Category Archives: Relationships

Dating, relating, cohabiting, marriage and divorce. Includes tips for creating and maintaining healthy intimate relationships.

How Do You Respond To Your Spouse?

Couple Fights in Bed

I like to say that relationships are more often about the elephant in the living room than the tiger in the bedroom. That elephant can be ignored all day long, but he’s still in the living room. And his name is emotional intimacy. But couples indirectly do talk about the elephant all day long in metaphors, gestures, touch and facial expressions — round about ways of asking for love.

Drs. John and Julie Schwartz Gottman, marriage researchers and therapists would probably agree with me. Their ground breaking work on couples communication styles and partner’s bids for connection shows that long term marital happiness can be connected to the husband’s ability to respond to his wife’s bids for closeness. In recording data from an “apartment” laboratory, psychologist Gottman discovered that mundane conversations contain many bids for emotional connection — sometimes as many as 100 bids in ten minutes. “These bids can be a question, a look, an affectionate touch on the arm or any single expression that says, “I want to feel connected to you,” says Gottman. “A response to a bid can be a turn toward, away or against someone’s request for emotional connection.”

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For example, consider a man who comes home from work and his wife says, “How was your day?” There are many ways to pose the question that run the gamut from sarcastic “How was YOUR day (implying that hers was worse) to a sweet, earnest inquiry to know more about a lover. And there are many ways to respond. From a curt “Fine,” to a “Great, honey! How was yours?” Add to that simple exchange, body language, facial expression and physical touch, and you can see that couples, even when they are saying nothing, are often saying a lot.

And an ability to turn toward or away from a request can even predict divorce. Research from Gottman’s apartment lab showed that husbands who eventually were divorced ignored the bids from their wives 82 percent of the time compared to 19 percent for men in stable marriages. Women who later divorced ignored their husband’s bids 50 percent of the time while those who remained married only disregarded 14 percent of their husband’s bids.

In the lab and in the therapy room, Dr. Gottman has discovered that many people are emotionally aware, that they lack emotional literacy in being able to read the emotional message in facial expressions or voice tone. And this handicap leads the other partner to feel rejected. The good news is that Gottman believes these skills can be learned, and even couples on the brink can find ways back into love.

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How to Criticize and be Heard

criticize_and_be_heard_pm-thumb-270x270There it is. That giant silence between you and your partner. You know you want to tell him what’s bugging you. But will he tune you out, respond with a wall of defenses, or might you actually be heard?

Criticizing in a healthy way is a delicate business. It’s so easy for the recipient of your “gentle shaping” to perceive it as an attack, and shoot back with a strong defense before the full value of the words sink in. It’s also really hard for the communicator of a criticism to use kind enough language. Too often, our criticisms come in the form of an angry explosion after a buildup of irritation. Or, perhaps you have been taught not to express your needs, so that when you finally do, guilty feelings cause a kind of confrontational tone — as if you are trying to convince yourself that it’s okay to criticize.

Continue reading How to Criticize and be Heard

The Art of Forgiveness

women_sex_11161There’s no way around it, when someone has wronged us, it hurts. It often hurts a lot for a very long time. The injury could be minor, though profound, like a betrayal by a friend, or it could be major, like a physical assault. The point of the saying is that, no matter the injury, we can’t truly move on until we learn to forgive. And that’s a very tough walk. Here are a few thoughts on the art of forgiveness and how we can all learn to cultivate it.

First of all, think of forgiveness as a gift to yourself, not a gift to your offender. When a deep injury is done to us, we’ll never recover until we forgive. It is a way to clear a blockage in our minds and move forward with new knowledge and new growth. We are a more evolved person after we forgive, and that’s our gift to ourselves.

Forgiveness requires empathy. It is essential that you begin the forgiveness process by putting yourself in the shoes of your offender. Imagine that pain and fear are behind his or her anger. Imagine a small child inside your enemy who is as confused as you are about the injury. Imagine what it must feel like to walk with the guilt of having hurt someone. It doesn’t matter if your offender will ever actually get to the conscious place of feeling guilt and remorse. He or she need not seek your forgiveness in order for you to have a transformation. This process is about you. But it is helpful to come up with some explanation for your offender’s heinous action that feels rational to you. This is your mental journey. So, whether you imagine their bad childhood, their feelings of racial or gender persecution, or their feelings of envy toward you, find a reason for their bad behavior.

 

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Now, from that place of understanding, make a conscious decision to forgive that person. Create a private action that supports your decision. Write an unsent letter to them, light a candle and say a prayer in their name, or simply stick a post-it on your bathroom mirror that says “I forgive (insert name) I have feelings of love for (insert name).” This is a secret act but it’s a powerful action for brain change. For a few weeks, return daily to these private actions of forgiveness. Reread that letter. Relight that candle. Say the words on the post-it out loud. This is a way to rewire your brain.

The biggest step toward forgiveness is to express it to your offender. Whether you do it in an email (easiest) on the phone or in person (best, if possible) it must be done so that you can move on. And the tricky part of forgiveness is this: to express forgiveness without expressing blame. Your words should focus on your own feelings of hurt rather than the act that caused the injury. So, instead of saying, “I forgive you for stealing from me, you jerk,” you might say something like, “I felt so betrayed when I lost that money. But now I am letting go of those feelings. I want the best for you.” This is your journey and this higher level communication will speak to the highest level of your offender’s personality.

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And, be reminded that forgiveness in not a magic trick to change someone else. Even if you change, the other person may not. And that’s okay. And finally, know that forgiveness takes maintenance. During future life stresses, old feelings about this injury may bubble up again. Each time they do, quietly walk those feelings back to bed with the same techniques. Eventually enough time will pass that those memories will lose their emotional punch. Forgiveness is the most mentally freeing experience. I encourage you to try it.

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How to Make Your Relationship Happier

Research has led some couples astray. Couple Fights in BedIn plenty of studies, couples who are happier also have more sex. Knowing that finding, it would make sense that having more sex should lead to increased feelings of happiness. But it turns out that having sex specifically to improve feelings of well being in a relationship more often back fires. Instead unhappy couples were left feeling tired and less interested in sex.

The truth is, happy people have more sex, and if you want to know how to make your relationship happier, there are many factors, unrelated to the bedroom, that can help. To name a few:

• A firm work/life boundary (cell phones off at home)

• Regular exercise (love those endorphins)

• Less isolation (more friends and family at the table)

• Music

But are there things that science tells us couple can clearly do more of to increase relationship satisfaction? Turns out there are two big ones: Frequent kissing and hugs of long duration. Surprisingly, frequency of kissing is linked to better relationships even more than frequency of sex. And, long bear hugs, the kind where bodies melt into each other, seem to help us release a dopamine in the brain.

So, if you’re relationship is in the doldrums, forget about high-pressured sex. Instead, turn off technology, and snuggle together for a cozy hug.

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Dr. Patti Britton: A Sex Positive Coach

Dr. Patti ImageI know. Who really sees a sexologist, right? Apparently plenty of people. I mean, if there are doctors for our mental health, our nutrition, our physical health, why not a doctor who specializes in our sexual health. That’s why I invited pioneering sexologist and sex coach, Dr. Patti Britton to join the  Love Lab LIVE! (Santa Monica, April 18th.) At the show you’ll be able to ask Dr. Brittain anything about sex, but here’s a sneak peak at her specialty.

DR. WENDY: As a sexologist, what would you say your most important role is?

DR. PATTI: I hold the space for my clients to discover who they truly are as sexual beings. I like to call it “Sexual Self Realization.” I am a clinician, coach, educator, trainer, speaker and advocate for positive sexuality. What I love most is coming from the sexological perspective: sex positive, client-driven, depathologizing, empowerment-based, whole person centered, seeing the center of a person’s life–the sexual component– like a bulls eye in which when they heal the sexual patterns, they heal the whole self, and embracing what is; we don’t ever get rid of parts of ourselves we learn to manage them. I work primarily in a modality I created, known as MEBES: Mind, Emotions, Body/body image/behaviors, Energy and Spirit.

DR. WENDY: What is the most common sexual problem presented in your practice?

DR. PATTI: I work with over 46 different sexual concerns, but I like to specialize in these four: Older virgin males; sexless couples; pre orgasmic women and Boomers. I host an Internet radio show with my partner, Dr. Robert Dunlap, co founder of Sex Coach University, known as “TheBoomDoctors.com” where we talk about all things related to the lives of Boomers, including sex.

DR. WENDY: If there is only one thing that a couple can do to improve their sex lives, what would that be?

DR. PATTI: Touch. I find that most people are touch deprived; sex is more than just mechanics and sometimes moving into sensual touch is the key for reconnecting with their own sexual expression. I wrote an Idiot’s Guide to Sensual Massage in which I talk about the Touch Continuum, and deconstruct for clients and students how important is touch and what those 5 different types and levels of touch mean. I’ll have more to say, at Love Lab LIVE!

DR. WENDY: Dr. Patti will be taking your question live at Love Lab LIVE! on Saturday, April 18th at The EDYE Theater in Santa Monica, California. Get your tickets here.

DR. WENDY WALSH IS AVAILABLE FOR TELEPHONE RELATIONSHIP COACHING. TO SCHEDULE, PLEASE CLICK HERE AND COMPLETE THE BOX ON THE LEFT. SHE’LL PERSONALLY RESPOND.

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