Relationships
  • at May 12, 2022

It was about 31 years ago that Dan and I sat in pre-marital counseling with our pastor, Ed. He gave us two questions to ask each other on a regular basis. The first question has been lost to us, as is everything else that was covered in that pre-marital work (oops!). But the second question stuck:

What are you looking forward to?

Ed said that this was something he and his wife had asked each other regularly over the years and he swore by it! And it made a strong impression on the two of us.

We have loved this question over the years. It has led us into conversations about our hopes and delights; like trips, or friends visiting, or big milestones that may be approaching.  But this question has also taken us into deep dives when what we were looked forward to was the passing of something hard or dreadful; “I looking forward to this year being over” or “I can’t wait until I’m through this busy season” or “I’m looking forward to not being so bothered by our kid’s moodiness”.

“What are you looking forward to?” is a wonderful opener for a different kind of conversation, taking us to layers that “how was your day” doesn’t.  And, as I’m sure many of you can attest, sometimes you need a little help with a good opener.

So, to all of you, I gift you this question. And I’ll add more to it:

  • What would you like to be looking forward to?
  • What can we plan that would serve as something great ahead?
  • What is blocking you having things to look forward to?
  • How can I be a partner to you in making these things happen?

I hope you’ll adopt this wonderful question into your marriage toolbox…(or your friend toolbox!). It has served us well and I believe that it will add something wonderful to yours.

Please share the questions that you have helped your marriage in the comments below.

  • at February 6, 2021

This book may upend what many folks think are the elements for great sex. The researchers who wrote this book went after true experts; people over 60 who had been in relationship for 25 years or more and report having magnificent sex. How refreshing! Of course we should be learning from these wise and successful individuals. Why didn’t someone think of this sooner?

Here are some quotes that caught my attention:

“We have found optimal sexual experiences occur among the young and old, among the healthy as well as disabled or chronically ill.” (p.7)

“We are inclined to
suggest that their low desire (people diagnosed with sexual desire disorders)
may be evidence of good judgment. We would not expect ‘normal’ people to have
strong desires for low quality sex. This book is for them.” (p.7)

According to their research, “being sexually functional is not necessary for optimal sexual experiences; the “bad news is that being sexually functional is not sufficient for optimal sexual experiences.” (p.185)

There are several myths about sex challenged in this book, here is a sampling:

  1. “The notion
    that sex should be ‘natural and spontaneous’ ranks among the most difficult
    assumptions to dislodge and among the most deleterious and dangerous to
    couples…it is a contender for most damaging myth, encouraging individuals to
    devalue any sexual relations that took effort.” (p 45)
  2. “Magnificent
    sex in long-term relationships requires not
    lowering expectations over time…..(many) were less willing to settle for
    anything less that what they really wanted….they spoke about prioritizing sex
    in their lives and making time for it.” (p. 50-51)
  3. “May older individuals
    said that as they mature, magnificent sexual experiences become less about
    performance, technique and orgasms, and more focused on the relational and
    spiritual components of the experience.” (p. 52)

I appreciate this book
because the authors dive deep into both the individual development and the
relationship aspects of growing a wonderful sexual relationship over the
long-haul. The authors don’t take a cookie-cutter approach, but sensitively
listen to the complex and layered stories that their research participants
offered them. Some couples find their way through starting with a relational contect that facilitates an individual’s way of being leading to
Optimal sexual experience. Other couples flip the first two. The individual way of being facilitates a relational quality leading to optimal
sexual experience. (p.146) That should give us hope! There is not one pathway
that works for every couple.   

This book is for people
ready to be challenged out of their stuck assumptions, low expectations, and
dashed hopes for a fulfilling sexual relationship for the long haul. It will
make you blush at times and scratch your head at others. I hope that for some
of you who want something more, that this resource might be of help.

Magnificent Sex: Lessons from Extraordinary Lovers Written by Peggy J. Kleinplatz, Ph.D. and A. Dana Menard, Ph.D.,  Published in New York and London by Routledge Publishing

  • at January 16, 2021

I know we are all so sick and tired of hanging out together in our houses we could scream. We longingly remember the fun and fresh diversion of dinners out in restaurants and game nights with the neighbors. The prospect of another evening spent with our spouses has become downright depressing.

Sadly, many couples are coming to counseling more disconnected than ever in spite of living countless hours together! How can we change the momentum? For many couples, doing this is mission critical.

So, how can you and your spouse have a COVID date night that helps you build connection and do something new? I have three recommendations:

  • The Gottman Love Decks app is a wonderful resource for a COVID Date night. It has “card decks” with open-ended questions that lead to fresh conversations. My husband, Dan, and I have spent really nice evenings over a glass of wine having conversations we would never think to have without the prompts. Try the “Date Night” deck!
  • Turn off the TV and have a game night with your spouse. Wait, don’t discount this idea! While it is so hard to choose a game over the magnetic pull of your couch, please TRY IT!  Dust off old faithfuls that work well one on one: Scrabble, Yatzee, Bananagrams, Gin, Backgammon, Chess……I’ve never regretted choosing to spend and evening like this with Dan.
  • Do some of the exercises in my Marriage Check-Up course! It walks you through evaluating your marriage through the lens of the “Foundation of Goodwill” and then offers scalable activities to strengthen your chosen area. You can approach it playfully or more seriously, depending on your motivation and energy. 

I hope that some of you will post additional ideas in the comments below!


Whatever you choose, I hope that the concept of Date Night doesn’t remain dead
until the pandemic ends. You have far too much to lose. “

  • at December 18, 2020

“How can I miss you when you won’t go away?”

There is a beer cozy at the place we vacation that says this. I always thought it was sort of awful to have around. Interestingly, now with the pandemic lifestyle, many marriages are strained because of this very thing. Rhythms as simple as the daily departure to go to work have been eliminated taking away the hours we may have missed our spouse and the small, yet significant, happiness upon seeing them when everyone comes home again.

            Without patterns of separation, the chance to long for our partner is thwarted. Small irritations happen much more frequently as couples navigate a lifestyle they didn’t expect to tackle until retirement. Oh my gosh…you are always here!!!

            I have so many new couples seeking counseling and it is easy to see how the pandemic has taken a toll. Whatever problems they already had are amplified with the increased time together and the absence of departure and space. What to do as we approach the COVID winter? As we wait for the vaccine to bring us back to normal life rhythms, here are three suggestions:

  1. Consider creating some rhythms of absence. This could mean rearranging home office space, or someone packing their lunch and really disappearing for the entire workday, or honoring the need for more solitude in other ways.
  2. Do something new. I have encouraged creativity with many of my couples. Getting a new board game, a table topics question cube, or start a new project. Doing new things can show a new side to your relationship.
  3. If you need it, get help. Couples get stuck and entrenched in damaging patterns and getting unstuck often requires some external question or perspective.

My Marriage Check-Up is designed to help. I hope you’ll consider it if you find yourself wanting a lift in your marriage.  

  • at April 15, 2020

As you are spending so much time in your house with your partner, are you finding yourself becoming irritable? Snippy? Impatient? When our stress hormones run amok and our happy/bonding hormones are reduced, the first sign of this imbalance is irritability. Nothing grinds the warmth out of a romantic relationship quite like irritability. We do well during this time of sheltering at home to have boundaries around the avenues for the stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) to enter in AND we should commit to daily practices that help release the happy, bonding hormones into our body (oxytocin, dopamine, endorphins) as well.

            To increase the happy, bonding hormones, I have three suggestions:

  1. Cuddle: Certainly, this may mean cuddling with your partner, and it could also  mean sex with your partner—both release oxytocin. But it means much more than that: cuddling with your dog, stroking your cat, or huddling up with the kids to watch a movie! It means giving and receiving hugs and backrubs from whoever is in your house. It means pretzeling your legs while you watch Netflix or playing with your partner’s hair or letting your kids “style” yours. All of these activities help the bonding hormones emerge out of the stress.
  2. Be Silly:  Have a daily dance party, watch Late Night TV or Car Karaoke. Have a daily loud time, especially if you have been shushing kids all day so that you can work. Read funny things to each other and watch the mood shift. Dopamine will enter the system and smooth the rough edges that had you so wound up against your partner a few minutes ago.
  3. Connect: While it may seem like endless time together would mean you don’t need to intentionally connect, I beg to differ. Connecting on an emotional level requires intention for most of us. Start with an emotion:  “I’m feeling ______ (frustrated, sad, scared, tender….etc)” and then take 1-2 minutes to fill that out. Then have your partner do the same.

If you practice these things daily you will be doing the good work of balancing the hormones in your body and making you less irritable and FAR more tolerable to live with! Your hormones may get so out of balance that you have no desire to do any of things things, but if you are intentional and commit to them, the hormones WILL follow and your relationship will be much better of for having done it.

If you want to know more about dealing with anxiety during this time of crisis, try my online course:  https://janicemcwilliams.thinkific.com/courses/anxiety-toolbox-for-the-covid-19-crisis

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