Relationship Expert, Author, Lecturer

Couples Therapy Will Help Create an Intimacy Dialogue

You’ve see them on TV, in the movies – or perhaps you think you know them. The couple that looks so in tune. Completing each other’s sentences and talking openly about everything under the sun – including sex. In actuality, talking with a romantic partner about intimacy can feel very intimidating.

Most couples grapple with various issues pertaining to their relationship – and communicating about sex is definitely one of them. Whether you’re in a new relationship or have been married for decades, discussing your personal thoughts and feelings about intimacy can certainly be tricky, and many try to avoid the delicate topic at all costs. This is where couples therapy can be very beneficial.

As difficult as it may be, effective communication surrounding intimacy is a vital part of any healthy relationship. When couples explore their feelings freely, they create a tighter emotional connection, which ultimately leads to a stronger sexual bond. When I work with couples and provide couples counseling, working on effective communication is one of the main goals in our therapy together.

Many couples converse well on simple issues yet get stuck on trickier ones.   You know your partner’s favorite restaurant, travel destination, or sporting team – but do you know what really turns him on? And when was the last time you opened up and shared your sexual fantasies? It’s through the process of challenging yourself to do things that feel uncomfortable that you’ll experience personal growth. So take the plunge today and initiate a conversation about intimacy. The payback is huge – a stronger and more honest relationship, and more sexual satisfaction.

            Many couples make the error of only discussing sex when there is a problem in the bedroom. A better option is to regularly partake in an open dialogue. Here’s how:

Think before you speak: Before initiating the conversation think about what you want to say. What does intimacy and sex mean to you? Are you satisfied with your sex life, or can it be improved? What would make it better? Remember that your partner is not a mind reader and can only learn about your desires when you effectively communicate them.

Timing: Timing is everything in life – but especially when bringing up important topics pertaining to your relationship. Find a quiet time to speak to your partner when you’re both relaxed with few distractions. This could be over a quiet meal at home or in a restaurant, while away on a vacation, or lounging on a weekend morning.

How to begin the discussion: If you are not experiencing any sexual problems here are some openers:

  • “We talk freely about most topics, but I’ve noticed we really don’t talk much about sex. I thought it would be a good idea to explore how we both feel about our sex life because it would bring us even closer.”
  • “We have such a great connection, including an intimate one. I think we could make our sex life even better if we talk about our desires and what turns us on.”

If you have a specific issue that you’d like to bring to your partner’s attention try this line:

  • “We have such a great relationship, and I hope you know how much I value you. I think honest communication is the back bone of a healthy relationship, so in that spirit there is something I’d like to share with you regarding our sex life.”

At the end of the conversation take a moment to congratulate yourselves on a job well done. Let this dialogue be the first of many. You now have a foundation to build from. Agree to talk about intimacy on a regular basis. The first time is always the most challenging, and it definitely gets easier with practice.

One Way To Stop Fighting? Define Roles In Marriage

Article by Rachel for Magazine

All couples argue from time to time, and that’s perfectly normal.
There are many things to bicker about in today’s hectic world. Many couples argue about finance, sex, parenting, and work/life balance.

Many couples also argue about roles. Meet Tara and Steven who are clients in my psychotherapy practice. They sought my guidance because they are arguing more than usual and they are afraid of the long-term impact on their relationship from the friction.

Tara and Steven mostly have a solid marriage and the issues they are grappling with are representative of the myriad struggles that couples have. Both have demanding jobs, plus there are three children (ages four through ten) at home requiring care, guidance and love. Additionally there is a marriage that needs tending as well.

In my office, they had an explosive argument about an unpaid bill that left them temporarily without cell service. What they didn’t understand was that they’re not arguing about the bill, they’re arguing about the defined roles they each take on in the marriage.

“Why is it my responsibility to pay all the bills?” asks Steven. “Don’t I have enough on my plate these days?”
Tara barks back, “You have always paid the bills, Steven. It’s always been your job! Just like taking Michelle to swim team is my job. In fact, you know I hate the swim team mornings!”

Deciding how much time to devote to a career, family and a spouse is a major issue among couples.

Unfortunately, most couples don’t take the time to sit down and discuss the “business of family.” Instead, roles are randomly assigned or taken on without much thought. This haphazard set up, which isn’t ideal, leaves too much room for error.

Here’s a solution: Sit down with your spouse tonight and visit the topic of defining roles.

I suggest the following meeting agenda:

  • Make a list of all of the chores that need to be divided up. Then examine each one and ask:
  • Who is better suited to not only do each one, but do it well?
  • Who has more time to tackle each project?
  • Are there any of the chores listed that you or your spouse would actually enjoy doing?

In Tara and Steven’s situation— a little bit of creative role shuffling went a very long way. Together we made a list of the tasks that needed to get accomplished. These included homework help, grocery shopping, cooking, clean up, bill paying, social calendar and such. Once the list was made, we examined it and discussed it.

Tara took over the bill paying and that’s because she is better suited to handle it. In fact, Tara is actually a CFO at a software company with a background in finance. Turns out she should have been paying the bills all along!

And guess who is now taking Michelle to swim team? Steven is a morning person and has flex hours at his job. He enjoys his early mornings at the pool with his eldest daughter.

As I said, all couples argue. It’s not the conflict that sinks a relationship; it’s how the disagreement is handled. So sit down today and have that meeting on defining roles in a marriage. You’ll be glad you did!

Making Date Night Fun Again

Article by Rachel for Magazine

The term “date night” has become ubiquitous. I’m so glad to see that many of us are eagerly embracing an activity that has so many positive benefits.

Clearly, we understand the premise that connecting with our spouse as an adult is a necessary ingredient toward keeping a marriage healthy and vibrant. Plus it’s a great way to ensure that romance will live on.

There are so many good reasons to have a regular date night on your calendar. Date night should be something you and your spouse enthusiastically plan for and look forward to. View it as a special moment in your hectic lives when the children and other stressors are temporarily shelved. Plus, studies show that when couples do new and fun things together it actually builds new neural pathways in their brains, which allows them to connect in deeper ways.

Enticed? I hope so! Now get to work. Here are a few great places to start:

"My Turn, Your Turn” dates. Women often complain that their husbands never put any effort into planning dates. Put him to the test and take turns planning something new and unique to do with each other. Keep it a secret until the day of.

Do a fun activity together. Don’t just go to dinner. Go dancing, see live music, attend a cooking class or a sporting event. When you do something you really enjoy with your partner, it stimulates your brain’s “feel-good” zone and actually makes you happy!

Tease your brain. Plan a date out of your intellectual comfort zone. Take a class together. Attend a lecture. See a play or a foreign movie and discuss it with your partner afterward.

Make a commitment to have some sex date nights as well. If you’re in a rut, putting a sex date on the calendar is a really good thing. Try not to make excuses ("I’m tired’’ or "I’m stressed"), and remember that once you get started, it’s always fun.

Tennis anyone? Exercising with your partner is a great way to burn calories and get your competitive juices flowing as well. Book a court, join a sports league, or hit a yoga class.

Find time to kiss. Kissing is so romantic, erotic and fun. It’s a great non-verbal way to say, “I love you, I’m attracted to you, and you are important to me.”

Volunteer for a good cause together. Sign up to assist a cause that is important to both of you. You’ll spend time with each other, but you’ll also make a difference and help others.

Can’t find a sitter? Try a date night at home. Put the kids to bed. Then, crack open a fine bottle of wine and cook a delicious meal together. Eat it slowly by candlelight.

Schedule a couple’s massage.  Benefits of massage aboundPlus relaxing together with your paramour is really special. If you’ve done this already, go again. And if you’ve never experienced it, book it now.

These are just a few ideas from my personal repertoire. Challenge yourself and create some unique traditions to keep date night exciting for you.

Why Not Let Every Day be Valentine’s Day?

Posting by Rachel for Magazine

As yet another Valentine's Day approaches, I've stopped to think about the true essence of the holiday. While its red roses and heart-shaped boxes of candy have become ubiquitous, in actuality, Valentine’s Day stands for so much more than those symbols.

Valentine's Day is a celebration of love and romance – two of the most important ingredients that make up a healthy relationship. Much like our yearly wedding anniversary, Valentine's Day should serve as a reminder to all couples of the importance of honoring their love, connection and devotion to each other.

So when you're sitting down to write a romantic or sexy card, be sure to say thank you in your words and deeds. Tell your partner that you appreciate having him or her in your life, day in and day out. Make a commitment to honor the romance in your relationship not just on Valentine's Day, but every day.

Consider making Valentine's Day a “New Year's resolution” for your romance.  Each Valentine's Day talk about what's important to your relationship. Promise to keep romance and date night alive and well. Pledge to put sex back on the front burner where it belongs. Promise to love, cherish and adore each other for each day forward. And remember how lucky you are to have someone special in your life.

How To Make the Most of Your Empty Nest

Article by Rachel for Magazine

If you’ve gone through the process of packing your last kid off to college or elsewhere, you are certainly familiar with the joys and perils of the proverbial empty nest.

We are all too familiar with tales (or movies) that feature couples struggling to find purpose in their lives after the kids move out. And unfortunately, we are also familiar with stories of couples divorcing in mid-life once they realize they have absolutely nothing in common with each other once the children and pets have exited the family home.

In actuality, learning to live with an empty nest is an opportunity for huge personal growth. It is also chance for a couple to rediscover the joys and passions of their earlier days B.C. (before children).

Couples entering this next phase in their lives have such a great chance to connect and get reacquainted with each other.  You simply have to have an open mind and try to embrace this new stage with open arms.

For example, my husband and I are brand new empty nesters this year. We had an ongoing dialogue throughout our daughter's senior year of high school about what we wanted the next chapter of our lives to be about; what we wanted to do individually and what we wanted to do together. But getting your relationship to a point where you're eager to embrace the next phase (or the current one, for that matter) can take some doing.

Here are five tips to help you prepare for your empty nest:

  1. Communication is key. Start a dialogue with your spouse at least one year prior to your last child’s departure from home. Ask him or her, “What will this new chapter in our lives be like? What are our joint goals, hopes and dreams? What would we like to accomplish together?” Map out a plan along with a promise to stick with it.
  2. Resurrect date night. Get out the calendar and do plan some interesting, romantic dates.
  3. Get sex back into your life. Now that privacy is no longer an issue, get creative and have some fun.
  4. Create some personal goals. The empty nest is also great opportunity to accomplish things you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had time for in the past. Plus, when you do something you really enjoy, like a hobby, it stimulates your brain’s “feel-good” zone and actually makes you happy!
  5. Experience your emotions. For most of us, change is certainly hard. You may feel many emotions while adjusting to a quieter home. Many report that although they are so proud of their children’s accomplishments, the empty nest is bittersweet. Remember that it’s perfectly OK to feel sadness and loss. Be patient with yourself. With time, the difficulties should pass.

How Can I Help My Spouse Stay Healthy?

Article by Rachel for Magazine

The media is all abuzz post New Years with interesting segments on diet and exercise. Apparently many of us contemplate shedding pounds and getting healthy each time January rolls around. Whether it’s "New Year, New You," or losing weight that was gained over the holidays—the start of a brand new year certainly does promote caring for oneself.

With this theme in mind, I wasn’t surprised when several of my clients mentioned to me their desire to get and stay fit. I was also asked for advice regarding how they could get their partners on the fitness bandwagon as well.

Judy commented to me that her already overweight husband gained even more weight as of late. “I’m constantly nagging him to lose weight— yet it’s as if I’m talking to a wall,” she lamented. “It’s so frustrating.”

Matt, a devoted husband and father, confessed to me that his wife’s continued inattention to her appearance is having an effect on his sex drive. “I know she’s busy and all, but she never takes care of herself,” said Matt. “I find myself looking at other women these days – and I know that’s not a good sign.”

If you’re in a relationship, it can be very upsetting if you care about your health and appearance, and your significant other doesn’t.  This predicament is bound to cause conflict, and continued conflict can chip away at a love bond.

How can you address this quandary in an effective way? Here are five tips to get you started:

  • Practice what you preach. If you want your partner to get healthy and stay healthy, be a food and fitness role model. Eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and take the time to care for your appearance. Often times leading by example can produce desired results.
  • Try a team approach. If you’d like your partner to shed some pounds, suggest a “Biggest Loser” contest. Challenge him or her to a game of tennis, a day of biking, or a trip to a spa. Being active with your spouse is a great way to bring fun and excitement into your relationship.
  • If these two suggestions don’t initiate change, perhaps it’s time to schedule a sit-down meeting. Every couple needs to learn how to discuss difficult topics.  When speaking to your spouse about health and weight, be sure to speak in “I” statements. Never shame or blame. Most people who are overweight are aware that they are. They often feel stuck, unable to change, and are very sensitive to criticism.  Here’s an example: “I need to bring something to your attention because I care about you. I’m worried about your recent weight gain and its impact on your health. I love you and want you in my life for a long time. Can we discuss this and come up with a solution that makes sense for both of us?” Be patient, gentle, and be sure to listen and validate your partner’s feelings.
  • Don’t Nag. After you’ve had a discussion about the topic, try to let it go. Research shows that nagging produces the opposite result that you are looking for, and, it’s damaging to a relationship.
  • Be optimistic and encouraging. Remember Rome wasn’t built in a day. Even small changes deserve praise.

How to Keep the Spark Alive in Your Marriage

Article by Rachel for Magazine

In the movie, “Hope Springs” a middle aged couple struggles to ignite some passion into their stale marriage.

The movie accomplished more than critical praise – it got people talking about how to avoid losing romance and sex in a long-term relationship.

Sex is an integral piece of any romance. It is part of the glue that keeps a marriage going strong year after year. And, it’s the one thing that unequivocally separates friendship from love. It’s important to have sex, and even better to have good sex. It helps you feel more connected to your partner, it makes you feel cared for and comforted, and, it’s fun!

However, as anyone who is married knows, keeping a marriage, let alone a sexual connection, strong and vibrant can be a challenge. Over time, people change both physically and psychologically, and life regularly throws us plenty of curve balls. But, believe it or not, even with the inevitable hardships we all experience in and outside of our relationships, it is entirely possible to keep the spark alive.

A big mistake many couples make is to believe that the natural attraction and sexual energy they enjoyed during early phases of their relationship will inevitably carry over, without any effort, throughout their marriage. This is simply a myth. Sex and passion, like anything else in life, has the potential to die out unless it is both honored and nurtured by both parties in a couple.
As neuroscientific research has proven, when you are in a new relationship, during the first six to 18 months, our brain throws out a variety of neurochemicals, which helps to expedite our biological mating dance.  Our brains are aglow in serotonin and dopamine, which keeps passive alive and kicking with little endeavor from us.  Then, as magically as these mating neurochemicals arrive, they recede. When that happens, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and put a bit more effort into our sex lives.

So, if you want to keep your sexual relationship going strong, you need to commit to making it a priority.

You can keep your passionate spark alive through regular and productive (no blaming, shaming, or complaining, please) communication with your partner about sex. Be sure to discuss the following:

  • Make a commitment to sustain your sexual connection through good times and, especially, the more challenging ones. By the way, sex is a great stress relief!
  • Regularly discuss what sex means to each of you. I also suggest talking about fantasies and turn-ons.
  • If you lead a busy life (and who doesn’t) it’s perfectly OK to put sex dates on the calendar. Don’t worry that scheduling may become too “formulaic” –looking forward to sex is a very good thing.
  • Shake it up. Experiment with lingerie, sex toys, and sexy novels to get the creative juices flowing.
  • Worried that you won’t be “in the mood”? Allow yourself to enjoy a “transitional experience”. If sex is in the calendar tonight (or if you’d like it to be) – prepare yourself earlier in the day. Send you partner a sexy text or a suggestive photo. Take a warm bath and allow the days stressors to slide off. Light some candles, play some relaxing music, set the mood.

It is entirely possible to keep the spark alive in your marriage. So relax, enjoy, and please have fun tonight!

Affair Proof Your Marriage

Article by Rachel for Magazine

The discovery that your partner is either emotionally or sexually involved with another is one of the most devastating experiences one can live through. Being in a relationship carries many different definitions and implications, yet the desire that your partner remain sexually faithful seems to be nearly universal.

There are numerous reasons why people cheat, and it’s good to know them so you’ll be aware to not let them seep into your own marriage.

Most people report that they cheated because they felt emotionally disconnected and lonely in their marriage. Others complain that they felt unimportant or undervalued by their partner.  And some say that it was because of a decrease in sex, sexual dissatisfaction, and/or boredom in the bedroom.

My analogy is that a strong marriage is like the foundation of a beautiful home — if you give it the maintenance it needs, it will stay robust and retain its value for years to come. Alternatively, if you let it hang out there through stormy weather, it will slowly crack and bring the walls down with it.

So if you want to keep your marriage robust and affair proof — here are a few tips for relationship and monogamy success:

  • Marry the right person for the right reasons at the right time in your life. You should feel completely confident during your engagement period that you are marrying a person whose character, nature and goals are fully in line with yours.
  • Couples need to understand that marriage is a huge commitment and that staying happily married requires a lot of compromise and endeavor. Before you wed, speak to your partner about your feelings about fidelity. Surprisingly few newly engaged couples seem to have these frank discussions, some of which can serve to avoid painful misunderstandings later on.
  • Have intimacy in your marriage. Long walks on the beach are much more than a cliché — they truly serve a purpose.
  • Boost each other up. Couples can tend to be very critical toward each other, and too many years of criticism with the absence of praise can take a huge toll on a love bond. Don’t let this happen to your marriage. Be the president of your partner’s fan club, and be sure to regularly remind them how terrific they are.
  • Have fun together. When the chips are down, you want to think of your partner as someone who brings joy into your life. Laughter is such a great elixir and it really helps keep couples together.
  • It’s important to have sex — and even better to have great sex. Being sexual helps you feel more connected to your partner. It makes you feel cared for, attached, and comforted. It’s a nonverbal experience that helps you communicate in an entirely different way. And, it’s fun!

Yes, You Should Renew Your Wedding Vows

Article by Rachel for Magazine

You can barely view any media these days without stumbling upon yet another celebrity couple in the throes of a messy divorce. Witnessing so many breakups can certainly take its toll. I regularly hear young people comment, “What’s the point of marrying if I’ll just end up divorced?”

Although divorce is prevalent in our society today, it is important that we all recognize that scores of people are ensconced in happy and healthy unions that last a lifetime. If you marry at the right time in your life, if you wed for the right reasons, and if you marry the right person, you have a good chance of success. And if you take your vows seriously, if you work on keeping your marriage vibrant and strong, and if you are able to weather life’s inevitable ups and downs as a partnership, you absolutely can have a fabulous love bond that will be ever-lasting.

Today, there are so many ways to celebrate your marriage and your partner. Let’s face it: Date night has nearly become ubiquitous in our culture. And that's for a good reason — keeping a marriage strong year upon year does require work. I regularly see married folks today “putting in their time.” This means they understand that their marriage, just like anything else in life, needs to be cultivated and cherished in order to last.

With this concept in mind, how about considering the prospect of renewing your marriage vows? Wouldn’t that be a fun and worthwhile project for both you and your spouse to take on together? If you agree and are game, here are a few ideas on how you can renew your vows in a meaningful way:

  • Together with your spouse, write a new set of vows. In order to do this, I suggest you start by reviewing your original marriage vows. Read them over. What did you learn from this experience? Have you lived up to your vows? Would you renew them as is, or is writing a new set in order?
  • If you decide to write a new set of vows, be inclusive and creative. Spend some quality time with your partner discussing what is important to you in your relationship today and what your hopes and dreams are for the future.
  • Celebrate your love. Decide if you’d like to renew your vows in public or private. Have an adventure and create a unique and memorable event.
  • Make a commitment to keep your vows front and center in your marriage for now and forever.

Remember that your vows can be renewed and celebrated as often as you would like. You can do so each year with an upcoming anniversary, or you can pick another date that is significant to your “couple.”  Think of this as a project with a huge payoff: everlasting love.

Weathering Change In Your Marriage

Article by Rachel for Magazine

I am regularly asked, “Why is the divorce rate so high?” With 50 percent of first marriages ending in divorce, obviously this is a question that many people ponder.

Many people tell me their marriage ended because they “grew apart” from their spouse. Since this is a very common problem, let’s spend some time discussing it so you won’t fall into this trap.

I love to read the wedding announcements in my local paper. Today, folks still tend to marry young. The wedding announcements in New York City, where I live, regularly introduce me to fresh-faced couples who are filled with optimism. Their average age ranges from mid- 20s into early 30s. When traveling to smaller metropolises, I notice that people marry even younger. This being the case, I often speculate on how these youthful couples will weather both life’s and marriage’s inevitable storms.

Let’s face it—people change. As a relationship therapist, I believe that healthy growth and change is very positive; in fact, it’s something we should all strive for. Truth be told, you are not supposed to be the same person at 40 or 50 that you were at 30. As we age, we should develop new hobbies, friendships, and passions. Some people completely switch their careers or even shed their former image.  So if change is inevitable, how does a couple grow together in a way that is productive for their marriage?

Personally, I think this is a question that all couples should discuss during their engagement and revisit periodically over the course of their marriage.

For example, many young couples bond over similar hobbies and pursuits, which brings them together in the first place. Yet, as you may expect, over time, one or both will discover new interests, and maybe those new interests will not be shared by their partner. This is perfectly normal and if handled wisely, this scenario can actually add dimension to a couple’s life.

If you’ve just joined a book club, and your husband isn’t a big reader—this doesn’t have to be an excuse to grow apart.  Note that you can and should share your newfound hobby with him. You can describe your book club event, educate him about what you have learned about a particular author, and you can even give him a synopsis on the book you are reading (in fact, reading out loud to your partner in bed is a great way to foster intimacy). This sort of mature dialogue encourages couples to share their lives with each other, and sharing creates a stronger love bond.

Problems arise when couples take divergent paths without disclosing what is going on in their individual lives. And too much of this pattern can make a couple grow apart and forget what joined them together in the first place.

So remember that change in a marriage can be a very positive thing. The more you do as an individual the more you learn, plus you enhance your confidence, which is a very good thing.  Just be aware that you are part of a couple and that discussing change and growth in each other’s life is a very positive thing.