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 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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How Love Can Kill Desire

What is the difference between love and desire?

What is the difference between love and desire?

So many couples come in with stale sex and relationship boredom – they feel ample love but desire has suffered. The reason for this is that love and desire conflict.

“Love is when you care, worry, feel responsible for someone. With love you want to minimize threats, reduce distance and be nurturing. Safety is the primary goal. In contrast desire is all about freedom and autonomy.

Many women like ‘bad boys’ because you don’t have to worry about them. You don’t feel safe but it’s freeing in terms of desire. With people we are less emotionally involved in there is more freedom and less worry. It is the care, worry and feeling of responsibility we feel for our beloved that squashes the freedom necessary for desire. What nurtures love is not what fuels desire and what turns us on sexually isn’t always what is emotionally safe.

Long term relationships involve responsibility. Women are often challenged to give themselves he permission for pleasure, even when it is a simple matter of taking time for themselves. When attending to the needs of others -whether it be a husband or children- they can  forego their own needs more easily than men do. One example is giving in to sex when it is not desired over the long term breeds resentment and is a turn off erotically because of the lack of perceived choice in the matter/freedom.

Where there is nurturing women have a hard time sustaining desire. We choose love over desire because that’s what we feel we should do. When we pair up in a monogamous relationship both men and women trade off adventure for the predictability and exchange the erotic needs for security needs.

So how can love and desire coexist in a long term, committed relationship?

Introduce and cultivate the unexpected. 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. Desire needs uncertainty—keep mystery and adventure alive by injecting the unpredictable and unexpected. Helping couples brainstorm on how to do this is an important part of any treatment plan to rekindle desire.


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How does co-dependence show up in relationships

11 Signs That You Are  In A Codependence Relationship

The word co-dependence was first used in the 70s to describe the pattern of coping behavior in the partner or family member of an alcoholic. I like Melodie Beattie’s simple definition:   “A codependent person is one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling or manipulating that person’s behavior or feelings.” Melodie Beattie from Codependent No More

In relationships where there is no issue with substances, co-dependence occurs and always becomes a source of confusion & guilt because of blurred boundaries.

Can you relate to having any of these codependent behaviors?

  • think and feel responsible for other people – their feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, well-being or lack of well-being.
  • feel compelled to help a person with a problem such as offering advice, suggestions or changing their feelings.
  • Find yourself saying yes when you mean no
  • feel sad because you believe you spend your life giving to others, and nobody gives to you
  • believe deep inside that other people are somehow responsible for you
  • think and talk a lot about other people
  • have lived through events and with people that were out of control, causing sorrow and disappointment
  • become afraid to let other people be who they are and allow events to happen naturally, with natural consequences
  • think you know best how things should turn out and how people should behave
  • try to control others through helplessness, guilt, coercion, threats, advice giving, manipulation and domination
  • look to relationships to provide all your good feelings

These traits/behaviors show up often in therapy and are at the root of many confusing conflicts that people have. Statements like “he makes me feel guilty” and expectations of what the partner needs to do to make them happy indicate a quagmire of co-dependence that needs to be explored.

No one can make us feel guilty without our permission and behavioral prescriptions demanding change from others are not ways to improve any relationship. Clearly seeing what is and what is not our responsibility or within our control relieves stress and frees us from the trap of guilt at taking over-responsibility for others and their feelings. It also saves frustration when others do not comply with our demands. I’m not sure where it came from but I like the visual of the statement: What’s in my hula hoop?







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Are You Getting Married But Worrying How To Avoid Divorce

Planning a Wedding Can Be a Lonely Time

The summer is wedding season. If you’re not attending one over the next few weekends, you’re probably planning one of your own. With so much ceremony and meaning packed into those 24 hours, weddings have a way of intensifying emotions—love and gratitude, naturally, but also anxiety, frustration and even fear. Faced with the growing awareness that you’re about to pledge a lifelong commitment to your partner, seemingly innocuous concerns suddenly begin to metastasize. Long-repressed traumatic episodes creep back toward the edges of your consciousness. In the run up to what should feel like one of the happiest days of your life, it can feel like you’re beginning to unravel.

No relationship is without its flaws and imbalances, and you’re going to feel them more keenly at certain times than at others. That said, you shouldn’t simply take a deep breath and shrug them off, especially if you’re sitting there on the eve of your wedding day worrying about how to avoid divorce.

Couples therapy can refresh your perspective by identifying each partner’s role within the unhealthy patterns that are gradually undermining your relationship. If you’re new to it, here’s a basic idea of what to expect in couples counseling. We’ll create a safe place in which you and your partner can begin expressing your feelings honestly and without fear of reproach. It’s in those vulnerable but protected moments that we’ll develop a better understanding of your partner’s perspective and, together, trace your concerns to their root. From there, we’ll rebuild your relationship by practicing new communication skills that’ll fortify your bond as a couple without sacrificing your individual identities.

Those concerns that are gnawing at you now, if left unacknowledged and untended to, are likely to only weigh heavier on you with exchange of vows and the passage of time. Trust problems in a relationship, for one, will eventually undermine your every thought and action. Intimacy will fade. Arguments will increase. The weight of the moment may be compounding your concerns, but they are valid. And you’re not alone.

Allow CouplesCare in San Diego licensed marriage therapist to help restore your faith in each other.

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“45 Years” A Film looks at separateness’ in marriage

I happened to see this sweet, thoughtful movie on a long plane journey titled “45 Years” It’s a story about a couple who have been married for 45 years and are weeks away from an anniversary party celebrating their marriage. The pacing is slow and the acting is thoughtful . I’m sure it didn’t last long in the theaters – we are so accustomed to action and sex to keep our attention.

So the husband (listed as next of kin) gets a letter indicating that the remains of his lover (prior to meeting and marrying Jane) had been found. Fifty years ago there had been a vague, tragic accident hiking in the Alps where she had fallen in a crevice and was unrecoverable. Kate (Charlotte Rampling) sees his distraction , they talk a bit about that time of his life, what it meant to him. She begins to worry about how much thought he was giving to the resurrected memories of this long ago relationship. Eventually she heads to the attic and digs out photos that show that the lover had been pregnant on that trip long ago. Her husband had never told her this. Subtly you can see her weighing thoughts of her choice to be childless. She begins to feel insecure just as plans for the party are imminent. She doesn’t say that she has discovered the fact of the pregnancy. While at first asking him to feel free to talk about the prior relationship and his memories, she eventually requested that he stop –trying to protect herself and her sense of the happy 45 year marriage they had achieved. All of this is processed internally and magically in Kate’s beautifully aged face. She watches as Richard starts to smoking again (a habit they gave up together so it feels like an infidelity) and that he begins to walk alone from time to time. She knows that he is reflecting on this long ago memory and she has to balance understanding with the feeling that after all these years she did not know all about her husband.

There is a triumphant entry into the gala party room, surrounded by friends and family from decades – smiles all around and good cheer. Richard makes a toast to his marriage full of all the right things to have said- even with tears at one point – but we sense that Kate feels something missing –her face with a relaxed smile and confused eyes – though no one else would have noticed she hides it so well. They take the floor for their first dance together and all are enthralled by the happy couple. Fantastic acting as she appears a bit less than exuberant and he is jolly but his eyes are closed a lot as they dance…. A slight disconnection.– a going through the motions. After the final twirl he holds her hand up high as they finish – and then after a moment which should have been triumphant she suddenly yanks her arm down and out of his grasp.. Her face an exquisite mix of emotions. And the film ends there.

This struck me as comparable to that time in a relationship where we learn something about a prior love or time of life that we were not a part of.

It’s that piece of a person that is not ‘with’ us. It is their history which cannot be undone. Like a jealous lover Kate feels betrayed by this piece of her husband – that his lost lover was pregnant- that was kept from her. At this stage of her life it is magnified in meaning since she chose to be childless. She thought she was everything to him but she was not. Another woman and their child were there first and still active now in his memory. Kate is an adult and grapples with her internal reactions to these feelings – disguising them, denying them and ultimately unable to keep her hand aloft with his at the final dance twirl-pulling it from his grasp.

Kate realizes she did not really ‘have’ all of her husband, as she had thought after 45 years together. In relationship we think we want to merge and be one. Much conflict in the relationship is a result of the fact that we are NOT one, but two….. with respect for each other’s differing feelings and experiences….not merged….an uncomfortable fact and brave to accept..

Angela Winslow specializes in marriage counseling and couples therapy in San Diego. Affairs, infidelity, communication skills, sex therapy and parenting are areas of expertise.



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