Hello from Scottsdale, Arizona
Lately, I’ve been surrounded by many new first time parents, and today, I address a question from my patient Zorian, 41:
“My partner and I have a 6-month old boy. The past few months have been a whirlwind. I’m starting to find my place within our new little family, but our sex life hasn’t yet recovered. What do I need to be thinking about to make this transition better for us?”
A recent issue of Psychological Inquiry provided a number of scientific articles about the current state of monogamy and marriage. One paper in particular outlined how most of us are guilty of psychologically and emotionally suffocating our romantic partners in monogamous relationships.1 Another offered a solution to this problem in the form of consensual non-monogamy.2 Although their paper was incredibly interesting and made a great case for embarking upon a polyamorous relationship, its applicability may be limited to people who are open to consensual non-monogamy. And we know this isn’t the majority of people.
So here is how these principles can be applied to monogamous relationships while retaining monogamy:
Don’t expect one person to meet all of your needs.
- We expect so much from our partners. We want them to be our best friend, our confidant, our lover, caretaker, and a number of other things all at once. This isn’t possible to get from one person. Find other people to meet some of those needs. Lifting some of the weight from your partner can provide more room to be good at just a couple of those things. Do you love to play tennis but your partner hates it and only does it for you? Find another tennis buddy. Do you love Christmas shopping, but your partner hates it? Find someone else to go with you. Could some of your emotional needs be met by a good friend or family member? Let them play a larger role.
Engage in open and honest communication.
- One of the things people in consensual non-monogamous relationships do best is communicate. They have to. It is imperitive to the success of the relationship to be open, honest, and effective communicators. This doesn’t just happen overnight. Communication takes practice and effort from both parties. But it is worth the work. Communication has been linked to sexual satisfaction, relationship satisfaction, sexual desire, and the list goes on. Communicate. It is just a good habit to form. Within polyamorous relationships, this communication is often scheduled. Monogamous couples could benefit from this approach. By scheduling time to ‘check in’ with one another, you offer the opportunity to communicate rather than interrupting the flow of the relationship. Open communication then becomes a natural part of that flow.
Integrate some “space” into your relationship.
- This should come more easily once you engage in the first suggestion. But in addition to finding other people to meet your needs, perhaps form new hobbies independent of one another. When your partner is doing something where they exert their autonomy, it enhances the feeling of your partner being their own individual, which in turn may enhance desire. You could also create actual space by arrange a trip with the guys or girls for the weekend and leave your partner behind. Providing there is a primarily secure attachment and healthy relational base, this space will create room for desire. As Esther Perel says in her TED Talk and articulates in her book, Mating in Captivity, fire needs air. Desire is like fire. For it to stay lit, it needs some air, some space.
Managing expectations, engaging in open honest communication, and allowing for some space in your relationship are all great suggestions for keeping any type of romantic relationship healthy and happy.
1. Finkle, E.J., Hui, M.H., Carswell, K.L., & Larson, G.M. (2014). The suffocation of marriage: Climbing Mount Maslow without enough oxygen. Psychological Inquiry, 25(1), 1-41.
2. Conley, T.D., & Moors, A.C. (2014). More oxygen please!: How polyamorous relationship strategies might oxygenate marriage. Psychological Inquiry, 25(1), 56-63.
An extended lack of physical affection is also a deeper sign of trouble.
A marriage should have a strong element of intimacy, both in out of the bedroom.
Sex is obviously important as it’s part of the bond that keeps a couple together in a romantic sense. However, intimacy also means being physically close in non-sexual ways, such as hugging, exchanging a kiss before going to work (or coming home), or putting your arms around your spouse while watching a movie at home.
It’s important to make sure you stay connected not just on an emotional level, but also on a physical one. Expressing your love through words is definitely vital to the health of your marriage, but you should also express yourself through touch. Being tactile with your partner on a consistent basis is must. There are plenty of opportunities for you to introduce touch into your daily routine, so the trick is to take advantage of these when they come up.
Find a reason to give your spouse a brief hug, hold their hand while you’re walking out in public, or give them a kiss before they head out the door. It might seem that these “little” moments don’t mean much on their own, but you have to look at the big picture – they count for a lot in the long run.
Most couples wait too long before admitting their relationship is in hot water. Try the Emotional Needs Questionaire in our latest book Reboot Your Relationship to discover each others emotional needs. Then make a few changes in your relationship to ensure your relationship stays fresh and emotionally connected.
Example: From the book’s ENQ Couple Survey
Question #1 Affection:
(the expression of love in words, cards, gifts, hugs, kisses, and courtesies; creating an environment that clearly and repeatedly expresses love)
1. Need for affection: Indicate how much you need affection by circling the appropriate number:
0 1 2 3 4 5 6
I have no need I have moderate need I have a great need
How often would you like your spouse to be affectionate to you?
_______________ times each day/week/month (circle one).
If you are not shown affection by your spouse as often as you indicated above, how does it make you feel (circle the appropriate letter)?
- Very unhappy.
- Somewhat unhappy.
- Neither happy nor unhappy.
- Happy not to be shown affection.
2. Evaluation of spouse’s affection: Indicate your satisfaction with your spouse’s affection toward you by circling the appropriate number.
-3 -2 -1 0 1 2 3
Extremely Dissatisfied Neither Extremely Satisfied
My spouse gives me (circle the appropriate letter)
- all the affection I need, and I like the way he/she does it.
- not enough affection, but when he/she does it, it is the way I like it.
- all the affection I need, but it is not the way I like it.
- not enough affection, and when he/she tries, it is not the way I like it.
Explain how your need for affection could be better satisfied in your marriage.
What Makes A Great Relationship?
Craig and I have attended one of your Prepare Enrich Seminars, and plan to marry next fall. Could you tell us what makes a marriage last?
Thank you for following up with me on Q & A.
There are thousands of studies and reports on the elements of great relationships and marriages. The similarities between many of these studies have shown people in a great relationships have completed a number of psychological “tasks.”
Here is a summary:
– Separate emotionally from the family you grew up in: Not to the point of estrangement, but enough so that your identity is separate from that of your parents and siblings. After all, you should be closer to your spouse than you ever could or should be to any other member of your family.
– Build togetherness based on a shared intimacy and identity, while at the same time set boundaries to protect each partner’s autonomy: A couple should almost be as one, a single unit, but at the same time one is not a clone of the other.
– Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship and protect it from the intrusions of the workplace and family obligations: That connection you have with one another is part emotional and part physical; one failing will affect the other and thence the couple as a whole. Keep it safe in its own special place. When having that intimate encounter, make sure no distractions from home or work will intrude. After all, if you decide to cut it short because the boss called with something “urgent” that really could have waited an extra hour, whom do you think your wife is going to blame; the boss or you?
– For couples with children, embrace the daunting roles of parenthood and absorb the impact of a baby’s entrance into the marriage: Parenthood should not be considered an inconvenience intruding into your relationship, but rather a physical manifestation of the love the two of you share for one another. Every time you look at that baby, you should be reminded of the one who helped you make it.
– Learn to continue the work of protecting the privacy of you and your spouse as a couple: What goes on between you and your partner, for good and for bad, is really no on else’s business but your own. Others need to respect that boundary and keep their meddling noses out, including parents. Many a good marriage has been ruined by the well-intentioned interference of in-laws.
– Confront and master the inevitable crises of life: As the saying goes (to paraphrase), stuff happens. The trick is not to run from the problems that arise, but to confront and solve these problems… together.
– Maintain the strength of the marital bond in the face of adversity: No matter what, that bond the two of you share should be the strongest thing in your Universe. Your home could be flooded, your kids near death, and your dog run over by a train, but you should still be there for one another even in the worst of it all. A house divided cannot stand, and neither can a couple divided.
– The marriage should be a safe haven in which partners are able to express their differences, anger and conflict: A good marriage is one in which both people feel they can express any grievances they have against one another, discuss and argue them through to resolution, and yet know that they will still be there for one another, still love each other, after all is said and done. It’s like the old comic scene in which a couple is arguing rather loudly, someone else comes in to intrude with his two cents worth, then as one the couple turns and shouts at the poor guy, “Shut up, we’re arguing!” It should be that safe.
– Use humor and laughter to keep things in perspective and to avoid boredom and isolation: Humor is the cure for all ills. It’s a great means of bringing people together, of allowing you to see a problem for the very minor obstacle that it is, and for reminding people why they got togeth
er in the first place.
– Nurture and comfort each other, satisfying each partner’s needs for dependency and offering continuing encouragement and support: Would not your right hand tenderly nurse your left hand when it is cut? You are more than simply two separate people, b
ut this needs to be constantly demonstrated, one to the other. Be there for your mate’s hurts and doubts, but also for their joys and dreams, as the other will in turn be here for yours.
– Keep alive the early romantic, idealized images of falling in love, while facing the sober realities of the changes wrought by time: How many times have you seen news reports of old couples married some sixty years and seen that they still have the look of doe-eyed teenagers in their eyes for one another? Enough times to get the point?
You can find more ideas in our Reboot Your Relationship book. I have attached a link to the first chapter.
To read more about Rebooting your Relationship, you can download the first chapter for FREE CLICK HERE or buy the book CLICK HERE
If you were unaware, like I was, there are multiple different sex addiction groups. So if you are having trouble with that area of your life you might want to check one of the many groups dedicated to helping you recover. But which one, right? Well that is why we are here. We can help you figure out which sex addiction group is for you.
First, there is Sexaholics Anonymous. Sexaholics Anonymous is the probably the most strict out of all the different sex addiction groups. It is also probably the most fundamentalist and conservative of all the sex addiction groups. Many of the members of sexaholics anonymous are also religious. Serious problems like pedophilia or incessant buying of prostitutes are the main concern at sexaholics anonymous. Other behaviors such as onanism, sadomasochism, sodomy, and a liking for gang bangs are also addressed. Sexual sobriety is defined not only as abstinence from all these behaviors but also as progressing victory over lust. The only acceptable expression of sexual impulses is through very vanilla and heterosexual relations with one’s legally recognized spouse. Meaning man and wife, missionary style, as said by the Holy Bible. Homosexual members are welcome but they have to commit to a life of celibacy.
If this doesn’t sound like the sex addiction group for you could try out Sexual Recovery Anonymous. This sex addiction group began around 1993. Sexual Recovery Anonymous is still pretty strict and still tries to uphold the ideals of marriage, family and the establishment. The mix of people at SRA is more diverse though. This sex addiction group has a strong female presence, a lot of African Americans, Asians and members of LGBT community. The talk is usually of inner children, mom and dad, incest, trauma, and therapy lingo. Higher powers are usually in the Buddhist, New Age, Yoga kind of frame.
Sex Addicts Anonymous is a serious sex addiction group that is well known for its Green Book. A distinguishing feature of SAA is the central importance of its “Three Circles” concept, which every member is encouraged to use as a tool to maintain sobriety. The Inner Circle contains all bottom-line behaviors that characterize your sexual addiction, including masturbation, prostitution, cruising, infidelity, leather bars, autoerotic asphyxia, glory holes, stalking, exhibitionism, child pornography, rape and so forth. The Middle Circle contains all those behaviors considered a grey area, to be monitored with the help of a sponsor. Obvious examples here include fantasy, objectification, euphoric recall, ritualization, preoccupation and any non-pornographic provocative images. The word “intrigue” has special meaning here—defined as lusting, flirting or taking a sexual interest in someone. The Outer Circle is where you would place all your top-line behaviors, those activities that cement your sobriety and affirm a healthy, happy life.
Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous is where there is no definition already placed on what sexually sober means. However you choose to define your sobriety will work in this group. Where the other three groups are very strict, this group is loose. I actually refer clients who are being treated for Sex Addiction in my Infidelity Recovery Program to these groups because they are loose and people can fit in as they please. Check out their site http://www.slaafws.org
Sexual Compulsives Anonymous is a place MEN to talk about high risk sexual encounters such as engaging in unprotected anal and oral sex despite the probability of contracting HIV. It also is a place to talk about arrangements typically found in bath houses, sex clubs, rest stops, bus stations, public urinals, and even Craigslist. And in opposition to no longer engaging in these behaviors they just change them usually into something as simple as masturbating in front of a computer.
So which sex addiction group is right for you? No one can know but you. If none of these work for you, you could try out AA or NA which usually can work for a whole slew of addicted behaviors.
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