How Sex Dates Can Save Your Relationship

In our busy society, we schedule almost everything important in our lives. We set aside specific times for business meetings, doctor appointments, parent/teacher conferences, gym class, lunch dates, vacations, pedicures—the list goes on. So why not schedule intimacy with our significant other? The very short answer is that if you consider your sex life important, there’s NO reason not to schedule it!

Although some people may cringe at the idea of a sex date because it lacks spontaneity, I challenge that belief. I have found that most of the partners who cling to the notion that sex must be spontaneous are often using it as an excuse for why they aren’t interested in being intimate. They may be avoiding other relationship issues that are preventing connection and intimacy.

The truth is that good sex does NOT have to be spontaneous. In fact, the idea that sex needs to be spontaneous is a myth; it’s really not based in reality. Think back to the earlier stages in your relationship, perhaps after you’d been a couple for a while, but were still living apart. When planning the next time you’d get together, sex might not have been “scheduled,” but wasn’t it implicitly understood to be part of the date? You may never have said to your partner that “we’re having passionate sex at 2:15,” but BOTH of you knew that activity was absolutely on the agenda (and more than likely near the top)!

Here are some of the benefits of scheduling your sexual intimacy:

1. It won’t happen otherwise! Unfortunately, for many couples, sex just won’t happen if it’s not scheduled, or it happens too infrequently. This reason should be convincing enough!

2. Making a date allows a couple to revitalize their romance, sustain intimacy, and stay connected.

3. The saying “anticipation is half the fun” definitely rings true here! Planning the encounter can actually be the beginning of foreplay.

Tips for Reigniting the Passion:

1. Start slowly! Scheduling intimacy might not always be a good idea in the beginning, particularly if your sex life is not currently active. Plan time together at first to work solely on increasing affection, and agree on reaching a certain intimacy level before proceeding. To bring back the affection, go here.

2. Discuss with your partner how frequently to schedule a sex date. This may ultimately not be based on desire, but on what’s practical and doable with your other life commitments. Be realistic with your scheduling.

3. When planning your first sex date, stay open-minded, be patient, and be prepared to be flexible. It’s important to keep a sense of humor, remembering the whole purpose of this reserved time is to reconnect and have fun together.

4. Pick a timeframe when both partners feel energetic. Mornings instead of evenings may be better for some, while a certain day of the week may be the less hectic choice for others. Perhaps Saturdays at 5:00 am is best for early risers with kids. If that’s your window, it works! Be creative. Varying your date helps keep it interesting.

5. Be prepared for trial and error. It won’t be perfect in the beginning, but when you find what’s working for you and your partner, make a commitment and stick with it. Life can get in the way sometimes, but making your sexual intimacy a priority in your relationship will make it easier to get back on track.

While some people might be turned off by the thought of scheduling sexual intimacy at first, it’s often a knee-jerk reaction. Sex doesn’t just magically happen. Not all couples need to schedule it, but those with a less active than ideal sex life can really benefit from some advance planning — rather than rely on that chance, spontaneous encounter which rarely ever occurs.

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5 Tips to Strengthen your Relationship by Bringing Back Affection

Think back to the beginning of your relationship with your intimate partner. When you were first getting to know each other, try to recall how you showed your affection. There were probably lots of “little things” you did to show how much you cared, and you were probably quite attentive to your partner as well. The unfortunate reality is that as time goes by, disconnection and life stressors (jobs, kids, financial and health issues, etc.) cause many couples to show increasingly less affection to one another. Sometimes, it can disappear totally from the relationship. This decrease may not be intentional at all. Affection and attentiveness can fade with familiarity, and often we begin to take our partner for granted.

However, by reintroducing the “little things” back into the relationship – those sometimes subtle signs of caring and connection—we can refresh and reignite our bond. Taking time to sincerely compliment and praise your partner will let him know you value his skills, talents, or simply himself as a person. Sending a quick and friendly text, email, or voice message during the course of your work day is another easy way to let this most significant person in your life know that you’re thinking of him. Acknowledging one another’s presence with an embrace, when greeting or departing, takes mere seconds but reinforces your heart-to-heart connection, and boosts feel-good endorphins for the whole day!

These small acts of loving kindness have many long-term benefits. Expressing affection and becoming attentive helps couples connect and increases their level of intimacy, which in turn can lay the groundwork for rekindling a stagnant sex life. In fact, reinstituting these “little things” may be particularly beneficial for couples who don’t have a regular sex life.

If the relationship is sexless, and has been for quite some time, it’s hard to jump right in again at that level of intimacy. To reduce the awkwardness in approaching each other, back up and remember how you made your partner feel special and appreciated when you first met. Did you send flowers, write love letters, or extend an invitation to an event you knew she’d enjoy? Every time you thought of her, did you let her know verbally or by sending a message, as was mentioned above? Affection is often equated with romance, so bring back the romantic gestures—wine and dine your partner (figuratively and literally), giving as much attentiveness as you did when dating—and see where it leads!

A renewed focus on each other can also provide a cushion between you when life gets stressful. It’s easier to give your partner the benefit of the doubt, and show more patience, respect, and empathy when you’re feeling connected emotionally. Working through problems respectfully strengthens your bond, and enhances your life journey together.

Every couple has their own baseline of affection; some want/need more and others less. It’s important to find the ideal level that meets the needs of both you and your partner. A mutually satisfying amount of give and take, affectionate words and deeds, lends itself to a happier home. It serves as a good role model for children and all others who may live with you. Even your pets will sense and benefit from the increased harmony in their environment.

Tips to Get Started:

1. Discuss and share with your partner the forms of affection you each enjoy the most. Common forms of affection include holding hands, back/shoulder/feet massage, snuggling, hugs, and kisses.

2. Decide to focus on each other’s favorite way of receiving affection for a week.

3. Re-evaluate after one week and discuss how to improve the affection.

4. On your own, experiment with how you’d like to be attentive to your partner (appreciations, text messages, compliments, voicemails, etc.).

5. Evaluate and modify as needed.

Giving and receiving affection in our lives only becomes more valuable as we age. As people grow older or decline in health, maintaining an active sex life may not become the number one priority. Learning how to stay connected in the “little” ways and strengthening our emotional connection will benefit our intimate relationships for a lifetime.

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Why Don’t Couples Talk about their Sex Lives?

Think for a minute about what you know about your partner. I imagine most of us can name our partner’s favorite foods, movies, TV shows, preferred conversations, political leanings, and hobbies. However, not very many of us really know the details of our partner’s preferences in the bedroom. While sexual issues are among the most common issues in relationships (at the top with financial issues) they are frequently not discussed in much detail, if at all. Generally speaking, when things are going “okay” in a couple’s sex life, they aren’t discussed. And unfortunately, couples often don’t discuss their sex life issues even when things are not so okay! Specifically, issues about sex are usually off limits, unless it’s about having it or not.

Even high-functioning couples who say they’re happy and have a good sex life don’t routinely discuss the subject, although it’s certainly a focal point in almost every relationship. Even if your sex life is good, why not make it better?

As mentioned above, sexual frequency is often the most common sexual issue that is discussed between couples. Although it’s definitely an important one, there’s a decent chance that the quality of your sex life might be what’s affecting the frequency. If the experience isn’t pleasurable and satisfying for one or perhaps both partners, it’s understandable that sexual interest would diminish. Overlooking or ignoring the importance of quality in your sex life can impact the quality of your overall connection.

While sexual compatibility seems fundamental to any lasting relationship, emotional distance can make the subject very difficult to discuss. Sometimes one’s family upbringing, or past (relationship) experiences, has made sexuality a taboo topic. Most couples find it much less threatening to talk about disciplining their children, dividing household chores, or planning a family budget than discussing their sex lives.

An ability to share the intimate preferences of your sexual needs and desires requires a deeper connection, and a willingness to become much more vulnerable with your partner, than a discussion on how to divide household chores. Without that connection and a willingness to be truly vulnerable, it’s much too scary to confront this highly sensitive topic. There may also be an underlying fear: “What if we both make the effort, but the quality of our sex life is not better?” Couples who are not connected emotionally are simply not ready to share any details of what they want in their sex life.

Consider the following list of steps to help you “break the ice,” and discover ways to improve your sexual relationship:

1. Examine the level of your connection to determine if you’re ready to take the leap and can respectfully communicate with each other. Without this closeness, it will be hard to go any further in the process.

2. Express the desire for a discussion. Together, pick a good time and place to talk in privacy – not before or after sex—and away from the bedroom.

3. Use “I” statements instead of accusations or insinuations that you know how your partner feels. “I want to make our sex life better” is a good conversation starter.

4. An exercise to try (maybe even before your talk): On a blank sheet of paper, have each of you draw your own body and mark the places you like being touched, as well as where you don’t like being touched. Unless you’re a talented artist, this approach can add humor and help keep the conversation lighthearted. Be willing to laugh at yourselves, and enjoy learning more about each other.

5. “Let’s practice and experiment and schedule a good time to learn more about what we like,” or “let’s see what works for us and what doesn’t,” are nonthreatening, introductory statements that encourage respectful communication and mutually-benefiting attitudes.

6. Don’t make this initial conversation a one-time event; plan to revisit the topic every few months to make adjustments. Remember: Change naturally occurs in every stage of our lives, including our sexual preferences. Stay flexible and open to your partner’s suggestions.

If the above ideas seem too uncomfortable to manage on your own, couples counseling can help implement the needed steps to effectively communicate with your partner. It’s well worth the long-term investment. Why not have the best sex life possible?

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Increasing Emotional Intelligence for Better Relationships

There are a wide variety of factors that are important in order to have a harmonious and happy relationship. Educational, religious, familial, and goal compatibilities are certainly important, among numerous others. However, recent research suggests that a high level of emotional intelligence (EI) is also a valuable component to deep personal connections and happier relationships. This finding is true for both men and women.

To mental health professionals, the emotional intelligence factor is hardly a surprise, but it may not be common knowledge to others. What is EI anyway, and just how does it affect our relationships?

A good definition of emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of one’s own emotional state, the emotions of others, and respond appropriately to maximize our personal and professional lives. More specifically:

1. Being aware of your own emotions, and willing to experience and deal with them instead of pushing them away, is a good sign of high emotional intelligence. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, as well as how your emotions affect your behavior and thoughts, is an important part of this component.

2. The ability to manage your more challenging emotions by self-soothing (having the ability to calm yourself) and transitioning into a better place is another indication of healthy EI. Managing our emotions in healthy ways helps us to adapt, take the initiative, and follow through with commitments.

3. The ability to tune in to the emotional state of others by listening, expressing, and understanding their emotions (having empathy) is an important asset in strengthening all of our relationships. Having high EI levels helps us communicate well, and work well with others.

The good news is that, unlike typical IQ measured ability, your level of emotional intelligence can be improved!

Here are some ways to increase your EI:

1. Take your internal “temperature”: Choose three intervals during the day (perhaps at meals) and take inventory of your emotions. What/how are you feeling at this particular moment in time? Note if you’re angry, joyful, anxious, frustrated, stressed, etc. Rate the intensity level on a scale from 1 to 10. Daily practice of the exercise will absolutely improve and heighten your emotional awareness (and your EI).

2. Once you’ve become more aware of your emotions, see if you can notice patterns. For example: when you’re stressed out, do you snap more at your partner? If you’re feeling sad or anxious, do you overeat?

3. Becoming more connected to your emotions will, in turn, help you become more mindful and connected to your body. Discovering how to relax and nurture yourself improves your ability to regulate your emotions and it increases emotional intelligence.

4. Work on learning to empathize with others by putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Practice this multiple times throughout the day. Repetition with any exercise helps imprint the process in our memory bank. Imagine what your waitress might be feeling, or your boss, your child, etc. Is there some way you can improve their emotional state and your relationship with this individual?

5. Notice other people’s body language; read the nonverbal cues. What do they mean? Paying attention can help facilitate understanding and connectivity.

In addition to the five steps above, going to couples or individual therapy to work on EI development is also highly recommended. The better we know ourselves, the more prepared we are to improve our relationships. When both partners work on increasing their EI, they are likely to noticeably improve their relationship even faster. Whether the goal is climbing the corporate ladder, bonding with our children, or having a better than ever sex life with our partner, increasing our emotional intelligence can be one important key to its success.

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What’s that Fight Really About?

Couples all too often, when reflecting on an argument, say “It was about nothing,” or it’s over “just the little things.” It’s certainly true that many relationship conflicts don’t revolve around the bigger issues such as financial disagreements, parenting differences, or sexuality issues. While some arguments appear to be about nothing, are they truly not about anything? (As you can probably guess, the answer is “no” since I otherwise would have practically no reason to write this article!)

Recently, while browsing in an online professional forum, I came across an explanation of what is at the root of most relationship conflicts (including the aforementioned “bigger issues”). It was proposed that pretty much any conflict can be boiled down to occur for three reasons, or a varying combination of them.

Discord in all relationships is really about one or more of the following issues, which we usually are not aware of in the moment:

1. The need to feel significant and important.

2. The fear of abandonment.

3. The need for a sense of control.

The need to feel significant and important is common, and everyone experiences it from time to time. This need is frequently at the root of relationship conflict. For example, if one partner insists that their opinion or way of doing things is always right (how to spend money or discipline the kids), there can be some issues with self-esteem underlying why someone stubbornly believes that their way or decision is best. He or she needs to feel important or significant. Another example that comes up for couples is the desire for attention, or the amount of quality time together that one partner may need, which the other may not share. This desire can be looked at as a need to feel significant, or important to their partner.

On the other hand, a partner who never or rarely voices an opinion or disagrees with his or her mate regarding financial decisions, sexual preferences, or division of household chores, may have an underlying fear of abandonment. They may worry that if they rock the boat, their partner won’t accept them, and will ultimately abandon them. Suspicion and jealousy expressed in an intimate relationship are other examples of emotional reactions often covering the underlying fear of abandonment. This happens frequently, of course, if one partner has experienced trust issues in their current (or in a past) relationship.

The need for having a sense of control may in fact account for the most relationship conflicts. Underlying incompatibility issues with tidiness and cleanliness is often one partner’s need for having a sense of control over their environment. Another example is one partner insisting there is a “right” way to load the dishwasher. As you can see, many “little arguments” can often be about one partner’s need to maintain a sense of control.

As a couples counselor, while this notion of three basic root causes of conflict is important and helpful to consider, the biggest challenge is helping couples identify and express the underlying reason for their conflict. Once the core issue is uncovered, then the next challenge is a willingness to address it. Counselors can help a couple discuss underlying fears and needs, but it’s often difficult for clients to express them. A big challenge is for couples to be vulnerable enough to express their underlying fears and needs to their partner. Helping couples communicate their vulnerabilities is a challenging, but extremely important step in couples counseling.

Think back on your last conflict with your partner and see if you can identify the core reason(s) for your disagreement. Do any of the above-listed needs or fears help explain what contributed to your conflict?

If the same root fear or need recurs frequently in your relationship, it probably makes sense to seek (couples or individual) counseling. Taking time to figure out the source of your conflicts is well worth the time and energy and can help ensure your future happiness together.

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