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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Relationship Therapy: Rock the Boat?

by Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D.

Most of us prefer to avoid conversations that have the potential to disturb the peace of our relationships. Even when we have something important to say, we often choose to keep silent. Why chance having an argument or getting someone else angry at us? People often tell me, "speaking up just isn't worth the risk."
On the face of things, keeping quiet in your relationship may often seem like a wise choice. Shouldn't you do your best to keep your relationship running smoothly? Yet, when we struggle over whether or not to keep quiet, the topic is usually significant. And while speaking up may raise your anxiety, keeping silent usually isn't an anxiety-free choice.
Some examples (with names and details changed): Susan has a strained relationship with her dad, who has strong ideas about how his daughter should live her life. Now 30, Susan has acknowledged that she is lesbian to herself and to her friends, but not to her father. "Why bother?", she tells me in therapy. "It will only upset him, and then he'll be angry at me, which is really unpleasant." Susan thinks of telling her dad "someday", but in the meantime, she puts a good deal of effort into obscuring much of her life from him, and they have a distant, tense relationship. Besides being a tough way to live, Susan is keeping herself a stranger from her dad and limiting (rather than strengthening) her ability to be herself when she thinks others may disapprove of who she is.
Or take Jim, who is annoyed that his wife is seldom willing to have sex. He continually accepts excuses that involve tiredness, wrong time of day, or headaches, rather than pressing Marcy on the larger issue of their anemic sex life. In therapy, when I ask him why, he explains that bringing up his dissatisfaction and seriously talking with Marcy on this issue may lead to the wrong kind of change in their marriage. "Maybe she'll get mad at me and leave. Or maybe I'll find out I am not going to get what I want, and I will have to leave. I'd rather live with the hope that things in our relationship may get better."
Both Susan and Jim are avoiding conversations that will let someone close to them know them better and allow for a more honest relationship. They are both avoiding taking on a situation that they are not happy with, because they are afraid that things will get worse.
Of course, the same may be true for Susan's father and for Marcy. Susan's dad likely notices her distance, but doesn't press Susan for fear of hearing news he may not like. It is probable that Marcy is well aware of Jim's unhappiness, but is afraid, herself, to discuss her lack of desire or her own unhappiness in the relationship. Like her husband, Marcy never brings up the idea of seeking relationship therapy.
So, which is better? Keeping someone you love in the dark about who you really are, or dealing with their disappointment in you? Keeping silent on a difficult topic in the hope that things will change for the better, or speaking up and facing the possibility that things won't go the way you want them to? Such dilemmas may seem like a choice between the frying pan and the fire.
In my psychotherapy practice, I tell my therapy clients that it is worth considering how much your decision to keep silent or speak up is based on your desire to avoid anxiety. Are you choosing silence because you believe that you can't handle discord, disapproval, or change? Or are you acting out of a solid belief that keeping quiet is the best choice?
It is natural and understandable that most of us will try to avoid taking action when we are anxious about the consequences. However, when you make the choice not to rock the boat in your relationship, you are likely to still find yourself in a tough situation. The alternative is to learn how to tolerate the anxiety of speaking up even when you are scared to do so, because you believe that doing so is the best choice.
Although this can be difficult, I know it is doable, because I have worked with many psychotherapy clients on this issue. When you are able to speak thoughtfully about important but difficult matters, you have a better shot at honest communication and more intimate relationships. You are also likely to feel better about yourself, when you behave in ways that you respect.
 
For help with your marriage, click here to learn about relationship therapy in Washington DC with Dr. Michael Radkowsky.
Click here to learn about individual counseling in Washington DC with Dr. Michael Radkowsky.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Guidelines for Christian Sex

Since I speak and write books on sex, I get asked questions—a lot of questions. The most common questions relate to "what's okay in the bedroom?" Questions like: Is oral sex okay? What about anal sex? Is it wrong to role play with my husband? Is it okay that my husband likes to spank me? Do you think sex toys are wrong? What's wrong with a married couple watching porn together? Is masturbation okay?
Before we even get into discussing whether something is right or wrong in the bedroom, I want to emphasize that God's desire is for you and your husband to experience great pleasure! His standards are not to limit your enjoyment, but to heighten it. I think many Christian couples have no idea what freedom they have in the bedroom. They settle for "vanilla" sex (aka, the missionary position), placing self-imposed restrictions on themselves that have nothing to do with God's perspective. God made the marriage relationship a safe place for a husband and wife to explore, experiment, laugh, and get lost in sensational sex.
There is nothing spiritual or moral about limiting sexual pleasure in marriage. God is the greatest proponent of your pleasure—not the pleasure that is sweet for a season, but the deep, profound satisfaction that only grows sweeter with time. Once you understand what God has said "no" to, you are free to have a great time exploring all he has given you to enjoy.
As with all areas of life, God's instructions on sex can be found in the Bible. The Bible talks about sex a lot, but often the answers to sexual questions aren't found in a chapter or verse—for example, you won't find any references to vibrators. But using the Bible as a reference guide for decisions will make you wise in discerning good from evil (Hebrews 5:14) even when something seems like a gray area. Here are three questions that can help you discern whether certain sexual acts are right or wrong:
Question #1 – What does God clearly say "no" to?
There are some things the Bible is very clear about, particularly related to sex. Some women get confused about whether what God said "no" to in the Old Testament still applies in our day. For example, women wonder if it's okay to have sex during their period since the Old Testament law said not to. The Old Testament emphasized being ceremonially pure as a physical way of distinguishing God's people from the rest of the world, but since Jesus paid the sacrifice for our sin, being ceremonially clean isn't an issue anymore. However, all of God's people are still called to be morally pure, and sexuality is a big piece of moral purity.

Moral purity means that sexual expression is reserved for the covenant of marriage between a husband and wife. God says "no" to certain violations and perversions of this. Here is a summary of what God prohibits sexually:
  • Adultery: having sex with someone who is not your spouse. Jesus expanded adultery to mean not just physical acts, but emotional acts in the mind and heart (Matthew 5:28)
  • Homosexuality: The Bible is very clear that for a man to have sex with a man or a woman to have sex with a woman is wrong in God's eyes (Romans 1:27, 1 Corinthians 6:9)
  • Lustful Passions: First, let me tell you what this does NOT mean. Lustful passion does not refer to the powerful, God-given sexual desire for each other enjoyed by a married man and woman. Instead, it refers to an unrestrained, indiscriminate sexual desire for men or women other than the person's marriage partner (Mark 7:21 – 22, Ephesians 4:19)
  • Coarse Joking: In Ephesians 4:29, Paul says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths." We have all been around people who can see a sexual connotation in some innocent phrase, then begin to snicker or laugh. This is wrong. However, this does not rule out sexual humor in the privacy of marriage, but rather inappropriate sexual comments in a public setting.
What God says "no" to probably didn't surprise you, but his standards are also not very "PC." If you believe that God, the creator of your sexuality, has your best interest in mind, you will understand that these boundaries are to protect you.
Question #2 – How do you keep sex just between you and your husband?
God said "no" to having sex outside of marriage and having sex with someone you're not married to, so why do we even ask this question? Because many people fudge on it.
Reserving sex, sexual fantasies, and sexual expression only for your husband means more than just what you do physically, but what you look at and what you think about. This is what Jesus said:
You have heard that it was said, "Do not commit adultery." But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

This includes fantasy, pornography, online relationships, and erotica. This seems like a pretty strict standard. Jesus goes on to advise us on how to deal with temptation:
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Matthew 5:29
His message is clear: get rid of whatever causes you to sin in your heart! If it is a portal for temptation, get rid of the iPhone, satellite TV, or your Facebook account. Cut off the relationship that is tempting you. If you really want to know what God says, take his warning seriously. Throw out the mommy porn. Stop flirting with anything that causes you to think, lust, or fantasize about someone other than your spouse.
Question #3 – Will this sexual activity be good for both of us?
This is where things get fuzzy. We don't see anywhere in the Bible where God clearly says "no" to things like sex toys, masturbation, or oral sex. In fact, you'll find very different opinions from Christian leaders on all these topics. The Corinthian church had questions about gray areas too. Instead of telling them exactly what to do, Paul gave them guidelines of how to use good judgment when the Bible doesn't clearly state something as right or wrong.
Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me—but I will not be mastered by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12
A few chapters later, Paul seems to repeat himself:
Everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
Here's what you can take from these passages. There are many things in life that you are free to do and enjoy. When you are not sure whether something is okay, put it through Paul's filter:
  • Is this beneficial? Is it good for me? For my husband? Is it good for our marriage?
  • Does it master me? Can it be habit-forming or addictive?
  • Is it constructive? Does it help me grow and mature? Does it build our marriage?
  • Is it loving? Does this action show love towards my husband or is it selfish?
This may mean that for some couples, a sexual act will be fine, and for another couple, the same act isn't right for them. An example of this is oral sex. Some couples feel great freedom to include this in their lovemaking. For other couples, oral sex is a trigger for memories of sexual abuse or pornographic images. The same act can be loving for one couple and harmful for another.

Do you wish God had given you a list of sexual acts with a clear "yes" or "no" by each one? It sure would make things a lot easier. But God, in his wisdom, has left some things open for a husband and wife to talk and pray through. Ultimately, you have to seek his wisdom for your own marriage. If you and your husband disagree on a "gray area," you will have to listen and learn to love each other through the decision.
After all, sex is a lot more than just sharing your body—it's a journey of intimacy. Figuring out boundaries together gives you great opportunities to seek the Lord's wisdom, and to learn how to love each other more deeply.
Download TCW's "Guide to Sexual Satisfaction" at this link, and subscribe to our free Marriage Partnership e-newsletter at this link for weekly tips, advice, and encouragement in the joys, successes, trials, and tribulations of marriage.
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Juli SlatteryJuli Slattery is a widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional. She co-founded Authentic Intimacy (www.authenticintimacy.com) and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

Friday, November 1, 2013

What women want from men

What do women find attractive in older men? We asked two women for their dos and don'ts
Couple outdoorsWhat do women look for in an older man?
Trudy Jones* is a leggy blonde who has just celebrated her sixtieth birthday and a divorce from her husband of 34 years.
A forthright Northerner, Trudy offered a succinct assessment when asked what were the major turn-offs in men her age and older:
"Beige!" She explains: "You know those people who go around in a sort of beige burqa of matching windcheater, trousers, shoes and cap. It just shrieks 'pensioner' to me. It says 'I'm old and I've lost interest in being sexy'."


Things to avoid


Included on Trudy's list of no-nos are a bad hairpiece and dyed hair, following a date with a man sporting hair not his own. Her advice? "Just shave your head! It's trendy now".
As an active horse rider and grandmother of five, Trudy has no time for couch potatoes either. But, reassuringly, she doesn't expect perfection in a prospective partner. "As long as your clothes fit and you don't smell you can't go wrong as long as there's chemistry".
She says of her current partner, "When I first met him, he had a terrible old vest and tatty underpants that he washed every night by hand - they've gone pink now - but they're clean and I fancy him so it doesn't matter."
Trudy's partner seems to agree, saying admiringly "I never knew grannies could be so sexy!"


Grooming


Stella Asquith*, 58 and a divorcee, has some sympathy with Trudy's view.
"As long as a man's clean and well groomed, a bit of cragginess can actually look good. I don't mind grey hair or baldness."
She too has an aversion to couch potatoes and a hatred of beige for much the same reasons as Trudy.
"Beige means dressing old, giving up. But I can't bear men trying to look young in groovy clothing either, and I think that white socks should be banned on anyone over the age of 19, likewise white shoes. As for gold, ugh! Gold chains are absolutely out. I prefer classic clothing and I like men to look their age."
For Stella, "The very worst things are personal habits like picking noses or scratching spots…things like bad table manners or strange eating habits are difficult to live with. Good manners are essential."


Nasty habits


In fact, personal traits top Stella's list of qualities for an ideal man. "In the 50s and 60s there are usually quite a lot of things that are dropping off, but personality can make up for much of that.
Kindness, tolerance, consideration for others, a zest for life, intelligence, life experience, energy, enthusiasm, grooming, an openness to new people, places and ideas, modesty, independence, confidence, enthusiasm, being well-read, outdoorsy. These are the ideal qualities. But if someone was overweight for example, that could be counterbalanced with lovely manners."
However, Stella says that although she feels very lucky to have been born a baby boomer, "A lot of men in my age group were brought up in an age when men were much more important and I can't bear to be dominated.
"I always expect to be an equal partner. So that might be the only good reason I can think of for a younger man!"
*All names have been changed.
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How sex makes you look and feel better

How sex makes you look and feel better

It puts a sparkle in your eye and a glow in your cheeks, what's more it even counts as exercise

LaughingSex puts a sparkle in your eyes and a glow in your cheeks
Having sex, looking good

People who have sex at least three times a week can look up to 10 years younger than those who make love less frequently, according to Dr David Weeks of the Royal Edinburgh Hospital.
Weeks' study of more than 3,500 people aged between 18 to 102 concluded that genetics were only 25 per cent responsible for how young we look - the rest is down to behaviour.
Dr Weeks says this is partly because sex in women helps trigger the production of a human growth hormone that helps them keep their youthful looks.
Sex also pumps oxygen around the body, boosting the circulation and the flow of nutrients to the skin.
And, of course, being in a sexual relationship can in itself be a good incentive to look after your appearance and stay in shape.

Sex is exercise

Estimates of the number of calories you can burn off during lovemaking vary, but there's no doubt that sex does constitute something of a workout, raising the heart rate and pumping oxygen around the body.
"On a basic level, sex is exercise, which is good for everybody," explains Paula Hall, a sexual psychotherapist with Relate.
"It's good for blood pressure, muscle tone and the cardiovascular system. It also produces hormones, which are good for restoring tissue."
Lovers should also take note that more exercise can make for better sex too. Several studies have shown that regular exercise helps to improve sexual function and satisfaction levels.

In the mood

Sex triggers the release of chemicals and hormones in the body that can relieve stress and pain, as well as making for better relationships.
"Sex is a brilliant stress reliever and releases pain-killing endorphins," explains Paula Hall.
"It also helps both chemically and psychologically to keep a couple's relationship alive. This is because sex produces oxytocin, a chemical linked with pair bonding that helps to produce strong feelings of affection between couples."

Sex forever!

The lack of positive images in the media may lead some people to feel that they are 'past it' when it comes to sex. But the fact is that your sexual life can markedly improve with the years.
"As you age, you have to learn to adapt to your sex life," says Paula Hall.
"But sexual wisdom and sexual knowledge are likely to improve considerably with age and you are likely to be less inhibited. Sexual performance does change, but sexual intimacy can get better and better."
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