Does your love life need help? Try some “choreplay”

August 22nd, 2014

As a psychotherapist and relationship coach who works with many couples—I often hear men (especially) lamenting that their wives are not interested/have little interest in sex. Their wives often respond with something along the lines of “I’m so exhausted and have not time to myself—and he doesn’t get it.” They go on to talk about all the housework, care giving of children, and for many, their own jobs outside the home—that take all their time and energy and leave them craving quiet and sleep at the end of their long days. They say their spouses don’t get it because they don’t share these responsibilities—and if they do, their share is much smaller.

A study from researchers at Cornell University and Georgia State University may have a solution—share the household chores. According to their findings, younger couples (average age, 36) who split the house/kid chores have the most sex, are happy with how often they have it—and report high satisfaction with the sex itself. The study surveyed 600 couples, almost 90% were married, they averaged a moderate to low income, 55% had at least some college education—and all had at least one child living with them.

Previous studies have showed couples with more traditional roles as having a better sex life—therefore this may reflect changing attitudes, expectations and what people want from their partners. It’s interesting to note that the results were not impacted by the woman working outside the home or full time at home.

One interesting finding was with the couples where he did most of the housework. In these cases they had less sex and reported the least sexual satisfaction regarding quantity and quality. One could draw a number of hypotheses from this—but that is for another article.

So the next time you want more sex, run the vacuum or do a load of laundry—it’s great choreplay.

Thirty nights of sex

August 16th, 2014

A Utah couple with two young children, two demanding jobs and lots of reasons to be too tired for intimacy decided to try a “sexperiment”—and then blogged about it.

Meg Conley was concerned that she and her husband Riley Bingham were losing touch with one another—which every busy couple knows is all too easy to do when the demands of family and parenting get added on to work and other life stressers. So one night after Riley arrived home, Meg proposed having sex for 30 days—straight. He was very game, and so they did.

Meg shared in her blog that it was hard sometimes to get up the energy and enthusiasm, but that the closeness and positive changes in both their attitudes made it worth it. It’s interesting and not surprising that Riley had enough energy and that wasn’t an issue for him—hummm. Riley did say that they became less “selfish” towards one another—intimacy can really encourage a closeness that tunes the individuals into each other—and contributes to each feeling more cared for and appreciated. It certainly worked here.

Meg was also happy with the change in how much they opened up to one another—talking and sharing feelings more. She even noted that they were more playful with one another and felt like “kids again.”

I have always maintained that having sex more often has benefit in and of itself. But too often we put the emphasis on fireworks and make it such a chore and hurdle—that the good old fashioned quickie has gotten a bad name. This sexperiment sheds new life on that—and given how well it worked for Meg and Riley I would recommend it to all couples. Do it more and don’t get hung up on who does more of what and how—just get it on and have fun.

Can you be single and happy?

August 9th, 2014

Too often I get that question “Can someone be single and truly happy?” My response always follows a similar vein—it depends. If a single person’s idea of happiness centers on being married, it’s unlikely they will find “happiness” while still single. After all, their definition is very narrow and depends completely on one element being present in their life. Yes, it’s a big one, I get that. But life is made up of so many little and big things—and happiness can be found in many people who have some but not others—including marriage.

All this leads me to an article in the New York Times titled–The magic of Swimming on Martha’s Vineyard. You may be thinking, now what does THAT have to do with happiness–a lot actually. Its author, Jane Gross writes about her passion for swimming—in pools, lakes, ponds, rivers and the ocean. She mentions some great places she has gone swimming—but nothing beats her special place on Martha’s Vineyard. Now, for the connection to happiness. Begin with rereading her title for this piece and you find the word magic. What does this word connote for you? Certainly can’t imagine having a magical experience and feeling unhappy at the same time. Now where am I going with this, you ask? I’m using this one teeny example to illustrate how joy can be found when following a passion—and that feeling of joy comes from being fully present in the moment and at peace with the world around you.

Ms. Gross’s article is a pleasure to read. It takes you to a quiet part of the island—away from where the rich and famous flock every summer. Her favorite swimming hole is an ocean inlet called Lambert’s Cove—and as she describes it, the reader can hear, see and smell the beauty and tranquility of the place, the magic as the author puts it. Every year she rents a small cottage nearby and spends each day there swimming, walking the shore, eating fresh fish and lobster and watching the sun set in a beautiful island sky. Ready to pack your bags about now?

The point I am trying to get to—is that even though happiness cannot be defined and no one has ever come up with an adequate way to describe it, we know it when we feel it. That feeling of peace, a oneness with the natural world around us, an absence of stress, being completely in the moment—these are all ways we describe our feelings of happiness. Ms. Gross’s happiness when swimming at Lambert’s Cove is not shared with anyone—she experiences it alone and she describes the experience as magic.

If you believe you will never be happy as a single person and marriage is your ultimate goal—try reaching out for moments of happiness by finding your passion and indulging in to when you can. These moments won’t keep you warm at night or offer a sounding board when you need one, and they can’t share your burdens and triumphs through the road of life. But they can bring you joy, allow you to be, just be in a perfect moment for a little while—and they will help you to be a happier and more complete person which is a very attractive trait in any potential partner or spouse.

Want to read the piece? You can find it here on:

Dating after 50—for Dummies

August 5th, 2014

There’s a new book titled Dating after 50 for Dummies—written by AARP relationship expert, Pepper Schwartz, PhD. Who would have thought that the AARP would have their own relationship expert? It’s not the same world that boomers grew up in when older folks retired and headed for a quiet pasture.

The Today Show did a segment on the book and Dr. Schwartz offered advice to boomers who are entering or reentering the dating scene. As I watched it, I thought, there’s little being said here that is different from what we advise younger daters to do.

On the show, Dr. Schwartz emphasized the importance of knowing new technology, picking up a new hobby to meet people, and presenting yourself in an accurate way. Two out of three are important to stress with all ages—but younger folks don’t need any prompting regarding the importance of technology. Actually, they may have the opposite problem of too much use of technology and how this interferes with relating and intimacy. But I’ll save that for another blog post.

Trying new activities in order to meet people is always a great idea, but only if these things are something the person is genuinely interested in and would enjoy even if they didn’t meet compatible singles to date. They would still be spending time pursuing a passion, would meet like-minded people for friendship/companionship—and these new friends have friends who have friends. Think about the networking possibilities.

Presenting yourself in an accurate way is always important because if you don’t, you will get busted eventually—and that is not a fun experience. Trying to market a false version of yourself could get you more initial winks, email and first dates—but it won’t lead to anything more. Instead, you will most likely anger or annoy the other person who feels duped and that they have wasted their time. A lose/lose all around.

I would also add that there are real differences in dating at 25 and dating at 55. Older daters aren’t looking for great potential parents in the people they date, money is an issue but only in that they may not want to combine their resources if they marry. After all, most people want their children to inherit their wealth after they pass. A partner’s health is a much bigger issue with older daters. No one wants to end up a caregiver to someone they have only been with for a couple of years. Most importantly—what boomers look for in potential mates will be informed by years of living and most likely, marriage. The things they wanted when they were young could be very different now. Stability, good health, a great sense of humor, someone who is easy to be around, financial stability and independence—and an overall great companion are highly ranked qualities with older daters.

So if you are over 50 and dating—check out this book, put your dancing shoes on, get out there and have fun—and Mr./Ms. Right might just happen along.

Andi loves Josh and vice versa

July 29th, 2014

If you are a regular or even an occasional watcher of the Bachelor/Bachelorette series—you are probable fairly savvy about how things usually go during the show and how few truly happy endings there are not too long after the cameras stop rolling and the couples return to reality.

Let’s face it—the dates are over-the-top, a lot of the action is staged and edited—and it can’t be easy to get to know someone over an eight week period when you start with 25 eligible members of the opposite sex who are all competing for your limited time and attention.

However, as anyone who has ever been in love knows- you kind of know very quickly. Someone stands out—for many reasons, some you can’t even pinpoint. There is something about them—and over the course of a normal courtship (which this show is not)–the reasons become clearer as you sort out your attraction and begin using your head along with your gut and libido to decide if this is Mr./Ms. Right or Wrong.

This past season was a tough call. Andi is not only a beautiful young woman—she is also smart, independent and on top of her game. She is a total package and it was clear several of the guys fell hard. Would they have fallen that hard in real life without the hype and competition—hard to say? At the end, it was Nick and Josh—two very different guys, but both appeared to have real chemistry with Andi and it was difficult to know who she might be leaning towards and if this segment would end in a mistrial because Andi would not be able to choose. Well, it appears that she did struggle right up to the last night—but when she woke up that last morning, she was clear.

It’s easy to think it was the editing or that something happened that we just didn’t know about—but I believe that all along Andi was weighing her connection with each and thinking about which one would be the best overall fit for her. Nick and Andi had a clear intellectual connection. Andi talked about this a lot—he could read her and that was both exciting and challenging. She referred to him as highly intelligent, which helps to confirm that their intellectual chemistry was strong. The physical was there as well, but perhaps less strong than with Josh. The piece that seemed to be the problem was their friendship chemistry. Yes, they related well and had fun together—but on that last good-bye morning, Andi talked about how serious their relationship was at times. She feared they would always be discussing some issue instead of just having light, fun, silly time together. Nick was bright, cute, and sexy—but she couldn’t just be and have crazy fun with him like she does with Josh.

Andi was drawn to Josh’s looks immediately. He is her “type,” a strong, sexy, handsome athletic guy. She feared he would be a player due to her history with this type- but it turns out he is a “really nice guy,” even according to his rival, Nick. In addition, they come from and presently live in the same hometown, Andi is Jewish and Josh’s Mom is also Jewish- less worry about blending backgrounds. Josh is no longer a professional athlete and has instead gone into business and is apparently bright and capable—all of which means that Andi and Josh definitely have strong physical and intellectual chemistry, and come from a similar culture. However, where Josh has the real advantage over Nick is in the friendship he shares with Andi. In almost every shot together they are laughing, they appear very relaxed and their ease of conversation is evident. Andi chose Josh over Nick because of their friendship chemistry- an important element over a future lifetime of challenges together.

What struck me was the final scene when Andi and Josh came together and she told him he is the one. With past “final rose” scenes, it often felt as though the couple had chosen by going, eeny, meny, miney, mo, were caught up in playing out the romantic scene—or were just doing what was expected on the show, choosing someone from a large group of possibilities. It usually doesn’t feel real—and theses two did. Both said I love you over and over, their faces were radiant—and it was clear they were happy to be leaving the stage and returning home to real life and one another. They live about 5 minutes from one another—and have been seeing each other on the sly since the show wrapped. I’d make a solid bet on these two staying together and making it work.

And even if Andi had any lingering doubts about her decision (which it did not appear that she did)—after Nick’s comment on live, national TV asking her why she “made love to me,” if she wasn’t sure, any doubts she might have had would have disappeared. Nice guys don’t kiss and tell Nick.

50 Shades fever

July 25th, 2014

Here we go again. First it was the book that came out of nowhere and became the “mommy-porn” of the decade. Women of all shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds were talking about it. Men were giving it to the women in their lives in hopes it would spice things up in the bedroom. Finally, everyone could talk openly about their sexual fantasies without being negatively labelled. While all that may be a positive break-through for couples and especially women-the hype misses the real point of the books- power and control. Now it’s all about to get acted out on the big screen and women are all in a flutter in anticipation.

Ever since the feminist movement “liberated” women (that is another whole topic for a separate discussion)—they have gained a more equal footing with men in the boardroom, kitchen and bedroom. No one disputes that this has many upsides—however, the downsides are the most poorly-kept (and rarely discussed) secret between women. Now that women have many of the same opportunities and rights as their male peers—they also have a great deal more stress, have to shoulder many more responsibilities in their two full-time jobs—and are often taking the lead not only in running the household and even earning more money, but in the bedroom as well. Just thinking about it is enough to drive women to Chic Flicks, Harlequin Romances and Fifty Shades of Grey. Take note, you guys out there—this is what really turns women on.

As I write this, I find myself humming the song, “Holding Out For a hero.” In a perverse way, Christian Grey is that hero. He’s strong and successful, wields great power and influence in his company and in his relationships. There is a mystery and danger about him that add to his manly image- and all of this is what drives women crazy.

Test this out for yourself by imagining a really nice guy who is very rich, handsome and enjoys sex. He plays by the rules, is predictable, polite and always lets the woman know she is his equal. What is he lacking that Christian Grey possesses? It’s obvious, don’t you think.

Even though it would feel like heresy to admit it- many women fantasize about men who have those Christian qualities. They are take charge, go after what they want kind of guys. Women feel “like women” in the presence of such a guy- and this is not only sexy—it is never, ever boring.

The story of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is about so much more than sex– think about it, the first book doesn’t have a single sex scene until late in the story. Even then, though it is steamy it is more about intimacy than just sex, and it doesn’t involve S&M because Ana hasn’t yet agreed to the contract. Christian also breaks his own rules of absolute control and dominance–as he crosses his own lines of no intimate relationship.

Yes, the book is filled with Christian’s intensity, power, strength, and hint of danger–and Anastasia’s inability to resist him, hard as she tries to. She wants a real relationship, and Christian has so many qualities she considers ideal. There is however the little problem of his unavailability and “alternative” sexual practices—which she eventually chooses to accept in order to be with him. That is until she just can’t. It’s enough to make a grown woman swoon–and it’s doing that to millions of women around the world.

Happiness Myths

July 21st, 2014

There was an interesting op-ed in the Sunday New York Times discussing happiness. Now there’s a topic that everyone can relate to and would like to hear more about. What do you know about what happiness is and what makes one happy? You may be very surprised by what the research says.

There is a test that measure both happiness and unhappiness called the Positive Affectivity and negative Affectivity Schedule test. Not only does it measure both- it demonstrates that a person can be happy, yet unhappy at the same time. This may clear up the confusion for a number of people who have experienced this, but didn’t trust that their self-observations were accurate. Knowing this could also help folks to use their happiness to decrease their unhappiness.

Depending on the individual, there can be a number of stated reasons for unhappiness, but they vary quite a bit and aren’t always significant like living in poverty, having a chronic health issue, or experiencing a significant loss. Actually the number one typical day reason cited for unhappiness is spending time with one’s boss. Take note all you managers. Yes the above cited reasons lead to unhappiness as does loneliness, which is more common in our present culture and especially among those who live alone and/or in large cities.

A surprising finding from a study out of the University of Rochester in 2009 is that graduates who had set “intrinsic’ goals, such as finding a lasting relationship were much happier than those whose goals had to do with making a lot of money or achieving fame. Apparently being rich and/or famous does not make one happier, even if having financial security does contribute to greater happiness for the average person. Yet many people continue to pursue their career goals above all else and put their focus on gaining fame and fortune. How ironic that it can leave them feeling alone, depressed and empty. Think about all the celebrities and politicians embroiled in scandals, in legal trouble due to bad behavior, addicted to substances- and even suicidal.

Of course, there’s always the rest of us. All us normal people who go on reality shows hoping to get noticed, who buy lottery tickets hoping to win the prize that will change our lives for the better and all the folks who put their relationship goals and relationships on hold until they have achieved the right amount of fortune and success.

So what’s the real secret of happiness? Most likely a mixture of security and stability, happy love, close and caring friends, work we love- and the ability to put people and relationships above things and success.

Certainly gives us all something to think about.

Is red the new black?

July 16th, 2014

The color black is often thought of as sophisticated and sexy- think “little black dress.” It connotes an attractiveness and appeal that is universal and therefore, everyone wants to have at least one. Now there is a new study that highlights red as another must-have color for women. The University of Rochester has conducted studies over several years that examined how red enhances a man’s attractiveness to women, how red enhances a woman’s attractiveness to men- and now how women dislike other women who wear red because they see them as a greater threat due to their enhanced sexual attractiveness.

In 2008, the first study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, found that women perceive men in red as more attractive because it gives them an appearance of power. In a woman’s mind, this power manifests itself as having a higher status, making more money and being much closer to the top of the social status ladder. The study’s authors believe that both culture and biology contribute to this perception as societies back to ancient times used this color to convey prosperity and a higher status. Think “red carpet” in today’s culture. In the study, men did not attribute these qualities to other men in red- only women did.

A second study done in 2012 found that men showed a preference and increased attractiveness to women wearing red. In fact, when showed photographs bordered in red of different women, they were chosen over those that were bordered in other colors. When wearing red shirts or dresses, their attractiveness was even greater. The researchers came to the conclusion that red is the color of passion to men because women wearing it are perceived as less likely to rebuff a man’s sexual interest and/or advances. Red is also the color associated with heightened sexual pleasure, as in the blushing of the skin during sexual play or copulation. Research has also shown that non-primate males also prefer females who display reddening when close to ovulation. Fascinating stuff to be sure.

Now the latest study has looked at how women perceive other women in red. It’s not pretty ladies. When a woman encounters another women who is wearing red, she sees her as a rival and someone she definitely does not want near her partner/spouse. When presented with pictures of women in red, female study participants made derogatory comments suggesting that the women would cheat on her partner, probably has little or no money, and is someone she would keep away from her mate. Bottom line- they saw these women in red as less likely to turn down a sexual overture from a male- any male.

So the bottom line is if you are a women, you may want to think about where and when your wear red- what the event will be, who will be there and whether it will be a help or a hindrance to your acceptance, likeability networking- and overall presentation to the others in attendance. For those of you who don’t wear red because it’s just not your color- you may never have been considered that sexy- however, you probably have a lot more women friends.

Arthur’s gift of intimacy

July 4th, 2014

Our first named hurricane of the season has been moving along the coast this week. July 4th has always been a day of parties, barbeques, parades, fireworks, trips to the pool and beach- and hot summer fun. In recent years, however, all of these are peppered with moments checking email, quick calls to work associates, time carved out to finish and send that report or handling a few odds and ends that you couldn’t get done before vacating the office for a few days.

Before the internet and cell phone, we had down time. Time spent hanging out with friends and loved ones, interacting through play and conversation, time to read and time to get back in touch with our inner child. Of course, younger adults never knew a time like this- but those of us who did can’t help but feel something is missing in our present plugged in lives.

I’m sitting here looking out at the storm as it rages over the ocean all around me. We are in a sheltered place on Long Island Sound- a place I spent many childhood summers. When I come here for a visit, I can almost hear the voices and see the images of a long ago time for here time seems to stand still. The streets look almost the same, some cottages are updated, but the old names are still there. The view out over the sound is just as it was when I was 7 years old. While it’s true you can “never go home again,” I can come close in this place. But, somehow, there is often this distance or barrier that seems like more than time.

This morning, waking up to the storm, I felt like I had been transported back in time. Folks are out walking in bare feet with slickers on and no one is talking on a phone. Some outages have occurred, so people are unplugged- card and board games are coming out, there is conversation and story-telling- and someone even came to the door to tell us a neighborhood party has been changed to a few weeks from now- due to the weather. No text, email or phone call- they came to the door.

Today time has slowed down- and if I listen quietly, I can see and hear the children we were- laughing and running through the rain. I can picture us out on the fishing dock, catching bass which were always plentiful on rainy days. The day will pass slowly and a sense of calm and relaxation will set in, followed by a truly restful night’s sleep.

Soon enough, life will return to normal- but for this one day, our minds can frolic and play through memories of a simpler time, a time when intimacy was a way of life- when conversation happened in real time and the images of our shared days were recorded in our memories and not on our smart phones, where they were then stored and taken out on special occasions among friends, not shared online for any stranger or acquaintance who happens to click by.

Gray divorce shattering retirement dreams

June 29th, 2014

The New York Times is running an interesting piece right now on how divorce among the older long-marrieds is impacting their finances and especially their retirement security. “Gray” divorces are on the rise according to a study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University. Among folks 50 and older the divorce rate has doubled since 1990- and it’s expected to keep rising. So much for the belief that the divorce rate is only high among those who have young children, and are in the most stressful times of their life/marriage, etc.

The Times focuses on how assets are split in half, retirement income gets fought over, the importance of talking to a financial advisor before calling a divorce lawyer- and they even talk about possible hidden assets that can’t be accessed once a divorce is finalized. Therefore they emphasize the need to go slowly, get the best settlement you can- and really do your homework along the way. Did you know there is such a thing as a forensic accountant who can search out any hidden or even forgotten assets a soon to be ex-partner may have? I can’t speak for anyone who has decided that divorce is the best option- but it sure feels like the hardest and least desirable, especially if you are an older adult with less time to start over and rebuild wealth and regain lost lifestyle perks.

There is only a brief mention in the article of the pain and loss associated with the death of a marriage- and the emphasis is how this leads people to less thought out planning and rushing a process that is just too important to get wrong. While this is all useful to anyone facing a gray divorce- I think folks should stop and spend some time and effort before making the decision to move towards divorce at all. Yes, there are the big 3 that are not negotiable in any marriage- abuse, addiction, and complete emotional estrangement. These can be worked on but only if both partners are willing to do the hard work- and after years of living with someone who may be ‘guilty” of one of these, it may just feel like too little too late.

But what about all the space between marital discord and unhappiness and these three? In my experience as a psychotherapist and relationship coach, there is often room in a relationship for working on problems, space in which to find compromise and enough energy to do the necessary work. What is often lacking is the belief that change is possible or the will is not there to see the difficult process through.

But then I think about what this article details- the anxiety, uncertainty, grief, stress, work, and emotional and financial cost- especially for those who don’t have much time for starting over and who wouldn’t find it easy to do so at an older age even if they were determined to do so. Losing one’s home, giving up much loved possessions, breaking up your family, losing mutual friends, living on less, maybe much less- and having an uncertain and potentially very lonely old age to look forward to. Speaking for myself- this is motivation to slow down and really think about how brown that grass could be on the other side of the marriage fence.

Maybe we should have seminars where older divorced people give talks to those contemplating divorce and give them a view of post-divorce life in their golden years. Call it tough love for divorce contemplating boomers. If you are an older person, married for years and considering divorce- and looking forward to kicking back and enjoying those later in life years without the stress of your present relationship- consider spending some time with your divorced friends, going out to bars and social events frequented by divorced and single older adults- and you just may get a dose of reality that could save you from the biggest mistake of your life.