing your strengths, focusing on positive thoughts and feelings, learning stressmanagement, looking down the road to what you can manage better. And, by getting psychotherapy and medication when you’re unable to bounce back very well on your own.

Prior to the 21st Century, that view of resiliency and how to build it was more relevant than today. The adversity and disruptions you were likely to experience were more stable, in a sense. The world was more predictable, more linear, with respect to the kinds of stresses and disruptions that would occur – as emotionally troubling as they might be.

Most of our thinking about emotional resilience and healthy functioning, then, fits a world in which unanticipated negative events are fairly predictable. They follow a fairly understandable course, following which you can reasonably anticipate a return to some form of previous stability. In that world, wars eventually ended. The economy went through recessions, then recovered. You might suffer a career or relationship setback but could assume that there was a path to recovery.

That notion of resilience and the ways to build it remain an important foundation for mental health. But they don’t help so much when you’re faced with the challenges of today’s environment. That’s because the very notion of resilience and the strategies for bouncing back are reactive. They focus on responding to something that happens to you, rather than on what you need to be doing proactively, as part of your way of life.

Starting with 9-11, and especially since the economic meltdown that began in the fall of 2008, we’ve been living in a world that’s rapidly transforming beneath our feet. Today’s world is an interconnected, interdependent, diverse, unpredictable and unstable global community. And that’s created new psychological challenges for everyone, challenges that require a highly proactive mentality.

Without it, you might feel like the woman who consulted me recently. Even before she sat down she said, ”I don’t know whether to reach for the Prozac….or Prilosec!”

Her grim humor masked her “recession depression” and other emotional battering. She didn’t know what would help. I’ve witnessed that a great deal in the last few years: Career and financial worries or losses; the ripple effect of those upon family life; anxieties about what sort of future one’s children are headed into, especially with climate change and terrorist threats; and the increasingly polarized views about our government’s role in people’s lives. Research and clinical observation show that all of the above are taking a psychological toll on relationships, families, career expectations, and on people’s entire sense of what they’re living and working for — their life purpose.

Unfortunately, those of us in the mental health professions haven’t been much help with these issues. Most of us continue to look through the rear-view mirror at a model of resiliency and health defined by coping with and managing conflicts in relationships and the workplace; conflicts that you can bounce back from and reestablish some kind of stability…all while continuing to pursue self-interest, such as getting your needs met, your personal goals achieved, your “happiness” acquired.

But today’s world of ongoing disruptions, continuous uncertainties and insecurity has become the new normal. Seeking to bounce back to stability and focusing on self-interest, which we’ve learned to think is the pathway to success, health and well-being, isn’t the right ticket.

In short, there’s no state of equilibrium you can bounce back to. In this highly diverse, interdependent, interconnected world. Trying to do so is a fast ticket to dysfunction and derailment. You can’t reestablish equilibrium within a constantly shifting world. But engaging these new realities in positive ways will support your success and well-being.

Research shows that you can proactively build specific emotions, thoughts and actions that are effective for adapting to life in the non-equilibrium world we now live within. That’s encouraging, because I think we’re evolving towards a new definition of psychological health via rethinking resilience.

The criteria of a new, proactive resiliency – maybe call it “prosilience – may sound contradictory because they include letting go of self-interest in your relationships and work. The new view of resilience emphasizes being flexible, open and nimble; being able to shift and redeploy your personal resources – emotional, creative, intellectual – towards positive engagement with others.

Resiliency grows from putting your energies, your values, emotional attitudes and actions in the service of the common good – something larger than just yourself. That’s what supports both success in your outside life and internal well-being. And in today’s rapidly transforming world, you need both.

In the future look for new posts about perspectives, research and actions that relate to “becoming sane in a turbulent, interconnected, turbulent world.” Through them I hope to contribute to a revised and needed reformulation of what psychological health and resiliency are in today’s world — in all realms of life: intimate relationships, career challenges, engagement with diverse people, and in our responsibilities as global citizens.

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Having An Affair? But Which Kind?

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

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

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

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

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

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Comfortably Numb at Midlife?

Unless youve been living in a cave, youre probably aware that the 78 million baby boomers have entered midlife. As a psychotherapist and business psychologist and member of this new midlife generation myself Ive worked a great deal with midlifers seeking help for emotional conflicts, career dilemmas and life transition issues.

Ive heard many expressions of midlife distress, but few as poignant as this one: A 47 yearold married mother of three told me of a dream in which she’s on one of those moving sidewalks, but can’t get off. On either side scenes pass by it’s herself, living different lives, with different people. Suddenly she recognizes the Grim Reaper standing at the end of the sidewalk, arms outstretched, awaiting her. She wakes up, screaming.

How to best understand its meaning? One problem is that much of the research and clinical understanding about midlife is contradictory. Some, like a MacArthur Foundation study, suggest that theres no such thing as a midlife crisis today; that most people sail through it smoothly. Others, like two recent studies, suggest that midlife is a time of universal depression;
sometimes severe.

For example, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that found a 20 percent rise in midlife suicide among 45 to 54 yearolds from 19992004 a rise that exceeded all other age groups in the U.S.

Another study reported an increase in depression during one’s 40s to early 50s, after which happiness rises again. Researchers from the University of Warwick and Dartmouth College studied 2 million people from 80 nations and found this pattern to be consistent across gender, socioeconomic levels and among developed and developing countries alike.

Some experts think the rise of midlife suicide may reflect the decrease of hormone replacement therapy among women, the stress of modern life or increased drug usage among midlifers. But theyre groping in the dark. Such experiences can lead to many outcomes, depending on how the person handles them, not necessarily suicide.

Regarding the rise of happiness after midlife depression, some speculate that people may feel happier after their 40s because they’ve learned to count their blessings, or resign themselves to life goals they know theyll never achieve.

Based on my own work over the last few decades, I find these explanations unconvincing. The data only underscore the need for a new understanding of midlife; a new framework through which people could learn to deal more effectively with the positive and negative changes they encounter. Heres mine:

What Is MidlifeAnyway?

First, I think the term “midlife” is a misnomer. Psychologically, its really the portal into full adulthood, the time when you face the challenges of evolving into a fully adult human. Successfully crossing that portal involves addressing some core questions: “What am I living for?” “What’s the purpose of my life?”

These questions are the source of most adult emotional conflicts, because facing them often arouses tremendous fear, denial or escapism. After all, were highly conditioned to define ourselves by what we have rather than who we are. We learn to turn away from looking down the road, where we see Death patiently awaiting us all, as that 47 yearold woman did in her nightmare. The economic downturn that began in September 2008 has added to the fears about what may lie ahead.

Moreover, midlife actually kicks in around 35. Thats when most people start Continue reading

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