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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.)

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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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Something You Should Know: Forgive and Remember – Said no one ever

A Therapy Blog Miniseries:

How are we to just forgive and forget when someone has done us wrong? How am I to trust or let them back into my life after they have caused so much harm? We often find ourselves asking these questions and unsure how to answer them. Forgiveness can be a difficult subject to discuss and we have many different thoughts and feelings about it.

Dr. Fred Luskin, an expert on forgiveness, defines forgiveness as the experience of being in peace right now no matter what story drama has occurred 5 min or 5 years ago and no matter what has happened in any of our lives; at this moment we can be at peace.

Often when we hold a grudge, it creates a lack of peace in our life. Dr. Luskin states that the reason for this lack of peace, is that instead of letting go of an experience, we hold on to it because it went against our expectation of how the situation should have turned out. Yes, life happened, but rather than letting go we are left with emotional turmoil due to an inability to let go of our expectations. One crucial part of forgiveness is letting go and resetting these expectations of those that we feel have wronged us.

Often times I am asked, “Why is it that we must remember?” and “How am I ever supposed to let them in my life again?” Often we remember the situation that occurred so that we do not repeat the same mistakes again. Dr. Luskin explains this concept well, he explains that forgiveness is “actually remembering differently. While the lack of forgiveness is remembering something with an edge or a grudge or a sense of injustice, forgiveness means remembering it more benignly, with compassion. It involves some purpose of moving ahead, rather than just being stuck in the past”. When we forgive someone that does not mean that we automatically trust them or let them back in fully. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves not for the other person.

Luskin notes that in order to move forward and forgive we must first:

  1. Take a hurt less personally
  2. Take responsibility for how you feel
  3. Then become a hero instead of a victim in the story we tell

Luskin notes that we must change from a victim story to a hero in our story. True forgiveness does not put the other person “in charge” but rather it places you in control of the situation. Luskin states, that “while you did not cause these things to happen, you are responsible for how you think, behave, and feel since those experiences occurred. It is your life, and they are your reactions and emotions to manage.”

Every day we have the choice on how we react to situations that we can take offense to. We can choose to react and fall into that default setting of harboring anger or we can take a step back, look at our emotions, and let go.

We have the choice day in and day out to forgive and move forward in our lives. Holding onto these grudges prevent us from our happiness. Letting go and forgiving provides us with the following:

  • Reduced anger
  • Greater feelings of hope
  • More peace in your life
  • Compassion
  • Self-confidence
  • Healthier relationships
  • Improved physical and mental health
  • More positive attitude and outlook

If you are having a difficult time forgiving and letting go please reach out and schedule an appointment with Nate at the Cottonwood Heights office 801-944-4555.

References

Luskin, F. (2003). Forgive for good: A proven prescription for health and happiness. San Francisco: HarperOne.

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Are You Ready to Date?

Boy, has dating changed in the last 25 years! As a happily married person, I never paid attention to the struggles of my single contemporaries. However, as a widow of 3 years, I recently ventured back into the realm of dating and into online dating. Wow! That’s some culture shock for the uninformed. Now, I’m sure that there are people reading this that are wondering what my starting to date has to do with therapy? Well, since I am in the business of relationships, personal interactions, and self-concept, this is a very relevant topic as dating in this highly technological, swiping app, game of numbers age morphs these concepts into something much less personal…at least at first. How does someone that is unfamiliar with the “new” rules of dating venture in? I think it’s important to have a plan, not a set-in stone rigid plan, but a basic idea of what you want to gain from the experience.

What should this plan look like? What is your expectation? Are you wanting to meet friends? Date a lot of people casually? Get into a relationship? There are apps, groups, and websites devoted to all these scenarios plus any other variation that you can imagine. I’d suggest evaluating what your needs and wants are. Have you ever dated using the technological environment of today? Setting realistic expectations is important. Although you have access to many more single people than what you would likely have otherwise, there is still the need to weed out people that you feel would not be compatible with you or your lifestyle. For example, dating an atheist if you are very religious and seeking someone with the same quality. It would be unrealistic to expect someone to change their spirituality to such a degree…it’s an unrealistic expectation. Yet, it happens repeatedly in various forms, people often think that they will “change” a person.

What about the amount of time that you are going to dedicate to your dating endeavor? If you download the apps, you can be instantly and constantly connected to any potential “matches.” However, is this healthy? For me it wasn’t, I felt tethered and “on-call” all the time. A possible solution is to look at the website or app only from a computer or dedicate a set amount of time per day to dedicate to the search. Boundary setting early on can help alleviate the anxiety and stress that can accompany the online dating platforms and help you not feel so tied to an app.

What about when you do match with someone? Have you formulated a plan and appropriate boundaries within yourself to deal with inappropriate questions, comments, and expectations from strangers? What are you comfortable sharing with a virtual stranger? What information do you need to protect? What about meeting for the first time, do you have a plan in place to make sure that it’s a safe encounter? These are all things to be considered before any of those scenarios happen. Personally, I think that best advice I received concerning first meet-ups was to keep them short, make sure they are in very public places, and go in with no expectation other than talking to someone new for a few minutes.

You’ve made it to the first meet, and you are feeling self-conscious…yep, it’s almost like junior high all over again. How can you deal with the potential feelings of failure and rejection? Acknowledge them. I’d be amazed if anyone that has done an online dating meet or has been on a blind date hasn’t experienced these exact feelings; it’s natural to be nervous. Likely, the person you are meeting with is having these same emotions to some degree, why not just put it out there? This is a genuine and open expression of what is happening for you in the moment; be yourself, that is the person you want them to like.

Dating can be a scary and anxiety ridden experience. However, it can also be a fun “re-do” for something some of us haven’t done since we were teens. Setting reasonable expectations, having a good set of personal boundaries, and being self-aware can all help in making it a good experience rather than the nightmares you read about. Now, go be your best self, and get to dating!

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Preventing Holiday Burnout: Mom Show on KSL Radio

Preventing Holiday Burnout: Mom Show on KSL Radio

 Are you feeling overwhelmed by high expectations and “shoulds”? I sat down with Lindsay Aerts, host of KSL Radio’s The Mom Show to share tips for moms to prevent holiday burnout. Here are a few topics we cover during this interview:

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Valentine’s SEX

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…and other holidays you feel pressure to make IT great!

There are a few holidays, you know which ones they are, that bring a chain of different thoughts.

“My anniversary is coming. I guess that means we should probably have sex.”

“Sweet, it’s my birthday. This means a party in the bed tonight!”

“It’s Valentine’s, does that mean that I should actually dress up for sex tonight?”

There is even a song titled Birthday Sex by the artist Jeremih. So, what is it that creates these expectations about holiday sex? Is it that we consider sex the ultimate gift and it seems fitting to give it on a holiday? Is it because in a situation where someone feels deprived of sex, that seems like a day you really shouldn’t deprive someone? Or is it that it is the ultimate celebration of your love for someone and that seems like a perfect day to celebrate? Who knows?

I am not here stating that it is neither good nor bad to have expectations about holiday sex. You and your partner can decide whether that is awesome or a problem. I thought it would be fun to consider some of the pros and cons.

CONS

  1. We usually also eat a lot of great food on these holidays and sex with a full stomach can be… interesting.
  2. Expectations can add stress and stress can be debilitating when it comes to sexual function.
  3. You can’t save your sexual relationship with your partner on a holiday every now and again. Spice is necessary more than 3 times a year.
  4. If you don’t have holiday sex and it is expected, it can lead to a lot of hurt, passive avoidance techniques, or anger.
  5. If sex is already a problem, the problem usually comes to a head when these expectations are unfulfilled and you can spend a perfectly good holiday fighting.

PROS

  1. If you conceive, you can guarantee you don’t have to share an anniversary or birthday with your kid.
  2. Going above and beyond on anything, sex included, can really make your partner feel wanted, seen and important.
  3. The pressure of expected holiday sex, keeps you on your toes and actively working on improving your sexual relationship.
  4. These holidays can create deep feelings of love, and perhaps create the desire to have sex in the first place.
  5. If you plan to have sex on these holidays, the kids are usually gone and sex can be more enjoyable.

Consider these points for yourselves. Wishing you a Valentine’s Day full of love and closeness for whomever or whatever you love!

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The Key to Expectations in Relationships

We constantly hear how important expectations are in relationships.  However, many expectations in relationships are not discovered until they are NOT met by your partner.  When this happens suddenly expectations become a big deal and have the potential to become a wedge in any relationship.

It can be difficult to acknowledge, monitor and understand some expectations you may have, because they are developed and picked up throughout life.  We can unintentionally create expectations as a result of watching our parents’ behavior with each other.  Or, expectations can be created from experiences in past relationships.  Finally, media has a strong influence on expectations, as well as, what we are told by others (friends and family).

For example, you may have the expectation that your spouse will immediately come to you and try to work out a disagreement because you saw this behavior in your own parents.  If you become involved with a person who does not do this, but withdraws for a few minutes to calm down after a disagreement, your expectation could be unfulfilled and it could leave you feeling like your relationship has some major flaw.

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Ask a Therapist: Lacking Emotions in Social Situations

Wasatch Family Therapy TeensQ: I am a 17 year old High School student and I have felt this conflict my entire life, but only now can I ignore it no longer. Amidst all of the discussion about college and ‘finding the right fit,’ I have realized that the major internal problem I have is that I lack an identity, lack interests, lack emotions, and therefore have trouble with social interaction. I am hopelessly apathetic at heart, and I don’t know how to reconcile the true ‘me’ with the image others expect–that of a ‘normal’ person who has passions and desires. I care about nothing–not politics or current events, not my friends or family or other people, not sports or music or art. Outwardly, I am a high-achieving, well-rounded student. I do well in every subject and participate in a variety of extracurricular activities, some of which I hold leadership positions in. However, none of them truly interests me, and I only continue them to get into college. Nothing ‘outside’ school much concerns me either. The various problems of society don’t matter to me, even when I’m affected. Occasionally a particularly poignant tragedy or example will make feel like helping out, but on the whole, I am completely apathetic. The same goes for the social aspects of my life. My childhood, family, and friendships were and are normal, but I do not have emotional connections to anyone; if somebody ‘close’ to me died, I would only be concerned with how it would affect my own convenience. I don’t have any academic, athletic, or arts-related interests either, and I do not believe the problem is lack of exposure. The only things I like to do are things that make me forget my existence and consciousness–playing games or reading a book or watching television, but the appreciation I have for those things is completely aesthetic and surface-level.

Left alone, I would be fine with this situation and content with engaging myself in passive activities for the rest of my life. However, society demands interaction. I sometimes have difficulty projecting the ‘right’ appearance in conversations and social interactions because I never feel anything (happiness at a friend’s success, sadness at someone’s death, gladness when someone praises me). Most days I do not have trouble interacting with people, but the times when I ‘mess up’ cause me great consternation because I am somewhat of a perfectionist and do not want people to think of me badly. I do not believe I have a social disorder because I understand what people mean and what kind of reaction to give–I just cannot act out that reaction because I do not truly feel it and I do not have enough acting prowess to express that emotion believably. People occasionally comment that my expression is too serious (that’s my default expression–blankness that is misinterpreted as seriousness, sadness, etc.), that I do not smile–in fact, I barely move, because I have trouble acting out body language as well even though I know what the proper response is. The emotions I do feel in social interactions are solely derived from self-consciousness–did I smile enough just then? Do I look relaxed? Most of all, do I look NORMAL? This kind of nervousness impedes my acting and therefore my daily interactions. Because I want to look what ‘normal’ is in any situation, I project different personalities to different people, causing conflicts when I deal with them together. I cannot just ‘let things go’ and be who I am–silent, still–in public; I want to look normal, but I can’t seem to force my body to comply.

What should I do? I want to make my social interactions normal so that I can live more conveniently–’conveniently’ in this case means in a state where my physical needs are attended to and I am left alone and not thought about much by others, where I fit in, so that when alone I can drown myself in fiction and escapist activities. If I have a disorder or psychological problem with this lack of emotions–perhaps a refusal to recognize them?–I want to be able to deal with it. However, I don’t think I could deal with speaking to a counselor in real life because my guard would always be up, always trying to act and never expressing what I truly mean. I won’t be trite and say that I am spiraling down into darkness, but this problem truly does bother me.

A: It sounds extremely exhausting to be constantly on guard worrying about the appropriateness of your social interactions, especially when your internal state doesn’t match your behavior. I’m so glad that you are reaching out for help to find your way through this confusing situation.  Yes, it does sound like there is a problem going on, either psychologically or medically. I recommend that you seek help from a counselor to get an evaluation, and to get a thorough physical exam from a physician. There are many medical and mental illnesses that can cause the blank feelings that you’re describing and the feeling of disconnection and despair. While I can’t diagnose you based on an email, the emptiness that you are describing sounds like severe depression. To learn more about the symptoms and treatment for different types of depression click here.

You mentioned that you’re not sure you can put your guard down with a counselor, but keep in mine that psychotherapists are trained to help you lower your guard over time, to help you get to the root of the problem, and to help you develop skills to live a more fulfilling life.  Additionally, a therapist can help you resolve any life events or relationship problems that may have contributed to shutting down your emotions and help you to reconnect with who you are, how you feel, and what you want.

I have seen many clients in my clinical practice develop the disconnection that you are describing after experiencing trauma or loss as a way of protecting themselves against further pain. If you need help finding a good therapist in your area click the Find Help link on PsychCentral. Don’t wait. Life and relationships can be much more rewarding than what you are currently experiencing and there are many, many resources available to help you. Please let your parent, guardian, or school counselor know that you need help so they can support you and help you.

I urge you to get professional help so you can reconnect to your emotions and find joy and fulfillment in your life.

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

Originally appeared in my PsychCentral.com column

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