The divorce rate in America hovers at around 50%. This is a discouraging statistic and one that marriage and family therapists have tried to combat for years. But could the answer to the national marital discontent be as simple as having more sex? That is the question that prompted a new reality television show called “7 Days of Sex” and a discussion with couples therapist Terry Real. In a recent article, Real explains why although daily sex with your partner may not solve all your relationship problems, it certainly can’t hurt. The show focuses on several couples who are on the verge of divorce and tests the idea that 7 straight days of sex with your spouse will improve the relationship.
Real says that his experience has taught him that the happiest couples are usually the ones having the most sex. The physical and emotional intimacy of sex strengthens the foundation of the relationship. In the show, couples learn what their partners need in order to be satisfied, sexually and emotionally. For men it is usually a lot of foreplay, but for women, it involves “chore-play.” When the husbands on the show had to live their wives’ lives for a day, they could empathize with their feelings better.
The women also expanded upon their usual repertoire of sexual activities. One woman actually learned how to perform a lap dance for her husband, which ramped up the sexual gratification for both partners. The couples highlighted in the show learn much more than how to squeeze daily sex into busy lives. They learn what their partners need. They learn that what they themselves may want, their partner may not want. This experiment, although not based on science, seems to have provided at least some benefits for the couples. The long-term success of their relationships remains to be determined, but it is clear that each spouse has learned more about each other through healthy, and fun, sexual communication. “There’s something about a real awakening … their sense of being lovers together.” Real added, “[It] reminds people of what they’re doing here. And that can help.”
Couples who have been together for years have usually experienced a number of challenging life events. Child rearing, illness, death of parents or family members, job loss, purchasing a home, financial stress, and of course, continual child rearing, child rearing, and more child rearing. All of these issues can dampen even the hottest fire in an intimate relationship. But in a recent article, authors Lisa Rinna and Ian Kerner, who is also a sexual counselor, explain why it is important to focus on what goes on between the ears to make sure that the action between the sheets stays alive and well over the long run.
The authors say that it is important to address the issues that are happening outside of the bedroom in order to be in the mood in the bedroom. Women in particular cannot easily switch gears from paying the bills and carting kids around to being sexual goddesses for their husbands. And because many women are intrinsically emotionally centered, any anger or resentment that has not been dealt with will end up interfering with love-making. Kerner recommends working on the issues that occupy the brain with a strategy called “chore-play.” Rather than worrying about warming up your partner, Kerner suggests cooling the brain off by taking time to engage in household activities together. Walk the dog, do yardwork, or simply eat a meal together. Kerner says, “Even simple acts like hugging each other or doing the dishes can go a long way toward your satisfaction, in and out of bed.”
There are some couples that seem to be able to keep the romance steamy hot regardless of all the pesky daily problems. Couples that outwardly fight and pick on each other may still be able to maintain a very active sex life. However, Kerner points out that even though things might be going well sexually now, eventually the emotional current of that relationship will begin to rock the action in the bedroom, and not in a positive way. Experts agree that even the best sexual relationships cannot be maintained unless the brain is being nurtured and loved. So to ensure a sexually satisfying relationship that will stand the test of time, take care of those issues inside your head before you jump into bed!
When a partner commits infidelity it usually means they are sexually intimate with someone other than their spouse. However, emotional infidelity is another form of unfaithfulness that can be just as harmful to a relationship. In a recent article, Dr. Parul Tank explains what emotional infidelity is, why it occurs and how to stop it. Tank, a consultant psychiatrist, believes that people who commit sexual infidelity often begin by becoming emotionally intimate with a person outside their marriage. People who have been in relationships for many years and do not feel physically stimulated by their spouse or are not given the attention, emotionally or sexually, that they once received, may be more vulnerable to engaging in an extramarital relationship that makes them feel like their spouse once did.
Tank says that the virtual world in which we live makes emotional cheating much easier than it used to be, which also increases the risk of sexual infidelity. Reuniting with an old flame or college friend over the internet may spark a relationship filled with memories and references that exclude the spouse. When a partner engages in conversations that include intimate details and sexual undertones, the stage is set for further involvement, which could easily include sexual intimacy. Sending sexy text messages and posting promiscuous pictures online can result in compliments and emotional flirting. But Tank says that these activities all too often lead to other behaviors that can threaten the marital relationship.
People don’t realize they are in the danger zone until it is too late. What starts as a purely platonic relationship can build to feelings of desire and romance that may be missing from the marriage. When these emotions are reciprocated by the friend, both people begin to feel wanted and attractive, which increases their motivation to perpetuate the behavior. Before long, a married spouse can find themselves romantically involved with someone they have not even had sexual relations with. But Tank warns that this type of infidelity is just as hurtful to the other spouse because it violates the marital trust. He also says that if someone finds themselves caught up in this type of behavior, it can be stopped. Tank says, “Ideally counseling helps since it gets the person to realize what is wrong in their original relationship and they can take corrective measures to fix things.”
The joy of having a newborn is like nothing else. But for many couples, the arrival of their first child can cause new problems that they never before had to deal with. Before children, intimate partners spend most of their together time together, sans children. Long walks, romantic dinners, and adventurous get-a-ways allow partners to share special moments and create memories that intensify their bond. But when baby makes three, alone time is virtually nonexistent. Lack of sleep, tattered nerves, and the weight of the overwhelming responsibility that accompanies parenthood can create a host of issues for couples.
In a recent article, Marriage and Family Therapist Lisa Brookes Kift explains the importance of preserving and prioritizing the marital relationship after children enter the picture. Many parents shelf couple time because they feel like they spend less time with their children than their own parents spent with them. However, Kift points out that the best thing parents can do for their children is to set an example of what a loving relationship looks like. She says that date nights, long walks, and even snuggling up on the sofa after the kids are fast asleep can be vital moments of reconnection. Partners should take advantage of these opportunities to catch up on each other and reinforce their relationship.
Kift says that children are often the victims of poor parental relationships. They internalize the stress they feel when their parents have conflict and communication problems as a result of neglecting their relationship. Rather than focusing on the reactions of their children, experts suggest parents focus on strengthening their friendship and developing healthy conflict resolution strategies. Leading by example will set a peaceful and harmonious tone for not only the parents, but for the whole family. For parents who feel guilty about taking time away from their children to spend with their partner, remember that the children will ultimately benefit from a stronger parental relationship. Kift says, “Parents, give your relationship the time and attention it needs for the sake of you both—and your kids.”
The hit reality television show Sister Wives brought the taboo topic of polygamy to the forefront of water cooler conversations throughout the country when it introduced a polygamous family that seemed to thrive. Contrary to what most people assumed would cause jealousy and insecurity in an intimate relationship, the wives and husband on the show appeared to have a deep bond of open communication and trust often missing from many monogamous relationships. The children of the different wives, some related by blood and others only by marriage, also appeared to be fully accepting of and relatively unharmed by the untraditional family in which they were being raised. But open marriages, ones that aren’t based on religious beliefs and aren’t broadcast for the world to see, are still perceived as being harmful and dangerous by many people in society.
In a recent article, the effects of open marriages are revealed by people who are actually living these unique arrangements. The article highlights a married couple with two small children. The partners began bringing other people into their relationship several years after they married. And unlike swinging couples who engage in casual sexual encounters with no commitment, these individuals have developed deep, trusting, and loving bonds with their extramarital partners. The children of these spouses are aware of their parents’ boyfriends and girlfriends and say that they don’t think their family’s arrangements are that unusual.
Dr. Elisabeth Sheff, who used to teach sociology at Georgia State University, believes that these committed individuals adhere to a specific code of ethics with respect to their relationships. Sheff has conducted research on open marriages for over a decade and states that these couples may actually express more honesty and compassion than monogamous partners. Esther Perel, a clinical psychologist and author agrees with Sheff. She points out that open marriage participants don’t flaunt their sexual lifestyle but rather convey the message that they enter into their relationships with serious contemplation, negotiation, and respect. The individuals in the article believe they are not harming their children but rather providing them with a caring, supportive extended community of loving adults. “I don’t think that open marriage will become a dominant model,” said Perel. “But it will become one of the many models for relationships. … [T]here isn’t one-size-fits-all.”
Physical attraction is a major element of relationship satisfaction. Although therapists agree that emotional honesty, respect, and healthy communication are vital to the success of an intimate relationship, new evidence suggests that physical attraction is an important component as well. According to Vivian Diller, Ph.D., psychologist and author, there is a recent survey that highlights how much weight is put on physical appearance at different stages of a relationship. In a new article, Diller enlightens us to the findings of a study that might explain in part why couples experience the seven year itch.
In the survey, more than 1,000 people were asked how important physical appearance and attraction were to their relationship satisfaction. The participants were categorized into couples who had been together for 7 years or less, couples with 8 to 14 years together, and couples who had been together for 15 years or more. The survey revealed that the majority of the participants, 78%, reported that physical appearance was very important. This was especially true for those couples who had been together for less than 8 years. Diller believes that for couples who are together longer, other factors, such as emotional connection, communication, and respect, influence attraction, despite the potential decline in physical appearance.
The findings also shed light on which physical characteristics were most important to men and women. Nearly 62% of the men surveyed cited the face as the most important feature compared to 50% of the women. However, both men and women listed body, eyes, skin and mouth after the face. Diller notes that this is not surprising, as faces represent the first impression one has of someone. When couples first meet, their connection is made through eye contact and talking, explaining the importance of these facial features. But the couples who had been together the shortest amount of time were most worried about not being attracted to their partners as their faces changed with age. All of the participants agreed that they were most happy when both partners were physically healthy and felt good about their own and each other’s physical appearance. Diller said that while the emotional connection is important, paying attention to physical appearance will also help keep the relationship strong.
Same-sex marriage has been the topic at the forefront of many political debates in recent months. For years it has been a prominent issue on the social landscape and has been touted as being beneficial or detrimental to society at large, depending on who you ask. But the results of a recent study suggest that strong opposition to same-sex marriage is in part the result of a psychological phenomenon known as third-person perception. A recent article explains this dynamic and how it can influence one’s support for or opposition to an idea such as the legalization of nonheterosexual unions.
Third-party perception occurs when an individual perceives an idea, theory, or institution as threatening to others, but not necessarily to themselves. In the case of same-sex marriage, many people who oppose letting two homosexual people marry cite concerns for the stability and sanctity of marriage, but only for other people’s marriages, not their own. Matthew Winslow, the lead author of the study and a psychologist at Eastern Kentucky University, found that the majority of the 120 single heterosexual college students he interviewed supported same-sex marriage but did believe it could challenge stable existing relationships. However, when asked how much they thought the legalization of same-sex marriage would negatively impact their own relationships, they responded that it would have little to no effect at all.
Winslow notes that the results of his study underscore not only the dynamic of third-party perception but also how individuals tend to see themselves as immune to the difficulties experienced by others. The findings suggest that overall, even those who were minimally concerned about the effects of same-sex marriage on society in general still considered themselves somewhat removed from the consequences of such a groundbreaking cultural shift. The responses also show that most people perceive themselves as a little better than everybody else, reinforcing their belief that they are impervious to negative influences. With respect to same-sex marriage, this study suggests that even those who oppose the idea don’t believe it will have a direct impact on their own relationships.
There is a growing trend of couples having children out of wedlock. Research has shown that these children are more likely to struggle academically, emotionally, and financially than children of married couples. However, a recent article suggests that marriage may not be the catalyst for successful child development as it was once thought to be. According to Rebecca Ryan, an assistant professor of psychology at Georgetown University, the institution of marriage has less to do with how a child turns out than the involvement of the child’s parents, and in particular, the involvement of the father. Ryan recently published a study that found that programs designed to encourage marriage often fail because they do not address the factors and personality traits that increase a person’s likelihood of getting and staying married. These factors that lead to marriage are what help create a positive and healthy parenting environment.
Ryan said that in her study, she found that married fathers are more likely to be highly involved in their children’s lives than unmarried fathers, regardless of whether they cohabitate or not. However, for mothers, marital status did not affect the level of parental involvement. She noticed that although marriage did influence the fathers’ behaviors, there are many families in which stepparents assume the role of father and support and nurture the child as well or better than some biological married fathers. For cohabitating parents who are not married, the paternal involvement is relatively high when the children are young. But research has shown that if parents aren’t married, fathers are likely to significantly distance themselves from their children emotionally and physically as the children mature. This is even more evident for fathers who do not live with their children.
Ryan also discovered that education was directly related to parental involvement and marriage. Specifically, Ryan found that fathers who had high levels of education and employment were more likely to be hands-on parents and engage with their children than those with lower levels of education. Additionally, these fathers were more likely to be married than less educated and employed fathers. These findings imply that programs that aim to increase marriage should address both earning capabilities and education. Ryan added, “These programs could simultaneously facilitate marriage and positive father involvement.”
Monogamous unions are on the rise. According to a recent article by columnist Laura Schwecherl, the rate of monogamous couples, married or unmarried, has increased over the past several decades. And people in monogamous relationships are reaping the benefits. Over the years, research has shown that people who are in committed monogamous relationships have better physical and mental health. Specifically, rates of depression, heart disease, and immune diseases are much lower in monogamous couples than in single people. This could be due to the hormones that are released when individuals are in love. Surprisingly, being in close contact with a partner is not the only way to get the health benefits of monogamy. Studies have shown that people who look at pictures of their partners also receive the health-inducing rewards of loving hormones like oxytocin.
Couples who make the commitment to remain faithful may not feel like they are receiving these health benefits all the time. Being with the same person, and only one person, for a long period of time can lead to stagnant patterns and sometimes even boredom. To keep the juices flowing and get the maximum benefit of monogamy, experts recommend the following tips:
First, keep the adrenaline pumping by trying new things. Couples that play together stay together. Participating in adventurous activities, like hiking, rock climbing, and skydiving can be exciting and intimate at the same time. The idea of tackling new heights together bonds couples in a unique way, and the activity itself will increase adrenaline and elevate the pleasure for both partners. Second, stay physically close. Sex is important to a healthy relationship, but even cuddling and snuggling can release feel-good hormones that help protect against illness and disease. Schwecherl says that engaging in exercise, such as weight lifting, yoga, or swimming will help each partner stay strong and healthy, and will release endorphins that can heighten sexual excitement, especially if the exercise is done naked! And don’t forget the all-important kiss. Oxytocin is released when lips meet. Partners who kiss regularly will benefit from the physical and emotional closeness created from a good lip lock. Schwecherl says, “So go ahead and pucker up!”
Sexual intelligence does not refer to being well versed in sexual small-talk or knowing multiple sexual positions. Sexual intelligence is a term that describes a person’s ability to view sex through a mental lens, and not just a physical one. A recent article discusses how sexual intelligence can be your best weapon in defending against the enemies that try to usurp your sexual desire as you age. Dr. Marty Klein, a relationship and sex therapist, reveals how people can use this untapped resource to have satisfying and enjoyable sexual encounters well into their 50s, 60s, 70s, and beyond.
A recent survey of British adults revealed that the average amount of sexual activity 45 year olds engage in is a mere 22 minutes each week. Klein believes that people begin to develop insecurities about their physical bodies and are less comfortable enjoying sex as their youthful figures mature. In addition, the added responsibilities of careers, families, and financial obligations can distract older individuals and prevent them from being able to fully emotionally engage in sex. Klein recommends several tips for overcoming these hurdles so that everyone can maintain passionate sex as they age. First, he suggests using emotional intelligence to change how you view sex. Do not merely look at it as a physical act that requires tight, firm body parts. Instead, see it as a fun, relaxing emotional connection with someone you love. This will allow you to really enjoy the act of sex no matter how old you are.
He also says that it is imperative to use emotional intelligence to prioritize sex. As lives get busier, sex becomes less important. Klein suggests thinking through those other obligations and shifting a few priorities around to make time for sex. It may not have the same spontaneity as in your youth, but it will still draw you and your partner closer. Using sexy vocabulary isn’t just for kids, either, says Klein. Spice up the mood by talking dirty over dishes or starting foreplay long before you reach the bedroom. For some people, a few wrinkles and a little weight gain may signal the death of sex. Klein says, “But if we can value experience and skill over youth and function, our sexual peak is hopefully still to come.”