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Times You Can Predict Your Sex May Decline

As I continually work with couples on improving their sex lives, one concern I hear frequently is, “Are we having the normal amount of sex?” They worry that if they are having less sex than they did at other points in the relationship, that maybe their sex life is getting worse. The reality is, the number of times you are your partner have sex, isn’t the most valuable information about whether or not you have a high-quality sex life. It is very natural for the quantity of sex to eb and flow throughout a lifetime together. Here are some perfectly normal times to see some changes in the frequency, and perhaps quality of your sex with your partner:

  1. Pregnancy: Though there are some changes in the body during pregnancy that can make sex more enjoyable for women, there are certainly some changes that do not. Some women report that fatigue and sickness during the first trimester of pregnancy, make them feel less sexual desire. Typically, women report the most enjoyable sex during their second trimester of pregnancy. During the third trimester, it is a fight for space in the female body! Additionally, after baby comes, there is no sex at all for at least 6 weeks.
  2. Death and Grieving: Some people report that when they are grieving the loss of a loving one, they feel less desire to be sexually intimate. That being said, some don’t feel that way at all. You shouldn’t feel weird or guilty if you still do have a desire for sex after the death of a loved one. All of these responses fall under the normal umbrella.
  3. Illness: Most people don’t feel like being sexually intimate when they are sick. When our bodies are fighting off illness, survival takes precedence over procreation. Luckily, illness usually only influences our sex lives for a week or so. However, when chronic illness is involved this can take a toll on a relationship. When a partner has cancer, or dementia, or kidney failure, sex becomes one of the last priorities, though sex can still be missed and longed for by both partners.
  4. Distance: This one is obvious… You can’t have sex when you are miles apart. Many couples have to spend time apart due to work, deployments, etc. In these cases, couples should have a plan for how they will maintain intimacy and connection during the time apart.
  5. Depression and Anxiety: Mental health issues can certainly influence sex. Specifically, anxiety and depression, somewhat highjack the mechanisms in the brain and nervous systems that influence our sexual reactivity and receptivity. With professional help and treatment of the illness, these concerns can be resolved or better managed, and couples can learn to have functioning sexual relationships.
  6. Stress and Fatigue: Stress also interferes with some of the biological mechanisms that influence sexual receptivity. When our bloodstream is raging with the stress hormone Cortisol, our nervous system is not typically apt to engage in sex. High levels of fatigue can also decrease desire. You may be noticing a pattern. There is an order of operations in the body; survival first, everything else after. Since sex is not essential for survival, but sleep is, the body will prioritize accordingly.

These certainly aren’t all the reason sex may struggle in a marriage. They are however, some of the big ones. Men and women all report times when sex wains. There are stereotypes that men always want to have sex and that women are always the ones turn men down. That’ s simply not true. Men and women,though different, have many sexual similarities. For help with your sexual relationship, schedule an appointment today.

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Self-Care Helps Your Relationships: Good Things Utah

So often in relationships, we are aware of the other person’s needs and work to fulfill them. While this is a wonderful trait, it can lead to burnout if we chronically neglect ourselves. Here are some self-care tips that actually help strengthen our relationships with others:

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How To Cope As A Solo Parent: Studio 5

How To Cope As A Solo Parent: Studio 5

We often hear of the challenges that single parents have, but another group sometimes get overlooked: solo parents are those who are not divorced or widowed but carry a very large portion of the family load because their spouse is often away. Whether it’s due to military service, religious commitments, or irregular work hours, many parents (women in particular) find themselves shouldering the bulk of the home and family responsibilities. Here are some strategies to cope as a solo parent:

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How To Get Along With In-Laws: Good Things Utah

How To Get Along With In-Laws: Good Things Utah

Marriage is a wonderful change, but it certainly brings some challenges, not just for the couple involved, but also for the in-law relationship dynamic. I recently sat down with the Good Things Utah to share my top 3 tips for daughter-in-laws and mother-in-laws:

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What’s Your Communication Style: Good Things Utah

One of the biggest problems in marriage is poor communication. There’s so much emotional history and baggage, and both people have thoughts, feelings, and need that can cloud the situation, so it’s easy to miss each other. It’s important to understand three distinct communication styles and how they can hinder or help our ability to connect with each other.

The Doormat

The name says it all: an individual with a doormat style of communication often gets trampled on or simply allow others to lead. They typically favor peace over any type of conflict, so they’ll often be passive or give the silent treatment when things get difficult. This can lead to problems, as those assuming the doormat style have their relationship needs chronically neglected and do not take a stand for themselves.

The Sword

The sword is the opposite: those with this style are often very aggressive, defensive, and on edge. They may verbally lash out or blame others. For them, self-preservation is achieved through emotional manipulation or violence, but the relationship suffers the damage.

The Lantern

The lantern is the type of communication that we should all strive for. It’s illuminating and invites all into the light to see different perspectives and experiences. It is firm and secure, yet not overbearing. The lantern is a more mature style of communication, as it is rises above the tendency to be either a sword or a doormat.

If you are interested in learning more about communication styles and how to strengthen your relationships with also maintaining your own unique voice, check out my book “The Assertiveness Guide for Women.” 

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Getting Naked in Marriage

Many people believe they want to get naked in their marriage. Truly naked. They go into marriage with a belief that good things will just “happen.” That methods they’ve learned from their friends or even their parents will allow their clothing to just come off. No risk! Just the potential for an excellent reward.

The deeper challenge is that getting emotionally naked in your marriage takes focused practice and understanding. So much so, that people often don’t put forth the effort to get there.

Over the years I’ve developed a number of key strategies for couples to peel off their emotional clothing. To become truly naked to their spouse in ways that seems foreign at first. In reality, somewhat painful at best!

Staying Fully Clothed Emotionally

When working with couples I’ve had derivations of the following conversation on a number of occasions. It goes something like this: addressing the husband, I may say something like “You know your wife wants to hear from you even when you’re having a terrible day. She wants to connect deeply with you.” When asked supportively if this is correct, she will often give a knowing and definitive nod. He seems completely taken aback by this as he was taught essentially that sharing feelings is “weak.” Certainly not manly or desirable. And who wants to be seen as a wimp in marriage? No one!!!

Of perhaps greater import, is that unless a couple can become emotionally open with each other they’ll rarely (if ever!) feel completely connected. She will be unable to trust him on a consistent basis. He will feel that she doesn’t want to dig in deeply on things that matter to him. In reality, why should she want to do so? When she does reach out to him he can seem to be aloof and disinterested. Meanwhile, he can perceive her as distant and not wanting to connect with him in physically intimate or affectionate way. This leads to disconnection and a belief that this will never change. Ouch!

Learning to “Bare It All” Emotionally  

I’ve heard it said that it’s easier for some couples to be physically naked with their spouse than risking emotional nudity. Acquiring new ways to trust emotionally doesn’t need to seem like rocket science. Indeed, it isn’t really rocket science. In fact, it takes two people gradually becoming willing to share, errr, BARE it all. One key item for men is making the paradigm shift from essentially always keeping feelings hidden to sharing even his most key fears. This can be done with a well-trained marriage therapist or even gradually at home as the couple is ready. Either way, it can work.

One key challenge is that most believe “we’ve already tried that. Believe me, it did NOT go well!” The difference now is that you’ll be following three key ideas. Check this out.

First, realize it will be a gradual journey to go from emotionally withdrawn to connective. I like to ask some of the couples I work with to just improve one out of four times initially, i.e., that’s just 25 percent. That is, wives risk asking your husband how he is feeling when he looks really overwhelmed by his day. Husbands, be willing to share your feelings with her, even when it looks like your job may be at risk of being RIF’d in the near future.

Next, recognize that ANYTHING worth doing in this life comes at a risk. Going back to school comes with a risk. Asking your boss for a raise comes with a risk. In fact, asking (and accepting!) your wife to marry you came with a risk. The key point here is that if you don’t risk you’ll be in the same position 1 month or even 10 years from now. Do you REALLY want that???

Thirdly, make sure that you recognize that improvement takes consistency. Don’t just try for awhile and then give up because it wasn’t perfect. Recognize what the universe wants you to know, it will NEVER be perfect. Just keep risking and recognize it will get better.

Becoming Naked Together

Now you maybe thinking “Michael, I’m getting major goose bumps from the cold winds just thinking about becoming exposed emotionally.” Hey, I get that. Please know that there are wonderful resources to help you out. One on my favorites is speaker/author Brene’ Brown (https://Brenebrown.com). One of her most profound concepts is that of “vulnerability.” When I ask men what the word means to them, almost exclusively they’ll respond “weak.” Women generally see it as something to be desired. Totally sought after. Pursued and captured. Exactly!

Moving from seeing vulnerability (or risking) as “weak” to a strength is a journey. One that is so worth it for your marriage to truly become amazing. And, isn’t your marriage worth the effort to go from emotionally disconnected to a feeling of comfort as the emotional clothing peels off? I absolutely believe it is!

Michael Boman, LCSW has years of experience helping couples to reach their full potential in marriage. You can reach him by email at Info@wasatchfamilytherapy.com.

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How to Achieve Emotional Intelligence in Marriage: Good Things Utah

How to Achieve Emotional Intelligence in Marriage: Good Things Utah

Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognize emotion and to use it to improve your life and your relationships. It is truly one of the most important skills you can develop as a human being, and yet it’s not something we seem to talk about very often. Here are some ways to work to achieve Emotional Intelligence in your marriage.

Acknowledge Your Emotions

All people have emotions. Some may be more expressive or communicative about them, but everyone has feelings. It sounds simple, but it’s important to recognize that both you and your spouse have inner experiences that influence you both.

Sort and Label Emotions 

To be able to utilize and express your emotions, you first need to be able to identify them. The six basic emotions are happy, mad, sad, scared, surprised, and disgust. The ability to articulate in your mind, “this is what I’m feeling,” will help you communicate better with your partner. Being able to name those emotions makes the intensity go down so you’re better able to keep calm even in a tense situation.

Manage Emotions In Health Ways

Couples often have problems in that they don’t know how to cope with their own feelings, so they have emotional outbursts with their partner. Sometimes it’s as simple as taking a deep breath before you choose to engage or say something. Just take a pause and give yourself some time.

Express Emotions in Ways That Bring Connection

When you understand your emotions, you can ask for what you need in a way that brings you closer. If you’re sad, you can ask for comfort or encouragement. Also, look for signs that the other person has some emotions that need to be acknowledged. You might say something like, “gosh, you’ve seemed upset this week. Anything you want to talk about?” Acknowledging, labeling, and managing our feelings allows us to connect more with our partner and make sure both people’s needs are met.

Click here for a free printable Feelings Word List to help you better understand your emotional experiences. 

 

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Six Sexual Health Principles to Discuss With Your Partner

I often hear stories from men and women who discover their partner has sexual secrets. Sometimes those secrets involve pornography, sometimes they involve infidelity, sometimes they involve fantasy or sexual preferences. The individuals who share these stories with me often feel betrayed because the expectations they had about the sexual agreements within their relationship were not kept. The first problem to address is that most of the time, these sexual agreements were unspoken.

I want to encourage couples to make these unspoken agreements spoken. All couples should talk about their expectations for their sexual relationship. In order to facilitate this discussion, here are six principles that constitute healthy sexuality. Spend some time with your partner and discuss each one, what it means to each of you as individuals and how it relates to you as a couple. (One word of caution, avoid having this discussion during or after sex. Those times are likely to bring with them heightened vulnerability, which if the discussion is difficult in any area, can lead to increased defensiveness and conflict. The discussion will go much more smoothly if you schedule it for another time.)

*******

The following 6 principles of sexual health were developed by Doug Braun-Harvey. Learn more about his these principles in his books Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior: Rethinking Sex Addiction & Sexual Health in Drug and Alcohol Treatment

1. Consent

Consent in this context means that someone has given permission for something involving their body to occur. Are there sexual behaviors in your relationship that you’d like your partner to ask specific consent for each time? Are there sexual behaviors that you don’t feel your partner needs to ask first? Talk about these, and create clear guidelines to shape how consent looks in your relationship. Remember that feelings about specific sexual behaviors can change, and it’s okay to change your sexual agreements in the future.

2. Non-Exploitative

Non-exploitative means that one partner does not take advantage or manipulate the other into sexual behaviors. This includes using power dynamics to coerce the other person. Are there behaviors that one partner participates in hesitantly? Use this opportunity to talk about what those behaviors mean to each partner. If there are exploitative behaviors in your relationship, this is an area where reaching out for help with a therapist may be necessary to resolve them and set healthy boundaries.

3. Protection from STIs, HIV, and Unplanned Pregnancy

If either person has had previous sexual partners, have they been checked for sexually transmitted infections or HIV? What is the plan surrounding birth control?

4. Honesty

Are both partners able to be fully honest about their sexual history, and is there room in the relationship to honestly discuss fantasy and sexual preferences?

5. Shared Values

Creating sexual agreements are crucial for couples, and the largest part of the discussion will likely revolve around values. What behaviors fall within your value systems as individuals and as a couple? If there are value differences, can you create workable compromises? If there are value conflicts within a relationship, a professional can help explore resolutions that feel workable to both partners.

6. Mutual Pleasure

Sadly, many individuals grow up with the idea that sex is something men like and women tolerate. When this is the background, women can feel used and resentful about sex, even when they’re otherwise happy in their relationship. Breaking out of this mindset is going to be difficult if the couple has not found mutually pleasurable sexual activities. If one partner wants a specific type of sex exclusively, and the other partner doesn’t enjoy that activity, neither partner will be able to truly experience the kind of sexual relationship that is fulfilling and strengthens the relationship.

If after reviewing these six principles, you find some areas that you and your partner need help with, schedule an appointment with Alice today.  801-944-4555.

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The Three Communication Styles: Good Things Utah

The Three Communication Styles: Good Things Utah

One of the biggest problems in marriage is poor communication. There’s so much emotional history and baggage, and both people have thoughts, feelings, and need that can cloud the situation, so it’s easy to miss each other. It’s important to understand three distinct communication styles and how they can hinder or help our ability to connect with each other.

The Doormat

The name says it all: an individual with a doormat style of communication often gets trampled on or simply allow others to lead. They typically favor peace over any type of conflict, so they’ll often be passive or give the silent treatment when things get difficult. This can lead to problems, as those assuming the doormat style have their relationship needs chronically neglected and do not take a stand for themselves.

The Sword

The sword is the opposite: those with this style are often very aggressive, defensive, and on edge. They may verbally lash out or blame others. For them, self-preservation is achieved through emotional manipulation or violence, but the relationship suffers the damage.

The Lantern

The lantern is the type of communication that we should all strive for. It’s illuminating and invites all into the light to see different perspectives and experiences. It is firm and secure, yet not overbearing. The lantern is a more mature style of communication, as it is rises above the tendency to be either a sword or a doormat.

If you are interested in learning more about communication styles and how to strengthen your relationships with also maintaining your own unique voice, check out my book “The Assertiveness Guide for Women.” 

 

 

 

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War and Peace, the Internal Version

A few months ago, I stood on the edge of a 15 foot cliff overhanging the ocean. Several family members had already jumped and were calling to me to join them.  This may not seem like a particularly high distance to some, but it was high enough for me to activate an internal battle.

Part of me wanted to jump. The water was clear and beautiful. My family was having a great time in the water below. Part of me was afraid of hurting myself. Internal Family Systems (IFS) is a theory that uses the idea that all of us have internal “parts”, which generally work together, creating the unique individual that we are. When our parts are not fully integrated, we can experience internal battles, which cause difficulty in our ability to function the way we would like.

IFS categorizes our parts as managers, firefighters, exiles, and Self.

Managers act as our protectors. They are manifest as controller, striver, judge, caretaker, passive, pessimist, planner, and self-critic. These managers work to keep things in our lives going smoothly to avoid pain or rejection.

Firefighters are also protectors, but do so in a reactive way, attempting to soothe our exiles through compulsive behaviors, distraction, or rage.

Exiles are the parts of us that hold pain and vulnerability. Our managers push them away to protect the rest of us from having to experience the pain, shame, dependency, neediness, worthlessness, or grief that exiles carry.

Our Self is the core of who we are. Our Self is calm, curious, compassionate, connected, confident, creative, and has clarity. When we are able to look at the world or situations with these eight “C’s” we’re working from our Self. When managers, firefighters or exiles take over we lose our ability act from our true Self.

As I stood on the cliff with my internal battle, I wasn’t able to recognize the various parts involved. Looking back on the experience, it’s much easier to identify the manager that created anxiety, the one that told me “if you jump, you’ll get hurt.” I can also identify the manager who told me that I had better jump to avoid being teased by my family. It was this manager who pushed through and reminded me that the cliff wasn’t that high, the water was clear, and that everyone else had jumped safely.

Often, the internal battles our parts engage in are of more significant consequence than whether we will be teased for not jumping into the ocean. Sometimes our care-taking managers prevent us from setting clear boundaries with others, leading to resentment or exhaustion. Sometimes our firefighters seek to soothe scared exiles by numbing with behaviors or substances that are not in line with our value system.  When this happens, our managers beat up on our firefighters, and our firefighters respond by doubling down on their soothing behavior.

When we experience these internal battles, it’s tempting to try to ignore or reject the parts of us that seem to be causing the problems. Instead of ignoring or rejecting (which doesn’t work anyway), we can start a conversation with these parts to examine why they are behaving the way they are. We might discover that our firefighter is pushing us to lash out in anger in an attempt to protect our exiles from having to experience the pain of rejection that we’ve felt before. We might discover a manager who constantly tells us we’re lazy is really just terrified of becoming the thing it was called as a child.  Understanding why our parts behave the way they do, we can begin to have some compassion for them. Compassion helps us soothe the internal battles and increase our ability to act as our true Self.

If you recognize some of these kinds of parts within yourself and would like help integrating them, call and schedule a session with Alice today.  801-944-4555.

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