Mothers and sex

getting over an affair and depression with medications

After marriage, for many women sex becomes an obligation rather than an expression of desire, love and affection.

They lose track of their own desire and pleasure, and feel like sex has become “just another thing that I have to do to take care of someone else.” Women with young children are stressed by care-giving responsibilities sex becomes just another resentment. Many women cannot even think about having sex until the chores are done. The list never ends – dishes, laundry, bills, and the dog. The chores win and couple time gets lost in the shuffle. Frequently when asked ‘What would you rather do, fold the laundry, or make love to your husband?’ most would pick sex. But in real life husbands get pushed away. With children needing 24/7 attention, women want time for themselves – if there is any left! The husband seems like just one more person wanting something when it feels like there is nothing left to give – one more child who needs something.

When I work with women in this situation I address feelings of resentment, help them learn to ask for help and how to stop and notice how they are over-functioning. They feel like they have no choice when in fact they do – to some degree. Learning to stop and take care of themselves is key. The image of a family sitting down for breakfast and a mother running around serving everyone like a chicken without a head is the standard of good mothering that must change. Mothers can start by giving themselves permission to sit down for just a few minutes to drink their coffee.

We look at their lost sense of ownership over their sexuality and sensuality, and try to help them reconnect with who THEY are sensually, what THEY like sexually, and with their own sense of pleasure. I help them understand that their husband’s (usually) are “using” sex as a path to feeling emotionally connected — not just “using” their wives bodies to get their own pleasure. But here’s the snag. In the course of reclaiming themselves, they often have to learn to take care of themselves by saying, “no.” They have to learn that they really can be their own separate person and that they won’t WANT to say yes until they allow themselves to say no.

I like the idea of the “sex date” to help couples’ break the habit of avoiding or simply not making time and space for intimacy, and to help them bring intentionality to connecting emotionally and physically.

“Sex dates” with the woman in charge, can give her a sense of control over the situation. It puts a break to the repeated dance where he wants sex and her only sexual independence is to say no. Of course, this will only work as long as it gives her a real sense of control and doesn’t trigger the feeling of duty and responsibility, and again block contact with her own sexual drive. In this experiment, only the woman can initiate and there should be a mutual agreement as to how long it can go before sex happens. Then on the sex date, she needs to ask for exactly what she wants- cuddling, sharing a glass of wine, a foot massage, kissing. His task is to step back, appreciate her gestures and not put pressure to go further. This is important because she will often resist any contact for fear that this will lead to unwanted sex.

As for the husband, he needs to step up his game helping with the home and kids, monitor his frustrations and be kind. He can show he cares in multiple ways, that don’t need to be rewarded with sex. This doesn’t directly connect his wife to her erotic self, nor make her interested in sex, but it goes a long way to reduce the resentment and the avoidance that is so very common in couples with small children.



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Infidelity & Texting

Texting is one way the other woman or man enters the family.

Many couples struggle with infidelity. Affairs can happen at work, in bars, at school reunions, meetings and with your phone. Texting is one way the “other woman or man” enters the family.

If trust is low, couples become aware of the degree to which their partner needs to guard their phone. Do they take the phone everywhere? Is the phone immediately hidden if you are around? If your spouse refuses to let you see their phone is that is reason enough to be suspicious?

Also partners may become aware if their spouse has difficulty setting boundaries with others which is correlated with inappropriate relationships.

Lastly, they are suspicious when their spouse begins sending texts during dinner, bedtime, in the middle of the night, and first thing in the morning. This could indicate a boundary invasion and is inappropriate no matter who you work for, or what they are going through.

Many couples don’t address or communicate their feelings about texting or emailing until there is a violation and at that point it is too late.

If you have crossed boundaries in the past or have been accused of texting someone too much, you should take it seriously and talk to your spouse about it. Remember, telling your spouse you never had sex with this person, so you aren’t cheating is not true. You are cheating if you are texting someone and would feel ashamed or embarrassed if your spouse read them.

Here are a few suggestions to “text proof” your relationship. If you talk to your partner about this now, it will safeguard your marriage from cheating:

  • Talk together about texting. What is acceptable, and what is crossing the line? How does each of you feel about sexting? It is not true that if you ignore it, it won’t happen. Talking about these issues and preparing makes them less likely to happen.
  • Agree on a plan regarding when and where cell phones are permitted. Shutting off your cell during a dinner out is wise, as that is your time. However, having your phone on during a coffee break with your spouse may be permitted if you are still on the clock.
  • Couples who agree to shut their phones off at a specific time each evening protect their marriage from people who lack boundaries and will text any time of the day or night.
  • Phone passwords should be made readily available to both spouses.
  • Do an inside check. Would you be anxious if your spouse left with your phone for the day? Is there anything on there you would be ashamed of if they saw? If so, deal with it now.

The only fool-proof way to protect your marriage is to discuss these topics prior to letting them into your marriage. Establishing healthy boundaries so neither spouse feels monitored, but both feel protected and secure will safe guard your marriage and family.


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Stop Fighting with Relational Mindfulness

how to stop fighting with your partner

Many couples come in asking how to stop fighting.

Often it’s described as a need for communication skills when it’s really that there is too much communication going on – and it’s not the listening part of the communication process!

Terry Real talks about resisting that first impulse of reactivity when we’re irritated and emotionally triggered by our partner. He refers to it as 2nd Consciousness. 1st Consciousness is “the Woosh “ aka the wave or flood of emotion that leads to anger, defensiveness and attacks. Our knee jerk reaction or woosh occurs in the primitive part of the brain interested in self preservation. Fight, flight or freeze! When we become mindful of this primal response we can also learn to shift from 1st to 2nd Consciousness and stop the escalation which damages our relationships.

Awareness is the first part of self change. Relational Mindfulness is learned by practice – pausing and being aware when the reactive childlike part of us wants to take over the show – and then reaching down inside for that functional adult part to react differently. Unlike other animals we are blessed with consciousness – the ability to distinguish these parts of ourself and using the one we want. The more we practice, the better we get at mindfulness, bringing more measured and healthy responses into our relationship conflicts.



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Looking at expectations

couples counseling online. Codependcy, relationships, marriage, cheating

Condensed and edited from Andrew Goldman’s interview with Rebecca Miller, Julianne Moore, Ethan Hawke and Greta Gerwig. Wall Street Journal.

EH: I see people breaking up because they just have such extremely high expectations for every aspect of their life. That makes life really hard. It doesn’t allow for much compromise or forgiveness. Like what you said—“I’m no prize either”—which I think is so funny. There’s a fundamental humility to that, whereas I’ve had a couple of friends who are breaking up, and their problems with each other are so minute.

AG: Like what?

EH: Oh, just what the other one doesn’t do for the other one. They are both amazing people, and I look at these two friends and I think, I wish you could see each other for what you are and not the tiny part of the puzzle you’re not.  

I ran across this interview of the director and cast of Maggie’s Plan and was struck by the truth in this excerpt. So often it is the piece of the puzzle that is not there that drives a partner crazy about the relationship. It’s like a sore tooth – you can’t keep from touching it with your tongue.

We all have a vision of the relationship we want. Notwithstanding dealbreakers like violence and abuse- the vision or the puzzle is an amalgam of societal and family expectations, family of origin loading and a hurt ‘little person’ trying to get whole. Often the relationship we land in solves most of these expections – but there’s usually one thing. And that thing may look minor to a friend on the outside but is major to the one in the relationship.

Part of therapy is getting to that ‘one thing’ that is missing. Where did it come from, why is it important, what would it look like if it showed up in the relationship and do I want it bad enough to look at myself as the instigator of the change that might make it appear?

A sense of humility is so key in the process. “I’m not such a prize either” helps to put things in perspective. We are all imperfect. Are my expectations out of line? Is there enough good in the relationship? What happens when an imperfection is found in a new relationship. Do you leave again? Remember you take you with you when you go.

Couples therapy is a growth experience for the individuals and the relationship. It challenges you to look at yourselves and your expectations. It’s like putting the puzzle pieces out there on the card table and working to bring them together….which pieces you and your partner bring in to complete the puzzle and how important any imperfection is – with at least a small dose of humility.

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Stuck in a no sex relationship?

Stuck in a no sex relationship? Lack of sexual desire

A good way to stay mired in a sexless relationship is keep talking about why sex is a problem and whose fault it is. Talking about why there is no sex doesn’t make people want sex. Talking about desire does not ignite it and analyzing the why’s of it all does no good either. It actually keeps you stuck and entrenched in that state.

Many couples believe that trying to change things starts with talking about “the problem” and since neither want to be “the problem” it predicts another sexless, resentful night.

It’s better to start by asking each partner to describe what it would look like if sex were happening the way they wanted. Often comments are “more play” and “more frequent””natural flow”. Any commonality in what is described (and usually there is something shared) begins to shift the mind from the problem to the possibility.

Asking the question “Can you think of a time you had together where you felt some of these wonderful sexual qualities” gets each partner to describe a time they were turned on by their partner and were open to sex. Describing the how and why of that turn on is a great way to incite a mind shift by recalling the senses involved in that memory – how he looked, what he was wearing, where were you, how did it make you feel?. Replacing the idea of a problem with a different picture. Asking each partner to close their eyes while the other describes this time can help to re-live it.

The goal is to replace blame and frustration with longing for that time again, connecting with the people they once were for each other. It can be a start on a different sexual relationship.

So if you are stuck in a nonexistent sexual reality, instead of talking and analyzing the problem, tell each other your wishes and ideal moments. One person tells the story and the other listens with their eyes closed listening to the erotic world of their partner.

Thus ideal memories of the past, can lead to a better sexual experience in the present.


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Affair Counseling

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.

Couples need a path to visualize the end to this tumultuous period. I suggest they not make a decision to leave or stay; urge them not to decide, they are not in a position to make a decision, separate the affair from the divorce.

Task one is Reassurance. And it comes in the form of a promise: that you it won’t be like this forever. I don’t know where you will end up but what you will do in counseling is to hopefully give meaning to whatever happened. What you are going through is normal; it is in the nature of the beast. This is what people go through – read After the Affair by Janis Spring for more examples. Don David Lusterman recommends normalizing the flux of contradictory feelings. For example there may be a sexual hunger that is suddenly unleashed. Most clients are very uncomfortable talking about it. One partner is triggered by panic of loss and they’re talking more about their needs, unmet longings, than they have in years, and that is normal.

Then there are all those questions. The first question to be answered is “Should all questions be asked? Answered?.”  I know you want to know this/this/this, take a moment and know there is a difference between wanting to know and knowing. People will ask questions and not be prepared to live with what they are going to be told. Esther Perel has said “They need someone to say to them, “I can see that you would want to know that; can you imagine yourself living the consequences of knowing? This is can give some space to consider and protect/care for themselves – containing their injured soul.

I do not rush in to ally with the person who is hurt. We don’t want to rush the process with empty answers about why a person did what they did. I acknowledge that there are two people here for whom the predictable future has been disrupted. They are in this together. Neither of them knows where this is going to go. Each one is anxious and restructuring the relationship. Each is anxious about being alone, anxious about the return of the old conflicts, anxious not only about how to get through this but whether they can do it together.



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Attitudes on infidelity

It seems that our attitudes toward premarital sex and extramarital sex have an inverse relationship. The more we tolerate sexual activity before marriage, and people “getting it out of their system,” perhaps the less tolerant we become once one makes a commitment to be monogamous. In other words we feel entitled to sexual freedom before marriage because one day it must end.

The percentage of Americans who say adultery is “morally acceptable” has consistently remained below 10 percent. Yet when the French were asked about it in a 2009 poll, 46% said it was morally acceptable. In spite of this difference in attitude, studies have suggested that the actual rate of infidelity in the U.S. is very similar to that in France. So the level of acceptance of adultery is different, but the percentage of those who do have adultery is the same.

If you want to read more look at John Sides’ blog: “Americans Have Become More Opposed to Adultery. Why?

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Three Outcomes after Infidelity

In my experience there are three basic patterns in the way couples reorganize themselves after an infidelity– 1. they never really get past the affair, 2. they pull themselves up by the bootstraps and let it go, or 3. they leave it far behind.

In some marriages, the affair isn’t a transitional crisis, but a black hole trapping both parties in an endless round of bitterness, revenge, and self-pity. These couples endlessly gnaw at the same bone, circle and recircle the same grievances, reiterate the same mutual recriminations, and blame each other for their agony. Why they stay in the marriage is often as puzzling as why they can’t get beyond their mutual antagonism.

A second pattern is found in couples who remain together because they honor values of lifelong commitment and continuity, family loyalty, and stability. They want to stay connected to their community of mutual friends and associates or have a strong religious affiliation. These couples can move past the infidelity, but they don’t necessarily transcend it. Their marriages revert to a more or less peaceful version of the way things were before the crisis, without undergoing any significant change in their relationship.

For some couples, however, the affair becomes a transformational experience and catalyst for renewal and change. This outcome illustrates that therapy has the potential to help couples reinvent their marriage by mining the resilience and resourcefulness each partner brings to the table.


Originally published on, October 19, 2012

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A weekly sex prescription?

Stories about sex and couples in relationship always capture my attention and this is a good one. One caveat is that there is no ‘normal’ in terms of how much sex a couple ‘should’ be having… however, since sex is the one thing that distinguishes a roommate from a relationship it does need to be happening in some fashion at some frequency.

Couples often feel pressure to have sex as a box to check towards a happy relationship – pressure because it is difficult to fit in to two peoples’ busy lives even without the distraction of children in the home. A research study in Canada studying 2400 people in two different cohorts concluded that once a week is a reasonable goal to set to promote closeness. That’s not to say that if sex happens more than that it is weird – it’s just that any more than once a week does not measurable increase relationship satisfaction. Or in other words, it’s enough bang for the relationship satisfaction buck.

The point is made that a relationship between satisfaction and weekly sex does not mean it is causal – happy couples may just want to have sex more often. Sex is difficult to discuss even in our most intimate relationships. Sharing an article like this can start a conversation and better communication on an important topic so read it for a more in depth discussion!

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More about Boundaries 

All couples deal with boundaries: what is ok and what is not, what is individual, what is ours, and what is public. A relationship consists of roles and rules that we begin to enact at first meeting, so a couple is actually a complicated social system. What are we free to do alone and what do we share? Do we go to bed at the same time? Will we go to my family every Thanksgiving? Do we combine our finances? Whose name is on the deed? There are obvious boundary markers like wedding vows and implicit boundaries which are personal values. Tammy Nelson’s book The New Monogamy explains this very well.

Sometimes these boundary arrangements are talked about directly but usually couples use trial and error to work them out. we work out these arrangements head on, but more often we go by trial and error. Often we see how much we can get away with before activating the other.. “I thought that having lunch with ex-girlfriends was out?” “I thought we’d travel together.” Why don’t you want to stay over at my place?”

A look, a comment, a hurt silence are what we have to interpret. We figure out how often to see each other, how often to talk, and how much sharing is expected. We cull through our respective friendships and decide how important they’re allowed to be now that we have each other. We sort out ex-lovers—do we know about them, talk about them, stay friends with them on Facebook? Whether explicitly or subtly, we outline the boundaries of separateness and togetherness.

In today’s world the concept of commitment is more open to interpretation. So it’s important to have important conversations early in the relationship to confirm and agree where the lines are. These are typically uncomfortable especially because they usually occur when there has been a boundary transgression. So initiating a conversation ahead of time is the better way to go.

Relationship boundaries will come up through the life of the relationship and preferences change depending on life stage and age. It’s good to be flexible and expect that this is a work in progress – an ongoing discussion!



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