Surviving Your Relationship During the Pandemic

Many of us are still coming to grips with the surreal experience of living through a pandemic. Yet, here we all are grappling with many of the same questions and concerns, from basic ones, “Are we going to be able to find toilet paper?” to more existential ones, “What is life going to look like in three (or six or nine) months from now?”

Over the past week, a recurrent conversation I have had with friends, family, and colleagues is how we plan to use this time as an opportunity for growth. Whether it be chipping away at our ever-expanding reading list or reconnecting (or connecting more deeply) with loved ones, how will we expand? For couples whose relationships were strained before the implementation of social distancing measures, this may be a fork-in-the-road moment. One path takes the couple down further disconnection that will make salvaging the relationship more difficult; the other road offers opportunities for couples to build a stronger relationship in potentially profound ways.

This blog will focus on two broad opportunities associated with taking the latter path:

  1. The first is for couples to learn/re-learn how to work together effectively as a team. This moment in history has brought one thing into crystal clear focus: we all rely and depend on each other. Indeed, the effectiveness of my efforts in socially distancing depends on whether those around me do the same. Often, as couples become disconnected over time, their ability to work as a team is compromised. Differences in how to load the dishwasher, for example, become a place of further division and alienation. As social distancing measures continue to be in effect, and some of us are forced into close quarters with our partners, problem-solving and finding solutions that work for the couple is critical. Problems that will naturally arise include: Who is going to get groceries? How many hours of screen time for the children is acceptable? What are the meal plans going to look like? To effectively address all these questions and more, couples have no choice but to keep the lines of communication open. Relying on assumptions and hiding from your partner is no longer an option for the time being.

Here are some tips for couples trying to work together:

  • Be flexible, do not nitpick. It is okay to have standards, but you are sharing a smaller, more contained, world with someone, so your ability to compromise is essential. Your place may be messier than usual. Permit yourselves to relax those standards.
  • Pause heated conversations and make a plan to return to them at a later time. Set aside time consistently to review any issues or concerns that need to be addressed.
  • If you are upset, refrain from criticizing your partner or making “always” or “never” statements (e.g., “You never help out” or “You always do it wrong”). Focus on the challenge right in front of you. Avoid “kitchen sinking” each problem by referring to all your past conflicts.
  1. Another opportunity for couples during the pandemic is to reconnect through openness and curiosity about each other’s experiences. Couple partners presenting to treatment often struggle to be open and curious about their partner’s experience because they can assume that they’re going to hear something critical or something that implicates wrongdoing on their part. In this situation, partners will often become angry or withdraw from each other, creating a self-perpetuating cycle that leaves all parties feeling frustrated and invalidated.

Questions you could ask your partner might include:

  • What is this like for you?
  • What are you scared/hopeful about?
  • How effective do you think the government response has been?

If you feel that your partner is open and curious about your experience, you will be more likely to feel validated and understood. This is important because the process of feeling heard by someone is a salve for our emotional distress and helps to build intimacy and connection. This might inject goodwill into the cycle mentioned above that strengthens the foundation of the relationship for other changes to take hold.

Taking these steps to improve the relationship will no doubt present some challenges. Psychologists and therapists at CFIR that work with couples are here to help you and your partner implement these necessary changes and to process and work through any issues that might arise. During the pandemic, we offer telepsychotherapy services (e.g., video, telephone) to support you and your partner to overcome challenges and build intimacy and connection.

Dr. Sela Kleiman, C.Psych. is a psychologist in supervised practice at CFIR’s Toronto office. He has provided clinical and assessment services in a variety of settings such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, the McGill Psychoeducational and Counselling Clinic, and the Health and Wellness Centre within the University of Toronto. He has also completed his Ph.D. in clinical and counselling psychology at the University of Toronto. In individual therapy, he help adults struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, as well as those trying to cope with the effects of past and/or current verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.

Passionate Love, Lust, and Attachment: The Neurochemistry of Falling in Love, Bonding, and Staying Lustful!

We are all hardwired to fall in love, share lustful moments, and bond with others. In fact, there are complex neurochemicals that are released during all of these different phases of relationship development. In this 2-part blog series, I will share important information with you about the neurochemistry of falling in love, how falling in love influences lust, how lust influences falling in love, and how all of this leads to attachment bonding in relationships!

Passionate Love, Lust, and Attachment: The Neurochemistry of Romantic Passionate Love (Blog 1 of 2)

Have you ever found yourself tightly gripping and constantly checking your cellphone awaiting contact from your new love interest? If so, you may be in the phase of the universal experience of adult romantic passionate love. Across history and cultures, we have fallen in love, lusted for others, and attached to them as a result of innate emotion-motivation systems in the brain that drive us to create relationships. In her book Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, Helen Fisher (2004) describes the adult romantic passionate love phase as an initial phase in the formation of an adult attachment bond. Read on to find out how the neurotransmitters in our brain – dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin – are implicated in you falling in love.

First, Fisher described the universal experience of romantic love based on her research. When falling in love, our new partner is imbued with special meaning (i.e., unique, all-important, novel). We also develop strong focus as our beloved becomes the centre of our attention and we pay special notice of our shared events, messages, music, etc. During this period, we also aggrandize our new love. We may magnify positive aspects of our adored one while minimizing flaws and exaggerating our similarities. We experience intrusive thoughts as we just cannot stop thinking about our new loved one. Emotionally, Fisher describes us as being “on fire.” We experience intense emotions and find ourselves feeling anxious, shy, and awkward at times. We have an increase in energy as well. All of a sudden we find ourselves staying up late, having sex all night, and still making it to work … then doing it all over again the next day. This energy burst also comes with a loss of appetite and sleeplessness. Driven by a deep stirring to connect, our moods can shift rapidly from ecstasy to despair depending on whether our beloved is as responsive to us as we would like. We also become hypersensitive looking for clues about whether our beloved is into us or not! Finally, Fisher noted that when we are infatuated, we are more likely to change elements of our personal identity like clothing and music preferences, alter our mannerisms and habits, and even take on new values, all to win over our new love interest.

Once you fall in love, it is hard to turn back, as a result of the numerous neurotransmitters at play. Fisher’s research using fMRI studies found that dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are the neurotransmitters at the root of passion for our new love. She found elevated levels of dopamine, which is at the root of the hyper focus, high motivation, high energy, and exhilaration, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite. She claims that this neurotransmitter, when heightened during romantic passionate love, creates something within us similar to an addiction process, intense dependency, and cravings to be with our lover. High levels of dopamine are also found in fMRI studies of individuals experiencing a drug addiction. Love becomes so addictive at this point that when you do not have access to your new loved one, more dopamine is released to energize you to focus on further pursuing the reward of being with them. Testosterone, the hormone at the root of sexual desire, is also increased in our bodies as a result of the higher levels of dopamine. In other words, increases in dopamine come with novelty and passionate love, which then increases sexual desire through a heightening of testosterone.

Finally, the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin are also implicated in romantic passionate love. Increased norepinephrine adds to the high, exhilaration, energy, and sleeplessness we experience, and fuels us to remember the smallest details about our lover. Serotonin is lowered, which results in the obsessiveness and racing thoughts we experience. With increases in dopamine and norepinephrine, and decreases in serotonin, we enter into positive states of mind about the other and obscure negative aspects of the beloved. We are neurochemically primed through these transmitters to also experience a sense of oneness based on exaggeration of similarities and minimization of difference. These effects facilitate a sense of symbiosis, which eventually wanes after about 8 to 12 months when the tidal wave of neurochemicals subsides. At this point, we begin to realize our differences with our beloved, which can then bring on more conflict for some couples. Fisher’s conclusion based on fMRI studies was that adult romantic passionate love is a primary motivation system in the brain and stems from the changes in neurotransmitters summarized in this blog post.

Fisher’s research studies explain why in the early stages of a relationship, particularly during the adult romantic passionate love phase, many partners will describe having had “tons of great sex” and then later wonder “where did it go?!” For those of you who wondered, this chemically heightened period that revs your sexual motor only lasts for about one year. After this period, sex within the context of an attachment bond becomes motivated by different goals. See my other blogs on attachment and sex, including Part 2 of this blog series, to see what happens to couple sexuality once couples move from romantic passionate love to a more stable long-term bond.

Clinicians at CFIR work to support clients to develop passionate relationships and secure attachment bonds. We recognize that novelty and a connection are important contributors to a lifetime of passion. We also support our clients to recognize that falling in love might be a different experience from the process of establishing a secure attachment bond with a partner. Once the adult romantic passionate love phase ends, usually within one year, the dust settles and our self and relationship experience can shift. Learn how to recognize the telltale signs of whether you have found Mr./Ms. Right in a future blog post titled “Is This Mr./Ms. Right or Wrong?: Consider This Dating and Relationship Screener Before You Say ‘I Do’”, so that when the adult romantic passionate love phase settles, you will be ready for a lifetime of love.

Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych. is CEO and co-founder of the CFIR. He has published book chapters and peer-reviewed journal articles on the subject of attachment, attachment injuries in couples, and attachment and sexuality. He has taught courses at the University of Ottawa in Interpersonal Relationships, Family Psychology, and Human Sexual Behaviour. He has a thriving clinical practice in which he treats individuals suffering from complex attachment-related trauma, difficult family of origin issues that have affected self and relationship development, depression and anxiety, personality disorders, sex and sexuality-related issues, and couple relationships. At CFIR, he also supports the professional development of counsellors, psychotherapists, and supervised practice psychologists by providing clinical supervision.

O, Ladies: Closing the Gap to Sexual Pleasure

by: Sarah G. Bickle, B.A. (Hons.)

For many women, orgasm and sex don’t necessarily go hand in hand. Only one-quarter of women “reliably” orgasm during sex and, on average, say that orgasms are their 15th motivator for sex – following motivators such as an expression of attraction or love, a desire to feel good or have fun, and a desire to please and feel closer to their partner. 

No more is orgasm an essential part of a woman’s typical sexual interaction than it is limited to it; in fact, women report having orgasms during all kinds of experiences – such as sleep, meditation, breastfeeding, assault, and medication-induced states. What’s more, not all women experience orgasms the same way. For example, 70% report feeling an orgasm throughout their entire body, 47% are multi-orgasmic, and 77.5% find that sometimes they have orgasms that are better than others. 

So, what features are important to a good orgasm? More than half of women agree that spending time to build arousal (77.2%), having a partner who knows what they like (58.6%), and emotional intimacy (55.5%), significantly contribute to a good orgasm. The possibilities of what leads to intense orgasmic experiences, however, are vast and highly detailed. For example, 39% of women find that clitoral stimulation is essential for the quality of their orgasm. The specified preferences for this source of pleasure alone can be highly variable among women with respect to: 

  • location (e.g., mons pubis, hood, left side of the clitoris, direct, etc.), 
  • pressure (e.g., light, firm, consistent, variable, etc.), shape/style (e.g., side to side, circular, tapping, flicking, squeezing, etc.), and 
  • pattern (e.g., rhythm & repetition, alternating between motions, teasing & delaying, consistency, etc.).

The obstacles many women face regarding reaching their full orgasmic potential are undoubtedly affected by the lack of education and shame that has been produced by our cultural history. When research shows that most men and women agree that it is the responsibility of the male to stimulate the female to orgasm, and 43.9% of men cannot locate the clitoris on a diagram, many women inevitably reach an impasse. Fortunately, however, the study of female sexuality and education is growing, and research and clinical work with sexuality are helping many women become more empowered to take on an active role in closing this orgasm gap! 

The Relationship and Sex Therapy Service at CFIR offers clients comprehensive assessment, psychotherapy, and counselling to address a wide range of relationship and/or sexual issues for both individuals and couples. Through treatment, we will help you to develop stronger relationships, heal relationship injuries, improve or add new relationship skills, and address sexual issues that interfere with sexual satisfaction and fulfillment, regardless of sexual orientation. 

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Treatment Service

Sarah Bickle, B.A., is a counsellor at the Centre for Interpersonal Relationships, working under the supervision of Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych, and is currently completing a Masters of Clinical Psychology at the Adler Graduate Professional School in Toronto. Sarah works with adults in psychotherapy to support them to increase emotional wellness and resolve depression, trauma-related symptoms, and interpersonal difficulties.

Attachment Injuries in Couples: Healing After Betrayals

by: Dr. Dino Zuccarini, C.Psych.

An attachment injury occurs when a partner is betrayed or abandoned, and trust is violated at a moment of critical need for support and care. The injury can be traumatic as the injured partner is left with a sense of helplessness, isolation, and intense fear about the other’s availability (Johnson et al. 2001; Zuccarini et al. 2013). These traumatic incidents occur when a partner’s belief and faith in the reliability and dependability of the partner is shattered. Examples of these types of injuries include marital affairs, emotional affairs, money mismanagement, violation of boundaries, abandonment at times of need during pregnancy, alignment with parents over partner, child-rearing conflicts, and lack of support during illness, among others. These traumatic incidences become a barometer of the offending partner’s trustworthiness, dependability, and reliability. The attachment bond between partners becomes frayed as a result of these injuries.

In these instances, clinicians at CFIR will address the lingering hurt and anger and heal the frayed bond. The emotional processing of these events is essential to the healing process.  Attachment bonds are emotional bonds.  The emotional accessibility and responsiveness to the injured partner’s experience facilitates recovery and healing.

Attachment Style and Couple Sexual Issues

According to attachment theory, as a result of early year interactions with caregivers, we either become securely attached or insecurely attached—either anxiously or avoidantly attached.  Attachment style then influences sexuality in complex ways. Anxiously attached partners in the bedroom might be seeking out sex for reassurance of self or attachment fears.  For example, they may feel less positive about themselves (e.g., undesirable or unattractive), and/or have worries about the availability, accessibility, and responsiveness of their partner.  Strong sexual desire is fuelled by the need for self and attachment reassurance. Avoidantly attached partners are not motivated sexually in the same way.  These partners are more likely to focus on the pleasure-oriented aspects of sex only and have difficulties with feelings of closeness.  Some avoidantly attached partners will have sex for duty’s sake. Arousal and desire problems arise when anxiously or avoidantly attached partners are unable to fulfill these goals.  

The clinicians at CFIR support couple partners to discover the multiple ways in which securely attached partners experience and explore sexuality. The couple and sex therapy clinicians at CFIR use a wide variety of strategies to support couple partners to build more confidence in their sexuality, greater eroticism, and desire.

7 Signs Your Relationship May Need Help

by: Joshua Peters, M.A., R.P.

Relationships have never been easy and now it seems we’re in a space and time where technology and the way we connect are continuously growing and changing. The intimacy we have with someone can mean so much, yet it seems we consistently struggle to maintain the bond. How can we know if we are “getting it right” in our partnerships?

In speaking about the complexity of our relationships, famed relationship expert, Esther Perel notes that “companionship, family, children, economic support, a best friend, a passionate lover, a trusted confidante, an intellectual equal […] we are asking from one person what an entire village once provided.” In this paradigm, it can be hard to understand when our partners and our relationships maybe failing us. 

Here are some signs that indicate your relationship may need some work:

1. Lack of Communication 

In a world bursting with ways to communicate, it may be surprising to learn that ineffective communication remains a common issue in relationships. It’s impossible for your partner to know all your needs, feelings, and thoughts without talking about them. Communication is essential in overcoming relationship wounds, and very few relationships can survive without it.

2. Arguing with No Repair

Though constant arguing can sometimes be indicative of relationship distress – unrepaired conflict may be the real culprit. Arguments, when done sympathetically, are an essential part of relationship satisfaction. Repairing from a dispute allows partners to accept each ones’ differences and re-establish their love for one another. 

3. Loss of Curiosity

We are continually growing and changing as individuals and it crucial we remember to remain curious about our partners as they grow. The experience of curiosity and surprise is one of the essential processes in maintaining long-term desire. Partners in healthy relationships are happy to explore their partner’s unique perspective of the world.

4. Mind Reading

This familiar refrain, “Look, I know you’re angry…” exposes a common misstep in many relationships. Often experienced in conjunction with a loss of curiosity, partners start assuming they are always in each other’s “bad books” even before a problem is revealed. Stay tentative about your perceived experience of your partner, especially in times of distress. You might be surprised by the difference between how they feel and how you thought the feel!

5. Loss of Priority

It can be hard to find a balance between work, children, friends, and family in today’s busy world. How you prioritize your relationship may look different to you, so it’s crucial that you discuss this with your partner. Failure to explore this in a discussion could leave your partner feeling unloved and unimportant. 

6. No Hurt – Only Anger

When we’re most distressed it may feel instinctive to get angry. Though anger is an important emotion in that it tells us something isn’t working, it isn’t usually helpful in resolving conflict. Instead, opting to express our more vulnerable and hurt emotions allows our partner to understand and ultimately care for us when necessary. 

7. Blaming your partner

It takes two to tango! Though one partner may sometimes be experiencing more distress, it’s beneficial to recognize that your relationship is co-created by both of you. Take note of how you may be contributing to the dynamic between you and your partner.

Couples experiencing any of these relationship difficulties at heightened levels may feel like they are insurmountable problems. However, exploring these issues can provide a needed check-in for your relationship. Moreover, what you discover can inspire you and your partner to reimage what your relationship could become. Couples therapy offers an excellent opportunity to explore these struggles and move towards growth. The skilled clinicians at CFIR can help you and your partner better understands your current distress and support you to build a more resilient and healthy relationship.

Can Social Media Impact Your Romantic Relationship? Here are Five Ways to Get Connected

A restaurant in the U.K. recently announced it will be banning the use of mobile devices in their establishment on February 14 in an effort “to refocus diners on the food and experience”. This move has generated a bit of online buzz and has turned attention to how preoccupied society is becoming with the world-wide-web and more specifically, social media. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we recently asked, Dr. Tracy Dalgliesh C. Psych. “Can social media outlets have an impact on our romantic relationships? What are some positive ways to use them (or not) on Valentine’s Day?“. 

Here’s her response: 

Social media becomes problematic when we use it to turn away from our partner, resulting in decreased connection and communication. Instead of working through an argument and engaging in a difficult conversation, you turn to scrolling through social media. This is an avoidance strategy, and we know from couples research that shutting down (i.e., stonewalling) is a type of communication that can result in long-term couple distress.2 (For more on the four communication styles that predict the dissolution of a relationship, see https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/. Recent research suggests that excessive use of devices leads to lower relationship satisfaction.1 This is even truer for partners with anxious attachment (i.e., they fear that they are unlovable or unworthy). Other examples may include messaging friends over talking to your partner, checking your phone in the middle of a conversation with your partner, or sharing fun and exciting information with others online and not your lover. 

Individuals fall into the trap of the comparing themselves and their relationships to what they see on social media. Profiles often portray the happiest moments – and these are often posed images. They do not display the challenges that couples all face. Frequently seeing these stylized and selected images can impact how you view your own relationship. Thoughts of “why aren’t we that happy?” or “we never do anything exciting” may arise and create negative feelings towards your relationship and partner. This negative filter may then lead to thoughts of “I could be happier with someone else,” further contributing to dissatisfaction. 

Social media can also impact one’s feelings of jealousy and insecurity. All of the platforms for social media offer easy ways to connect with others privately. This becomes a problem when it is done in secret, or when connecting with someone else feels good and you are putting more energy into that connection than with your partner. A negative feedback loop can also start, where jealousy leads to snooping, which further exacerbates feelings of jealousy. In some situations, social media can lead to infidelity. 

While social media can present with its challenges for couples, I do believe that it can be used in a healthy manner – where couples can build and enhance their connection. Here are some tips on how to use social media this Valentine’s Day to enhance your relationship:

  • Set limits on the time that you are on your devices. Agree to put the phones on silent in another room (e.g., from 7pm-9pm) on Valentine’s Day (and maybe every day!).
  • Send a message letting your partner know you are thinking of them or excited to see them at the end of the day. We long to know that we matter to the ones we love, so let your partner in on your feelings.
  • Send a good morning or good night love meme.
  • Share a memory or article with your partner that you found on your social media outlet and use it to get to know the other person’s opinions and desires.
  • If scrolling and connecting is part of your time together, take a break and talk about what you each found interesting. Ask open-ended questions, like “What did you find most surprising to read today?” or “What emotions did you feel while seeing X.”

1. James A. Roberts, J. A., & David, M. E. (2016). My life has become a major distraction from my cell phone: Partner phubbing and relationship satisfaction among romantic partners. Computers in Human Behavior, 54, 134-141. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.07.058.

2. Gottman, J. M., & Krokoff, L. J. (1989). Marital interaction and satisfaction: A longitudinal view. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 57, 47-52.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Service.

6 Ways to Enjoy Valentine’s Day When You’re Single

For some, Valentine’s Day is synonymous with flowers, candy, romantic evenings, sentimental greeting cards and couples expressing love (or strong “like”!). With this holiday right around the corner, we took a moment to ask CFIR Psychotherapist, Joshua Peters, M.A., R.P, “What tips can you offer to help single people who want to enjoy the day without focusing on being uncoupled?”.  Here’s his response: 

Valentine’s Day can be a difficult time for those who find themselves single on a holiday that celebrates romantic relationships. However, fear not, you can still find many great ways to celebrate this holiday that don’t involve finding or having a romantic partner. Here are a few tips for enjoying the day – as a single person:

  • Reach out to your other single friends to connect and enjoy these relationships. After all, creating strong social ties is one of the best ways we can maintain our happiness — and this doesn’t mean having a romantic partner. 
  • Be inventive! In recent years, many individuals have created “Anti-Valentine’s Day” or “Singles Awareness Day” celebrations. It can sometimes be a fun way to shake off any Valentine’s blues while also making light the holiday a bit lighter and fun. 
  • Treat yourself! Splurge on that nice bottle of wine (or non-alcoholic sparkling cider) and a great meal. You deserve it and learning to do this for yourself can help you grow as a person.
  • Self-Care Extravaganza! Start your day off right by trying one of the many mindfulness activities you can find online (there are some great options here) or try a new physical activity (go to the gym, try out that yoga class you’ve been wondering about, or go for a hike at a park you’ve never been too). 
  • Challenge yourself! Try something new to broaden your experience of Valentine’s Day – let it be the start of something new in your life.
  • Most importantly, let yourself experience whatever emotions you’re having! Try your best to label each experience (Sadness, happiness, excitement, hurt, pain, etc.) and provide yourself some time to journal at some point during the day about these experience. Your emotions are important and deserve to be explored.

If you can engage with even one of these activities you should consider it a success. Being single on Valentine’s Day isn’t always easy — but that doesn’t mean you can’t incorporate some fun activities.  

The Top 5 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Relationship In 2018

written by Sue McGarvie, M.A., sexwithsue.com

Every year researchers come up with new studies that outline the best way to stay connected with your significant other. Much of the advice seems like common sense. But even as a Sex and Relationship Therapist, I have to remember to be mindful and find time to really focus on my partner with these ideas. 

1. Stay positive

“It’s not surprising that the more positive a person is, the more likely they’ll be happy in their relationships. What’s interesting is just how much it matters.

In a study from the University of Chicago, researchers found that when a husband has a high level of positivity, there’s less conflict in his relationship. Likewise, the way partners respond to each other’s good news matters too. In a study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that the way couples react to each other’s good news—either with excitement, pride, or indifference—is crucial in forming a strong bond.”

2. Have a life outside of your partner

Not only is it important to have something interesting to talk about at the end of the day, outside friendships can help reinforce the couple connection. This doesn’t mean losing emotional intimacy with your husband or wife. It just means that married couples have a lot to gain by fostering their relationships with family members and friends. The happiest couples, she says, are those who have interests and support “beyond the twosome.”

3. Have fun together and do new things

It’s really easy to get in a rut. Doing things that are out of your comfort zone together creates hard-to-break bonds. This also means just having fun together. Research from The University of Denver shows that couples who make time for fun activities tend to stay together longer:

“The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time,” says Howard Markman, a psychologist who co-directs the university’s Center for Marital and Family Studies.

“The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high, and significant.”

4. Make time for great sex

Yes, I think sex is critical for relationships. Life can get in the way of being sexy. And as partners feel pushed away they are less likely to initiate. And sex starts to feel awkward. Being able to communicate about what your sexual needs are and asking for what you need sexually is something I often facilitate between spouses in my office.

Anthony Lyons, a study co-author and research fellow at La Trobe, said the main lesson from the study is that couples need to learn how to communicate about their sexual needs or their reasons for not wanting sex.

“Couples need to talk about the frequency of sex,” Dr. Anthony said in an e-mail. “Talking openly about sex and finding a middle ground with regard to frequency appears to be very important for overall sexual and relationship satisfaction.”

It might seem silly to do something like scheduling time for intimacy, but it’s important to open up the dialogue about your sex life to dedicate some time to just be with each other.”

5. Explore communication and the division of labour

Communication can be all important when it comes to impacting the relationship. I have a rule with my clients that they have to learn to talk about issues holding hands and maintaining eye contact. It helps. Understanding that if you can maintain your clam and learn to fight fair (here are the rules) then it goes a long way to settling the differences between couples.

Stop fighting about money, and quit talking about big issues by email or text.

Good communication takes effort, it’s hard, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. But when you let small things fester and don’t communicate, problems arise. Studies show that it’s usually money that causes this rift, but every relationship has its own set of issues that need to get worked through.

“Quit hashing out problems over text messages: Technology has a knack for disrupting relationships, but one study pinpointed that couples who deal with fights over text have a lower relationship quality. This means couples who used text messages to apologize or work out differences instead of having face to face conversations tended to report unhappiness. That said, positive texts like the occasional “I love you” are still great, just stop trying to work complicated things out over SMS.”

I hear about how exhausted the women who visit my office are feeling. Some of it is self-inflicted in that they want to entertain perfectly or have a Martha Stewart-esque Christmas. But many of them are working full time and then come home to another full-time job consisting of cooking, cleaning, shopping, child care, etc. Feeling overwhelmed and tired is one of the top reasons women are less interested in sex. 

Contribute to the household chores: In a small-scale study, UCLA researchers tracked the lives of several relationships over the course of 4 years. Their conclusions? Couple who have a system to handle household chores and who evenly disperse those chores are a lot happier. So, when your significant other makes the suggestion that you do the dishes now and again, just do it.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Service.

The Realization That You Need to Be Desired in Order to Be Turned On

as written and posted by Sue McGarvie, M.A., on sexwithsue.com

Everyone wants to feel wanted. In fact, I would even say it’s a basic need of sex to be desired by your partner. For women, it’s especially important. Many women who can feel arousal (but not desire) meaning their bodies can be turned on but they aren’t emotional feeling into sex is common phenomenon. They need to be convinced or get their sexual energy from someone else. As Psychology Today reports recently, “Most women, for instance, have a strong wish to feel sexually desired. Men also like to be desired, of course. But among the women I see in my office, it’s often much more of a “thing.”

Many women say they don’t feel any spontaneous desire for sex unless it’s stimulated by someone desiring them. As sex therapists, we would say their desire is purely “responsive.” Many women report that feeling desired is what turns them on the most.

Heterosexual human mating tends to be like traditional couples’ dancing. She needs him to ask her to dance. The dancing itself might be nice, but even more important is that he showed initiative and wanted to dance with her. 70% of men are different. They may enjoy it if their partner passionately wants to have sex with them, but they don’t particularly need to feel desired in order to get turned on. Their desire is more “spontaneous.”

But what about the 30% of men that do need their partners to express great desire in order to be turned on? I see men in my office every week who need explicit desire by their partners to get aroused.

A man like this is almost always brought to my office by his unhappy wife, who complains that he rarely, if ever, initiates sex—thus depriving her of the chance to feel turned on by his passion for her. And she’s bone tired of initiating.

He will tell me privately, that he wants her to start sex or he can’t get his mojo going.

“A heterosexual guy whose principal turn-on is to be desired finds himself in more difficult territory. Very few women are interested in consistently being the initiator.

A man like this usually learns to keep his responsive desire a secret. If he tries to explain it to a female partner, often the concept will be so foreign to her that she’ll have no idea what he’s talking about.”

It’s a challenge. 50 Shades of Grey sold millions of copies because it appealed to the very common female fantasy of being “taken”. The desire to be dominated safely is by far the most popular sexual model with women. And men who are responsive (are often the more thinking guys) feel frustrated and voiceless.

So, what do you do to solve this? It starts with communication, acceptance and negotiation. And an understanding that sex isn’t “supposed to be a certain way”. Women have been chased around the school yard by boys wanting to pull their pigtails and we expect “handsy” men. It’s certainly not what we always want (nor is it appropriate outside of consenting adults), but it’s what we expect from men. Understanding that sex is play – adult play- and not always about pounding intercourse helps get this message through. As do signals (pull an earlobe or drop a secret word) to indicate interest so that neither one is being pushed away helps with the shutdown of rejection of a partner who can’t figure out what you need to be turned on. And learning that your expectations of sex might be getting in the way.

I teach a monthly “School of Sex” series done with humour, inclusion and fantastic speakers. It allows people to sit in the back row and listen to how other people in their community think about sex – without social conventions and limiting beliefs. Really hear what turns on the men and women that live in your neighbourhood can be powerfully healing to someone who feels sexually inhibited. It’s liberating for many people not to feel alone in how they feel sexually.

And as the author of the study succinctly summarizes: If you’re a woman in a relationship with a man who doesn’t initiate sex as much as you’d like, you may want to keep in mind the possibility that he might need the same thing you do.

Read more about our Relationship & Sex Therapy Service.

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