Does Daring to Abandon Monogamy Make You a “Failure?”

Two people holding hands after agreeing to abandon monogamy.

“The first divorce in the world may have been a tragedy, but the hundred-millionth is not necessarily one.” – Anatole Broyard

I want to talk about the notion that daring to abandon monogamy if you’re nonmonogamous represents a “failure.” This belief reflects the tremendous investment of the Overculture. It wants to keep people locked into relationships. (Or, until very recently, keep other people locked out of certain relationships.) It wants to shame people and disparage alternatives to lifelong, heterosexual monogamy. There are a range of reasons for this. None are particularly valid today.

The stigma surrounding divorce – and who’s still pushing it

Although I’m no youngster, within my lifetime there was a huge stigma surrounding divorce. Many still bemoan the supposed “easy accessibility of divorce.” They seek to repeal or otherwise severely restrict access to divorce. Another vocal group resorted to the scare tactic that divorce irreparably harms children. They insisted that people should stay together for “the sake of the kids.” Research on this is mixed, but trends away from this view. Yet this attack continues.

An unholy alliance took place between three groups:

  • Those who opposed recognizing same-sex marriages or relationships;
  • Those who disparaged non-marital cohabitation; and
  • Those who simply opposed divorce, especially so-called “no fault” divorce.

What united them was a maniacal devotion to lifelong, exclusive, heterosexual monogamy. They brooked no opposition or examination of alternatives. In 1996 they were at the peak of their power. They pushed successfully for a federal law enshrining their views. The law mandated what should be taught to young people about marriage and sexuality. It specifically mandated exclusivity.

Now that’s no longer true. That law was, fortunately, repealed, thanks to the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision. I’d like to think that the social climate has changed positively. But the defenders of “traditional” monogamy still seek to influence public discourse. They work in somewhat more sophisticated ways, but with the same ultimate intention. They promote “marriage” as a one-step solution to a host of social ills. But make no mistake. By “marriage” they absolutely mean exclusive monogamy. No room for swingers, polyamorists, or those with open relationships.

When you realize you’re at a crossroads

So, what does this mean? I’ve seen many people realize that monogamy doesn’t work for them. They’ve engaged in a good-faith effort to try to live authentically. They’ve fairly and respectfully tried to renegotiate their relationship.

There are four possible outcomes for this negotiation. Some are successful in renegotiating the relationship to live more authentically. Often, both partners grow and benefit from the fruits of the renegotiation. This is the best case.

Another outcome is a “poly-mono” relationship. In these, one partner lives non-exclusively, and the other freely chooses to remain exclusive. Despite some criticism by some nonmonogamy community voices, it works well for many people.

A third group can’t renegotiate. They then resign themselves to staying in a disappointing relationship. Or worse, decide that their only alternative is cheating. This is a very unfortunate outcome. It doesn’t bode well for the future of the relationship. But that’s the subject of a different post.

The fourth segment tries good faith negotiations. But they then conclude it isn’t going to work. The monogamously-oriented partner’s right to live authentically is not in question. So, what happens? The people involved must navigate an appropriate relationship transition. It’s time to abandon monogamy.

Pitfalls to be avoided

This transition can have varying degrees of complexity based on the situation. But what happens to the nonmonogamously-oriented partner who engages in a relationship transition? The pressure of the Overculture to remain exclusive at all costs is potent. We are still all marinated in an invisible social pressure. It enshrines lifelong, exclusive monogamy as the “ideal” relationship.

Many divorces, regardless of the cause, unfortunately are acrimonious. The nonmonogamous transitioning from monogamy can feel guilt, shame and other unpleasant emotions. These are made worse by a common tendency of a monogamous partner. These seek solace, reinforcement and affirmation from family or mutual friends. To preserve their self-image, they often disparage the nonmonogamous partner. Their supporters then “pile on.”

This can create ruptures within the nonmonogamous partner’s social support network. In some cases, it damages their bond with their children from the ending relationship.

I can’t fix the Overculture that punishes nonmonogamous thoughts. I can’t fix how the monogamous try to relieve their guilt, insecurities, and low self-esteem by avoiding all responsibility. But I believe I can help those who have chosen to move on from a relationship that no longer nourishes them. With help, they may avoid some of the negative outcomes associated with a transition.

If you find you must move on from monogamy

I rely on techniques from my Affirmative Intimacy® method for managing relationships. These tools can also help you manage transitions in relationships.

Most appropriate among the tools is Mindful Reason. This manages the negative self-talk from the emotional baggage of the Overculture. The other is Differentiation of Self. This is the ability to stand, independent from any relationship, without feeling incomplete.

Mindful Reason can be an important tool to address the negative messages you may receive. The dislocations caused by a relationship transition are unfortunate. These are not outcomes you would have chosen and embraced. But neither are they a tragedy nor a cataclysm. They are a natural, temporary outcome of your desire to live in authenticity. You have a right to grow in the direction of your particular rays of sunshine.

Avoid internalizing negative messages from the Overculture. Immunize yourself from those acting in solidarity with your monogamously-oriented former partner. They are often driven by fear of losing their grip on their own monogamous relationship.

Listen to the messages, including your own self-talk. You can then analyze their source and validity. Then, replace the harmful ones with new, healthier beliefs.

Differentiation of Self is a complex subject. But too often, as social animals, we invest too heavily in being “part of a relationship.” It is one of many roles assigned to us since infancy. The positive attributes of being connected to others is certainly a net benefit. But not when carried to an extreme. Clinging desperately to a relationship that no longer serves you is harmful.

Differentiation of Self means being able to be your true self both in and out of a relationship. It’s about not being dependent upon a relationship to function. It’s about not deferring to a partner to “keep the peace” and preserve a relationship. Of course, compromise and negotiation should happen and they’re often positive. But when compromise becomes capitulation, you’ve crossed the line. The more capitulation within a relationship, the less functional it becomes.

What you need to do

So, where does this leave us? If you’re looking at a relationship transition, take stock of what’s at stake. What are your pros and cons? Realistically assess the impact those would have on your life. Compare that to the opportunity to live with authenticity.

Have you tried for a satisfactory renegotiation of the relationship? Have you taken into account the reasonable desires, needs and orientations of both parties?

If a transition is inevitable, for your own sake and that of other persons involved, take the high road. Avoid recriminations, disparagement or other negative behaviors directed toward your soon-to-be ex-partner. You should seek fairness in any distribution of assets. Always take the high road in any interactions with third parties.

Be ready for negative messages from people invested in monogamy. Their fear demands they shame anyone daring to live outside their inflexible boundaries. But don’t let it get to you.

As importantly, you need to be prepared to grapple with your inner mononormativity. You’re not immune to the messages that you’ve been marinated in since childhood. Ditch the myth about finding your “one true partner” and “living happily ever after.” You must marshal your inner resources to overcome any negative self-messaging. Research shows that even those who are practicing nonmonogamy haven’t fully escaped this.

So, in short, you need to embrace the challenge in exchange for the powerful benefits you hope to receive. Scientific research suggests that you’ll be happier, healthier and more satisfied. Doing so is not a failure. A brighter future is open to you if you have the courage to step through that door.

Is nonmonogamy an answer to the danger of loneliness?

Loneliness and social isolation

Loneliness and Social Isolation Are Growing – And Concerning

A report recently released by the U.S. National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine warns of the health dangers of loneliness and social isolation among seniors.
 
The former U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has also released a new book on loneliness. While not focused only on seniors, Dr. Murthy identifies a widespread problem. His proposed solutions include service and being mindful about maintaining real – not virtual – connections.
 
We now know that social isolation contributes to mental and physical health challenges. Seniors are especially vulnerable to social isolation, for many reasons. We also know that relationships can buffer against the dangers of loneliness and social isolation. But only good and supportive relationships help. Bad relationships, filled with tension (often over sex) and stress are actually bad for you!
 
It seems that working to create and sustain a thriving relationship pays off. Avoiding the pitfalls of relationship problems helps avoid poor health as we age. If you needed another reason for working on building a healthy relationship, this is it!
 
But relationships with a wider network of people offer powerful benefits as well. It’s not just your most intimate relationship’s role to sustain you. Building strong connections with others helps, too.
 

Nonmonogamy’s effect among adults 55+

This recent research brought to mind my 2015 study of the consensually nonmonogamous. We found that respondents 55 and older practicing consensual nonmonogamy reported greater physical health. They also reported greater personal happiness and marital happiness.
 
Our positive findings were connected to the increased sexual frequency reported by our nonmonogamous respondents. A robust body of research documents the positive effects of sexual frequency on relationship satisfaction and personal health.
 
An important finding was that our divorced, widowed, separated and never-married respondents – those identified at greater risk for social isolation and loneliness – were significantly happier and healthier than their GSS counterparts. It appears that, through nonmonogamy, these “singles” enjoy a much more robust sex life, with attendant benefits. Our relatively small sample size limited the strength of our conclusion. But this remains a tantalizing area for future research. At the time, I was interested in pursuing the social support aspect, but other commitments got in the way. It seemed to me that persons engaged in most forms of consensual nonmonogamy must have a wider social support network.

The bottom line is that our research, even though preliminary, suggests there may be another approach to addressing this challenge. Our findings are especially relevant to the most vulnerable population: “single seniors.” Engaging in consensual nonmonogamy may offer benefits for health and well-being as well as relationship satisfaction.
 
This is not to say that the choice of nonmonogamy is for everyone. But, this choice may be a pathway for some to gain powerful benefits. If this is something you might want to explore, I have some resources that might be helpful. I also offer coaching based on my years of experience with the nonmonogamous community.
 

Why does a relationship coach care about loneliness and social isolation?

Because both situations often spring from poor choices within relationships. These poor choices can lead to separation or divorce. They may lead to an unsatisfying relationship that actually damages your health.
 
These problems are very much in my wheelhouse as a relationship coach and educator. I help people build better relationships. One of the things I help people with is learning to have a healthy Differentiation of Self.
 
Our social prescriptions for relationships create social isolation. They damage our kin and friendship networks. We expect too much of marriage/relationships. We expect too much of our partners. The burdens we now place on relationships were never meant to be borne by them.

Steps we can take to combat/prevent loneliness and social isolation

The “togetherness ethos” imposed by Western culture is suffocating. So buy yourself some “social isolation insurance.” Start becoming healthier by cultivating a new hobby or significant interest. One that your partner doesn’t share. Don’t let your new enthusiasm become an overwhelming time sink or budget-buster. If you do, that will create new and thorny challenges to confront! Don’t try to involve your partner. Hopefully this new interest helps you to build a new friendship network—with individuals of both genders. Just puttering in the garden by yourself has benefits, but they’re not what we’re after here.
 
It’s a good idea to have a conversation with your partner about this, and why you’re doing it. It’s not about them. Encourage them to do likewise. The idea is to break free of too much couplehood. Begin to have a social support system independent of your main relationship.
 
By loosening the bonds a bit, you recreate the separate person your partner fell in love with. Each of you deserves to have friends, activities and interests that are yours alone. Doing this will increase your own self-esteem and sense of personal autonomy. It also affords you and your partner opportunities to see each other as separate, complete human beings. The stifling cloak of couplehood gets really itchy after a while, so it’s perfectly fine to leave it in the closet periodically! Familiarity may not breed contempt, but individuality definitely breeds interest and attractiveness! It can even lead to renewed sparks in the bedroom!
 
You’re getting a “twofer” here. You get a more interesting relationship today. You build a larger social support network for your future. Both are good for your emotional and physical health.
 
Loneliness and social isolation are real problems. They are worthy of our respect and of taking steps to prevent them occurring in our lives. Here’s some of my observastions. What are your thoughts?

How to have a better sex life in seven powerful steps

One of the most common concerns sex and marital therapists see are problems with couples’ sex lives. Frequency, behaviors, types of sex acts, masturbation, appoved or disapproved fantasies – these all play a part. There are millions of internet advice pieces on this topic. I have a different take on solving this problem than most. To me, the tactical tips offered by many of these internet sources are not helpful. I believe that, while well-intended, they are premature. Unless you first address some underlying issues, these quick fixes won’t work for long.

Couple conversing about having better sex and sexual fantasies

1. Recommit to having a better sex life

Remember when you first became sexual with your partner? It was easy, frequent and hot (or at least that’s how many folks remember it). Now, it takes planning, juggling, and determination, happens rarely (if at all), and is often far from hot. What happened? More importantly, what can we do?

A lot of “experts” give you a list of tactical suggestions about new positions, new places, or similar ideas. These are great, but extremely limited. They assume that any underlying issues getting in the way of having the sex you want either don’t exist or have magically been resolved. Applying tactics when you haven’t dealt with the root causes is an exercise in frustration. Having sex in a treehouse isn’t going to improve your relationship if one (or both) of you doesn’t really want to have sex anywhere!

The Affirmative Intimacy™ approach to relationships is designed to help you with the skills to get the relationship you want. Central to achieving that is helping you accept complete responsibility for yourself and for getting what you want in relationship. This includes your sexual satisfaction.

An essential first step is recommitting with your partner that you both want a vibrant, fulfilling sex life together. This is a root cause matter. There are those who have so little sexual desire they simply don’t much care about having a partnered sex life. Others have let their desire waste away from disuse. Or they’ve pushed their desire to the back of their emotional closet for so long they’ve completely lost touch with it. There sometimes are physical challenges that must be addressed, especially as we age. And, there are many “unrelated” issues that can erase your sex life if not addressed.

But research demonstrates that a fulfilling and satisfying sex life is strongly associated with good health and relationship satisfaction. There are powerful and important benefits to be had by getting this right!

So, you and your partner must first have a thoughtful and detailed conversation about your respective willingness to recommit enthusiastically to the sexual component of your relationship. My Safe Space, Structured Dialog, and Mindful Reason techniques can help with this. You then need to work together to demolish any obstacles to prioritizing this aspect of your relationship.

If you can’t master this, no amount of “date nights” or “sexy texts” are going to restore the health of your relationship. There are other measures you can take if you’re deadlocked, but those are beyond the scope of this post.

Image of a washing machine

2. “Normal is just a cycle on the washing machine” – Whoopi Goldberg

Own your desires, turn-ons, ideal partner preference, fantasies and preferred approaches to sex. Collectively, these constitute your lovemap. Forget everything you think you know about what’s “normal.” Each of us is perfectly individual; we all have different life experiences from birth. Even identical twins raised together will have differences in their lovemaps. My point here is to avoid self-shaming, and to build resistance to shaming from others, about your lovemap. Unless your lovemap leads to abusive or criminal behavior, it’s ok.

What is a lovemap? The term comes from a 1986 book by Johns Hopkins University researcher John Money.  Money defined it as “a developmental representation or template in the mind and in the brain depicting the idealized lover and the idealized program of sexual and erotic activity projected in imagery or actually engaged in with that lover.”

As we grow up in a particular culture at a particular time, cultural norms shape our sexuality. So do life experiences and family-of-origin norms. We each develop a detailed lovemap that incorporates these inputs and our own reactions to them. Money believed this process begins as early as five years old. Whenever a sexual or potentially sexual situation occurs – real or virtual – we unconsciously consult our lovemap to see if we find it arousing. This then leads us toward satisfying our sexual needs in ways consistent with what we’ve learned and internalized.

Couple sharing individual sexual lovemaps and fantasies

3. For better sex, share your fantasies with your partner and ask your partner to do the same

Once you’ve identified your lovemap and associated fantasies, invite your partner to do the same. When they’ve finished, it’s time to share with each other! Research proves that doing this is good for your relationship. It can be an incredibly hot experience for both of you, if you’ve correctly set the stage. My Safe Space training might prove very valuable in getting this right the first time!

Couple embracing, happy over accepting each other's sexual lovemaps and fantasies

4. Accept your partner’s desires, turn-ons, fantasies and preferred approaches (It doesn’t mean you have to do them)

Here’s where a lot of conversations around sexuality and lovemaps go off the rails. To allow vulnerability and honesty, we must commit to unconditional acceptance of each other. It doesn’t matter if we find our partner’s lovemap appealing or appalling; it’s theirs and they have every right to it. Resist any temptation to express disgust or to practice shaming behaviors. It’s perfectly fine to ask for elaboration or clarification, so long as it’s not a setup for launching a put-down.

By accepting, I don’t mean endorsing or committing to act upon your partner’s lovemap. In truth, many of us entertain fantasies that we’d really never want to enact in real life – and that’s ok! They can still be hot and juicy stimuli during a somewhat tamer sexual encounter.

Also, QTIPquit taking it personally! Resist the urge to judge your partner’s disclosures as a reflection on you, your looks, your skills, or your physical endowments! It doesn’t matter where they came from. This sexual lovemap formed long before your partner ever knew you! Lovemaps typically can be changed only around the margins.

Fur-lined handcuffs for sexual play and fantasies

5. Agree on boundaries – then agree to push them a little!

As I said, once you’ve shared your fantasies and lovemaps, you can have an honest conversation about which, if any, might be fulfilled. Set forth your boundaries and limits as clearly as you possibly can. That said, I invite you to give serious consideration to pushing your own boundaries a little. Sometimes our baggage around sexuality causes us to be so limited in our sexual repertoire that we never experience some very interesting and pleasurable variations.

Pleasurable and enjoyable sex is first and foremost about mutual consent and consideration. That said, rigidity denies so many opportunities in the bedroom. Strive to be flexible and willing whenever possible. It can pay off in mind-blowing sexual experiences we would have missed out on if we stubbornly stayed within our safe, quiet shell.

Woman in nightgown displaying satisfaction over better sex

6. Reclaim a healthy sense of sexual entitlement!

As an adult human being, you are entitled to a fulfilling sexual life. That’s what I mean by a healthy sense of entitlement. This absolutely can’t come at the expense of others’ well-being! But neither should you easily surrender this basic human right. You have every right to take every ethical step possible toward meeting this human goal. This does not make you a “sex addict” or a nymphomaniac! As I noted above, the path to achieving this goal lies in mutual consent and consideration. Practice both, liberally and frequently. Within reason, do not seek to deny or infringe each other’s rights in this matter.

Couple initiating sexual play

7. Then do it! Negotiate win-win scenarios and stretch your boundaries (it feels so good once you’ve tried it!)

Enough contemplation! Take action. Have the conversations, negotiate together how you can each meet your goals, stretch your boundaries a little, and have at it! Now you can bring in all of the tactical tricks that the sex advice columns focus on to the exclusion of addressing the bedrock sexual concerns I’ve touched on here.

Want to know more about my approach to keeping relationships fulfilling, happy, and lusty? Get my free ebook, What’s Wrong With Our Relationships?

Stop the Fight! Beating The Top 6 Relationship Conflicts

Relationship conflict symbolized by two fists smashing against each other

When I was formalizing Affirmative Intimacy® in 2015, I researched the causes of relationship conflict. I found pretty solid agreement from a lot of sources. I boiled it all down to nine key areas:

  • Sex
  • Money
  • Communication (None or Poor)
  • Trust
  • Jealousy/Insecurity/Control
  • Resentment
  • Balance of Responsibilities
  • Incompatibility of Attitudes/Beliefs/Feelings/Devotion (Regardless of Cause)
  • Caring/Support “Gap” or Imbalance

Now a team of researchers from three universities has just released a new study on the matter. Their list is shorter than mine – only six items – but all of mine are definitely reflected in theirs. This research had some significant limitations. The sample was small (limits statistical power), and only newlyweds. The 3-year follow-up had a significant drop-out rate – about a third. Even so, it is important and it matches my own experience. It also matches that of other relationship helping professionals I know.

This is the list they came up with, and their definitions:

  • Inadequate Attention or Affection – included reasons concerning expressions of love and care that couples disagree about.
  • Jealousy and Infidelity – includes a partner’s behaviors that may increase the perceived risk of infidelity (e.g., “talking to an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend”), and reactions to an increased risk of infidelity (e.g., “jealousy,” “being possessive”).
  • Chores and Responsibilities – includes reasons for disagreements about everyday tasks that partners may share.
  • Sex – includes reasons for disagreements associated with sexual incompatibility and disclosure of a couple’s sexual intimacy (e.g., “sexual acts,” “telling private information about relationship to others”).
  • Control and Dominance – includes reasons for disagreement over attempts by one partner to manipulate the other (e.g., “Who’s boss”).
  • Future Plans and Money – includes reasons for disagreement associated with ability and willingness to invest resources in the relationship (e.g., “children”).

So let’s look at these reasons for relationship conflict. I’m also offering my suggestions on addressing them.

Relationship Conflict – Inadequate Attention or Affection

The study found that women’s but not men’s probability of having an affair within five years was positively correlated with the frequency with which the couple disagrees about Inadequate Attention or Affection. If women don’t feel they’re getting the attention they want in the relationship, they’re more likely to look for it elsewhere!

My tips:

  • Every person needs to define this for themselves – what is “inadequate”? You have to ask yourself if your expectations are reasonable. Do you expect things to be the same in a long-term relationship as they were in the courtship stage? It isn’t likely!
  • What are you looking to your partner to provide that you should be providing to yourself? We too often look for support or validation from sources outside of ourselves. We fail to address our own self-care. Remember that you’re the first responder to your own issues, concerns, and emotional challenges.
  • This pattern of dependence can be rooted in family of origin differentiation of self issues. Did you always wait for your parents or other family members to pay attention to you or affirm you in some way? Did you expect them always to step in and soothe you when you were stressed, disappointed or upset? As an adult, it’s now time to move away from that habit of thinking.
  • I strongly recommend that you do some Five Love Languages research and share it with your partner(s). Maybe you’re just talking different languages!
  • Have you even talked about this issue with your partner(s)? Unmet expectations are often unspoken expectations. Whether the expectations are justified or not, failing to talk about them almost always leads to disappointment. Do the essential self-examination. You’ll gain insight into what it is you’re “missing.” You’ll also see where your “lack” is actually coming from. Finally, you’re better prepared to ask for exactly what you really need.

Relationship Conflict – Jealousy and Infidelity

The study found that women’s but not men’s age is negatively correlated with the frequency with which the couple disagrees about Jealousy and Infidelity. As women age, the conflicts about Jealousy grow less. This is surprising, given the pop culture trope about men constantly seeking younger women.

My tips:

  • Resist pop culture’s efforts to define “infidelity” down! There really are no such things as “emotional infidelity,” “financial infidelity,” etc. These are convenient media labels designed to stir your emotional responses (and attract clicks).
  • Assess your own thinking about what actually constitutes “infidelity” in your relationship and where that thinking is coming from – insecurity, fear, or anxiety – and work on those emotions first. Then you’re better positioned to have a discussion about your feelings.
  • Jealousy is not a unitary emotion, and I believe it is almost never healthy. There are better ways to respond to concerns about your relationship. What we loosely term “jealousy” may serve as a “wake up call” for relationship problems. But jealousy rarely if ever contributes to the solution of those problems.
  • You do need to set clear boundaries in your relationship – assume nothing! You have to have the necessary conversations. Be open to changing your views (and expecting your partner(s) to be the same). Without clear and mutually agreed-upon boundaries, you have no standing to complain if they are violated.
  • Do not let your internal emotional issues create a climate of distrust and surveillance in your relationship. Encourage a healthy privacy versus a destructive secrecy. Work to be a healthy individual within the relationship and resist emotional fusion.

Relationship Conflict – Chores and Responsibilities

The study found that women’s but not men’s sexual satisfaction is negatively correlated with the frequency with which the couple disagrees about Chores and Responsibilities. This is a long-established observation in the literature on relationships. If women feel that responsibilities are not appropriately shared, this disappointment frequently ends up being expressed in the sexual dimension of the relationship.

My tips:

  • I often find that these relationship conflicts are frequently proxy issues for deeper disconnects (see Dominance and Control). It’s easier to argue about washing the dishes or childcare than about feelings of disconnection, respect, or being valued.
  • These disputes are best addressed by honest conversations about expectations and the appropriate division of labor within the relationship.
  • This is another area where family-of-origin issues are often in play. We come into our adult relationship with a template of “who does what, when” based upon how it was in our family of origin. Without discussion, we fall into the trap of assuming things. Times have changed!
  • One approach is to agree on responsibilities based on who cares the most about a given task, or who hates doing it the least, who’s got the needed skills, etc. Then draw up a schedule you agree on. You can take turns doing the tasks that you both hate equally. You also might jointly decide to leave some tasks off the list entirely.

Relationship Conflict – Sex

Another surprising finding of the study was that women’s but not men’s probability of having an affair within five years was positively correlated with the frequency with which couples disagree about Sex. This seems to contradict the notion that it is usually men who go afield in search of sexual gratification. The study didn’t say exactly what sexual matters caused the relationship conflicts, though.

My tips:

  • I strongly urge you to never “weaponize” sex. Lysistrata notwithstanding, this is always a bad tack to take in relationships. I encourage dealing with the underlying issue(s) forthrightly and independently. Using or withholding sex to get your way is dangerous and counterproductive.
  • If you can’t resist the temptation to weaponize sex, you may need to see a helping professional. You might start with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists – AASECT
  • If differing desire for sex is a problem, AASECT professionals can help with that, too.
  • Lower desire partners, don’t attack your partner with negative labels like “sex addict,” “porn addict,” “sex maniac,” etc. Higher desire partners, don’t attack your partner with negative labels like “frigid,” etc. Doing this never helps. It drives another wedge between you that can be difficult to remove.
  • Be open to a wide array of possible solutions to this challenge. It is your relationship. You have the power consensually to do anything you want, any way you want, that makes you happy and satisfied. Kick any haters and judgers to the curb – hard!

Relationship Conflict – Control and Dominance

The study found that women’s but not men’s relationship satisfaction and sexual satisfaction is negatively correlated with the frequency with which the couple disagrees about Control and Dominance. These issues have a more powerful effect on women, but any partner can be the one triggering these relationship conflicts.

My tips:

  • This construct of Control and Dominance represents a complex set of attitudes and behaviors that are hard to unravel. Some are cultural. Some are personal. Many have large and deep roots in family-of-origin conditioning. We come to our adult relationships with a script written in our family of origin. That script may or may not match your partner’s. Even if it does, it may no longer be a script either of you wants to follow.
  • Cultural prescriptions about “who wears the pants” and “you can’t do that, now that we’re together” are eroding, but not as fast as we’d like. We have to work at it ourselves.
  • While the stereotype is of a controlling male, research shows that power imbalances and dominance/control struggles exist in lesbian relationships, too. This suggests that these are not necessarily gendered concerns.
  • If your conflicts don’t cause physical or emotional abuse – in which case, get out – the solutions are much the same. Self-assessment, conversation, and compromise.

Relationship Conflict – Future Plans and Money

The study found that men’s but not women’s probability of having an affair within five years is positively correlated with the frequency with which couples disagree about Future Plans and Money. We’ve finally found the topic that riles men up!

My tips:

  • Money and finances are great proxy issues for deeper concerns. They tap into Control and Dominance, Inadequate Affection or Attention, and occasionally Chores and Responsibilities. Once again, it’s easier to fight about spending in general than what is really bothering you about where the money goes.
  • Money is a symbolic issue for many people. In western culture, we are often more reluctant to talk about how much we make than even sex or illness. When we get into a relationship where sharing resources is socially expected, it can become a minefield. If it’s not ok even to talk about money, how can you reach a common understanding about how to get, save, and spend it?
  • People often fail to discuss thoroughly their future plans and goals before entering a relationship. Only later do they find out that there’s a major disconnect. This then becomes a source of ongoing relationship conflict.
  • How to address it? Have the conversations! Set aside time to discuss long-term plans and life goals and how they can be paid for. Try to reach agreement on the timing and the financial aspects of your goals.
  • There are many tools to address money conflicts in relationships. Check out this website.
  • You’re going to have to unpack the baggage you brought to this relationship from your family of origin. That’s where your relationship to money began. Your parents taught you everything about how money is earned, how it is spent, who gets to decide, how to keep track of it, whether it can be talked about or not, individual versus communal assets, etc. If you haven’t brought all this out into the open with your partner(s) and found out the same information from them, then you have your first step laid out for you. After that, you have the information you need to start creating a joint plan.

Conclusion

The recent study brought out some key areas of relationship conflict. I’ve offered you my take on where these problems might come from and some tips about how you can get started in addressing these topics in your own relationships.

Resolve Now to Avoid These 7 Deadly Relationship Mistakes

It’s the time of year that people focus on the changes they want to make in the new year. Like so many others, we have some suggestions for you. Ours are focused on making your relationship better and more fulfilling, not just for this year, but for the rest of your life!

We’ve expressed our ideas in the form of things you should stop doing. If you’re not doing any of these things, why are you reading this? But really, we find that at least one of these issues tends to resonate with most of the folks we talk to, and many can find multiple “ah-ha’s” among this list. Read on, then, and we hope you have a great relationship year!

Stop Sign
#1 Settling for an unsatisfactory sex life – and not talking about it!

Recent research demonstrates that nearly half of both men and women are unsatisfied with the frequency of sex within their relationship. Decades of research shows that sexual satisfaction within a relationship is very closely tied to overall relationship satisfaction. But many people are either afraid or otherwise unwilling to discuss their dissatisfaction with their partner.

We strongly recommend recommitting to a vital, active sex life within your relationship, and that starts with talking about it! Explore what you want in your sexual relationship, find out what your partner wants, and then agree to find ways to work toward satisfying each other’s needs. We know this isn’t as simple as it sounds, but neither is it as difficult as we often imagine it to be. The hardest part is often getting the conversation started, but the payoff will be well worth it.

Stop Sign
#2 Keeping secrets because you’re afraid to share

Oscar Wilde said, “The one charm about marriage is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.” Makes for an interesting quote, but it’s terrible practice. Yet too many do it, and mostly for the wrong reasons. A gentle but persistent honesty is an important key to building healthy and sustainable relationships.

Achieving real intimacy requires transparency and vulnerability, not deception. But for that to occur, you have to be open and hold truthfulness in high regard. It has to be safe to be truthful! We certainly don’t recommend cruelty or “brutal honesty” – tact and a loving consideration are still essential. But withholding important truths from each other creates a climate of fear and uncertainty in a relationship that is always toxic and destructive in the long run.

Stop Sign
#3 Expecting your relationship to “complete” you

Thanks to fairy tales and popular mythology, too many people go through life as “living tinker toys.” They’re always hoping to find the right other person to join with them to create some magical completeness they don’t feel on their own. If this is your habit, we recommend you give it up. Accept yourself as already complete and whole. You’ll be more attractive to others if you do. You’re also freed up to begin finding others who complement you in one or more aspects of your life and to forge healthy partnerships. You don’t come across as “needy,” and you’re much better positioned to make rational choices about who you get involved with and to what degree.

Stop Sign
#4 Taking it personally

When we live in close proximity with another, there’s a tendency – a carryover from our childhood, when we didn’t know any better – to believe that everything that happens in our lives is a reflection on us, or happens because of us. We should outgrow that, but many of us do not. We continue to believe that “it’s all about us” even if not in a selfish way, but rather in a self-absorbed way. We take every event, comment, or situation in our relationship as somehow reflective of our own self-worth, the strength of our relationship, or the security we want to feel in life. This is a prescription for misery.

One way out of this form of self-limiting belief is to begin questioning these assumptions as they occur. If your partner says or does something you find threatening, pause and reflect on whether it’s really about you, or rather about something altogether separate from your relationship or from you as an individual of worth and value. If you find that the situation truly does warrant a conversation with your partner, you’ll be coming from a better place to have that conversation. If you realize it’s not really about you at all, you’ve spared yourself and your partner a needless annoyance. We like to tell our clients to practice the “Q-TIP rule – Quit Taking It Personally.”

Stop Sign
#5 Expecting your partner to be your companion at every event/activity/pastime you enjoy – whether they enjoy it or not – because “that’s what partners do.”

Our fairy-tale insistence on eternal togetherness often leads to some pretty dismal real world consequences. Research shows that couples often distance themselves from friends and intimates once they become serious about each other. This has the effect of limiting your exposure to viewpoints and observations that are not forged in the white hot crucible of your blossoming partnership. Over time, the partnership stabilizes and grows routine, but your outside friendships and connections have withered away. This in turn creates a dynamic where we expect our partner to fulfill the role of “best friend” in ways that are ultimately unhealthy and destructive of the relationship.

Humans are social animals. We’re not wired to huddle up in isolated pairs. This is a construct created within the last 100 years in western culture. A healthy relationship is one in which both partners maintain and nurture strong friendships outside the pair. We should refrain from expecting our partners to share every interest, hobby, and enthusiasm, and look instead to others for that social input. We return to our partnership enthusiastic and refreshed by our interactions with others, and we avoid imposing on our partners in ways that actually erode closeness and true intimacy.

Stop Sign
#6 Dodging tough conversations about important concerns

As with sex, there are a number of other sticking point issues in every relationship that people are reluctant to talk about. A small number of these will resolve themselves, for better or worse, but most of them won’t. If you’re unwilling to have the conversation, you can count on things not getting better most of the time. You have to ask yourself if the pain caused by the underlying issue is greater than the perceived potential pain of confrontation that keeps you silent.

We find that many times, the “air clearing” conversation actually strengthens, rather than erodes, the relationship, but only if you go about it the right way. A couple of key points: pick the right time for the conversation; have an open mind about the outcome; be prepared to hear your partner’s point of view; know exactly what it is you’d like to see change and how that would look; remember that you can only change your own thoughts, beliefs and actions; and remember that sometimes, you’re up against something that just isn’t going to change.

Stop Sign
#7 Wasting mental energy trying to change your partner

Speaking of things that won’t change, once again, we really want to emphasize that you can’t actually change your partner. The best you can hope for is – by making needed changes to and for yourself and your thinking – to influence your partner. This is not to say that you can’t respectfully request that your partner do something differently if that would please you or make your life easier in some way. What we do say is that it’s ultimately futile and counterproductive to expect to change your partner’s fundamental approach to life and living by dint of nagging, hectoring, snide comments, or non-specific, blanket demands. At best, you’ll get temporary, grudging compliance; at worst, you’ll get a letter from your soon-to-ex’s attorney.

By following these suggestions, you’ll lay a strong foundation for an enduring and fulfilling relationship. Avoiding these common pitfalls will free up your emotional and mental energy to engage in developing a true partnership that rewards both you and your partner in many ways.

Happy New Year!

Relationship Getting Stale? Try This Relationship Reset Checkup!

By Carol Morotti-Meeker, MS, MLSP – Senior Coach

When you’ve been together for a while, it’s easy to feel that the wind has gone out of your sails and you’re becalmed in a stale relationship. It doesn’t have to be that way! If you and your partner will work together, you can create a new and vital relationship that will have you headed toward the “island of happiness” in no time!

Not long ago, my colleague Jim posted a great article from the New York Times on The Earth Moved’s Facebook page. The piece talked about some of the counseling leaders who incorporate sex therapy into couples’ therapy.

I have had the privilege of learning from several of these people (Dr. Marty Klein, Esther Perel, and Dr. Tammy Nelson). My experience of grad school in the 1970’s was that there was no mention of how sexual issues affected a couple’s overall satisfaction. How naive we were when the sexual revolution was going on with young people and in the media of the day! Research consistently demonstrates that sexual satisfaction is one of the things that provide cohesion for the partners in a relationship.

A quote from the article which especially resonated with me is one from Dr. Tammy Nelson. She tells couples to “write your own monogamy rules which can include extramarital sex as the couple chooses,” and “It [monogamy] can be whatever a couple wants, but it has to be fluid and flexible, and the couple needs to keep renewing it, like a license.”

As radical as that may sound , I agree wholeheartedly with her view supporting whatever behaviors and mindsets work for the people involved in the relationship. For two people to consciously decide to do whatever it takes to satisfy their needs and desires is a hallmark of people who have a high degree of individual differentiation. Examples of this may be taking separate vacations, each person still continuing his or her own favorite activities with friends (other than their partner or spouse) or maybe one or both of them having another sexual or romantic interest. One of the positives of this viewpoint is that it honors the needs and desires of the individual people involved.

People in any type of relationship will feel more whole and connected to each other when the relationship supports individual autonomy and sovereignty. Any relationship needs to be “kept current” by periodically reassessing the needs and desires of the participants. Don’t we participate in health, financial and automobile checkups periodically? Why not do the same with our most intimate relationships?

If we keep doing the same dance, we may find ourselves bored and not meeting the intrinsic needs of who we are at the moment. Doing a conscious periodic review together can be an opportunity to clean out the closets and rearrange how we do “us” individually and as a relationship. My suggestion is to hold a review whenever one person requests such an assessment, when there is a major life shift or every two years or so as “routine maintenance”.

To implement fluidity and flexibility in a relationship requires each participant to have developed a significant amount of personal autonomy, a sense of trust between the partners and a high level of communication and negotiation skills. Do you or your partner have the skills to engage competently in this relationship review? If not, they can be learned, separately or together. Initially, each person needs to assess what is working for them in the current relationship arrangement and what adjustments might need to be made to better fulfill your own and your partner’s individual needs and desires. Each of you can make lists of both things, prioritize what is most important to each person and then have calm, from-the-heart discussions about each person’s essential issues.

I urge you to conduct these conversations in the spirit of love and caring for each other. The process of even having these conversations will take you two on a great journey of self and relationship exploration along possibly unfamiliar paths. Listen with your heart to each other. Ask for clarity about what you hear from each other. Proceed slowly. Discuss what each wishes and seek understanding for yourself and your partner about what needs the changes will fulfill for you. Maybe take turns going back and forth, sharing your individual ideas for change. All the while, let the other person know that he is valued as is the relationship between you.

This process may go on at different times for several weeks. Take time to emotionally and intellectually integrate what is presented and the suggestions made for adjustments. Be gentle with yourself and your partner. Make a plan together on how to implement any agreed-upon changes. Let any prospective adjustments rest for a week or two to see if any tweaks to the plan may be required. Remember, you two created this new arrangement and it can be modified as often as you two agree. Communicate often as the new life path unfolds.

If you become stuck in the process someplace, relax. This is a life learning experience. Bring in written resources, information from online or the help of a trusted friend or professional if you reach a true impasse. Someone’s fears may come out in force and require loving attention. We talk to friends or professionals for advice on how to proceed in other areas of our life. This one is no different. Individually and jointly you are still in charge of the decisions you make. Do what feels good and makes both of you happy and fulfilled. Make sure you take time to celebrate the journey to creating your own flexibility and aliveness in your relationship!