You don't know who you are projecting onto a partner at any given moment, that is still unfinished business and that's one of the reasons why I spent so much time with sexual histories, let's say, is to start to identify the narratives that rise to the surface when people are curious and the first memory of sexuality all the way to now. And what are the ones that still carries so much meaning about self or other or sexuality or intimacy or trust or that still is unfinished so that with the partner, sometimes it's not your trusted partner you're making love with that night it becomes your father.
Hello and welcome. I'm Shane Parrish and this is the Knowledge Project, a podcast exploring the ideas, methods and mental models that help you master the best.
What other people have already figured out, as some of you have no doubt noticed, recently we started exploring more diverse subjects. The Knowledge Project aims to explore pretty much everything from science and history to relationships and decision making, all with the goal of helping you better understand yourself and the world around you so that you can live a more meaningful and conscious life. We truly want to master the best of what other people have already figured out, and that's not limited to one particular domain.
To learn more and stay up to date on new episodes, go to F-stop blog podcast. Farnam Street puts together a weekly newsletter that I think you'll love. It's called Brain Food and it comes out every Sunday, much like this podcast. It's high signal, timeless and mind-expanding you can read what you've been missing at F-stop Blogs newsletter. Today, I'm speaking with Suzanne Icelandair, a psychotherapist and sexual therapist in New York who also teaches at the Acromion Institute. This conversation took place in Suzanne's office in New York.
What interested me most about talking to Suzanne was her work on narratives, the stories that we tell ourselves that shape what we see and how we behave.
Not only do we have a narrative about who we are as a person, but we have a narrative about our partner and our relationship and even what sex should be.
Narratives are interesting to me because they affect all aspects of our lives. If you want to understand someone, you need to understand the narrative they tell themselves about themselves.
I was curious as to how narratives affect couples and how we can change those narratives.
What we primarily talk about relationships, the lessons here apply to all aspects of our life, including how to replace the narratives, how to change them. When the age of this conversation is fascinating, I think you'll enjoy it. It's time to listen and learn. The Knowledge Project is sponsored by Medlab for a decade, Medlab has helped some of the world's top companies and entrepreneurs build products that millions of people use every day. You probably didn't realize that at the time, but odds are you've used an app that they've helped design or build apps like Slack, Coinbase, Facebook Messenger, Oculus, Lonely Planet and many more Medlab ones to bring their unique design philosophy to your project.
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Suzanne, how would you explain what you do for a living? I say I'm a couple and sex therapist mostly, even though I do do individual therapy, but the majority of my writing and my teaching and the majority of my clinical work is with couples. Now, what are the most common problems that couples come to you as? Almost all couples, whether it's they have sexual issues or or other issues, usually will say communication. That's one of people's most favorite presenting descriptions is they'll say we need help with communication, which is the general catchall kind of bucket.
Does that mean, like I'm saying something and my partner doesn't understand or doesn't agree with me?
Well, see, when you unpack, we need communication help. It can mean, well, I like apples and he likes oranges. Right. We're having trouble with differences. So it might not even be communication is really the problem. It's that they're not able or they don't have the skills to be able to hear each other out, to be able to then find compromises, which is a big skill in couples. So it may not even be that they don't even know each other that well, that they're not communicating each other, you know, about themselves that well.
It could be that they don't know how to manage differences, to find compromises, that they may even feel that their differences mean they should be breaking up, that they're not compatible, as opposed to how do you manage to deal with differences. It's a rare couple that everybody is exactly the same. In fact, that probably isn't that healthy if people were like carbon copies of each other. So but that's the catch. All phrase is it's rare a couple will come in and not have communication be part of it is the communication.
A skill is in. People are lacking. The skill or communication is just a general term for all the problems that people are having. It's more the latter, I think, at least initially, once I help people begin to unpack that and understand what you mean by communication, because when people say we need help with communication, I don't say, oh, yes, I understand what you mean. I often say, tell me what you mean by that.
And I might even say, you tell me to one of the partners, you tell me what you mean. And, you know, if you have a different definition of communication, that's fine, too. Very early on, no matter what the presenting problem is, I usually want them to each tell me their definition of whatever that presenting problem is and start to normalize and even encourage that. There could be two different perspectives on it so that people can begin to if they're not that differentiated, it's gold that they can learn how to be more differentiated, which means really say what your truth is, even if you're afraid it's bad news for your partner.
Let's create the safety here to get it out, because whatever way you're not saying truly what you need or what you don't want or whatever is creating probably why you're in my office in the first place. What are the reasons that people don't speak truth to their partner? I mean, I imagine some of the common ones would be I don't feel safe doing that. I don't want to hurt them. No, I don't want to hurt them.
Or I feel personally so ashamed about whatever the secret is or this truth is that I don't I don't think I can bear hearing myself say this out loud to my partner. So even if the partner really proves to be truly a loving, nonjudgmental partner, that doesn't mean that the self is that understanding. So it could be more of a conflict within the self about why someone can't put words to it. That's why with couples often, whether they're especially if they present with sexual issues, but even if not, sometimes I will do some individual sessions for history or just for them to tell me a little bit more about a particular problem, because sometimes they really need to feel less concern about an audience and the partner.
And I could be a little too much to share some truths. And if they can get it out with me in a city with a safer kind of conversation that I can offer, that I'm not going to be reactive to what they have to say, like a partner could, that then I could help them bring it into the couple sessions. I imagine it's a really good sign if you care about somebody enough that you don't want to hurt them. How do you work through somebody whose primary motive is I don't want to hurt my partner?
And how is that different from somebody who's I don't want to reveal the truth to myself? Yeah, because I think it is basically I think is it like once I said it's true. And then if I don't say it, it's not true. Yeah, partially. I mean, when you think about, let's say, a person. Well, you know, here's a more dramatic moment. Let's say you have a homosexual man, the gay man who got married heterosexually to either because he couldn't bear it or he never came out or he's hoping it will go away.
And now it's 20 years later and either they have no sex life because he really just can't do it or. He's having outside sexual activity with men that he's lying about or keeping secret and feeling terrible about it. I mean, there could be so many different variations. And how is he going to bring that into a long term relationship with a wife that as a person he truly loves and admires and is the mother of his children and he might have all these other things about his life that that is so meaningful and he doesn't want to lose.
Imagine that. That's a pretty rough one kind of truth to bring out. And for many of those partners with those kinds of secrets, that's devastating for many of the partners there, like how could I even have not known this? And what does that mean? This isn't something I can even make better. Like let's say the big secret was an affair. If he was having an affair with another woman, let's say at least the wife still could be devastated.
But she could think, well, maybe I'm going to fight for him if I'm not going to, like, reject him and throw him out. But like something like someone whose sexual orientation is different than the partner they've been married to. That's a big one.
That's one of those really painful because it makes you question the foundation of the person that you're with, like, do I actually know this person to.
That's right. And even question my own reality. Like some partners will say, how could I not have seen that? How can there must have been clues? What am I in denial so it can make a person question their own reality, their own truth retrospectively?
Are there are there clues?
Sometimes there are and sometimes there aren't. That's true with affairs or let's say sexual orientation, secrets or kinks. There's so many different secrets people can hold. What do you think? We're not more honest about that, but. Well, some of the secrets, unfortunately, that's why I think it's important to have some individual sessions with partners is some people aren't under the impression that the secrets are going to be so devastating. And some of them could possibly be, let's say, if it's finally a gay man who maybe has to leave his wife to to be happy, but that's more a little more extreme.
But let's say it might be a sexual difference that really could be negotiated or sometimes it's a sexual difference that a partner may assume that their partner can handle. And they never gave the partner a chance because they kept as a shameful secret for so long, like with some kink things. Or there could be all sorts of different, let's say, sexual preferences. People could have that. They never they have so much self judgment about it or they were shamed about it with other partners prior to this partner that they don't even take the chance to share.
And that's my job, is to say, can I help you maybe bring this into the couple's work or sex therapy work in a way that might actually not be as desperate or, you know, an outcome as you think would be? Can you walk me through a little bit of the ethics of that where you would know a secret and be talking with a couple that doesn't want to be disclosed, but you're actually working for the couple? Like, how does that.
Well, that's a really good that's a very good question. The therapist will ask a lot of times because they get very anxious about secrets. But secrets and therapy in couples therapy is a major issue you have to deal with and would often you. What's most important is before I meet with halves of couples, with partners, I talk about secrets. So it's open. And if you read enough of the literature, all couples therapists have different ways of dealing with this.
But the most important underlying factor is that you're honest with the couple that secrets could exist. Obviously, you don't know what secrets do exist. When you first see the couple. You have no idea. You have a discussion about. I like to talk to couples in the beginning about secrecy versus privacy, for instance. I think a lot of people either have no clue that those are two different things or they have real different definitions of what privacy or secrecy is, which is really interesting that they never realized their part, their partner saw differently.
But when I do want to do individual history taking, especially with sexual issues, I do very extensive sexual histories, like I'm talking three, four or five perhaps sessions individually with each partner, because I really want to give them a chance to sit with me from their very first memory of sexuality, which could go way back to five years old, all the way through their whole history, up to how they became a sexual beat now. So I really take my time with that.
So I do say before I do that, I'd like to do those individual histories and how would we want to handle the material? Because either one of you might tell me secrets or things that are private privacy versus secrecy. Let's talk about that. And who do you feel comfortable with me holding those so that many couples therapists will talk to clients about? Can I hold things? Do you do you trust that I can hold them with the couple in mind?
Because if someone has a shameful secret that's impacting on the couple and they don't tell me if there isn't room for them to tell me that. I don't know if they're going to reach the goals that they need to reach, but it is very you have to have a tolerance for certain secrets, like when someone tells you they're having an affair. What if someone tells you that they're gay when they're married to, you know, someone of the opposite sex?
Those are those are bigger secrets. You secrets are all relative, aren't they? But versus they had an affair 30 years ago and it's ended and ended, you know, how would you define secrecy versus privacy? Privacy is an area of human experience that does not impact the couple negatively, especially in terms of understood or implied truth, you know, between them or agreement. Probably the most common is let's say you have a monogamy agreement and and that's been agreed upon consciously and someone's breaking that monogamy agreement.
That's probably the most common kind of that wouldn't be private. That would be secret in the sense that that would be that would negatively impact upon the couple. And it's something that is affecting the couple that's different than, let's say someone masturbates and doesn't want the partner to know when they masturbate. That's more privacy or what they fantasize about when they masturbate. That's more private. But, you know, that's my definition. But what's very interesting is what's more important is what's their definition.
Right? Because partners may have different ideas on what privacy is. I've had some some clients tell me that a partner, their partner, should never, ever fantasize about anyone but them. And if they did, then that shouldn't be private. That should come out in therapy. And we have to deal with that because there's something wrong with it. And when people have said that, I don't sit there and say, well, that's not a good definition.
Let me tell you mine. I say, well, what do you think about it to the partner? You know, what do you think about that? Because it only matters in the context of that relationship. If that partner says, oh, yeah, I have the same definition, he better not have that fantasy either, then I'm not going to mess with that totally unless I determine that that kind of very particular definition of privacy is impacting negatively upon the couple or what their goal is.
And then I might want to make that connection not a judgmental way, but say, you know, I think that maybe that could be affecting why you're not as open sexually with each other, because maybe you're very afraid that if another fantasy comes in, you shut down because you you know that you're going to be betraying your partner or your own definition of what proper privacy or, you know, fantasies are. So it's all about assessment of how might that definition of privacy or secrecy be affecting what the couples coming in with as a problem or what they're trying to achieve.
You've been doing this a long time. I'm sure you're not surprised by a lot of the stuff that I usually tell people when they struggle telling me a secret. I say, trust me, I've heard it all. And not that that probably is true in the whole universe. But I've heard a lot over 30 years I've been practicing. So, yeah, I've heard a lot.
I'm curious as to what you know now about couples that make it that you didn't know when you started. Is it situational as in sort of somebody homosexual or there was an affair? Is it communicative as in we're just not hearing each other and we're not understanding each other? Is that the willingness, the sheer willingness by both partners to be all in? I don't know what it would be. I'm curious as to.
Yeah, I'm probably going to give you such a disappointing answer. You know, I always tell people that when I train even graduate students, they say, you know, the longer I practiced, the less I can really predict how a couple's going to turn out. I've become more humble over time and I've been more surprised over time. So couples that you think sort of like in your head would make it, don't make it.
And couples that you're that says I know how in the world could these two people who come in and are so mean to each other are so reactive, are so disconnected. And and those are the cases really that I think I've seen the most change is I'm a very more long term in the trenches type of therapist. I tend to see people more longer term. And I and I'm an analyst. I do psychoanalytic kind of work, not just behavioral sex therapy and couples therapy.
I'm kind of a mixture of all those. So I really appreciate the unfolding over time of levels of awareness and also especially the time needed to deal, let's say, with trauma. If someone's been sexually abused or or physically abused as a kid or experienced abandonment or death or illness in the family, or there's so many kinds of attachment, we call it wounds or trauma. And the impact of that could really manifest so difficultly now in a couple. But if.
Will allow themselves to unfold. It could take years, but people can turn corners, and I've seen people turn corners that if you took the videotape in the first session, you would have said, I can't believe the same couple. Is it is it because being mean to each other is sort of an indication of where you're at versus something that might be deeper in the sense of like one person's emotional and the other person is like not emotional or.
Well, those are more of the surface reasons. Deeper reasons can be what we call in more analytic work. They could be projecting onto the partner, not knowing this is an unconscious process so that with more intimacy and people can be very confused about this, because they say to me, Suzanne, we never had this problem before we got married or we never had this problem before we moved in together. We never had this problem before. We had our first child or, you know, or we bought our first house.
And they get confused because they think, well, isn't it progress when you get married or have a kid or move in together? And then why would things get worse when they get better and actually know it would make sense. It could get worse, not better. Why? Because the more committed you become, the more I often say to people like with sex therapy, you know what? Well, sex is group sex. And they laugh. And I said, well, this is what I mean.
You think you're in bed alone with your partner. You're not you're in bed with your trauma history or attachment history, your trauma history or attachment history. Your mother and father, if you had whatever the parental couple was, their relationship and what you internalized about it, how they treated you, all your sibling relationships are in there, all the intergenerational transmission of trauma. If your grandmother or grandfather or whatever they were, things that happened there that can be transmitted down the generations, let's say it at all, the intersectionality kinds of wounds, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity.
There are so many things, narratives, I call it narratives in bed with you unconsciously so that you don't know who you are projecting onto a partner at any given moment. That is still unfinished business. And that's one of the reasons why I spent so much time with sexual histories, let's say, is to start to identify the narratives that rise to the surface when people are curious from the first memory of sexuality all the way to now. And what are the ones that still carries so much meaning about self or other or sexuality or intimacy or trust or that still is unfinished so that with the partner, sometimes it's not your trusted partner you're making love with.
That night it becomes your father, who is a rageaholic or an alcoholic, and you could shift into that space, not even know it. And before you know it, you're losing an erection or intercourse becomes painful or you can't have an orgasm that you normally do or you just get turned off or whatever. You go numb. Right. So to make people aware of that is really important. So it's not just all support. You could be mad about what happens today.
We had a fight of the week, but those deeper narratives and the meaning that that they carry is really a bigger picture to get, you know, to get aware of, to become aware of and to be able to shift and change or challenge or heal whatever wounds are behind. Those narratives taught me a little bit about narratives. It sounds in the couples context, maybe leaving sex aside for now, we'll sort of get to that. But I would imagine that there's a narrative the couple has that's external, sort of like the show that they put on other people.
There's some informatively of the performative nature of it. I have a theory that the happier a couple looks on social media, the less happy they are.
But know that might not be a bad, you know, hypothesis, the more they go out of their way to demonstrate how happy they are. That's great.
But then there's the narrative that each partner in that relationship has about not only themselves but their partner, and then their relationship is a separate entity. Yeah, talk to me about can you expand on that or. Yeah, there are all these levels of narratives and if anyone wants to read about it or I'm very there are many theories about narrative therapy. It's been around for a long time. But one of the favorite people that I draw a lot of my work from in my writing representing is Michael White's work.
I don't know if you know him, but Michael White was unfortunately passed away, was a family therapist from Australia, and he developed first with Michael Epstein. And then he did a lot on his own of a narrative therapy and family therapy. And and he talked more about how answerers can be generated from more political or social outside of ourselves. What society tells us that we internalize and then can make us feel broken or dysfunctional or less then. But when you think about it, the family as a community to the family can impart narratives onto a child, right.
Or or even a relationship can impart narratives onto a couple or partners in the relationship. Like I'm very curious how people the minute I meet them and I say, why are you here? They're going to begin to tell me their narrative. Right? They're going to tell me a story. They're going to say we're a sex couple or we can't communicate or we're not compatible or whatever, right. So and then that's a story. But then I want them to unpack that that narrative or we can't or no sex couple is a very major one.
Right. Or we're a low desire. OK, walk me through how you would unpack that.
Well, when it comes to a desire is a really wonderful marriage that is all married desire because desire only exists since the 1970s. Prior to 1970, there was no narrative for desire and sexuality because prior to the 70s we had Masters and Johnson's model of what makes everybody sexually health, what sexual health looks like, and a masters. And Johnson's model desire wasn't part of it. What was their model? Their model just started with didn't even use the word arousal.
They looked at the body, not really psychology as much. And then there would be a plateau and then an orgasm is an orgasm based model of orgasm was in their model and excitement was in their model, which they meant physical excitement, not subjective arousal, which is a different thing. But anyway, so it was a very kind of body based. The body gets excited, you know, penises get hard, vulvas, get wet, whatever, and then you have an orgasm and everybody should follow that that one model.
So desire wasn't part of it. It wasn't until Helen Singer Caplan's work in the 1970s and 80s that she said and she was an analyst and a sex therapist here in New York. And she said something's missing from this model. So she came out with a Triphase model, three steps also, but beginning with desire. So think about prior to that model. And then that model was integrated into the DSM or diagnostic manuals. All doctors and therapists were saying, OK, this is now would have of this sexuality is this is the narrative of healthy sexuality.
Now, you have desire disorders because prior to having the component of desire, you how could you have the story that I have a dysfunction. It didn't exist prior to that. You either had excitement problems that had erectile problems or women couldn't get excited, but not desire or you had orgasm problems. So it's you know, we know this. I mean, I think most people know that medical diagnoses are stories and narratives. Right. And they tell us what makes us sick or what makes us well.
And when they come up with a new diagnosis now, you can have a whole nother family of narratives of sickness. So it's true with sex, as can be with any any other kind of diagnosis. But that desire component since the 1980s, I think is one of the major narratives I believe creates problems in couples, because most couples come in with desire disorders, either discrepant desire. One person has a higher desire, the other one stuck with the, quote, lower desire role, or they come in with the no desire couple.
And many people believe that that makes them dysfunctional and sexually broken. So a lot of the narrative, what I would do in the first session of a couple comes in and says, oh, we're no sex couple, we have no desire, we're broke. And I might say, what makes you think you have to have a desire to have a sexual life, a fulfilling sexual life? Just that question, that's how a narrative therapist works, is you start to ask questions that makes people aware that that's a story.
It's not a fact. Is the opposite of that sort of like scheduling sex, like we're just going to have sex every Friday? No, actually the later models after Helen's singer Caplan's model, there are two other models that I think are really important. One was by Joanne Newlyn in the later 80s, and then the other is Rosemarie. Vessels were who, by the way, comes from Canada and Canada. Yeah, yeah. Canada, actually. Canada has really just this is a sidebar, but all the great research in sexuality comes from Canada.
We have a lot of sex in Canada. Yeah, it's cold. You better do something up there and stay warm. But also, I think your government just funds it more. I don't know what it is, but the large majority of the best sex research, in my opinion, all comes from Canada and certainly the model that has changed the DSM now. Now the in the DSM, women cannot be diagnosed with desire disorder anymore. Hypoactive sexual desire has been removed because of the really groundbreaking work that Rosemary Bazzel, Lori Brodo, others in Canada actually documented that for women desire arousal, orgasm, that model does not work.
The Helen Singer Kaplin model doesn't work for women. For most women, desire follows arousal. It does not precede it. That is such a major paradigm shift and it was didon. It was actually a documented with really sound research, such good research that they went to the DSM committee recently and it's been changed now. Poor men are still stuck with having hypersexual desires. So you guys, you've got to get in there and advocate for yourselves. I don't think any human being should have to be burdened with that as a diagnosis.
I think it's a faulty diagnosis. I don't think it helps anybody. So what's the replacement willingness, which is what Llewellyn's starts with in her model? She doesn't not have desire in it. But the first step in her model is willingness, and it doesn't end an orgasm also. So she doesn't make whether someone ends in an orgasm or not as broken or not, she ends with pleasure. So to start with willingness and end with pleasure. Pleasure starting right.
Pleasure is Emily Nagase. Yeah. And have you interviewed her. We have, yeah. She's fabulous. She's amazing. That's right. So she talks a lot about that research. Pleasure is so much more of a helpful concept for a sexual outcome than orgasm. But I would argue that let's change, let's really make a sea change in the beginning and not make desire. Have to be the first step. How about willingness and then allow for arousal to emerge in whatever way if it does, and then desire least what the Canadians found with women.
Arousal happens first in women desire happens after. So once a woman gets aroused, she could feel her desire much more than feel, you know, desire first. What are the common ways that women get aroused?
Well, you know, it's I don't know if women are that different from men in terms of arousal. Arousal can happen in so many different ways. Arousal can happen through physical things that happen like the hand in the right place, with the right face, whatever. But it can happen with what happens in our heads like fantasy. Right. Or anything that either just appears to us like, you know, your lover comes in, is looking hot to like you just bring in a fantasy of the last time you made love and it was so great.
Or even the guy down the hall that that turns you on while you're doing, you know, your stuff with your partner. So it could be in your mind and it could be also relational. Like, you know, sometimes the old joke, you tell someone, oh, you want to do foreplay, then put the kids to bed, tell your partner, your wife, your girlfriend, she can go and rest and take a nice bath and you feed the kids, put them to bed, put out the garbage cleanly.
And that's foreplay. Right. And now she's really going to be up there. Any truth to that? Well, actually, I think for some people, the relationship is very high on the list for arousal or kindness. But you going to feel connected? Connected. Exactly. So for some people or intellect, some people sit down and they have the hottest intellectual conversation and then they want to have sex. And so I always ask people from attraction stories like when you first met, I'll often say, well, the minute you met him or her, what was it that attracted you to them?
And, you know, you'd be surprised how many people it is not sexual chemistry or it might not even be looks. It could be. I love the way her voice sounded behind me in class. I heard that voice answer, that teacher's question said, who is that woman? Or for some people, it could be spiritual or for some people it could be there on the picket line together screaming their heads off about something political and the political passion.
So it's not always all based on attraction's, not always based on the body or even on sexuality. Sexual chemistry. That's important for. To appreciate and I think arousal works the same way for some people, it could be very verbal, like I had a really good talk and then I could feel turned on to that person. And for other people, it could be almost strictly physical. They do look good or they don't. And that could be harder because over time, long term couples, people age.
Right. Sometimes people gain weight. That was my next question. Like, how does arousal change during the course of a relationship? I mean, when you're 19 and 20, does it look, I'm assuming it looks a little bit different than when you're 70. It can, but I usually find they're generalizations. You can say that as people age. Does arousal become more? Does it diminish over time? But for some, it depends on the individuals.
For some people, the in a long term relationship, they might even be more aroused by their partner in their work with some people in their 80s. It's so great to work with 80 year olds because for some people they love, they fall in love with their partners more as they get older because they love for them. Or and even the turn on is about everything they've gone through. It's such a rich, lived life through all the real ups and downs that they so love that person and they so want to pleasure them or they're still so turned on.
And also sometimes some studies will say, you know, being able to remember how hard it was when you were 20, when you're 80 doesn't hurt either. In other words, that's where fantasy could come in, because some 80 year olds, the parts aren't even working the same way. They're not even having penetrative sex because they can't for whatever reason that medication issues, health issues, whatever, and they're still having hot sex, because if you brought if you define sex broad enough, then almost anything could be hot.
And and it's all you know, the mind is really a large part of sexuality, too. It's not always how the body parts work.
Can you walk me through how people typically explain sex and then expand our definition of sex?
Almost everyone. And it doesn't matter whether they're lesbian, gay, male, heterosexual, trans, most people, because that's the the narrative we're taught is usually the definition of sex is genital. It has to involve the genitals, sometimes has to involve penetration, not always, and has to end an orgasm. Those three components are usually the most common when people say we're not having sex, we want to have more sex. Usually I don't say, oh, OK, we'll work on that.
Let's say, what do you mean by sex? And then I'd ask you tell me your version of your version. And then there's actually something I suggest the couples do when I work with them called the sexual menu. And I often like to make jokes about, you know, comparing food to sex. But it's like how broad, you know, can your sexual menu be. So it's great to have intercourse, nothing wrong with penetrative sex or things that end an orgasm.
But there's a whole lot more you could do with a body that that involves more than just genitals or orgasm even and so forth. I help people actually deconstruct sex developable. And I might say, you know, just like with food, would you want to have a hamburger every night? Maybe, but maybe not kickett boring or you might prefer hamburger. I might prefer Chinese food. Can we kind of mix it up in one night? We go to the hamburger joint the other night.
Next night we go for Chinese. But it's also, as you age, actually older people usually who who are still erotic and sexually together at 80 know how to deconstruct sex because they've just had to over time. The body parts might not work because of illnesses or medications or things that happen. And if they're really still got it for each other, they will find a way to enjoy eroticism more broadly defined. So when you take out the death like orgasm is sort of like the the end of a sexual encounter, right?
Oh, what are we really talking about is intimacy, physical intimacy. It could be intimacy. It connection. Rosemary Basalt, the Canadian woman whose work is so really paradigm shifting her in her one of her end goals, she would say, is more like satisfaction. But it's not just physical or sexual satisfaction. It can be emotional satisfaction. So many times I'll say to people, look, you have at least three different models out there. Narrative's with sex is you could say desire ending an orgasm.
That's the more traditional one. OK, nothing wrong with it. If it were too great for the both of you, great. But there are two other ones. One starts with willingness and ends with pleasure. And another one starts with like a willingness, Bessel would say, but ends in satisfaction, which could mean like connection, like emotional connection. So some partners could say, I had a great time with sex Saturday night and I'd say, go tell me about it.
They didn't get aroused. They didn't have an orgasm. They touched they did a lot of touching, kissing, hugging. Maybe their partner got aroused, maybe their partner came. And for them. The enjoyment and the true kind of pleasure, as Emily might say, right, to see their partner be pleasured and have an orgasm. So also we talk about in the work that you don't have to always have reciprocal sex every time you do it. That's also a burden.
Many couples don't have sex because one of the partners may not want to, let's say, be up for an orgasm or even be able to experience arousal that easily so they might opt out and have nothing. And wouldn't it be great if one of the pleasure, the other one that could be complete that night and doesn't have to mean everybody has orgasms, both timer, but everybody even gets aroused at the same level both times to sort of be able to be more fluid that way is a real resource for couples in the couples that you work with.
Is desire or initiation to work for. This is initiation usually done by a gender over another gender? Is there is there a biological reason for that? Is it a cultural reason? Is it because it strikes me and I don't know, because I don't counsel people. Right. But it strikes me is that they're the males would initiate more than the females. And then what happens in the gay male couple, which I have no idea. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
I think it really it probably most sex therapists would say it's more socially constructed than biologically determined, even though. Yes, but cis gendered men have more testosterone in their systems than cis gendered women. Let's say there's a hormonal difference which can contribute to levels of desire because testosterone. So the desire hormone and if you have more of that, maybe you might initiate more because you could feel more quote, horny. But who really initiates or enjoys it because people do.
Some people really like both. They like to initiate and they like someone to initiate and be more receptive. Right. So some people like both, just like people could like to be a top or bottom. It's called right. Take more power to be more aggressive, let's say, or be more receptive or surrendering less then with initiation. Some people like both roles and would like to share it with a partner. Other people really like being the initiator.
They just really enjoy it and others really like being the one who is pursued. It can break down by gender because certainly our gender scripts talk about narratives are very much right. The man is a woman, you know, it's a very old one. The caveman hits over the head, drags her into the cave, although that a lot of younger folks I work with and people who are more gender fluid, non binary, say that's all those are Allscripts.
And feminists have said that, you know, in the feminist movement was like they wanted more sexual agency. They want more they want to be able to call their shots. And if they're with men, they'd like their men to be able to submit or surrender and to be able to play with power in a way, and for them to feel some someone the love strapping it on and doing their men anally if they would let them, you know, there could be all these different kinds of ways to play with power and to and I think initiation is there's power in both positions.
So I don't think just the person who initiates really has more power. Some people might argue it's actually the person who's seducing the other or plays the other part that has power. But there are gendered scripts and some people buy into those unconsciously and it doesn't work for them. And one of the secrets they may share with me might be this isn't working for me. Some men, let's say, might say to me alone, heterosexual men, I don't like being the initiator all the time, but I feel like my wife or my girlfriend would think I'm less of a man or she might not be as attracted to me if I don't always initiate.
But personally, I would be happier that way. This big secret, he has to tell me individually that hopefully I could bring into the couples therapy and talk about and and and then maybe that woman actually wouldn't mind sharing it too. But she felt he's not either. So many secrets the couples could be burdened with and they don't share it with each other. They could be under false kind of assumptions that the partner really needs to maintain a certain type of gender script, that actually there can be more fluid about.
One of the gender scripts I've heard of there, you can correct me if I'm wrong, is that men often don't like to talk about their feelings with their partner. Why is that? Well, is it true?
I think it really is variable. I think that is another one of those gender scripts that, you know, all stereotypes usually have a little bit of truth in. Men certainly aren't raised. I don't think even now, unfortunately, I don't think men are raised to feel like you can really be a man and be masculine and manly and be sensitive and vulnerable and share your feelings, you know, and some women put that burden on men. It's not only men putting that burden on men like the men have to go when they have.
To be at the bar and, you know, say how many people did they have sex with this week? Some men have to do that to each other. They went up on each other, but some women actually make it hard for men to be more vulnerable. So I do think there's some gender and there's some gender scripts or assumptions that women are emotional messes and, you know, can't contain themselves and are tough. Right. I'm old enough to remember the feminist movement making a big change in that department that freed women to be able to be more assertive and and and be able to you know, women can lead a CEO of a company.
We don't have to worry that she can't handle HIV, a mother and be a leader. But we see even now even more contemporary society. We still are burdened with life. And we haven't had a female president in this country yet, really. You know, and I think partly that is gender scripting about women and being able to be leaders and how many men can really express their vulnerabilities. I think there's still some men that feel like they would be harmed by being that sensitive.
So it does play out. But I think that that people have pushed against I think the feminist movement has helped. I think also I think the trans movements really helped because that's sort of throwing gender up in the air and saying what, you know, what's gender anyway? Isn't that socially constructed in many ways? I was just thinking about asking you that. What is gender if it's not biological? Well, you know, scientifically, we would say there's well, I don't know if we'd use the term gender.
Technically, some people use the word sex for what one is or whatever secondary sexual or genetic makeups we are. I don't know if you know, an Fausto's Stirling's were from Brown University. She's retired now, but she she made an argument that there's more than two genders genetically, I mean, scientifically. And if you look in the animal kingdom, you know, some animals actually shift gender, some fish, you know, et cetera. So what is gender, gender, though, as opposed to sex anatomical or what you're born with or what some trans activists would say is what we're assigned at birth is that gender socially constructed.
And so that part of the argument is, you know, what are we what we seem to have to be once we're born? You know, that's one of the first identifiers, boy or girl. It's a boy. It's a girl. Right. It's a very central organising variable gender in our culture, but it's being deconstructed by we treat people differently based on gender. That's right. Parents begin to treat the kids differently right away. And kids, it's fascinating to watch children even in the most gender, open places.
They they get gender very early on. Like some boys would say, they'd never wear a pink shirt. You know, it's like what's wrong with pink? You know, but it's not it's not funny because I think it was up until 1920. I mean, pink used to be for boys and girls switch somehow I. That's right. That's right. Yeah. The blue one, the pink beyond blue and pink. And Gemal passed one of my my good friends actually who leads the gender project at Acromion Family Institute.
I talks a lot about beyond the gender, beyond the blue in the pink, because there's so many people have given the opportunity to be open minded and to know that there's nothing wrong with it would live much more on the continuum as it relates to gender, whether it's gender expression or whether it's, you know, truly how they would identify if they had a choice. And more people are. I think the changes with the trans movement is is educating people that there are more than two ways to to experience gender.
Want to come back to narrative's a little bit, because we hit on a couple of things, one of which was Narrative's age off as in they get replaced, maybe the fit, the male initiating sex is aging off because you're saying younger couples don't necessarily experience that in the same way. Right. An older person might have a harder time changing that narrative. And so that might age off. Right. But a lot of the people that come to see for couples therapy have a narrative about the relationship they need to change.
Is it a matter of changing perspective? Is it a matter of replacing the narrative? Like how do you how do you think about that?
It depends on the narrative, some narratives. But when I think about transforming narratives, for some people it means dropping one. Many times it could mean replacing one, like even with the idea of, let's say without sexual desire, we're a broken couple. The narratives were broken. Couple one or both of us don't feel desire. So we can't have sex. Well, if they begin to be even educated that there are these other models way beyond these older models that don't include desire as a starting point for sex, that narrative can begin to be dropped and replaced.
So there's some couples who leave therapy with me that even can joke about it. They can say, well, what narrative are we going to do this week, honey? Are we're doing Masters and Johnson? Are we doing hell in San Pablo? Are we doing Joanne? So, you know, and they can joke about and be fluid about it to each one once a week. That's right. Maybe we'll have sex four times a month each by each model, you know, but truly, to give people alternative narratives that actually can depass ologies them, I think is a real gift to narrative, a narrative approach.
Is it in couples therapy outside of sex? Maybe coming back to that a little bit. Is it a matter of saying you're seeing this through one lens, here's a better life and people instantly recognize that? It depends, because some of the things like, let's say we have a communication problem as a couple, and then I say, tell me what you mean by communication problem and give me each of your versions because they could be different. And let's say they say, well, what really they mean by communication problem problems.
You like you like Chinese food and I like hamburgers. So, see, we're not compatible. We shouldn't be together. So sometimes what they mean is we have a communication problem because he's too different from me and we just can't make it work. And then because differences are bad and differences mean we're not compatible. So let's say an alternative narrative is actually differences are to be expected. They're not bad. And actually even differences could be complementary. They don't have to be not compatible.
You start to unpack how they feel. Certain differences are mean that we really don't we shouldn't be together and that perhaps it means that you we need to normalize differences and maybe learn some skills. And how do you manage differences? Right. And they might then change the narrative that we're not so not compatible. We don't have to break up or we shouldn't have gotten, you know, together in the first place. So and sometimes that will happen fairly rapidly, almost like a cognitive process, because part of offering alternative narratives is a cognitive process.
But then other times people are very wedded to certain narratives that goes way back and it can be grounded into family dynamics. It could be grounded into kind of more racial or gender or class or, you know, sexual orientation narratives. So, so often I will find that as I begin to do narrative therapy very early on by starting to deconstruct how they're saying a problem exists in the stories and so forth. Some things will shift fairly rapidly, but some will be quite resistant.
And those are the ones that then are usually more deep seated and might have trauma connected to it, might have other kinds of relational experiences or wounds from childhood that they're not even conscious or connected to that narrative or that belief.
So that's where you start to unpack the deeper or the narrative is constructed in a way that, like we're not compatible, we shouldn't be together. The real issue is like, I don't want to be with you. I just don't want to tell you that that's right. Or I don't want to be with you. I don't want to be with you. But I'm more afraid of being alone than being with someone I'm happy with. And that's interesting that sometimes too good to leave.
Too bad to stay. Yeah. Whatever that book is, that's exactly what some people are terrified of being single. They're really either they have such low self-esteem, they feel like there's no way they could find anyone else or they they feel like, well, it depends when they're breaking up. But some older folks I'm working with really might not be able to find partners. How would you work with somebody in individual session with that sort of. And it was what was happening.
If they're more afraid, they're staying with the person because they I mean, they're telling their partner one thing. Oh. Which is like here's the problem in our relationship from my point of view right there, partner, maybe trying to understand that or me see like other problems in the relationship, but they're not actually surfacing what's really going on in their mind. And until they do.
Yeah, and there are two levels to that. Sometimes some people really don't even really let themselves know it. So sometimes let's say that fear of I'm really with him or her because I really would rather not be alone. They don't even know yet. And it impacts over time as we do more layered work and as we're really taking the content of each thing they're unhappy about, we try and make it better. And sometimes you could see each thing gets better.
But a half of the couple might not still be committed, more committed and more happy. That can give you a clue that there could be still something about this person really doesn't want to be here, but but they might not have known it. So for some people, they really didn't know that and they don't know it until they really do the work. And then they really realize just this just isn't enough. It's not going to work almost like the horse is already out of the barn.
Other people do know it, but they can't say it either because they can't devastate the partner or they they are too frightened for themselves. And, you know, I don't minimize that. Like for some people, then a lot of their work needs to be to understand what's so awful about being alone and for some people for whom they really will stay in such. An unhappy relationship because the alternative, so much worse, they need to do that. That's sometimes often the couple's therapist would probably refer them to individual therapy because it might be a much deeper issue that I can't do as the couple's therapist.
But I don't think it's my job necessarily to force that person to have to say that to a partner when they're still in the process of not even knowing why they're so terrified to be alone, because maybe if they work on that issue individually, they may not they may be able to come back and want to recommit to the relationship. You never know how an issue like that reason might impact differently once a person does more deep work individually. I want to walk through two things that we just hit on there, one of which is when a couple decides that it's over or one partner, I guess, has ultimately decided it's over, OK?
And the other partner didn't. Well, I mean, the relationship is ended. Walk me through the ways to end a relationship. There must be pros and cons, better ways to do that. How do you do that in a way that is respectful and sort of honest with the other person and sets yourself up for the best possible future, especially if you have kids, you have to deal with them. That's always a bigger. And then I want to take the opposite approach.
And I don't want to say, OK, well, we've been in therapy hypothetically for two and a half years and we want to reconnect. We've decided that we're going to do this and we've worked through some of these issues. It doesn't happen. I'm imagining it doesn't happen overnight. How do you what does that first step mean? What is the second step? And how does that look like for building that relationship back to maybe where it was when you got married?
Many times. Even therapist can a couple therapists can feel like the breakup is a failure. And I think that's a narrative that's really one to be dealt with as people are trying to decide or one person wants to leave that relationship. They think it's over that some people will say that it's over because they don't want to feel the failure of it. Yeah, I think a lot of people, you know, my friends and other people have that narrative wrapped in their head, which is divorce means failure.
That's never failed at anything. That's right. That's right. And they feel shame about it. Yeah. And they even play in there. They're all there. Everybody we have to tell and they have to come out of it. And then if there are kids involved, it's even worse, you know, especially if it's little kids. You know, when I get divorce, that was the hardest thing for me to overcome was what this narrative that divorce means failure.
Yeah. Sometimes that's another narrative. I try and help them transform, especially in a relationship that really had real substance. You know, even though it wound up is that some people come together really for certain reasons, good reasons. And they really grew together and they really produced whatever. And sometimes it could be the kids or could be other things. And then sometimes the growth isn't going to go anywhere anymore and actually could be going in an opposite direction.
Could be a really positive thing where you had these, you know, 30 years together and they were amazing and you have really got twins. But now it's time now and it's so moving, I try and help people with that frame to offer that frame. And for them to if if they can shift to a point of saying, you know what, I really can see why you were in my life. If I even though we're getting divorced, I would still do it this way.
That is an incredible that would be like one of the best endings because, you know, you could say whether this is a spiritual way of thinking about or whatever soulmates or whatever, but, you know, there's certain people come into your life, even friends, not just, you know, partners, but that who really are there, who really through the ups and downs are real teachers. And and for some couples, they really can say that they were real teachers.
But, you know, the lessons need to be done either in it, not together anymore, or and even part of the lesson can be to be able to separate. Well, and for many people, I think if they feel like even if one person is really initiating it more, which is always more painful, obviously, if one person wants to leave, the other doesn't, that's really tough. But in whatever way, I can help them stay in a room enough to understand how come and to be able, whatever was good, be able to still be part of the of the separation process to bring that good that was there when they were both happy to the separation process.
That's a gift they can give each other and some people get there to be able to do it. Even the person who could sit there, sometimes they have of a couple might want to see me a little after a divorce or the couples therapy ends, especially the one that didn't want to break up because they want to sit and help me understand even more of how do they go forward with this and what could they learn from it, because sometimes the person who leaves the relationship was more ready to give up the relationship than the person who gets the bad news.
Right. So, you know, not everybody comes to that end in the same way I often think and incorrectly perhaps.
But there's a date. The marriage ends and then there's the. That you sort of separate, those are not necessarily the same day. That's right. And even there's some people that are now moving on and they're still connected all these years later, they become, you know, sometimes in the gay community, they'll say that they never do break up. I mean, they break up, but then they're at the Thanksgiving table. Right. And sometimes I think that's true, especially with older gay folks for whom coming out meant they lost their marriage and they were either cut off or whatever.
So they create a friendship family so that if a partner is that important to you and then you break up, some people aren't going to give up the friendship just because they're now not partners anymore. And some heterosexual couples are that way, too. They just as they're breaking up because they really have to like sex can be a breaking point. Like if you wind up with one partner who still is quite sexual, it's just sexual. It's important to them with truly a partner who says I could care less if I ever have sex again in my life.
And there's nothing wrong with that. Or they could be asexual. By the way, a sexuality doesn't get enough, you know, attention in our society because I think some people don't even know they're asexual and they get labeled sexually dysfunctional because they don't you know, sex isn't the major variable for them for attraction. They still want to be partner, but just sex, isn't it? But anyway, you have to have a sexual person with the person who really it's a very low value so they could care less and they're highly sexual.
Person says, I love this person, but I don't know if I want to live the rest of my life non-sexual. Now, maybe they can go into other alternatives, like, can you have an open relationship? Can it, you know, consensual monogamy, polyamory, you know, what's possible? Does that work in your experience? Open relationships? I'm sure you've seen that a lot. Yeah, I do. I see more and more now, actually, than I used to.
Is that healthy? Does it cause anxiety? Is there security and safety issues? Like how how do you. What I often tell people is this isn't a moral question. It's like it's it's a high maintenance activity because you're going to do it well, because imagine even like the way I think of it, right. If all sex is group sex, just with two people now throwing a girlfriend or a boyfriend or a throw in like, you know, whatever, someone is going to be your boyfriend or your husband at the Thanksgiving table.
Now, you've got three sets of, you know, histories to cope with or four or five. So certainly I think it's more complicated. They're more moving parts. I think it does at least consciously, make people have to deal with jealousy much more upfront. They have to deal with envy, more upfront competition. These are tough feelings to have in general, but that I don't think that either form of relationship is inherently more or less healthy. I do think some therapists believe that.
They believe that people who are in open relationships are polyamorous. Arrangements are less mature. You know, I've heard some colleagues say all that person just wants to have their cake and eat it, too. Why can't they just live with the changes? You know what? You have to give up to be monogamous. And I don't see it that way. I see I see it as actually more challenging, I think, to have an open relationship for those reasons, you know, how are you going to navigate that material if you're going to do it with integrity, with both partners, obviously.
And on that. And well, what's really challenging sometimes is that in some couples, one person really wants, let's say, polyamory, but the other person doesn't. Well, that could be tricky. You know, both people want the same thing. Sometimes I could be a little easier, but one person may want the outside recreational sex or boyfriend or girlfriend in addition to the spouse and the other. Doesn't that can be tricky. I mean, it's not not doable, but it takes a lot of consciousness, integrity, honesty, trust.
And some people can pull that off. Some primary couples will say this open relationship made me even more committed to my partner, even more trusting of my partner, even stronger. So it's not always an exit ramp. Some people are afraid it's an exit ramp, but I do a lot of assessment. If a couple comes to me saying they want to open relationship, I do so much assessment that by the time they're finished with it, they might say who knows where they are?
But, you know, I'll do histories, all those sexual histories before I do it in the family histories. And, you know, I want them to be conscious of they're going to make the choice, right. I don't want to lose the threat of having to come back to sort of is there anything else that stands out in terms of separating? I am in the best possible ways that strike you as good practices or and then reconnecting. Yeah, the good practices are, you know, the separating in the world.
We hope that eventually would they be able to stay in a room long enough, especially the person for whom, let's say, they don't want to break up to be able to tolerate that level of hurt or rejection or whatever, to be able to say, what can I learn from this, including the pain of being left? That's pretty amazing. Some people can do that. I always think that everything in life is a learning experience, even our probably the most terrible experiences are about.
Learning experiences so a couple can stay in an office long enough once the writing's on the wall, that this isn't going to work and get the most they can get out of it, including how does one separate from a bomb that was so meaningful? That's pretty good stuff. And some people can do it. Some people can. The minute there's the least bit of an indication they're out of there, like people get up and run out of my office or say, that's it.
I mean, I've seen you. Some people can't tolerate. And, you know, I don't cast judgment about that. It's just that, you know, people have different levels of capacity.
It's like they're nearer to the shattering right in front of your eyes. That's not whether it's the failure narrative or whether it's the rejection narrative or whether it's the good narrative. Sometimes the person who is breaking up, they can't tolerate staying in the room because they feel too guilty about it. Yeah, so that's but I try and create the biggest container I can and sometimes I might even say, hey, I know this might feel too much now, but how about maybe you meet with me individually next week, right when we have two individual sessions and come back then the next week and maybe you can come back in the office as a couple and talk more about how to break up, you know?
So I try and figure out different ways to still make a big enough container for people to learn as much as they can and make for the best breakup. If kids are involved, then it's even more so really important, their little kids, because it's how are you going to help the kids not feel guilty, not feel like it's their fault in a way that cannot be positive, because then you turn your attention onto the kids what's best for the kids and like it focuses.
Yeah, some people can, in fact, that having a kid in the picture really can give them the strength to stay there and really tough out the really difficult conversation. All right. That's a lot of doom and gloom. Let's go to, like, reconnect and reconnect.
Yeah, well, we still whatever the crisis was, if there was a crisis that brought them to the brink of thinking they were going to break up, let's say an affair could be a typical one. But anything else? And then to slowly say what needs to be repaired, you know, and often I will tell couples I give this notion of from analytic work, you know, there's rupture and repair and almost any authentic relationship. Like it's really important to develop your tolerance for disappointment, both to be disappointed by your partner and to disappoint your partner.
So many people have such a hard time allowing disappointment to be part of a really healthy, authentic relationship. So when I talk about authenticity, as if you're really authentic, you're going to hurt each other, not even intentionally, but unintentionally, even if it's because of your own wounds or your own unconscious conflict you haven't dealt with.
And it's about what you do after you've hurt that.
Personally, I always tell people the real strength is how do you recover from something, not the fact that you already had the fight or the or the rupture, but how do you recover? How fast you recover, how? Well, what what are your skills to recover? What are the comments? Recovery skills, if you are listening, is a really that helps a lot of people can't listen very well. I notice in general in society, but in couples, you know, when a partner is starting to say things that that trigger us, some people have to have the retaught ready.
So by the time they're even if they don't interrupt, some people just interrupt and shut up the partner talk over them or start yelling or fighting. But let's say they don't do that in their minds. They could already be developing the retaught. They're not even listening to what the partner said in the first place. So there's like a very common kind of couple dialogue that a couple of therapists can do. That speaker listner method. You probably heard of it, but where you just forced the couple to say, all right, you know, John has five minutes and Mike has to be quiet and let John speak.
Right. And you can't say anything, Mike. And then after John stops, you have to paraphrase back to John what he said. So so John knows you understand. And that to show empathy or to show understanding doesn't mean you're agreeing with what your partner said. You're only demonstrating that you heard him or her, that you listen to them so that expressing, like empathy or understanding doesn't mean I agree with you, because then you'll have your chance to say what your perspective is, your subjectivity is, which could be very different.
And then the other partner gets to hear you out and not interrupt you and not be creating the retour, you know, the response, but instead to be listening. So listening is a big skill. And then, of course, speaking of skill, how do you say your truth in the most constructive way? You know, sometimes will say use I statements. Don't say you once. What's important is going to say you. I get prepared because it's like if I'm not going to be saying something good, but if this is you that you're this you're that you do that, you don't do that instead of I need.
So sometimes I'll say, you know, instead of making a comment, how about your partner? How about saying what I need that you're having right now? So let's switch to the comment about your partner. You never listen to me to the need. What I really need more attention from you when you come home from work, I really need you to hear how my day was. That's so different to say. And I need as opposed to you are like that or you're not.
Yeah. So I kind of helped them. It's almost like you're at the U.N., you know, you're trying to teach translation skills. So it's like, could you just hear this way as opposed to that way? And you'd be surprised how changing from a union I can make a big difference. So listening how you say things, how to fight. Well, John Gottman, a great couple of therapist, talks about fighting fair, you know, and just fighting for, well, fighting unfair.
We know what that can be, right. You know, like some of it would be the you you know, the attack, you know, and, you know, being using contempt, you know, to be aware of the things that people get sarcasm. There are many things you can say in a fight that really isn't fair. You know, it's really silvergrass. Yeah. It's meant to harm. You know, there's a difference between expressing anger when you do X.
I feel so angry because is different, then you're so selfish. You know, you're you know, you're so into your own thing. You don't care about me, you know, making big statements about another person. So it really breaks down anger, too. For it to be much clearer about what you need is almost behind every attack is behind anger, is usually hurt. And by get up underneath most attacks is usually an unmet need. And if you can help people shift from those more aggressive ways of being that are harmful to being, it would be more vulnerable vulnerability stuff going to get people into.
But it really people can be vulnerable. And you speak from the heart, the truth. They can get to a lot of a way to work out a conflict and they could heal even if they're very different underneath with all that vulnerability they could find. I often say, how about just think of the Venn diagram. There you are. There you are. Let's find the overlap in the van diagram where we need a little space in here to start feeling like is a possible.
But when you do enough couples therapy, if the Venn diagram stays with the two big circles and there isn't even like a little edge that's overlapping. That's why sometimes it means really is that mean that this we can find a little space for the diagram to stay together? OK, let's talk about it. Why not? Why can't we find the little overlap? What's preventing the overlap? What are the things that couples can do proactively? And perhaps they don't feel like they need therapy and their relationship is going well.
They don't want to be complacent about that. What are the things that they can do that when I'm very glad you say they're not complacent, because I find sometimes when I do histories to find out what went wrong. You know, like a lot of times it's important to ask, well, you had sex so well for the first five years. What happened? Right. Or or you used to really enjoy each other and have fun. What happened?
You know, and I'm always interested. When did it stop happening? When did the fun stop or why do you think the fun stopped so maintenance? Many people take relationships for granted. I think almost like we do with everything. We take our health for granted. There are a lot of things we could take for granted. But I talk to especially when kids come into the picture, some people become so child focused that they lose that there's a there's another thing that needs to be nurtured.
I often say to to couples with kids, the relationships, another child. You don't have one child, you have two. It's called your child name, you know, Mary. And then you have a relation marital relationship to still nurture. And people don't get that. A relationship has to be nurtured. You have to water it like a plant. It isn't just to be taken for granted. And I think too many people just think, oh, we're loving it.
We were in love. We got married with kids or were committed. What you know, he should know why so many people said she should know. I love her with. I said no. How about telling her if you love her yet people never are too old to feel. Well, you know, like I like to hear that here. I still look good or I love you. I appreciate you. Yeah. You know, so sometimes I'll tell couples you get into bed before you pass out how.
But just one word of gratitude. I'm just saying I'm so happy you're still in my life. Well, I love your sense of humor. You know, you really make me laugh when I feel so bad. We've felt bad. One word and then you could pass out even if you have five kids, you know, it's like how do you nurture that relationship to the eight year olds who are still doing well? They never forgot to be grateful and appreciative of of their relationship.
And that's very important. And people don't often think that they need to nurture. Just falling in love is not the end of the story. It's the beginning of a story is the beginning of a process, not the end. And too many people, I think, will walk down the aisle or move in together, whatever commitment means to them. And they think, oh, I did it now. Now I have my partner for a few. That one's done.
Check it off the list. And no, actually, now the fun begins. This is when you really. We need to you know, some people take care of the cars more than their relationships, you know, they're buffing it up in there. They bring it in for, you know, like a tuneup and hardly anyone. So dates are important date nights, whether their sex date, night or just date, date nights or if you don't have money, doesn't mean you have to go out.
There's a lot of ways to have fun at home, but to really nurture the relationship is really important, and that's a great place to end. Thank you so much. OK, it was fun.
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