Magnificent Sex: Lessons from Extraordinary Lovers

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

Date Night, COVID-style

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. 

Pandemic Marriage

“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.  

How to quarantine-proof your marriage

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

Vulnerability Ceiling

Safety is overrated. Or, it might be over valued. I work with a lot of couples doing the hard work of counseling that are waiting until they feel safe enough to take risks in emotional vulnerability. Trouble is, both of the spouses are waiting. And waiting and waiting. Neither is taking any kind of new vulnerable emotional risk while they wait for their sense of safety to increase.

I have a theory. Couples hit a vulnerability ceiling as their relationship develops. What I mean is that we get to a point with our spouses where we have made all the vulnerable steps in relationship that we feel comfortable or safe to make and then we stop taking risks. Perhaps we stop because of hurt or unrepaired wounds in the relationship. Perhaps we stop because of boredom or blocks that come from our families of origin. But whatever the reason, when we stop taking emotional risks in our marriages, they stagnate.

  • Someone has to take a vulnerability risk in a marriage where initiating sex has become a place of rejection rather than reception.
  • Someone has to take a vulnerability risk to share fears around parenting teens when the two have blamed each other for dropping the ball.
  • Someone has to move beyond “if, then” clauses….example: “I’ll sit and share with him about my feelings if I know he will understand.”

Couples can unwittingly hit a vulnerability ceiling and stay stuck for years, all the while thinking that the problem is that the other person isn’t safe. While hurts in the relationship may be very, very real, if both spouses think the other isn’t safe, then it is easy to see how vulnerability ceilings can be constructed. “It’s only safe up to this point. Beyond that, no way!” And there the developmental progress of the relationship halts.

What does it take to shatter the vulnerability ceiling? A great deal of courage. It is far easier to be stuck and protective than to risk hurt, especially when we feel beat up. But how else might a breakthrough happen? Someone has to make the first move.

Next time: how can you make the first move?

Only Kindness Matters…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I came across a really interesting article about how marriages succeed or fail. “Research…has show that kindness (along with emotional stability) is the most important predictor of satisfaction and stability in a marriage.” (p.7) Kindness. Kindness is something that almost everyone is capable of, so how does it become so difficult in relationships?

One thing that researchers analyzed was how people responded to “bids” for connection in their relationship. A bid for connection can be as simple as, “Hey, did you see that they cut down that tree at the corner?” It is a question seemingly unrelated to the relationship, but the person is making an attempt to connect. If the comment is met with openness and interest, a connection is made. If the comment is met with silence, disinterest, or contempt, then the relationship is harmed. Bids for connection might be more directly related to the relationship as well, like “hey, that comment stung, can we talk about it?” The same rules apply. The partner’s response will either build or harm the relationship. So at the bottom line, if bids for connection are met with kindness, the potential that the relationship will succeed soar!

After a long, cruddy day last week, my husband followed up on a problem I’d told him about at work. He asked me something simple, like “how’d that thing unfold today?” My response was pretty abrupt, “Ug! I talked about it so much at work today I’m just done talking about it.” Add to this comment a pretty impatient, fed-up tone. While my response had nothing to do with our relationship directly, I was saying no to my husband’s bid for connection, and it showed on his face. He was a bit hurt! I had turned away rather than turning towards the bid.

And here is the reality: “Couples who had divorced after a six-year follow up had ‘turn-toward bids’ 33% of the time. Only 3 in 10 of their bids for emotional connection were met with intimacy. The couples that were still together after six years had ‘turn-toward bids’ 87% of the time. Nine times out of ten, they were meeting their partner’s emotional needs.” (p. 5)

This evidence makes me so passionate about how important is to get help if you are having trouble with basic kindness in your marriage or relationship. Get help! See what’s getting in the way. Dig into the problem so that you can figure out how to apply the basic skills of kindness and responsiveness in relationship. So many marriages out there can change. Why not give it a chance?

The article sited is from The Atlantic: Masters of Love.

Know What You Know

If you are in therapy with me very long, you will probably hear one of my mantras: KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW. We humans are often very uncomfortable with the truths we perceive and we would rather deny them than live with the implications of knowing them. What do I mean? How many times have you allowed yourself to be annoyed and surprised that your spouse isn’t ready when he said he’d be even though this happens every time you try to go somewhere? If you really allowed yourself to know and accept that your spouse runs late, you would plan accordingly or work out a system to accommodate that truth. Or, have you ever insisted that you are confused about your mother-in-law saying she doesn’t get to see your kids enough while simultaneously declining all of your requests for help with them? If you allowed yourself to know what you already know on some level—that your mother in law is either unwilling or intimidated by the idea of watching your kids—that would hurt and you’d have to deal with that pain.

Punting to bewilderment and bafflement are tempting because they keep you in a victim state. If you don’t understand something, you can stay in the posture of powerlessness and zero responsibility. And honestly, sometimes that victim stance feels pretty nice. 1–Other people are to blame or are messing up, 2—you can’t understand it or weren’t expecting it, 3—you are blameless and victimized. What’s not to like?

Frankly, it’s easier to seethe with resentment than to know what you know. It’s easier to blame than to know what you know. Knowing what you know requires emotional courage and excruciating honesty. Knowing what you know moves you from being a victim to being responsible. When you put yourself in that responsible place, you have a much harder time letting yourself get away with blame and resentment.

How can you get started?

  1. Notice an area where you feel helpless or baffled or confused (preferably a repeating experience).
  2. Ask yourself, “What do I think I don’t know?”
  3. Then ask yourself, “If I’m really honest, what do I know?”
    • Example: “Wow, my mother-in-law doesn’t want to watch my kids” or “I shouldn’t expect my husband to be ready to leave on time if he hasn’t ever done it in the past.”
  4. Then do the emotional work of radical acceptance. It might be grief or disappointment or hurt and it may be a relatively straightforward shift or it could be a more complicated process. Whatever it is, invite God into it and allow the work to go as deep as it needs to go.
  5. Incorporate what you know into your future plans and interactions.

 

Take responsibility for what you know. That’s when you can do some real work in your relationships and face your world with eyes wide open.

Parenting Honestly

One of the most important skills that our kids need to learn while growing up is to accurately assess themselves. Sadly, we parents often wind up thwarting our kids’ ability to do this with well-meaning, yet inaccurate encouragements. Consider what happens for the child who is told they had a great piano recital after having to restart their piece three times. Or the kid whose parent says they were MVP of the playoff game after dropping two fly balls and striking out three times.

More helpful responses to disappointing situations are either to talk honestly about how the experience went or to ask your child how they think it went. Listen carefully to your child’s ability to accurately self-assess. Do they inflate their performance? Do they rate it lower than they ought? Helping our kids learn to assess is a great gift to them and prepares them for life. Here are some examples of not so helpful and helpful things to say to kids from Gist: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids.

Not so helpful (p. 171):

  • “Everyone likes you.”
  • “Our divorce won’t change the holidays.”
  • “You can be anything you want!”

Helpful (p. 174)

  • “Yes, your sister is better than you at playing the piano.”
  • “Fourth chair clarinet seems pretty accurate for your playing ability right now.”
  • “At church you seem less confident with your friends….how do you see it?”

Parents want so much for their kids to feel good about themselves that they say things that confuse their child’s understanding of their own skills and talents. And, on a deeper level, parents often miss how much their own anxiety is driving them to falsely prop up their kids. Parents fear that their children cannot handle being average or sad about a performance because they aren’t sure they can handle seeing their child suffer. After making the season-ending last out during playoff game, my son said, “I made a couple of the best plays of my season this game and then I made some bad plays, including the last out.” I was sorely tempted to pump him up about all of the good plays and ignore or diminish how painful making the last out was. But when I looked at the evidence, he was actually right. He’d had some highs and lows that game and he saw it clearly. He wasn’t overly down on himself and he wasn’t denying anything. I had to do the work of soothing myself so that he could have the experience of unhindered accurate self-assessment.

The work we parents must do to allow our kids to grow in this type of wisdom really is a deep work of faith and trust. Will our kids be ok if they are disappointed, average, or downright bad at some things? My husband’s spiritual director once challenged him with the question, “is Jesus enough for your kids?” What will help you allow your kids to know the truth about themselves?

 

To read my review of Gist, click here.

Why Kids Need to Suffer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happiness = Reality – Expectations

What do you think of this? I saw it in an article about the unhappiness of Generation Y in the Huffington Post. One of the points that I’m chewing on relates to how resistant parents can be to allow anything negative to happen to their children. We are living in an era of teaching our children how special they are and shielding them from experiences of failure. We may be seeing some very different trends with Generation Z, but now we have young adults with big expectations for their lives intersecting with huge doses of reality. The result? A good deal of unhappiness.

I can relate with the challenge of parenting! When my kids have been hurt and disappointed, I have distracted, minimized, and softened with the rest of them. But in my more grounded moments, I have held on to myself and allowed my children to hurt and cry while knowing this is exactly what they need to be ready for life as adults. My kids and your kids all need to understand reality. They aren’t all gifted in every way and they can’t do anything they set their mind to do. Think about it, no matter how diligently I set my mind to it, no matter how hard I worked, I could not have been an Olympic Gymnast. I just don’t have the right body or aptitude for it.

I client introduced me to a book I’ve been reading called Gist: The Essence of Raising Life-Ready Kids. In it, authors Anderson and Johanson have a list of essential experiences kids need to have in order to have a properly shaped view of reality. Here are some of the experiences on their list:

  • Not being invited to a birthday party
  • Working hard on a paper and still getting a bad grade
  • Having a car break down far from home
  • Being told that a class or a camp is full
  • Getting detention
  • Having an event be cancelled because someone misbehaved
  • Being fired from a job
  • Not making the varsity team
  • Being hit by another kid

If Anderson and Johanson are right, when we fight our kids’ painful experiences, we sometimes unwittingly thwart their maturing process! And then our kids grow up with a distorted sense of reality, which ultimately hurts our kids’ chances at happiness. What is required for parents then is growing our tolerance for our children’s suffering. I have seen in parenting that trusting God through my own trials feels different than trusting God through my kids’ trials. And yet, isn’t the personal work the same?

For the Huffington Post article, click here. For the book, Gist, click here.

I’ll be recharging my batteries for a while. I’ll be blogging again in the fall.

The Rules of Resentment

It starts with a pinprick of disappointment but it never stays there. Our ride to a party is late picking us up, the instructions for the project weren’t clear, our spouse forgot to put the bill in the mail…..we find ourselves feeling resentment; brooding, ruminating, often seething resentment. Resentment tricks us into thinking that someone else has to do something for us to feel better. My ride has to be on time and this feeling will subside. I need sufficient instructions and then I can let my boss off the hook. After my spouse puts the payment in the mail I’ll calm down. While the wrongs done to us are indeed painful and difficult to handle, our resulting resentment is no one’s responsibility but our own. Yes, I meant that. It is not anyone else’s job to take care of your resentment. It is yours.

You are the one having a ruined party, a horrible attitude at work, or a miserable marriage. Often, the person we blame for our resentment is oblivious or just confused by our sullen behavior. The unfortunate temptation that resentment brings is to mentally massacre another person. Doing the real work requires laying down our mind’s machetes and turning our attention to ourselves. So what do you do?

1—Ask yourself, “What are you so angry about?” Get very clear on it. Sometimes behind the anger with someone else, there is some anger with you. I counted on them to arrive on time even though I know them to be unreliable. I had a feeling the instructions wouldn’t be sufficient and I didn’t say anything….

2—Offer yourself some compassion for your part in it and consider offering some compassion for the person you resent.

3—There are two healthy paths from here.  ACCEPTANCE and/or ASSERTIVENESS.

Acceptance often begins with a painful wrestling with reality and human weakness, brokenness, and imperfection. And then….a willingness to embrace life, people, and the complications that come with both on a deeper level. Acceptance defuses resentment and enables us to tolerate being late, allow for the inadequacy in the instructions, or loosen our grip on the idea of an ideal spouse who remembers details. This doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else doesn’t owe you an apology. What it does mean is that you can take responsibility for yourself in the midst of accepting that things aren’t going to go the way you wish.

Assertiveness empowers you take responsibility for crafting a response to the situation that led to you feeling resentment. Assertiveness, simply put, is being direct in voicing one’s views.  With assertiveness, you resist temptations like manipulation, withdrawal, or aggression and you make clean requests and say the difficult things. That’s OK, I’ll drive myself. I’m a stickler for being on time so it usually works best for me not to depend on someone else for a ride. or Would you be willing to go over the instructions with me?  I have a feeling that I will need more detail for a portion of the work.

Acceptance with assertiveness might look something like this: I know my wife isn’t great with details and I can live with that. I will ask her if we can switch responsibilities or if she is willing to create a system that will help her remember the important things I can’t do.

The feeling of resentment can be a very effective alert system if we allow it to be. It tells us that we have a reaction to something that needs our attention. Doing the work resentment invites is at once liberating and courageous.