Stress and the Social Self: How Relationships Affect Our Immune System

From our friends at brainpickings:

Somewhere in our brains we carry a map of our relationships. It is our mother’s lap, our best friend’s holding hand, our lover’s embrace — all these we carry within ourselves when we are alone. Just knowing that these are there to hold us if we fall gives us a sense of peace. “Cradled,” “rooted,” “connected” are words we use to describe the feeling that comes of this knowledge; social psychologists call this sense embeddedness. The opposite is perhaps a more familiar term — we call it loneliness. Continue reading “Stress and the Social Self: How Relationships Affect Our Immune System”

Sex, Junk, And Menopause

English: graphic convention of manga, sweating...

I like talking about sex. After you have spent hours talking about depression, stress, marriage break-ups and anxiety it’s nice to talk about the clitoris. There is also the fact that I grew up in a conservative, Canadian culture that didn’t talk about female anatomy unless you are making a lurid joke; so there is the added risqué factor. I have actually caught myself, while in a conversation with a couple about their sex life, wondering, “Am I allowed to talk about this?”. It’s a childish, prudish attitude but frankly that makes it a bit more fun.

It will come as no revelation to anyone that women come to counselling far more than men. Without any verifiable data on hand I would guesstimate that at least 85% of my clients are female. This factor alone has radically changed my own life and taught me more about relationships, women, men, and psychology than any schooling or book. I am able, on some rudimentary level, to understand women far better than I ever did while working with men. I am still a Neanderthal, I admit, but hopefully a teachable one.

But I digress.

Sex is, unsurprisingly, a complicated thing for couples. Heterosexual couples have the added challenge of differing equipment, among other differences. Many men, surprisingly, still do not really understand female anatomy. True confession – as a teenager I didn’t know where women pee’d from. I didn’t have the advantage of an extensive and lurid porn collection and assumed women pee’d from that hole somewhere. My parents were actually very progressive and open about sexuality and I still didn’t figure it out. Laugh if you want – then ask your young teen. We’re dudes, our junk is on the outside and free to peruse at our leisure. Ok, now I feel like an idiot. As they say, laugh at yourself and you’ll never run out of material.

But I digress.

Menopause is another area that men don’t really understand. Why are you sweating without covers on? What do you mean when you say, “I feel like a furnace, the heat comes from the inside”? Can you really have a period for a month? Or not at all? Why does it suddenly hurt? Don’t you desire me anymore? Don’t I do it for you anymore?

Why are you crying? And once again, stop sweating!

It is easy to be critical of men and assume they are clueless about women because… well… we are. No one took us aside (outside of pornography where women all want sex all the time in every position imaginable and orgasm in about a minute) and explained your junk, or how to communicate, or even how to act like a man or a passionate lover. You don’t make any sense to us and we are usually too embarrassed and insecure to ask you for directions.

I love getting directions. But then again, I’m weird.

Women who are with men would do well to understand that we have not been properly taught how to understand you. Our teachers were our fathers (Neanderthals) and the dark side of the internet (run by Neanderthals). We don’t stand around at the job-site and ask each other about our feelings or talk about our relationships (at least not in a way you would appreciate). Few of us are in touch with our feelings and we do not understand how to ask for guidance or input in such a way that you won’t get disgusted or laugh. Telling me to “stop that!” only scares the hell out of me and further entrenches my belief that you are an alien species who cannot be understood. Add the male communication handicap and you have a recipe for misunderstanding. When it comes to the bedroom arena, couples really should spend at least as much time talking as they do… kissing. Creating an atmosphere free from ridicule or shame is the best gift you can give to your sex life. Talk, then touch. Then talk some more. You will be glad you did.

Are you done sweating yet?

Making It Work After Someone Cheats

The Pleasure and the Pain (1963) ...item 2.. M...

Not everyone can do it. I’m not sure I could, to be honest. Many couples choose to stay together after infidelity and I salute them. Remaining together is one thing, trusting ever again is another. So if you are in this situation, what can you do?

Earning trust back is a monumental task requiring an incredible amount of humility from both partners. It takes way longer than people want to admit. I have, however, seen couples who are committed to making things better, in spite of the horror and the obsessive thoughts, jealousy, and pain. Sometimes.

Working as a counselor I have, as you can imagine, my share of marital issues to wade through with people. Nothing comes close to the difficulty of rebuilding trust and safety. Trust and safety – two words that constantly come up when I talk to clients, especially female ones.

People don’t generally understand how devastating infidelity can be. For the partner who has been rejected (yes I said that word) the process can take years, if ever. There are nights and days of obsessing about the “why” of it all, about how they have failed as a lover and a spouse. There are hours and hours of anger and more obsessing. Even being touched by the cheater becomes loaded, and potentially volatile. The spouse who has cheated is often subjected to months and years of the “short leash”. They are forced to phone more often, report in more often, talk to potential attractions much less often. Sometimes there is punishment and condescension, anger and vengeance. The one who is on the short leash usually grows tired of the lack of trust. Why can’t your partner ever seem to move on?

Spouses who cheat, especially men, are prone to verbalize how tired they are of not being trusted. Many will, after some months, flatly refuse to jump through any hoops or even talk about the infidelity… yet again. They are sick of the same tears, the same logic, the same belittling. A surprising number of relationships break up a year or more after the actual incident. Things just won’t seem to go away and both partners are not getting what they need.

If you have been betrayed in this way the first thing you need to understand is that there is no template for how to respond correctly to such a nightmare. It’s so easy for counselors to give out prescriptions for happiness but the sad truth is that most of us are permanently damaged. There can be forgiveness, even reconciliation, but the relationship will change. For some of us leaving is the only emotionally healthy option.

If you or someone you love is tortured by infidelity, either their own or someone else’s, encourage them to talk to a professional. The most important part of moving forward is personal healing, no matter what the outcome. Learning how to process what has happened is the key to healing. Time doesn’t hurt either.

No one really knows what you are going through although some of us can understand that pain. Whether it’s your parents or your partner you owe it to yourself to do everything necessary to be whole again. You’re worth it, in spite of how you may feel right now.

Spitting At My Wife

English: A sign forbidding spitting in Shijiaz...A couple is in the shower and he is brushing his teeth. Lately showering together has become routine and he is feeling playful. On a whim he spits his toothpaste onto his wife’s back. Playful. Fun. Spontaneous. Funny though admittedly gross.

Not so much.

Most guys would find that hilarious. We have a deep and intrinsic understanding of gross stuff you can do to your friends without needing bail money. Farting is hilarious. So are wedgies. Flinging poo – no I haven’t done that but it’s not funny! Seriously.

Ha ha… poo.

What could be more funny than getting your best girl with fresh tooth spit? Hilarious. So why isn’t she laughing? Granted, at the right time and place I know lots of women who can be much grosser than this. Hilarious. In this particular case, however, she was looking for a little intimacy, a little steamy assistance. Shocking as it may seem, some women don’t get off on being spit at. I know, I’m only talking hypothetically, but apparently it’s true. Even your innocent peeing down the drain doesn’t seem to amuse her.  Go figure. Girls are weird.

No one told me that I would have to spend the rest of my life trying to understand my partner. I earnestly had no idea that I would be donating so much of my time learning to interpret someone else’s words, emotions, body language, and intentions. I do this for a living and I am only now beginning to understand even the most obvious aspects of a female’s psyche. Relationships are ridiculously tough and anyone who is not growing in their understanding of their partner is doomed, in my estimation.

Negotiating a good relationship is damn near impossible some days. Moving forward when you are angry or feel misunderstood, and live with someone who is not willing to be humble enough to learn, well that’s another thing altogether. Throw in passive-aggressive personalities, emotional immaturity, money problems, neediness, addictions, chronic pain, mental health issues, family problems, entitlement, insecurity, past trauma or sexual abuse, unresolved conflict, lack of sleep, misunderstanding, or someone who is angry or emotionally unavailable, and you have a recipe for conflict, confusion, and potential misunderstanding. Compound this over several years and it is no wonder, then, that couples grow bitter, interpret every issue as confrontation, or build their own little damaged worlds.

Relationships are hard. Many are worth it. Do the work. Reap the rewards.

The End Of All Our Exploring

Finding you can have a life after all is an amazing thing…

I wrote those words to a close friend this week. I know this is true because I have lived it. I have been to the end and I have been back. I know what it is like to care less if your world burns. I know what it feels like when your heart breaks. I know why people kill themselves.

It must be true that we attract what we are because many of my readers (although many seems a little off) can relate to the last paragraph. So many of us have been scarred. Many have known the “dark night of the soul”. Unfortunately many of us have learned that there are certain lessons you can only learn in pain.

I remember, some time ago, listening to a young speaker talk to battle-hardened veterans of life’s misery. People who had battled addictions, death, heart-break, staggering loss. He told the audience a story of his struggles – pitiful middle-class problems that were trifling and testimony to a life that had never suffered. It’s the reason people don’t like marital advice from a priest, or sexual advice from a Methodist, or advice about generosity from a Scotsman. There is something powerful about listening to the stories of others who can understand your loss. If you don’t believe me come to the Fibromyalgia Clinic sometime and listen to a new client once they understand that someone understands them and no one thinks they’re crazy. The power of a shared experience, no matter how bad.

It’s nice to know that even though you are walking through hell you aren’t walking alone.

Do I Like It Sick?

Many spouses will stay in a relationship that is sick and twisted, but why?

It is a truly terrifying story – a young girl grows up in a sick home and is repeatedly sexually abused by a relative or family friend. This person then becomes sexually active at twelve of thirteen with a boyfriend who in his mid-twenties or beyond. Often this is followed by a period of extreme promiscuity. They are sexually intimate with every boyfriend and come to believe that this is expected of them if they want to stay in that relationship. She starts to associate sex with being loved or loving someone else appropriately. They often engage in sexual acts which they do not enjoy, most of which are degrading in some way. They have an overwhelming compulsion to “perform” in order to be loved. For some strange reason, however, after they have settled in with someone they discover they are not truly happy and still have trauma and self-esteem problems. They struggle to find the intimacy and completeness in romance that they so desperately yearn for.

In counseling it often becomes apparent that this person is actually attracted to the sickness they have come to associate with love. They go after the “bad boy” or they seem to hook up with men who are always emotionally unavailable, their romantic interests usually are selfish, misogynistic or emotionally unhealthy.

If you can relate to what I am writing about then it’s time to ask yourself a question, “Am I attracted to this person because of their sickness or their health? Is this person irritating me right now because they are desiring something healthy (emotional connection, vulnerability, working on the relationship, planning for the future, stability, etc)?

Is it sick or is it healthy? I often send my patients home with this homework. For the next two weeks ask yourself, whenever you feel emotional in your romantic relationship, is this sick or is this healthy?

When he ignores me I pursue him. Is this sick or is this healthy?
I feel repelled by his attentions. Is this sick or is this healthy?
I am overly critical or easily angered by this person. Why? Is it sick or is it healthy?
He/she never seems to live up to expectations. Is this sick or is this healthy?

You get the idea, a good exercise for whenever we are struggling with our loved ones. Ask yourself, “Is what I am experiencing a result of a healthy and legitimate concern, or is this an unhealthy response to a sick situation?”

That may not be a bad idea for any of us.

Why Some People Hate Sex: the Fascinating Psychology Behind Sexual Revulsion

The birds and the bees and the dragonflys and ...

Great article for your perusal here.

What fascinated me about the article wasn’t the argument that some persons, in this article particularly women, are put off by sex. What is very interesting is the universal themes that apply to so many couples, regardless of gender. Here are a few thought-provoking quotes:

“I know we don’t have sex as much as Mark likes,” she says, with an edge in her voice, “but for me to want to make love, I have to feel emotionally connected to him and, to be honest, most of the time, I just don’t. He seems so obsessed about this issue. I constantly feel pressure to satisfy him. It’s like raw sex is the only thing he wants from me. It’s gotten to the point where any time he touches me I freeze up–I’m afraid to respond even affectionately because if I do, he thinks it’s an invitation to sex.”

“After some time goes by when we haven’t had sex, Mark gets more and more sulky, and I begin to feel I’m like a bad, unloving wife. So I hug him or pat his shoulder or maybe just smile at him or something and, oh boy! That’s all it takes–he’s off to the races. I feel I can’t say no again, and so we’ll get in bed and start kissing. I try to be as warm as I can get myself to be; I don’t want to just lie there like a dead fish. And, usually, at a certain point, I can work myself up so that I’m into it, sort of. Afterwards, I feel relieved because I know he feels happier and not so angry at me and, also, he’ll back off and I won’t have to do it for a while.”

Many heterosexual men, especially, have little or no idea how intrusive sex can be. In my relationship groups I tell these individuals to imagine what it must be like to take a large foreign object inside your body, simply to get someone to stop whining. I find the whole idea of “giving it up” only to appease guilt or anger utterly fascinating… and disturbing.



Why Does My Woman Talk So Much?

Young Couple in Relationship ConflictShe keeps nagging. Is she needy? She keeps wanting to talk about feelings. Attention. Attention. Attention.

In heterosexual relationships many men, after being with the same woman for a while, begin to think of her as a problem to fixed. She keeps using the “C” word – communication. As men it has been beaten into us that communication is the key to a good relationship but all the time? Seriously?

Much has been made of the caricature of the goal-oriented male. In years gone by many authors have written at length about the propensity men have to neglect their wives’ emotional needs after being together for some time. Remember how much you talked when you were first dating? Hours and hours were spent texting and phoning and whispering sweet nothings. I have had many women tell me that after the wedding the dating stopped. They feel like the man they married is not the man they fell in love with. Where is the intimacy they once enjoyed?

Hundreds of years ago a lifelong commitment was not very long. A peasant male may get married at eighteen or nineteen. He could look forward to a desperately hard life that ended in his late thirties. Standing up in front of a priest and saying “til death do us part” was an eighteen or twenty year commitment. No big deal. With today’s lifestyle opportunities and advances in medical science, if you get married at twenty, you can look forward to sixty or seventy years with the same spouse. Few of us consider the real cost and commitment when we are pie-eyed in love. Sixty or seventy years!

The world has also changed drastically. Women are no longer trapped financially and socially in a marriage that is going nowhere. Consider the following. Most broken relationships I work with were ended by the female. She is also usually between thirty-five and forty-five years old. Why is that?

The children are in school.

Cinderella - Prince Charming & CinderellaMany men have no idea how important communication is to their spouse. They assume that if she isn’t complaining that she is happy. Women complain all the time anyway so if he ignores her or blows it off she’ll probably forget why she was angry in a few hours. Ha!

This Valentines, if you are a man in a relationship with a woman, realize that she wants more than chocolates. Give her your time, your heart. Be vulnerable. Start the conversation with, “I don’t have a clue what I’m doing but I love you and I want to figure out how to do this.” Ask for her help. Chances are she’s better at this than you are.

You can do it.

P.S. – She’ll probably still take the chocolates…

The Key To A Great Relationship

There are several keys to a great relationship. Here’s the one that has transformed my marriage.


Not my humility, mind you. My wife’s. She is the humblest person I have ever met. Admittedly I was initially attracted to the fact that she is immensely hot (I know that is shallow and sexist) and seemed to tolerate me being around, but the more I have come to know her the more I credit the success of our relationship with the fact that she is relentless in her pursuit of compromise and making me happy. I am often hesitant to even mention something I would like to eat or possess because I know she will make it happen. She inspires me to want to try harder and be a better husband. We cannot even have a decent argument without her apologizing for something. It is hard to stay mad at someone who is trying so hard to make you happy.

She does not read this blog so i get no ‘suck up’ points for this, in case you were wondering.

As I write this I am conscious of the fact that many readers do not have this experience. This has not always been my experience either.  For years I lived with passive aggression, emotionally shut down, non-communicative narcissism. Many of us have. It is easy, when things are going poorly, to believe that this is the way everyone is, this is absolute reality. It isn’t even though it feels that way.

I have learned a great deal from both experiences. I have come to understand that my personal self-worth, happiness, and completeness cannot be based on another fallible person. I have lived far too long trying to make other people love me, and failing. I have based too much of my self-worth on whether or not my spouse likes me at any particular moment. I am endeavouring, and I am not there yet, to find my security from within. I have this crazy idea that I need to get to a place where I do not need anyone to feel whole.

In counseling I will often tell patients, “Don’t date until you don’t need to”. I profoundly believe this. We need to get to a point where we do not need someone else to fill that hole in our heart. Only then are we complete enough to love someone else without being needy, without needing them to “complete me”. It is a great deal easier to live sacrificially, think of the other person first, and live humbly when I don’t need her to stroke my tender, insecure, needy little ego.

“When we’re incomplete, we’re always searching for somebody to complete us. When, after a few years or a few months of a relationship, we find that we’re still unfulfilled, we blame our partners and take up with somebody more promising. This can go on and on–series polygamy–until we admit that while a partner can add sweet dimensions to our lives, we, each of us, are responsible for our own fulfillment. Nobody else can provide it for us, and to believe otherwise is to delude ourselves dangerously and to program for eventual failure every relationship we enter.”    Tom Robbins