7 Relationship Resolutions for 2018. It’s Not Too Late.

2018 is here and we are already approaching the end of January. Whew!! That was fast. As many of us approach the second month of the year you must ask yourself “Am I staying true to my resolutions?” Well if you are in a relationship or marriage I hope you made some resolutions that focus on them. If you didn’t…don’t fret it is not too late.

Here are 7 resolutions to make 2018 the best year yet for your relationship:

1. Thank Each Other MORE Often

Easy, right? You would be surprised how saying “Thank You” more often can have a big effect on your relationship. Take time to thank your partner for all the things they do for you, the house, the kids, etc. It is about recognizing them for their efforts. Now… be careful to not go overboard, but rather see them with thankful eyes. You would be surprised how couples that have been together for years simply fall out of the habit of verbalizing their gratitude. This will make them feel “seen.” You will thank me later.

2. Prioritize Your Quality Time Together

When you wake up in the morning I want you to do one simple thing. That is to think about your partner and prioritize when both of you can spend quality time (QT) together. The truth is you likely wait until you both get home to think about QT, but then you run the risk of simply being too tired, and the only thing you want to spend QT with… is the bed. Instead, leave your electronics in the other room, go to the bedroom when your schedule permits, and spend the time you have been thinking about since that morning together. Plan… then DO!

3. Encourage Common Interest

It is so easy to do things YOU like to do, but when was the last time you learned new hobbies with your significant other? This year, find some common interest that BOTH of you would enjoy. There may be a few trial and error attempts, but once you find an interest you must do it often. If you want to learn more about your partner, then what better way than to have fun with them.

4. Fight Fair

This means refraining from things like attacking each other’s personality or character traits, name calling, criticism, and bringing up past issues into a current tussle. You want to fight about the topic that lead to the argument, and talk about it until there is a feeling agreement or disagreement.

Here is how I recommend stating your issue: “I am sad/annoyed/frustrated/angry about ________. In the future I think it would help if you could ________.”

5. Be Affectionate… Non-Sexually

This one is actually super simple. Are you ready to hear it? Okay… here it is: Sit next to each other more on the couch, at a friend’s house, in a waiting room, etc.

This increases the probability of affection, a commodity often seen far too little in long-term relationships.

6. Have an Honest Conversation About Sex

Ask yourself when was the last time you talked about your sex life openly with each other or have you ever? There are so many assumptions that we carry about sexual intimacy with our partners, and the worst part is that we assume that they know what we want in the bedroom? Resolve by start communicating about sex in 2018. It will take some courage and discomfort to bring this up with each other, so make sure you start with questions that stem from positivity, like, “what do you like the most about our sex life?” and what are your favorite sexual memories with me?”

7. Make Investments in Your Relationship

Your relationship warrants your time, energy, and resources.

Book a couples therapy or a sex therapy session. Read sex and relationship books together simultaneously. Go to marriage and relationship workshops and retreats. The best unions could still benefit from these investments.

It is never too early or too late to start working on your relationship and building a happier, healthier future together.

*Post written by Dr. Angela Jones

(This blog was inspired and referenced several resources: http://www.brides.com, Vanessa Marin, LMFT, and http://www.happywivesclub.com)

5 (Psychologically Beneficial) Reasons to Make Love to Your Husband Tonight

We have all been there – it has been THE longest day at work and you came home to cook dinner, give baths, do homework with the kids, and clean up.  You are utterly exhausted and you finally get your head on the pillow fully expecting to go into a sleep coma for the next 8 hours when you feel your husband curl up next to you with his signature “let’s get it on” move. You respond in the same way your husband has heard so many times before, “Honey, I’m so tired, later, I promise.” Your husband rolls over, disappointed.

This scenario is so common place in many marriages and relationships.  I hear this story in my office with struggling couples all of the time.  Despite the overwhelming research about the benefits of sex in a marriage and how healthy marriages require intimacy, over and over again we choose to forego sex because we are tired.  The truth is-we ARE tired.  More and more we add to our plates in order to keep up with the pace of today’s society.  We prioritize the children and work and church and friends and family but don’t prioritize our sexual relationships with our spouses.  Genetically our husbands are more likely to be ready to “go” despite how overworked they may have been that day.  So what is the difference? Why is it so much easier for us, as women, to put it off? Well, we are built differently than men are.  For many of us it takes much more intentionality than it does for our husbands.

So, why? You’re clearly worn out, burned out, and have another full day of the same tomorrow! Why choose sex over sleep tonight? Here are some good reasons to give in and enjoy rather than call it a night, even for the busiest of us.

  1. Ladies, when your husband is getting sex on a regular basis he is like a well-oiled machine. He can literally see the world more clearly.  He will be more willing to help out and he will take on the world with a new attitude.  Men feel like they can take on any obstacle when they know that their wife finds them sexually attractive and “wants” them.  A positive outlook on life can be life changing for the both of you.
  2. Sex improves your libido. When you have sex with your husband you will eventually begin to desire sex more often.  Remind yourself how good it feels to make love to your husband regularly by starting somewhere, tonight.
  3. If you are tired, having sex will assist in getting you a better night’s sleep. It is easy to lay in bed and start thinking about the day you had and all of the things that you have to do the next day, these anxious thoughts are very likely to keep you up at night and disturb your sleep.  Sex has the opposite effect on you – it relaxes your body and therefore allows for better sleep.
  4. It reduces your stress level. Studies show that having sex lowers stress related blood pressure.  So a bit of fun under the sheets may actually help you deal with that busy next day better than if you skipped it.
  5. Sex makes you feel better about yourself. Some psychologists say that regular sex even improves your self-esteem.  Naturally, feeling wanted and desired by somebody you love and care for improves positive feelings about yourself.

So go ahead, give it a roll in the sheets tonight and take a look at the benefits it will have on you and your marriage.

Couples Therapy 101: Staying jolly through the holiday season

Let’s face it-the holidays can be very overwhelming once you become an adult. Gone are the carefree days waiting for Santa the night before Christmas, now you worry about how you are going to pay for all of it. Christmas is now filled with finances, time crunches, crazy holiday shoppers, and for some the worst – the in-laws are coming to stay over! The holidays are filled with extended family and extended family can be a touchy and emotionally charged subject for many couples. Hey, you may LOVE your family to pieces and cannot wait to spend the holiday with them, but your spouse…not so much. You may LOVE your spouse’s family but an extended amount of time with them can drive you to madness. It can be difficult to determine the best way to deal with your frustrations around the relatives and many times those frustrations can be projected onto your spouse. This can put an additional strain on your relationship at a time when stress levels are already high. So, what are the best ways to stay jolly through the holiday visitors and ensure you are able to enjoy your spouse during the season? Try these tips to ease the holiday stress and make sure the memories from this season are the best yet!

  • Give them a break: If your relatives are the ones visiting make sure you are communicating in advance about all the details of the visit. If you have activities you would like to enjoy while your family is in town let your spouse know. Be specific about the activities that are most important for you to enjoy with your spouse and give them a break on some of the ones that are not. If you enjoy shopping with your parents and you know your spouse hates it—give them the day off. Suggest he or she do something they enjoy doing. This will take the pressure off of you to enjoy shopping and your spouse will come back renewed after enjoying a break.
  • Change your expectations: Your partner’s family is likely not going to change. If you’re expecting that one of these years a family much like your own will walk through the door, you are setting unrealistic expectations. Embrace them for who they are and hold on to the fact that they created the person you spend your life with – they have done something right!
  • Set boundaries: Discuss what has been a touchy area in previous visits and find a middle ground. You are a team so you need to present a united front. Respect your partner’s boundaries and understand that this may be a difficult time for them.
  • Remember it’s temporary: This is just a short season and they will be gone before you know it. Soon enough you will be free to enjoy your home and your spouse again. Dwelling on the negative will only make the time go by slower.
  • Have FUN and share it: So you love to play golf and your father-in-law has never tried it. Set up a tee time with him. It’s a lot harder to be unhappy when you are doing something you love. People appreciate it when you take the time to share with them something that you enjoy and even if he is not into it – you’re still on the course! Enjoy! He may just enjoy it too.
  • Fight Fair: So you are trying your best but something a relative did has you all worked up. Remember to communicate this with your spouse without attacking their character or family. Attacking their family can be just as bad as attacking them directly. Voice your opinion about the direct behavior that is bothering you. Behavior can be changed but character is much more difficult and words are not easily taken back. Don’t let this one holiday set you up for a disastrous year!
  • Catch the holiday spirit: Be thankful for family-there are many out there that wish they could have one more holiday with their annoying cousin, hyperactive nephew or weird uncle. Life is short-make memories that will last.

Attention Men: The Dangers of Pornography

When a couple comes to my office because the husband is (or promised to stop) viewing pornography, it is usually the wife who has been so hurt that she insists that they seek help. The husband usually comes in contrite, embarrassed, feeling shameful, or even defensive of his choice to view it (“All guys do it.”). I know that I am stereotyping here, because viewing pornography is not only a male issue, but statistically speaking it is much more common in men than women. Therefore, I will be speaking directly to males here. If your situation is different, and it is the woman who is viewing pornography, please know that these same truths still apply.

After many years of dealing with these situations I have come to several conclusions, but the bottom line is that viewing pornography will have disastrous implications on a couple’s sex life.

I want to begin my listing of the ways that viewing porn is hurtful by stating my overall premise:  Pornographic content is pure fantasy and totally unreal. Most of the men reading this will view that statement as obvious and would probably tell me that, because they know it is unrealistic, it doesn’t create any problems for them. That is the first problem: denial and self-deception.

Here are the real ways that viewing porn hurts your sex life.

1. It hurts your wife. Looking at pictures of someone else does not lead her to desire you more. I have so many painful, tearful, angry, quotes from wives that I would like to share here, but I won’t because I want to focus on how it hurts you sexually as a man. (Maybe I’ll write another piece on the ways it hurts wives and relationships.) For now, the fact that it does hurt them needs to inform your decision. I have heard many a woman painfully say that her husband’s viewing of porn, after he knows how hurtful it is to her and their relationship, means to her that he discounts, devalues, and ignores her feelings. The conclusion they reach is that “I am not important to him!”

2. It leads to false beliefs. At a conscious or unconscious level, the following beliefs or fears become true for you.

The sexual performance of the male actors becomes the measure for your own performance. “If he can do it that long, that well, that way, then I should be able to also.” There is also the possible belief that creeps in that “I would be able to if I had a wife that looked like that woman.” If you take those ideas into your sex life, you will miss the point completely about yourself and the necessity of a trusting, loving relationship for creating the atmosphere for healthy sexual intimacy.

Another hurtful factor is that the physical endowment of the actors becomes the standard of measurement for your own equipment. It isn’t only bigger, but it seems to function better and longer, too. It is important to understand that many men of all ages sometimes, or regularly, have difficulty getting or staying aroused. The porn stars certainly don’t seem to have this issue, at least during “that” take of the video or picture. This idea puts a lot of pressure on men, and it increases anxiety if they fear arousal issues. The anxiety then creates the almost certainty of difficulty. Men don’t tell each other about the times that it occurs for them, and that it especially happens during times of stress.

Come on now, you know this is what you think. You know intellectually that the actors, male and female, are chosen for their very specific, atypical physical properties. Unconsciously, they become standards to which you, or your wife, can’t measure up.  That has a very negative impact on your view of yourself as a real man, and you wonder if you or your wife can view you as “enough” in terms of size or performance.

3. It contributes to unrealistic expectations. Viewing pornography can also lead men to mistakenly believe that everyone, men and women, are always wanting and are always ready to have fantastic sex. It sure appears that way in porn. But the operative word here is “appear”. In the real world, surveys as well as clients, indicate that the frequency with which people have sex varies extremely. I am often asked the question, “what is the average frequency that couples have sex per week?” That question is irrelevant! Some people have sex annually, and some have sex three times a day. The only thing that is relevant is that people have sex as often as they both prefer. That is the only number that is important. When we compare ourselves to some “norm”, we miss the point. The norm is what we decide that we prefer for us.

4. It leads to misunderstanding. There can also develop a view about women that they “should enjoy” walking around stark naked and fully comfortable without any clothes. Men, if you think that, you are clueless about the epidemic of body image issues and eating disorders that many, if not most, women battle. There really are women who do enjoy that, and in my profession they are usually referred to as “exhibitionists”. The statistic on those women run somewhere around 2%.

In the real world women do have concerns that don’t seem to be a part of  fantasy women’s thinking. Real women consider things like relationships, their own sexual preferences and satisfaction, health issues (STD’s), and preventing pregnancy. At least they do if they are mature and emotionally healthy. Expecting your wife to think and feel differently will hurt your sex life right after it has hurt your relationship with her.

5. It limits intimacy. You will painfully and sadly limit the pleasure that is possible in your sex life if you don’t spend time (around 30 minutes) enjoying each other’s bodies in pleasurable but non-sexual ways before your begin using your genitals. Learn how to touch her, massage her, kiss her how and where she enjoys, or anything else you know she desires.  What is most important is that it sends the message to her that you care deeply about her, her pleasure, and that you are focused on her, not just getting what you selfishly want. Because women value the sensual, loving, and lengthy lead time before intercourse, they rarely enjoy the kind of sex you watch in porn.

Want a better sex life? Then spend at least half your time in bed not using what’s between your legs. “Pornography ignores whole-body sensuality,” says sex therapist Dennis Sugrue. “That’s a big reason why porn-style sex isn’t satisfying. That’s also a big reason why so many women hate it.”

If you think you might have a problem with pornography or are worried about your sexual intimacy, you might want to consult a therapist.

Decoding Valentine’s Day

By Jill Early, M Ed, LPC Intern and Jerry Duncan, M Div, LMFT

Valentine’s Day is a time designated for demonstrating how much we value another person. Some people associate it with things like chocolates, jewelry, expensive dinners, and/or greeting card companies making billions of dollars.  Unfortunately, it is also a time when many people feel anxious about whether they are right in their “guessing” what would demonstrate that sense of being valued for the other person.

Therein lies the problem in most relationship decisions.  We tend to operate as though “I should just know” or “he/she should just know” when it comes to most decisions regarding what helps the other person feel loved in a close relationship.  This could include holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, weekends, social preferences, or simply where to go to dinner. This belief often leads to a fear of simply asking or simply telling each other our preferences. We act as if telling each other what we prefer diminishes the thoughtfulness of what is given, done, or expressed, and then “it doesn’t mean as much”.

This belief also reveals another relationship challenge called “ignorance”.  That word may sound pretty harsh and is laden with emotion; therefore a definition is important for clarity.  It means the absence of information.  Our culture, our families, our schools, (pick someone to blame if you want), only teach us to talk, not communicate.  If we ask for the solution to above-mentioned problem, most don’t know the answer because we were never taught or had it modeled for us.

The solution is to learn how to:

  • express our honest feelings
  • ask for information that we need but don’t have
  • discover what another person INTERPRETS as being an expression of love, adoration, and being highly valued

Consider these steps:

  • Both partners read the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
  • Discuss what you read
  • Clearly TEACH the other person what helps YOU genuinely believe you are loved

An example for Valentine’s Day that can be applied to everyday situations might sound like this:

“Because I love you so much, it is really important to me that I make Valentine’s Day the best day it can be for you in ways that you would most want for me to do them.  Would you be willing to let me know what some of those ways might be?”  The answers will vary widely from the usual to the unexpected, from jewelry/chocolate/flowers to vacuum out my car, clean the big window in the den, give me a massage that isn’t sexual, or just ignore it altogether.  The list of answers could be infinite and surprising.

May you have the courage to ask then act on what you learn.  May your Valentine’s Day and your relationships be more rewarding and intimate because of your efforts!

Dating Danger Signs

Do not be fooled, this article is for you! Whether you are currently in a dating relationship, hoping to date soon, or even if you are in a long-term, committed relationship and want to be able to provide good advice to your loved ones who are in the dating world, pay attention to this information!

We’ve all heard it said, “He’s the one. He’s perfect.” As joyful as those words sound and how desperately we long for the fairy tale love story, the butterflies do eventually flutter away. We find that this “perfect” person is actually human and does make mistakes after all. Every relationship will have its trials and tribulations and every couple will have differences. However, it’s extremely important to know when these differences are too much? The red flags below are significant signs that your relationship is at risk or has the potential to become hazardous.

Your relationship may be in dangerous waters if you:

• Participate in frequent arguments over the same issues.
• Get involved physically sooner than you desire.
• Experience abuse of any kind: verbal, physical, emotional, or sexual.
• Avoid sensitive subjects in fear of hurting your partner’s feelings and/or starting an argument.
• Notice an absence of spiritual compatibility.
• Remain in the relationship out of fear.
• Always do what your partner wants to do and have few shared interests.
• Find the people who love you are strongly against the relationship.

Beware if your partner:

• Displays a lack of trust: overly jealous, suspicious, or questions your motives.
• Continually makes excuses for not keeping a job or lacking money.
• Responds with angry outbursts, extreme reactions, or highly defensive remarks.
• Constantly criticizes who you are or what you do.

If any of these danger signs resonate for you, PAY ATTENTION. Take a step back and further evaluate the situation. Have the confidence to ask for help. Trust yourself. If your heart tells you that you need out, RUN, don’t walk!