You Talk About Everything—Except Your Sex Life

Sex problems in a relationship are more common than you’re thinking.

You’re nestled in separate corners of the sofa at the end of another relentless day, binge-watching “Ladies of London” (which he likes more than you, but he’ll never admit it to anyone else but you), when Marissa confesses that she’s nervous about having sex with her husband, Matt. A complicated pregnancy kept them apart for nine months, but her doctor just gave her the all-clear sign.

When you’re doing it a couple times a week, she says, you don’t even think about it. But Stuck in a no sex relationship?now, it’s like my prom night all over again.

The tension in the living room suddenly tightens by tenfold. Nine months, you think. I could do that standing on my head—I am doing that, actually. If you’re thinking it, it seems pretty certain that he’s thinking it, too. He hasn’t looked over at you from his end of the sofa, but it looks like he’s willing himself to keep his gaze focused on the TV. This is how things are now, how they’ve been for a while.

Beyond those early weeks, when you were still getting to know each other and it could barely even be called a relationship, there was never a ton of sex. But then it dried up to nothing. The intervals went from weeks to months, and you noticed—you always notice—but you never balked. At first, a wall went up between you, a natural defense mechanism. Before you reached your first anniversary, your marriage already felt like it was in dire straits. You entered into couples counseling, which started to turn the tide. You saw just how vulnerable he was, and he began to appreciate the same of you. Impassable channels gradually loosened and became unblocked. You became attentive to each other on a level that maybe you never reached before, not even in the beginning, when it felt like you were trying to swallow each other whole.

As open and honest as those conversations were, as intimate as you now felt together—truly, the two of you against the world—the sex never followed suit. There were fleeting instances, after which you always promised to do it more. It was too good not to. But then, weeks became months again.

Sex problems in a relationship are more common than you’re thinking. We tend to think of them as an impossible-to-ignore symptom of much deeper issues in the relationship, the way a crack in the basement wall finally signals mounting trouble with the foundation. And sometimes it is, but just as often, they stem from a simple breakdown in communication. The longer they go un-discussed, the harder they become to broach.

Angela Winslow is a professional marriage counselor based in San Diego who specializes in treating couples with low sexual desire. Between her inherent compassion and the skills she’s learned through her education, experience and ongoing studies, Angela’s equipped to help couples resolve intimacy and communication breakdowns and achieve rich, fulfilling relationships.

Contact her office to schedule an assessment. If you live in California, online appointments are available through Breakthrough.

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When Porn Comes Between a Marriage

Recovering from a porn addiction together

How fast porn can consume us. It’s like a skinny little flame finally finding its way into a big pile of drought-dry kindling. A couple months ago, you pulled up a site, so unassuming. You had the house to yourself and nothing better to do, so why not? The whole episode couldn’t have lasted more than 10 minutes. A few days passed, and you found yourself back in the same position. Nothing then signaled any kind of issue. Everybody does it, you thought.

But the next night you found yourself plotting to steal a few minutes with your tablet. Porn Addiction From there, it became a daily habit. And the more you did it, the easier it became to explain away. The porn no longer felt taboo, making time for it, no longer deceitful. Hell, it was a stress-release, and you so desperately needed one in your life. You’d wake in the morning and immediately feel the weight of your work. Anything your kids or your wife asked of you—and they were always asking something—felt like piling on. Ten minutes to yourself was a small ask.

Your appetite was growing, though. The same scenes that instantly stimulated you just last week did nothing for you now. You needed more hard-core action and you needed it more often, some days three, four, five times. Your wife was starting to notice your absence, and you’d come close more than once to being caught at the office. But all of that—the suspicion, the threat of being caught—was only fueling your desire.

You were so fixated on the plotting and the action on the screen that you failed to notice the extent to which porn was causing trouble in your relationship. It took your wife confronting you to bring it to your attention. Until then, you assumed you were getting by relatively unnoticed. Sure, you were skipping out more often than usual and staying up later, on your own, but you were attentive to keeping up appearances. Your wife saw otherwise. Your interactions with her and the kids had become noticeably shallower, she said. On your best days, you looked constantly distracted.

The realization that you were in over your head came shortly thereafter, when the exchange caused you not to reconsider but to increase your frequency. For the first time, it began to feel like it was out of your control. You were watching, not necessarily because you wanted to, but because you could. Just that fast, you’re wondering, How do I save my marriage?

Angela Winslow is a professional marriage counselor based in San Diego who has extensive experience treating couples who’ve been torn apart by a porn addiction. Couples therapy is a means to highlight each partner’s role in unhealthy patterns and provide new perspective, not point fingers. This may be your addiction, but your wife’s behavior, however indirect, contributed to it. When each of you begins to understand and own your respective parts, the way to an open, loving relationship will come naturally.

To schedule an assessment, contact Angela’s office. If you live in California, online appointments are available through Breakthrough

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Nurturing squashes desire

What is the difference between love and desire?

Love and desire relate and conflict.

Love is: When you care, worry, feel responsible for someone. You want to minimize threats, reduce the distance, and nurture them.

Desire is: an expression of freedom and autonomy. Many can feel freer with people they are less emotionally involved in. Why do women like the bad boys? You don’t have to worry about him – don’t’ feel safe with him, but it’s freeing in terms of desire.

Sometimes the very care, worry, feeling of responsibility we feel for our beloved is what stifles the unselfconsciousness and freedom necessary for desire. What nurtures love is not What is the difference between love and desire?necessarily what fuels desire and what turns us on sexually isn’t always what is emotionally safe.

But most long term relationships involve responsibility by design… indeed women find it much harder to give themselves the permission for pleasure, sometimes any pleasure such as sitting down when drinking their coffee. When they are organized around attending to the needs of others – kids and husbands -they can easily forego their own. The first need to go for some of these woman is sex.

Many women cannot sustain desire when the nurturing starts. We choose love over desire because that’s what we feel we should do. Men and women trade off the adventure for the predictability. They trade their erotic needs for security needs.

In a long term, committed relationship, how do love and desire coexist? It must be prioritized – which may require some counseling to get on the same page.

Then,  Break the routine – what you talk about, activities, how you react to each other. Bring vitality back – shake things up! Fire needs air, couples need to fan the flame. How?

*read an erotic novel

*jump in the shower with him

*get her some sexy panties

*send a flirty text

*meet for a drink at a bar and pretend you don’t know each other

*take turns being the focus of attention during sex-wear a blindfold and let your fantasies free

*grab his butt when he’s grilling out.

All of this presumes one thing….that you want to prioritize your sexual relationship. If not, it’s a useless laundry list.

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Is Porn an Addiction for You?

Porn Addiction quizThe Porn Addiction Quiz

I ran across this article and quiz in the online Men’s Health magazine.

http://www.mensfitness.com/women/sex-tips/quiz-are-you-addicted-to-porn

To avoid the ads associated with this link I copied and pasted the quiz and scoring. I found the comments in the scoring very accurate. Pornography stimulates chemicals in the brain just as a substance does, so that the behavior can be an addiction. As with alcohol, tolerance develops and greater stimulation is needed to get the same ‘buzz’  With effortless online access, pornography is a growing issue for many couples.

PORNOGRAPHY QUIZ

1. Do you spend more than 11 hours a week viewing porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

2. Does your porn viewing have a negative impact on your relationship with your partner?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

3. Does your porn viewing get in the way of your work or seeing friends and family?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

4. Do you ever choose to watch porn over hanging out with friends or family?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

5. How often do you use porn as a way of making yourself feel less depressed or bored?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

6. Do you ever feel like you should try to stop watching porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

7. How often do you use porn as a way of making yourself feel less depressed or bored?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

8. Do you ever feel like you should try to stop watching porn?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

9. Do you ever have problems getting hard or ejaculating with your partner?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

10. Do you fantasize about what you’ve seen online to get in the mood for sex?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

11. Have you found that you need more and more porn, or that you have to visit increasingly hardcore sites to get the same buzz?

Never: 0

Occasionally: 1

Often: 2

Most of the time: 3

SCORE

Under 8 – You’re probably not a porn addict. But if you have a family history of addiction, you could still be considered ‘at risk.’ “Make sure you have sexual experiences that are porn-free and develop a range of strategies for coping with stress and boredom,” says Hall. “And if you feel your porn usage is creeping up, cut back for a while so your dopamine levels can re-calibrate.” Dopamine is the pleasure chemical that’s released when people view porn (or have sex, eat food, etc.), but the more you release it, the more you need to get the same buzz, says Hall. “That’s why people with porn addiction find their behaviors escalate to spending more and more time online and/or watching harder and harder core porn. Like alcohol, cutting back or quitting for a while will lower your tolerance again.”

9- 15 – Your porn habit is bordering on being “problematic”—so use this as a time to get a grip! Cut back a bit. Hall explains “porn is often the easy solution to dealing with life problems, but remember that it often causes the very problems that you’re trying to escape. If you’re having issues with your asshole boss or your high-maintenance girlfriend, try facing them head on.

16-20 – “You almost definitely have a porn addiction and it’s likely that you’ve struggled for quite some time to stop it,” says Hall. If you’re already noticing that porn is having a negative impact on your life, your relationships or your sexual functioning now is the time to do something about it. Hall recommends seeking out a 12-step group like Sex Addicts Anonymous or making an appointment to see a sex addiction therapist

20+ – “If you’ve scored over 20 and haven’t tried to get help yet, please do so today,” says Hall. “Like many people with a serious addiction, you probably don’t even enjoy porn any more but for some reason, you just can’t explain why you feel driven to it. What started as a pleasurable pastime, turned into a habit and then into a curse.” At this point, Hall says, your addiction is likely robbing you of reaching your goals and enjoying partnered sex. “This is a problem you can beat and the sooner you take action the sooner you can get on with your life.”

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Sexual Desire And Lack Thereof.

Stuck in a no sex relationship? Lack of sexual desire

A common complaint of couples in long term relationships is a decline in sexual desire.

Many may think that men do most of the complaining, however research suggests that the stress of a long-term relationship can have a dampening effect on either partner…which has little to do with aging!

I have found in my work with couples that the resentment, criticism and impatience that couples show about many issues in their life often cover the rejection and shame associated with the belief that they are no longer sexually desired. I often hear:

  • “She never makes an advance – I don’t need someone complying out of obligation”
  • “For over a year he’s just not interested. How is that supposed to make someone feel?

Couple therapists have long maintained that a couple’s sexual problems are actually a reflection of problems in other areas but the reverse is also true!

A few findings about sexual desire are:

  • Generally men have more sexual desire than women both in frequency and intensity.
  • Women actually vary more as a group and even individually in sexual desire as a function of monthly cycles, hormones, and life roles.
  • There is more connection for men in thinking about sex and being sexually aroused.  Men take their cues from their bodies.

Sexual desire is tied to physical arousal in men but for women other factors such as context, beliefs, attitudes, feeling desired, feeling accepted are more important.

  • For most women sexual desire does not happen before sexual arousal. Many women enter into sex feeling neutral and it is the sexual experience that stirs the sexual desire.
  • A caring relationship is not the only thing needed for a woman to feel desire –women want to feel that their men desire them….she wants to know he thinks she is Hot! This is not because of low self esteem or poor body image.

Often lack of desire in men an avoidance of failed performance- even just once. It’s not about living up to Her expectations – but His!

  • One very important thing that makes women feel desired is being the “chosen one.” When being courted a woman’s sexual desire is raised by the thought “He is choosing me from among others.”  Once married, women often interpret sexual advances as a wish for sex – not as a signal of her unique desirability. Sometimes a few personal words can make a big difference. Ie. “I get so turned on when I see you in that dress-I’d love to take it off you later.” Or “Could I get some later on?”
  • Some insight for men might be to consider how NOT to communicate  “ You are the one!”  to their partner of 4 or 40 years – Going on and on about an attractive stranger definitely does not make a woman feel desirable.
  • A woman’s vision of herself as sexy and desirable is as important as her partner’s vision of her but that alone can not carry the day without some confirmation from him.
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The choice to self-soothe

How To Self-Soothe When You Are Under Stress

A young child learns fairly early how to calm down when he is upset. Hopefully parents and caregivers are available in the early years to soothe with touch and holding but gradually the child will learn ways to self soothe – and these skills are critical for healthy development. But what do we do as adults when we are overwhelmed by negative feelings? We may have friends or a spouse that offer companionship or hugs. We may turn a drink or a drug, sex or shopping. Self-soothing using our own inner resources in upset moments does not come naturally and requires thought and action.

A stress response is a natural part of our survival pattern.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that processes basic feelings and plays a big role in alerting for threat including fight or flight responses. The amygdala is also involved in emotional memories triggered by real or imagined interactions with others. Early trauma is believed to influence programming of the body’s stress activation system (hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal or HPA system), making the set point lower than it is for those who do not experience such trauma. The bar for something being traumatic is pretty low for a child and can include simple events like witnessing scary fights, getting lost, being bullied or not having a caretaker that responds when needed. Active, purposeful self-soothing is difficult for those with no trauma history and even more so for those who have it.

Self-soothing is finding a middle ground between being detached or numb and experiencing the surge of feelings.

Allowing the experience of the uncomfortable emotions without feeding them and making them more intense, enables the emotions to pass. The goal is to learn to tolerate the experience of feelings without blocking the emotion or acting in ways that are not helpful in the long run.

I could make a familiar list for things to do to feel better. Take a bath, go for a walk, treat yourself to a massage, walk a dog call a friend, cook something you like, light a candle or incense. I do believe that the two most effective are 1. Make a gratitude list and spend some time taking it in ore 2. perform an act of kindness.

Strong feelings are ultimately self centered – not that they are bad but feelings involve a concentration on self and self’s experience. The antidote is to move focus from self to others.

Performing an act of kindness for another can be soothing, particularly if you are feeling disappointed in yourself. The act does not have to be very big at all. Some suggestions:

Call a family member you think might be lonely or do something nice for a neighbor. Leave a positive note for a waitress or give a stranger a smile and some conversation. Research shows that making yourself smile actually affects the brain and counteracts feelings of sadness – even if it is forced! Consider prayer or meditation.

Ultimately it is about taking responsibility for your upset and deciding on the direction you want to take to make yourself feel better.

 

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Wordless Connecting

how couples can recconnect without using words exercise

Many young couples especially those with small children struggle to maintain closeness- and no wonder!

The priority is taking care of the kids as it should be. Often whoever comes home last for work is faced with a tussle of activity-homework, food preparation, eating, cleaning up, bath and finally bedtime ritual. Whatever stress these activities may provoke add to the work day’s accumulation so that by the time there is a quiet second to look at your spouse in the eyes it’s difficult to come up with exactly what to say to re-connect and take full advantage of any time without distractions. So skip the words!

This simple breathing exercise, done quietly together with only foreheads touching , takes as much time as 7 deep breaths…a minute maybe? Whether you’re lying on your sides or sitting upright, face each other directly and gently touch your foreheads together. Put your chins down slightly so your noses aren’t quite touching (it’s okay if they touch a bit but touching noses is not necessary for this exercise).

With your foreheads touching, breathe seven deep, slow breaths in sync with your partner. The first one or two breaths might feel like they’re taking up a lot of conscious thought, but by the third or fourth breath it will feel very natural.

This exercise isn’t limited to seven breaths -you can keep going for several minutes if you’d like- but I find that seven breaths is the perfect minimum number of breaths for couples to really drop in to the moment and feel connected.

When I first suggest to couples that they intentionally set aside time in their calendars to connect as a couple, I am sometimes met with resistance.

“We’re dating/we got married for a reason… shouldn’t we just feel connected automatically like we used to when we first started dating?”

It is a romantic concept that your relationship should fully run on autopilot however relationships thrive when you put effort into them.

And yes, I’m sure you can get by just fine without doing anything and have a ‘good’ relationship. But if you want a great relationship I’d recommend giving a few of the above exercises a try. Worst case, you lose a few seconds or minutes of your life on an exercise that didn’t do all that much for you. Best case scenario, you discover one of your new favorite things to do with your partner and it becomes an effortless and easy way to re-connect as a couple whenever you feel you may need it.

 

 

 

 

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What makes couples therapy successful?

marriage and couples counseling services in sand diego ca

Sometimes people ask me what my success rate is when working with couples on their marriage. Even if it were possible to answer that question, the results would reveal very little about my — or any therapist’s — skill. Whether or not a marriage can be saved is determined by many factors that the two individuals in the couple bring to counseling. Success can happen if they both have what it takes.

The reality is that few couples have what it takes.

One factor that makes healing a relationship difficult is that most come in much later than they should have and serious damage has already been done. Usually partners have been resentful for years and not telling their spouse how they feel until one day the difficult truth comes out. Why? 1. one or both simply does not ‘like’ the other, or 2. one of them has had an affair or 3. one person announces they want a separation or divorce. It usually takes a major episode or announcement for most couples to take their problems seriously enough to make that first couples therapy appointment.

With a marriage in that sort of condition, it should be obvious that teaching communication skills and assigning more date nights is not going to work. The couple has a stage four (metastasized) marital cancer and they’re bringing their relationship into therapy before it takes its last breath. One or both people are not in the mood to be nice to each other or even to receive that niceness, so it takes a skilled therapist to manage the crisis to contain the mess and not make it worse.

The first therapy goal is to stabilize the situation

The marital house is on fire and the flames must be doused. An agreement should be made to make no important decisions in the near future – ie 3 months or until calmer and wiser heads prevail. While stabilizing the situation, I evaluate each individual ranging from mental and physical health to beliefs, outside stressors, relationship and family history. I feel them out for the type of people they are and what their motivation and commitment. After the initial conjoint meeting and individual assessment sessions with each partner. I can tell if the couple has what it takes to heal their marriage.

Factors that influence this are:

  • Flexibility & intelligenceAre you willing to learn new things. Are you capable of abstract thinking and ideas? Can you go with the flow of what life presents you? Can and will you bend?
    Humility. Can you let go the need to be right, own your contribution to the situation, accept responsibility for areas in which you have fallen short and avoid blaming?
  • Integrity and honesty. Are you a person who values commitment, keeping your word, telling the truth, and being transparent?
    Empathetic.Are you able to put yourself in another’s shoes and see and feel what they may be feeling? Can you understand the effect your actions and lack thereof have on others and accept responsibility for it?
    Mental health.If you have a common mental disorder like depression or anxiety, or if you have a drug or alcohol problem, you are actively treating and managing it.
    Healthy self esteem. Your attachment style is peaceful as opposed to needy and grasping. You are emotionally available when needed, and give space when asked. You can delay gratification and do not have the need to control outcomes or others.

This list of characteristics may sound easy or impossible to attain. But they are the qualities of smart and reasonable people who have healthy self-esteem, who can work through things in a moderate way and to an outcome that is in the mutual best interest of all.

Marriage therapy is not for sissies. It takes hard work, determination, and a willingness to take one for the team. Being willing to fight and do anything to save your relationship is easier said than done.

 

 

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Two Steps In The Affair Recovery Dance

help after discovering an affair

Even though I’ve worked with many couples to help them find a healing pathway after an affair, I recognize there is no foolproof measure for determining whether or not a marriage is going to “make it” in the end. There are certainly indicators, but there are really only two steps a couple must take on their way to marriage recovery.

When I say recovery, I don’t mean simply avoiding divorce. I mean the kind of healing that allows two people to return to a place of connection, intimacy, and trust even after a deep wound was inflicted in the marriage.

The first necessary step must be taken by the one who had the affair. The unfaithful spouse must be willing to STEP BACK. Everything in them wants to move forward and forget the affair as soon as possible, but for the sake of their spouse who needs to process the pain of the affair, the unfaithful spouse must be deliberate in turning back and joining their partner in the fire of the pain they have caused.

They must be willing to endure with the injured spouse until there is enough stability to begin moving ahead again. Enduring means witnessing the resolute spouse’s pain and resisting their own defensiveness. The unfaithful spouse usually wants to put it all in the rear-view mirror but it may take weeks or months to understand what happened and look for evidence that there is and will be a change. It is only by standing on the fire that it will reduce to embers.

The second necessary step is that eventually, the resolute spouse must be willing to STEP FORWARD. It will feel like a tremendous risk and it is common to cling to the affair as a way of protecting from future pain. At some point the affair must be left in the past. Forgiveness may be a long-term goal but is not immediately necessary.  A reasonable short-term goal is acceptance. This allows the focus to shift to the present and future issues of the relationship.

Both steps require a willingness to be vulnerable: the unfaithful spouse must face their shame and forgive themselves and the betrayed spouse must face their fear and acknowledge that perfect safety is never possible. If either step is left out, there is no dance of recovery together.

When a couple comes in for help after discovering an affair I try to be reassuring and calmly lay out the structure of what needs to happen to ‘get over’ this crisis.

 

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How To Save Your Marriage In 3 Hours

How to Save Your Marriage in 3 Hours

Saving your marriage doesn’t require long-term treatment.

What brought you here were tiny fissures in your relationship that gradually spread into cracks. They formed so subtly, grew so slowly that they were almost imperceptible. But they’re obvious now. You haven’t had a comfortable conversation in weeks, haven’t had sex in months.

Nothing, however, says that the road to recovery needs to be as long and winding. As a professional marriage counselor with over 11 years in private practice, Angela Winslow has developed a concentrated form of therapy she calls One-Session Counseling, or a Couples Intensive, in which the treatment unfolds over a single, three-hour session, rather than multiple, weekly meetings. One-Session Counseling is not an abbreviated version of the conventional marriage-counseling model. Because of its duration, it can be even more comprehensive in its examination and analysis, yielding, in turn, more dramatic shifts in behavior.

Virtually every conceivable issue a couple could encounter—building trust after an affair, increasing intimacy in a relationship, even coping with a separation or a divorce—is appropriate for One-Session Counseling. Urgency has a way of distilling concerns, however deeply rooted. You’ll confront them head-on and emerge, three hours later, armed with the necessary tools to continue restoring your relationship.

One-Session Counseling isn’t reserved for marriages in dire straits. It’s also a convenient option for couples who’ve become strangers to each other. Life can be relentless, and all too often we’re willing to sacrifice the personal connections in the name of the immediate tasks because they’re easier to cope with. But the excuses we tell ourselves lose their validity in light of a single, three-hour commitment.

Regardless of your reasons and the intricacy of your concerns, consider One-Session Counseling. Rather, consider who you’ll be when you exit that room, the frustration and insecurity left behind.

Call 619-327-9791 or email me today at couplescare@gmail.com and I can answer any questions and get a Couple’s Intensive on your schedule soon. Saturdays and evenings are available.

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