It isn’t always easy to ask for help, particularly with something as personal as your relationship. But trouble finds us all from time to time and, in those moments, it doesn’t hurt to get a bit of help before things get out of hand.
Even smaller issues – things like not being able to talk to each other, a lack of affection, or simply growing apart – need dealing with. Although they may not arrive with quite the same sense of urgency as bigger problems, it’s usually best to deal with them as early as possible. Taking early action can make it easier to reach a solution, and stop problems from getting much bigger
How to ask for help
Sometimes, asking for help can feel like an admission of failure, but this isn’t necessarily the case. By seeking support, and taking steps to resolve your difficulties, you’re taking responsibility for your actions and looking for ways to make the best decisions. This leaves you in a much better position to protect your relationship, and even strengthen it, than you would be if you allowed the issue to fester
The first person you turn to might be a trusted family member or friend. This is often a good place to start, as it gives you a chance to explore the issue safely, and even see it from a different perspective.
However, it can sometimes be more useful to speak with a professional relationship counsellor, as friends and family aren’t always equipped to deal with the issues at hand. A counsellor can help by offering emotional support, and helping you and your partner to see things from each other’s point of view. This can allow you both to see how you might be contributing to the issue and what you can do to help move things forward.
Asking your partner for support
Of course, support doesn’t always have to come from outside. There will be times when you and your partner can just support each other. Perhaps there’s something you need, or maybe you’d like their support in improving or developing an aspect of your relationship. So, what’s the best way to ask for help?
There are two ways. One is huff and sigh until they notice you need help, and the other is to come straight out and tell them what the problem is. It may not surprise you to learn that being direct has proven to be more useful. Your partner will find it easier to give you what you need, and you will feel more supported. This can also make it easier to ask for support the next time you need it, starting off a positive cycle of mutual support.
Keep talking to each other, try to be direct and, in those instances where you do need to argue, make sure youargue the right way.
A while ago I wrote a post about deal-breakers in relationships, cautioning of the danger of rejecting a person with most of the qualities you want just because they have one you don’t. I drew a distinction between relatively minor complaints, such as large ears or an oddlaugh, and much more significant concerns, such as abusiveness or violence, and wrote about how some people focus too much on the little things and not enough on the big ones. Since that post went up, a friend suggested to me that I focus more on the other side of the issue, which I am happy to do here.
As my friend emphasized, while sometimes we are very quick to reject dates and partners for seemingly trivial reasons, other times we go to the opposite extreme and are too willing to overlook major flaws. In the worst-case scenario, these could include abusiveness and violence, but even more moderate behaviors such as a lack of affection, support, or respect can be very harmful to the person on the receiving end of them. Even if these aspects of a relationship never approach an abusive or violent level, they are nonetheless corrosive factors that have strong and lasting effects on a person’s well-being and health.
Much has been written about why people stay in abusive or violent relationships (such as by my PT colleagues here and here), so in this post I’ll focus on those of us who stay in relationships with people who may be more negligent or thoughtless than malicious or mean. These are the people who are not necessarily bad, and not necessarily bad for everybody, but definitely bad for the people they’re with at the time. After all, not all of us want the same amount or kind of attention or affection—for example, some of us crave the constant attention that would make others feel suffocated—but we should all seek out people who will give us what we want and help us feel the way we want to feel. If the person you’re with doesn’t do this for you, that is a significant problem that should definitely be a deal-breaker.
Why are people willing to put up with significant relationship flaws like lack of affection or attention while they reject people for much less important things? Here are some possible reasons:
1. The nitpicky things we tend to focus on are often more obvious and observable. You can quickly see if someone has a physical feature, political opinion, or verbal tick you don’t like, but the more significant characteristics that are likely to lead to serious harm are often slower to appear.
2. By the time these traits do appear, we may already be enamored with the more superficial aspects of the person—including their lack of any obvious minor flaw that would immediately pop out at us.
3. After we do notice the harmful behavior, it is easy to tell ourselves that these negativepersonality traits will change over time, whether we believe we can change them ourselves or that the person will get better once they fall in love with us.
4. Finally, as the saying goes, “we accept the love we think we deserve,” and for many people, that’s not much, especially those of us who suffer from low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, or self-loathing. (For more on self-loathing and relationships, see my list of posts here.) They may be more likely to accept people with obvious shortcomings, and stay with them even after these shortcomings manifest themselves in behavior that approaches abuse, because they don’t think they deserve any better or, even worse, that they deserve it or even caused it.
We’ve been focusing on addressing anger and rage for the past several weeks. Before we move on to other topics, let’s think about how to set effective treatment targets. I thought I’d end the anger/rage sub-series within “Free Range Psychology” on something that you might consider trying at home.
Consider the phrase, “Make love, not war.” Lean in close and you will hear the faint whisper of…a very basic psychological theory. The theory is that it is more difficult to just stop a behavior instead of replacing the undesired behavior with a healthier behavior. Habit replacement therapy – in the cognitive behavioral therapy tradition – banks on this principle.
To take a simple example, let’s say that you want to kick a soda habit. You could probably increase your odds of success by switching to seltzer water any time you would have had a soda rather than just telling yourself to simply stop drinking soda. Trichotillomania, which is the impulse to pull one’s hair out, is often very hard to treat. However, I have seen habit replacement therapy used to good effect in this and other stubborn conditions.
In fact, habit replacement therapy can be deployed to help us overcome a variety of compulsive or addictive behaviors, including snapping in anger at others in our lives. Specifically, for some patients, it is helpful to craft a treatment mission to learn to “wage peace” rather than to “stop blowing up at people.” Perhaps it is easier for us to make effective advances when we have an active target.
To help set this mission, what I might ask is for my patient to identify an emotionally safe person they know well who is very good at waging peace. What is waging peace? I’m not aware of any official definition, so here is my working definition: it is the thing that you do when you want to unleash your rage but instead you dig deep, and generate creative solutions rather than simply trying to annihilate a perceived threat. It’s what you do when you value relationship over being right or the instinct to dominate others.
The phrase “waging peace” suggests doing something active – it gives us an identified treatment target. At the same time, it is an odd combination of words that can cause mildcognitive confusion which sometimes gets the mind thinking more creatively. Framing the goal this way may help put patients in a curious stance as they think about the various people they are close to and who is unusually good at the target task – “waging peace.”
Once they have identified such a person, the next step is for the patient to go to that person and recruit their help in the mission at hand. They explain what they hope to do (learn to “wage peace”) and why they are asking that person to help them with this effort. What they essentially ask is for that person to discuss with transparency what they do to wage peace when that is not the easy choice. Waging peace is not easy for any of us – some of us have just had more practice at developing this skill than others. I also encourage them to ask that person to come alongside them and mentor them in this work – maybe like a temporary AA sponsor that they invite to give them feedback as they try to make different choices.
A study published in the September 2016 issue of the Journal of Health and Social Behavior looked at sexual behavior in more than 2,000 men and women between the ages of 57 and 85 over a five-year period. The researchers, from Michigan State University and University of Chicago, found that while “more and better” sex has a positive effect on older women’s health, it can have a lethal effect on older men. The researchers looked at how partnered sex affects cardiovascular health and the risk of developing heart disease in both sexes.
To determine cardiovascular risk, the researchers looked at the usual markers: high blood pressure, elevated C-reactive protein (a chemical found in the blood that is associated with inflammation and heart disease), rapid heart rate, and other measurable cardiovascular conditions. They found that those men who reported frequent sex (once a week or more), and especially frequent sex that was very enjoyable, were at higher risk of having a heart attack or developing other cardiovascular problems five years later than men who were not sexually active. For women, however, frequent, enjoyable sex reduced the risk of developing high blood pressure.
The researchers suggest that the pressure and difficulties of sexual activity that men experience as they age may cause them to exert and exhaust themselves in ways that put excess stress on their cardiovascular system. An active, pleasurable sex life may have the opposite effect on women, however, and may be due, in part, to hormones released during sex that protect them from heart disease. Although more studies will have to be done to confirm and elucidate these findings, for now it looks like sex is one area where “moderation in everything,” is indeed the best approach to life, at least for aging men, and that it may be prudent for older men to discuss the pros and cons of an active sex life with their doctors to help determine their individual risk.
Reaching a climax – either too quickly or not at all – is the main concern for young people having sex, according to a new national survey.
The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles showed that 16- to 21-year-olds are commonly facing problems like physical pain and anxiety during sex, as well as finding sex difficult and having problems reaching orgasm.
For young women, the most common sexual problems were:
- Difficulty reaching a climax (21.3 percent)
- Not enjoying sex (9.8 percent)
- Physical pain (9 percent)
- Uncomfortable dryness (8.5 percent)
- Feeling anxious (8 percent)
- No excitement or arousal (8 percent)
For young men, the most common sexual problems were:
- Reaching a climax too quickly (13.2 percent)
- Difficulty reaching a climax (8.3 percent)
- Difficulty getting or keeping an erection (7.8 percent)
- Not enjoying sex (5.4 percent)
- Feeling anxious (4.8 percent)
Seeking help for sexual problems
These issues seem to be fairly common among young people, but the numbers of people seeking help are still relatively low.
Around 36 percent of women and only 24 percent of men said they had sought help from friends, family members, or online sources. But only eight percent of women and four percent of men had been to a medical professional or sexual health practitioner about their sex life
If you’re having sexual problems and don’t know how to resolve them alone, one of the easiest ways to access support is through your GP. They will be able to offer help with physical problems and can refer you to sexual health specialists, where you can get support for emotional and physical problems.
What is sexual satisfaction?
Physiological and emotional issues aside, there are also some things you can do to improve yours and your partner’s sexual satisfaction. The authors of one study have helped to identify the major factors affecting sexual satisfaction:
- Getting the mechanics right. That’s to say, touching each other in the right way will lead to sexual pleasure.
- Getting to know each other. Practice makes perfect, so the more you have sex with someone, the more you’ll learn about what they do and don’t like.
- Developing intimacy. The more committed you and your partner to each other, the more you’ll be able to relax and enjoy sex.
They also noted that gender stereotyping can play a part. There’s an old-fashioned stereotype that women’s sexual pleasure isn’t as important as men’s. This can lead to decreased satisfaction for women, particularly in casual hook-ups.
This study shows that ‘good sex’ can be specific to you and your partner, as it can take time to learn the best ways to satisfy each other. What’s great for one partner may not work for another.
Because of this, sex within a relationship where you feel comfortable and emotionally invested may be more satisfying, and more likely to lead to orgasm
Improving sexual satisfaction
If you and your partner want to have better sex, one of the most important things you can do is talk about it.
There’s a reason communication features in almost every article on this site! Open communication between partners has been shown to increase intimacy and closeness. If you feel close enough to share sexually intimate details with your partner, then it’s likely you’ll feel more relaxed and comfortable during sex, which can lead to both of you enjoying it more
A new report from the Imperial College Business School and online dating service eHarmony, has predicted that, by 2040, almost 70% of relationships will be formed by people who met online.
We’re taking a look at the wider research that’s been done on this topic, to bring you some evidence-based tips on how to navigate the world of online dating as it takes a bigger role in the way we meet people.
In many ways, online dating can make things much easier, streamlining the process and removing some of the challenges associated with meeting people offline.
Flirting with someone face to face can be quite stressful, especially if you feel self-conscious or nervous about meeting new people. If that sounds like you, it might feel like a big risk to put yourself in front of someone you find attractive and try to make it clear that you’re interested.
Meeting people in an online environment takes a bit of that pressure off. Using a dating website takes a lot of the ambiguity out of your intentions, and might help you put yourself out there in a way that feels less vulnerable than approaching people out in the world
On the flip side, the emotional distance created by the online space also makes it easier for the less pleasant aspects of dating like a hasty break-up or an ‘emotional brush-off’
The ability to break up with someone via text message or email has meant we’ve already seen an increase in passive break-ups like changing a Facebook status to ‘single’ or just stopping communication
Online dating may also open you up to a wider pool of people when looking to meet someone new. You have the opportunity to interact with people you might otherwise never have met, and have a short-cut to getting to know each other.
The not-so-good news is that the algorithms used by dating sites to match you to people with similar interests will probably not be much of an indicator of how well you’ll actually get on when you meet , so you’ll still have to be willing to get out there and take a risk!
One of the big challenges of this accelerated form of dating is that many people tend to make quite quick assessments based on cursory readings of online profiles [ . This has the knock-on effect of encouraging online daters to boast or exaggerate in their profiles to try and appeal to potential romantic partners
However… before you rush to create a souped-up online version of yourself to wow potential partners, it’s worth considering the impact your exaggerations may have when people meet you in real life. If you don’t match up to the profile you presented online, you may be sent packing
So, if you’re looking to meet someone online, make sure you get to know people in real life before you get too excited, be prepared to take a chance, and try to be yourself. After all, wouldn’t you prefer to meet someone who appreciates you for who you really are?
Many couples are choosing not to have children, opting to focus on the couple relationship instead. But, according to a new study, it’s not a decision they’re making lightly. The study looked at how couples arrive at the decision not to become parents. The term ‘childfree’, as opposed to ‘childless’, refers to people who have chosen not to have children.
The study showed that the decision not to have children is usually a conscious one, rather than something that ‘just happens’. It’s usually something that’s arrived at over a length of time and it’s an ongoing choice. This is particularly true for heterosexual couples, who often have to choose to continue using contraception, and avoid unplanned pregnancy.
How is the decision made?
By the time couples are having their first conversations about children, they have often already given years of thought to the matter. If both know that they don’t want children, it may only take single conversation to form an agreement.
Reasons for opting out of parenthood could include wider factors such as:
- Increased reproductive choices: since the feminist movement of the 1970s, more of us are free to make this choice in the first place
- More career options for women: childfree women are more likely to be employed in professional and managerial positions
- Worry about jobs: i one study conducted during the recession of the ‘90s, many men said they had opted out of parenthood due to uncertainty in the labour market.
- Wider society: women in particular referred to concerns about overpopulation when discussing their decisions
But many also cite more individual reasons such as:
- Personal freedom
- More opportunity for self-fulfilment
- Keeping spontaneity, such as the opportunity to travel
- Making the most of adult relationships
- Experiences of other people’s parenting
- Focussing on the couple relationship
I picked the wrong man to be my first husband because my parents were pressuring me to get married. I hadn’t met many men at that point of my life, and nobody had taught me how to find true love: not high school, not medical school, not even my parents.
So I “settled.”
And I paid a steep price: my first marriage lasted less than three weeks.
Yet, I was determined to find a love that would last forever. I had a vision of being happy with my perfect match, of falling asleep in his arms, of waking up with a big smile on my face ready to take on the day. But how could I make that dream come true?
I decided to start my journey in a quest for true love using the power of the Internet. I joined a dating service and looked at hundreds of profiles. But looking at men’s profiles wasn’t enough. I had to meet them. Because I didn’t know any of them, I arranged to meet each time in a public place.
I selected 100 men and met about 50. Each time, I was very excited before the meeting but during the meeting, I had the feeling that something was missing. I didn’t know what it was, though. Trying to analyze my feelings, sometimes I felt very attracted to the man’s body but not his brain. Other times, I liked the way the man was thinking but there was no sexual attraction. Once, the man was exactly what I was looking for on paper but when I met him, I felt ill at ease. My body didn’t feel comfortable with him. I listened to my body and said goodbye. I kept on meeting new people. I lost hope many times but never gave up.
When I met Steve, I felt something I had never felt before. It wasn’t infatuation, it wasn’t pure sexual attraction, it was a feeling that is hard to describe but I am going to try my best. It was a mixed feeling of deep comfort, inner peace, sexual attraction, emotional closeness, intellectual stimulation and fun. That was the feeling I had been looking for all those years without finding it. That feeling as I learned quickly, was reciprocal. A few years after the start of this wonderful relationship, we got married.
Unfortunately after 12 happy years of marriage Steve passed away from very aggressive brain cancer.
What was I to do now? Stay a widow for the rest of my life or start the exhaustive search for a life partner once more?
I decided to join an Internet dating service and look for true love again. Could I be lucky enough to find true love twice in my life when some people never found it once?
The advantage I had over the previous time is that I knew what I was looking for. I didn’t know the type of man I was looking for but I knew the feeling inside of me that I needed to experience: For me, encountering true love was having that special feeling inside both my body and mind: a unique mix of reciprocal sexual attraction, emotional closeness, intellectual stimulation, inner peace and fun. It is a chemical reaction that happens when two people meet and are right for each other. The feeling that together we are stronger that each of us alone and we can go through everything and anything together.
In search of that rare and elusive cocktail of feelings, I joined several dating services all over the world, selected over 200 men and met 120. I went to Singapore, Vietnam, Bali looking for Mr. Right. I didn’t care where I would end up living. All I knew is that I wanted to find true love again. I lost hope several times. Many times and for several years, I felt that I was like a leaf floating on the ocean, not knowing where I was going, at the mercy of rip tides, destructive currents and predators. Yet I kept on going, continuing to meet more men. What was the point of making money if I had nobody to share it with? What was the point of living a loveless life? But I was not young any more. Could anybody be interested in me?
“Choosing love seems to mean swallowing your kid’s crap.” – Philippe
I have two parenting mantras, which have become life mantras.
The first is “It is not an emergency.” This always helps me calm down so I can pay attention to what’s actually happening, instead of getting hijacked by my alarm system. It allows me to make better choices. It worked so well when my kids were growing up that now as young adults they continue to use it, to themselves and to me, when things get tense.
The second is “Choose Love.” This reminds me that in any situation wherefear is tightening its grip or anger is building toward an explosion, I can defuse the situation. I may not know what to do or say. I may be scared, or angry. But I always have the choice to turn away from fear or anger, to open the door and let love in. I can’t always pull this off, but when I can, it always transforms the situation. In fact, it can turn things around so completely that it feels miraculous.
Choosing love doesn’t mean that you don’t set limits: “No throwing sand…..Out of the sandbox.” Only that you aspire to be supportive rather than punitive: “You wish you could play in the sandbox. It was too hard for you to stop throwing sand. We’ll try again tomorrow.”
But choosing love does mean that you accept the other person with compassion, even when they’re falling apart or lashing out. That’s why it’s common for parents who begin choosing love to find themselves wondering if they’re “taking crap” as Philippe said.
And yes, choosing love does mean that we choose to swallow hard and refrain from taking our anger or worry out on our child. But we’re not actually swallowing our child’s crap. Instead, we’re noticing our own suffering, which is making us overreact to our child. Choosing love doesn’t mean we “swallow” that pain, which would be harmful to us. But it does mean that we refuse to take it out on our child.
How do we know this is old baggage? Because children will always act childish; they don’t have a fully developed prefrontal cortex. But we as adults only stoop to that level when we get triggered. The definition of getting triggered is that the prefrontal cortex stops bringing reason to the situation because the emotions seize control. In other words, we overreact with big emotions because of our old unconscious learning. And of course, the child did not install that trigger. It’s been there inside us for a long time. In fact, our child is giving us an opportunity to notice and heal that trigger. If we don’t, we will probably take that old baggage and dump it on our child.
What can we do instead of swallowing that suffering? Just notice it. Sit with it. Breathe into the sensations the emotion causes in your body, and don’t let your mind get sucked into any storyline. Just breathe. Love yourself through it. This is the hardest thing in the world, sitting with our own pain. But when we don’t deal with our own suffering, we inevitably take it out on others. And the miracle of this mindful approach is that it works, just by bringing more consciousness to that old pattern. Think of it as shining a light, and the shadows melt away. Little by little, that old baggage begins to loosen its hold on us and to disappear.
When we think about creating a healthy and successful relationship with someone, we tend to focus on how we can best bridge our differences. We want to allow room for both of us to be our different selves, we want to be able to openly communicate about the ways in which we see things differently, we want to learn to see and even appreciate the world from the other’s perspective.
Especially when that relationship is between a woman and a man, we want to allow ourselves to revel in the vastness between us. The messages we’ve received have told us, after all, that we are worlds apart: Venus and Mars have different orbits, different gravities, different wavelengths of light. Negotiating this vastness seems so gloriously inclusive. But now scientific observations using new scanning technology suggests something even more fascinating: That view simply isn’t true.
In a brain-imaging study out of Tel Aviv University in Israel, scientists found that the brains of men and women are highly similar. In fact, they had a hard time finding areas of thebrain that were not similar.
Probing further, the scientists tried to find men who tended to be stereotypically male and women who tended to be stereotypically female. Again, the scientists came up short. By these new scans, only 0.1 percent of the male population proved to be stereotypically male or female. The rest of us—essentially all of us—are a combination of male and female characteristics. Think about it. If you were to describe yourself, you would probably readily admit that you have both male and female qualities in your personality, as well. And so would just about everyone else.
If you dig into the literature on our human needs and wants, you’ll find the same story: We are all extremely similar. After food and shelter, our greatest need is for social connection, a sense of belonging. Whether you are a man or a woman, and no matter what your age is, having positive relationships with other people is incredibly important for your health, well-being, and longevity. Presumably, that’s why we seek each other out and build relationships in the first place.
Yet we also see that there is a growing epidemic of loneliness. One in four people say they have no one to talk to about personal problems. That’s enormously sad and unhealthy. The helpful news, however, is that social connection doesn’t come down to the number of relationships a person has. Rather, it stems from inside. If you take care of yourself and are happy from within, you will find that you feel connected to others. It shouldn’t seem like such a strange concept that a good relationship with yourself predicts better relationships with others.
Recently in my practice I have found myself sitting across from a number of very bright, educated, and successful women who are desperately trying to decide if they should stay or leave their marriages or long-standing relationships. What makes this particularly poignant is that in every instance, there are objective indicators of their partners’ emotional abuse and behavioral acts of betrayal. And yet, the decision to “give him one more chance,” or “figure out what else they can do to make the relationship work” dominates all of their therapy sessions.
And their partners’ actions are not simple or one time breaches of trust. Chronic cheating, both through on-line sexting and chat rooms, as well as using the joint credit card to spend a week-end in the Bahamas with a long-term mistress. Years of cruel verbal putdowns: “You’re getting fat,” “You look like my grandmother when you wear that outfit,” “I’m not sure if I want to stay married to you.” Years of condescending eye rolls and exasperated sighs, not showing up for events that are important, withholding financial support or emotional nurturance, minimizing accomplishments, pervasive criticism and judgment. In the world of mental health and therapy these are the harbingers of subtle and overt abuse and neglect: the hallmark features of dysfunctional, even toxic, relationships. So why are these women so ambivalent about whether or not to leave?
I believe that in many cases they continue to tolerate abuse and neglect because they are stuck in one of two places: how the relationship used to be when they first got together or how they hope the relationship will be at some vague point in the future. It’s easy and comforting to reminisce about the early stages of a courtship. Everyone is on best behavior, and the novelty and excitement of a new relationship literally released chemicals in their brains that rob them of objectivity and judgment, leaving them feeling smitten and euphoric. When the honeymoon is over and a cruel reality sets in, many people cling to “what was,” hoping against hope that those warm feelings and loving behaviors will return. After years of living in the past and hoping to recreate it, the focus shifts to “how it could be in the future.” These hopes are often influenced by a fantasy that has never been and never will be a true reflection of their partner.
When considering what to do with their relationships, the wisest approach for these women is to find the courage to honestly assess the current reality of their interactions. Here are some specific dynamics to consider:
- Does their partner repeatedly maintain there is “nothing wrong” with the relationship despite their unhappiness and dissatisfaction?
- Does their partner believe that they do not have to change in any way?
- Does their partner believe the “real” problem is the unhappy, complaining wife or girlfriend?
- Has their partner apologized over and over for the same maltreatment, only to do it again after a “honeymoon” or “make-up” phase?
- Do they spend lots of time monitoring their partner’s cellphone, computer, iPad or social media pages looking for “evidence” of inappropriate texts and meetings with other women because trust has been betrayed in the past?
- Do they continually focus on what more they can do to make a partner who has betrayed them want to “treat them better”?
- Do they often feel alone despite the fact that they are in a relationship?
- Do they feel like they have to “walk in eggshells,” censoring their thoughts, feelings or behaviors in order to stay safe in their relationship?
- Does the relationship leave them questioning whether they have the right to get their needs met and their feelings validated?