Getting The Relationship You Want

Get the relationship you want

Are you completely satisfied with the state of your intimate relationship or marriage? If not, how do you demand what you want from your relationship without begging or appearing bossy or worst yet, desperate? The fine art of being at peace in our relationship is a combination of set of core factors. These include knowing our worth, having realistic expectations about our partner, and demonstrating an unwillingness to settle for long-term mediocrity. Of course the glue that holds these factors all together should be  the practice of unconditional love. But I don’t mean to get ahead of myself by suggesting that real love will gloss over or tolerate all wrong doing. So let’s head back to factor one.

Know Your Worth

While unconditional love or loving our spouse in spite of, is very necessary for a successful relationship, even more important is a healthy dose of self love. Love which comes from a place of self worth and value allows us to understand that our love is precious and not to be taken for granted. When we love ourselves, we expect to be treated well. We know when to say “I don’t deserve this”. That self-love and confidence also exudes a level of inner strength which can be very appealing. It can make our partner sit up and take notice when the situation demands it and this can be a pathway to relationship improvement. Of course this attitude can also produce fear or intimidation in a potential abuser but this is why it’s completely necessary to demonstrate this in the early stages of a relationship. It can alert us to common relationship red flags. If we came into self-love later in our relationship or marriage, it gives us options; especially in the case of serious relationship infractions like infidelity or abuse. When we know our worth, it becomes easier to be assertive or to find our voice in terms of articulating our core needs and desires.

Have Realistic Expectations

Many times we’re unhappy in love because we expect too much. We have that old fairy tale etched deeply in our minds and when our partner flops at being our prized prince or princess, we protest; loudly. It’s a great thing to have high relationship expectations but the practice of putting our partner on a pedestal can be fairly problematic. Our relationship peace can be disturbed because we appear to have infantile needs or we approach our needs with a certain level of immaturity. We can expect constant affirmation from our spouse or we expect a relationship that is free from major challenges. But life happens even when we’re in love. We gain weight, we don’t always look our best, sometimes illness interrupts, babies get cranky, teens cause stress, our parents age, we lose jobs and yet we have to adjust. Understanding that your life with your partner will be no bed of roses must then be carefully balanced against knowing what you will not tolerate. Discerning what you will battle out together as a couple, must, therefore, be distinguished from major relationship deal breakers, which yo will not tolerate for the long term.

Don’t Settle

While problems and challenges are unavoidable in an imperfect world, any relationship worth its salt must be buttressed by a healthy set of relationship goals. It’s important that a couple shares what is most important to each of them, in the relationship. Differences in age, sex, religious persuasion and socialization, can often cause a couple to start out on different pages even when the physical or sexual attraction is strong. Starting the conversation towards critical core needs, should ensure that each knows what is most important to the other. Having reached that stage of initial understanding, working towards aligning goals and dreams for the present and future, is a great way to safe guard against settling for relationship mediocrity. Above all else, loving your partner unconditionally, is a great way to be at peace in knowing that in spite of it all, he or she is your chosen number one.

 

 

12 Steps for Cementing Relationship Commitment

by Denise J Charles

shutterstock_116979841We’re always talking about commitment in marriage but do we even know what it should look like? Follow these 12 steps to strengthen your level of relationship commitment. 

  1. Accept human imperfection in both yourself and your spouse and see it as a gateway for personal development and change
  2. Choose loving confrontation when unhappy or dissatisfied with some aspect of your relationship; this means that talking about how you feel is always critical; decide from the outset that you will not choose easy escape routes like emotional detachment or affairs
  3. Protect your relationship from negative external influences (friends, family, cohorts) who encourage you to bail out at the first sign of marital stress
  4. Set realistic goals for your marriage and work together at making them happen
  5. See love as a choice, not a feeling that is based purely on sexual chemistry or attractiveness
  6. Choose significant moments like birthdays, anniversaries or any day for that matter, to relive the memories of how you met, got engaged or got married; keeping alive the magic of your early relationship is still significant to the health of your marriage but understand that while this may be a tool to enhance your commitment, it should not be the basis for it
  7. Develop relationship loyalty by actively demonstrating that you and your spouse are on the same team; practice “having each others back” instead of competing
  8. Never neglect your sexual relationship; keep this “one-flesh” reality of your relationship going to demonstrate how exclusive and set apart your relationship really is from all others; this means actively working to make your sex better which will in turn strengthen your levels of intimacy
  9. Strive to demonstrate a “higher-order” love that is unconditional and loves “in spite of”and which also includes the practice of forgiveness
  10. Deal with relationship issues in a timely manner, before they have the chance to fester into deep-rooted anger or bitterness
  11. Never share your  marital challenges with someone you feel sexually attracted to; this represents the antithesis of commitment and loyalty
  12. If you sense your relationship  is becoming unglued and you both seem unable to handle it on your own, choose a reputable counselor, coach, pastor or therapist to help you get your marriage back on track

Actions Speak Louder: How to Do and Not Just Talk Love

aa-couple-laughing-hugging-475As a previous connoisseur of the romance novel, I had their formula so much down pat, that I could have easily written my own. Back in those good old days when the Mills & Boon novel reigned supreme, what struck me about my favorite stories was that no matter how badly the main character of the novel treated his leading lady, all would change on his profession of love.

This popular formula saw men almost incapable of expressing their true feelings to the women they were so enamored by. So blissfully ignoring the heroine, being cruel to her or even flirting with other women, were the order of the day. Of course this all changed usually towards the last two or three pages of the story when said man mustered up the courage to declare his undying love and proposed marriage all in one fell swoop.

There springs a common anomaly of relationships; professing words of love while actually not quite living up to those words. In our romance-laden culture, talking love has become almost second nature for both men and women. We hear it so often in love-songs, that it sometimes seems like a master tactic for a guy to quickly get his way. For those of us in settled relationships where we already know that we’re in love, demonstrating love can almost be taken for granted. We may have grown so accustomed to saying it over the years, that the idea of doing something special to show it may seem a stretch. Even the busy nature of our everyday lives can overwhelm us to the extent that we fail to give our relationships the attention they deserve. But no matter how long we have been married, it’s important that we recognize that love is first an action word, which requires demonstration.

Whether male or female, each of us in a relationship needs to know how much we’re loved. The following 25 tips should give some great ideas for showing and not just telling that special someone just how we feel about them.

1. Cook your partner’s favorite meal and do a special decorative layout of such; this can be especially meaningful on a regular day when it’s totally unexpected

2. Do an at-home massage or spa treatment complete with scented candles and oils to create that setting which says that your loved one is truly special.

3. Send your partner to a classy spa for a full day of expert handling and relaxation.

4. Volunteer to babysit the kids so your wife can go shopping or simply hang out with the girls.

5. Pre-purchase tickets for your guys favorite game.

6. Buy your partner that special toy or gadget which you know they’ve had their eyes on for the past couple of months.

7. Arrange a special date at your spouse’s favorite restaurant.

8. Send flowers when there’s no special occasion.

9. Give your spouse the time to work on a special project or to pursue their passion by holding down the fort at home.

10. Take over a regular at-home chore for which your partner is primarily responsible.

11. Wash your partner’s car.

12. Surprise your spouse with a new book from their favorite author.

13. Write your lover a letter or e mail which itemizes why and how much they are loved.

14. Send a special love-song request via the local radio station.

15. Buy your lover a bottle of their favorite wine and make some time to share it with them.

16. Massage your partner’s neck, shoulders and or feet after a tired day at the office; especially without being asked.

17. Make a cup of coffee, hot chocolate or blend a favorite cocktail or health-drink for your spouse.

18. Plan a surprise romantic getaway weekend or trip for you and your partner.

19. Buy that sexy lingerie or those crotchless panties you long go see your woman in and do all kinds of hot things to her to let her know just how much of an effect she’s having on you.

20. Arrange babysitting if necessary or get away from home and plan to get it on with your partner with a night of steamy, uninhibited lovemaking.

21. Put on some sexy music and do an exciting dance and striptease for your man.

22. Initiate some novelty in the bedroom which you think your husband or wife would like to experience.

23. Plan a lovemaking session where all the focus is on giving to your lover all the best that you’ve got.

24. Write your own love song or poem and romance your partner with its words or music.

25. When you’ve messed up in the relationship or offended your spouse, don’t hesitate to say and to show how sorry you really are, especially when you believe that you are right.

 

 

 

 

 

Should Porn Be Used To Spice Up Your Love-Life?

I know that there are some counselors and therapists who recommend to couples. the use of porn, in an effort to spice up their flagging love-lives but can porn really be considered a valuable tool in relationships?

Pornography is sexually stimulating; I will not argue with that. It is designed to be arousing and it most definitely works. We are all sensory creatures and most of us will be affected by graphic sexual content that is either seen or heard. Again, our sexual histories and experiences will influence our initial responses to porn. Some may find it more arousing than others. Some without prior exposure may be sickened and “turned-off” by the explicitness of it. Still others, especially those plagued by over-exposure, may become bored or desensitized by it and long for still more graphic or violent content to get them going. Whatever the case; our brains which act like sponges, will soak up all of the graphic, sexual content that we see and hear when using pornography. What impact is this likely to have on our sexual relationships

It is likely to encourage sexual fantasy which involves others and disengagement from our partners. This is inherently dangerous as it removes us from the act in which we should be involved at the levels of both body and soul. Because it will guarantee a quick erection or increase vaginal lubrication, is no excuse to use it as a “quick-fix”. Pornography in fact encourages laziness and is a demonstration of a lack of inventiveness and creativity on the part of sexual partners who should be going out of their way to spice up the act without involving a “third party”. Yes, this is how we should view porn; as an intrusive third man or woman, who has the power to steal our spouse’s favour.

I am completely amazed at how some liberal academics, have rebranded hard-core porn by referring to its use as the “democratization of sexual expression”. When people attempt to link a lofty ideal such as “freedom” or “democracy” with the idea of sexual expression without boundaries, no matter how debased, dehumanizing or damaging it is, then, we have another social problem on our hands. We do not live in a limitless society without boundaries, never mind what these proponents of porn would have us believe. As human beings, we are called upon daily to be discriminating in our choices, or face the consequences. Why else would we obey traffic laws or at least try to follow the rules of good health? Assessing the impact of porn on a relationship is no different; we have to look at the consequences. Yes, we have the right to free choice and we can choose to ignore the rules of good health but we will suffer the consequences; the same is true of porn and its impact on our relationships. Studies confirm that over time, several men are unable to maintain  normal erections or arousal  levels because they become desensitized through  the  over-stimulation which porn provides;  in other words, they  are unable to  function normally in their relationships  without it.

One acquaintance admitted that his fixation on porn contributed significantly to his sexual dissatisfaction with his wife.  He found that he would compare his wife with the impossible perfection of the women in porn magazines or videos and of course his wife was often found sadly lacking. While this acknowledgement reflected his analysis of the situation, his wife also registered an underlying feeling of inadequacy, of never being good enough. His marriage relationship suffered the negative consequences of his obsession with pornography.

Because porn focusses on the objectification of body parts, partners can begin to feel inadequate about basic things like breast-size or penis-size, which in pornographic videos always appears to be much larger than life. Male partners may begin to feel self-conscious or inadequate, when they recognize that their own endowment falls way below the mark. This feeling of inadequacy can be inherently damaging to any relationship.

Some may argue about porn’s harmlessness because it is perceived that the men and women in magazines and film are out of reach or unattainable and hence fixation on them isn’t “real adultery” nor is it “really dangerous”. But honestly, which one of us is happy with our partner humping us enthusiastically while really thinking of Sexy Sue who was featured in the porn movie he just watched? The power of the mind is phenomenal, and what a man or woman for that matter, fixates on for arousal purposes, will continue to dominate his or her mind during the act of sex. This spells disconnection and disengagement.

Does this mean that I think that everyone who fantasizes will act on their fantasy? No I don’t necessarily believe that, but just think how much a relationship could be improved if the effort and energy exerted through fantasizing about someone else, were fixed on our spouses instead? When we play with adultery in our minds, even if we think we may never act on it, we steadily erode our own defenses and we make ourselves vulnerable to inappropriate sexual behaviour.  It is important to remember that, inherently, much fantasy is self-focused, even when it involves others; it is not first relational. While at one level this may appear harmless, an overt focus on self-gratification has the potential to erode an intimate relationship.

If we do decide to use our God-given imaginations to spice up our love lives, let all of that creative flow be fixed on the one we have committed ourselves to in both body and soul. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using imaginative and creative ways to add spice to our love lives when such is focused on our spouse. If we do want to bring a live fantasy scenario to the bedroom, let’s ensure that we are the stars of our own show.

Adapted from “How To Have Mind Blowing Sex Without Losing Your Brain!” by Denise J Charles © 2011

The Way To A Woman’s Heart

ImageFor those guys interested in a committed relationship, getting a woman to take you seriously may feel like a scientific experiment gone haywire. Women of class and substance (you know the kind you’d actually want to introduce to your mother) just aren’t easy these days. And any woman worth her salt will work this for all its worth. Many have grown tired of the players, the dating scenes, the games, the lies and the competition. Most are convinced that there’s hardly a decent guy left on the planet and have virtually reconciled themselves to another season of singleness, being unsure of how long that season will last this time around.

But perhaps you are a guy with some shred of decency somewhere or maybe having messed up your significant relationships in the past, you want to make a fresh start. You are a man reformed. So how exactly do you convince your lady of choice that you’re totally serious this time around? Admittedly, the ease of this feat will ride on a number of factors. For example; has your potential lady been seriously hurt by a guy in her past and did this hurt involve serious stuff like deception and infidelity? Maybe she has never had a good relationship with any significant male in her life; including her father, so for her all men are basically in the dog house. What about you? Are you a well-known player whose reputation precedes you? Or are you a flirtatious smooth talker who just sounds so good to be true that no woman in her right mind would even think of giving you the time of day? Whatever your case, chances are if you’re called male, and this woman has some steel in her, you’ve got your work cut out for you.

While I don’t advocate a formulaic approach to relationships, since we’re all unique, I do believe that there is some practical wisdom out there for you guys in a bit of a relationship pickle. From a lady like me committed to seeing great relationships emerge and thrive, maybe these few pointers might help:

  1. Try not to compare your new love interest with any woman you’ve had before; each of us is actually quite unique and need to be handled with individualized care and attention.  In practical ways,  this means finding out what your potential woman wants and needs in a relationship and letting her know that you’re prepared and ready to provide it.
  2. Don’t get on the defensive when it comes to things like deep and meaningful conversation. A woman will judge you by your ability to communicate and share about yourself and be warned, she expects honest exposure; even of your flaws and foibles. She may not want to be exactly surprised by hidden skeletons in your closet and besides, we love strength of character and vulnerability. Remember, your aim is to build trust.
  3. Embrace her entire family as much as possible, especially if she’s from a close-knit one or if she has children of her own. If you’re looking for a relationship for the long haul, a woman will be suitably impressed by the attention you pay to her Mom or her kids.
  4. Speak positively of women generally; including your own mother, siblings or even the mother of your children from a previous relationship or marriage. Yes, you may not always be on great speaking terms with an ex but dragging her name and your past stuff through the mud repeatedly, may make a lady wonder about your integrity and discretion. This may cause her to question whether or not she will be your next casualty.
  5. Let the lady know that you find her beautiful inside and out and be specific about why you find her attractive. The emphasis here is on being distinct in terms of what you really like about her. So never say things like, “I love big boobs” or “I prefer a woman with a big butt.” While this may be true, the last thing you want to communicate is that your lady of choice is just one lucky selectee from a long line of options in your proverbial male line-up. Yes, women do love to have their assets admired but “tasteful, tasteful” must be your emphasis. We ladies of substance don’t like to feel like we’ve been in the figurative meat-shop waiting to be butchered.
  6. Ensure this lady that you are prepared to forsake all others for her. I hear your panic but don’t get scared! This simply means that you must demonstrate a willingness to set appropriate boundaries with other women when it comes to your relationship. So don’t ogle other women when with her, get rid of your flirtatious ways and decide on a discrete way to manage any other close female friendships which you may have. I’m not in any way suggesting that you ditch meaningful, old friends but make sure to communicate to them what this lady means to you; that she is now your priority. Enlist their cooperation in allaying any fears or suspicions which she may have as you seek to build a foundation of openness and trust.
  7. We women know that sex is always on your mind but try to show the lady that she’s more to you than a living, breathing vagina. See her as a complete person which means not pressuring her for physical intimacy, not laying a guilt trip on her if she wants you to put a ring on it and learning to honour her spirit, even before thinking about the sexual package. Value her complete womanhood and be sure to communicate your willingness to commit at the highest level; especially if this is what she is looking for.

Follow these tips guys and you just might find yourself with that woman you want to spend the rest of your life with.

And They Lived Happily Ever After . . . Or Did They?

ImageWe all have our own expectations of what makes a great relationship. While there may be a few women holding to the position that marriage is not for them; for the vast majority of us, marriage still represents that ideal which is the pinnacle of commitment. Yes, any two people can decide to live together in a house but I guess a public promise of love, unswerving devotion and fidelity is as good as it will get for most of us.

For many, marriage is superior because it signals a willingness to be held legally accountable for how we feel about the one that we love. To top this off, we usually spend enough money and work enough romantic symbolism into our wedding ceremonies to last a lifetime; or so we think. Very often, we hope that these will be enough to sustain the ideal of what we think a great marriage relationship should be. But this is usually where our problem lies; our expectations don’t usually match our individual realities. This discrepancy can actually push us at least to a lifetime of disappointment or at worst, towards the divorce courts if we’re not careful.

While not shooting down the idea of having standards or marriage goals, many of our idealistic expectations represent our childish or immature beliefs about what our marriages should look like; all the time. Without necessarily articulating it, we expect that “true love” will always bring with it fulfillment and easy transitions. Because we’ve been sold on romance, ά la the fairy tale and Hollywood, we’re often not prepared for the grueling reality that marriage is indeed hard work laced with its fair share of the mundane. But this is where fantasy ends and commitment kicks in. Whether or not we are living happily every day, are we prepared to stick it out for the long haul? Because this is where the commitment we made at the altar is actually put into operation.

When the sex is fresh and new and regular, when our partner is still bending over backwards to please us and when he/she still looks really sexy and well-kept, commitment is not so much an issue. We’re usually enjoying our happiness on auto-pilot and can’t imagine another life; of course we imagine we’re really committed! When change comes to our marriage, however, as it invariably will, this is when we have to decide daily to live the commitment we promised.

Practically, this will involve re-framing how we see the changes which come, as well as revisiting how we respond to them. For example, our partner lets himself go physically and begins to take our unswerving attention for granted. How should we respond? The easy way out may be to ignore his sexual advances, fume inwardly even as we give in or worst yet, check out the new cute guy at the office.

While these responses may be very human, knee-jerk reactions for many of us, none of them speak of commitment. Firmly and clearly communicating to our husband what we need from him, is going to be critical at this point. In another popular example, a husband may enjoy his new wife’s sexual and emotional availability for a season. When baby enters the picture, however, he experiences a significant change as he seems to be no longer the centre of attention at home. He can choose to sulk, spend more time with the boys, have an affair to ensure his needs are met or he could ditch his self-centred attitude and pitch in to ensure his wife gets adequate rest.

Again, this is where our understanding of commitment should influence behavior. Commitment is not about settling for any old thing in marriage but involves our active efforts to make the relationship work, as opposed to kicking it to the curb at the first sign of trouble.

Since I’ve been married for quite some time, I’m convinced that “happily ever after” is an individual reality born out of how we choose to handle our unavoidable marital challenges. If we do want to stay married, learning how to operationalize commitment is not an option. The following eleven tips should help us to gain some perspective on the issue of living out our marriage commitment in practical ways:

  • Accept human imperfection in both yourself and your spouse and see it as a gateway for personal development and change
  • Choose loving confrontation when unhappy or dissatisfied with some aspect of your relationship; this means that talking about how you feel is always critical; decide from the outset that you will not choose easy escape routes like emotional detachment or affairs
  • Protect your relationship from negative external influences (friends, family, cohorts) who encourage you to bail out at the first sign of marital stress
  • Set realistic goals for your marriage and work together at making them happen
  • See love as a choice, not a feeling that is based purely on sexual chemistry or attractiveness
  • Choose significant moments like birthdays, anniversaries or any day for that matter, to relive the memories of how you met, got engaged or got married; keeping alive the magic of your early relationship is still significant to the health of your marriage but understand that while this may be a tool to enhance your commitment, it should not be the basis for it
  • Develop relationship loyalty by actively demonstrating that you and your spouse are on the same team; practice “having each others back” instead of competing
  • Never neglect your sexual relationship; keep this “one-flesh” reality of your relationship going to demonstrate how exclusive and set apart your relationship really is from all others; this means actively working to make your sex better
  • Strive to demonstrate a “higher-order” love that is unconditional  and loves “in spite of”
  • Never share your  marital challenges with someone you feel sexually attracted to; this represents the antithesis of commitment and loyalty
  • If you sense your relationship  is becoming unglued and you both seem unable to handle it on your own, choose a reputable counselor, coach, pastor or therapist to help you get your marriage back on track

HOW TO CUT THE CRAP OUT OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP

Okay, so the old year has passed. You are virtually over the excitement of fireworks and New Year’s resolutions; been there, done that. Life has more or less settled down to the routine to which you are accustomed. If you’re anything like me and Michelle Obama, January born, the New Year provides a doubly fresh context for review and renewal. After all, we start straight off the bat, one whole year older (and hopefully wiser, stronger). But whether or not we are blessed to be born in the first month of the year, we can all take this time to learn from our past mistakes and to put our experiential wisdom into practice.

Some of you may have as your primary goal this year a more meaningful, intimate relationship or marriage. In my own corner, I want to bring more balance or equilibrium to my marriage. This simply means that I want to reduce the level of discrepancy that can occur when one partner is steadfastly pursuing their goals. For example, I’m a fairly committed blogger and writer and I actively work at updating our websites, doing research and planning/designing courses and the like. This often takes me away from my bed; literally. So this year my goal is to get better at what I do while not sacrificing the valuable time I should spend with my husband. My husband should of course have his own priority area which he thinks would improve our relationship from his end.

If we pursue our relationships on automatic pilot instead of with thought or intention, then we run the risk of missing valuable “growth-moments”. Who wants a crappy relationship which fails to thrive simply because we don’t pay it the attention it deserves? Ultimately, the “relationship” does not exist out there in a vacuum but is a creature of the behaviour of the couple involved. We can only know what we want to improve, if we spend time reflecting on our mistakes with the goal of ensuring that they are not repeated. These areas do not only involve what we do but also how we respond to what is done to us.

The following are a few pointers to help all of us get rid of the unwanted crap which invariably pollutes our love lives.

  1. Utilize confrontation wisely: If we are constantly unhappy with the up-turned toilet seat, or with our partner’s propensity to be a workaholic; if we are bored stiff with sex or hate the fact that we have virtually no romantic couple time; then now is the time to open our mouths wide and speak. Suffering in silence or being a relationship martyr is dis-empowering and self-destructive. Practicing the fine art of loving confrontation with disarming ‘I feel’ statements, as opposed to harsh accusations, can go a long way towards improving relational quality.
  2. Take responsibility for our own happiness:  Cutting the crap out of a relationship is a two-sided deal because both partners share equal responsibility. While one may be responsible for outright change, the other is equally responsible for facilitating that change. Admittedly, it is very easy to blame someone else for our own misery. It is, however, equally important to look within to see where we have let ourselves down. Very often we can internalize our life-disappointments and project this unhappiness unto our spouse. Taking responsibility for our own peace of mind may mean deliberately letting go of past hurts in the relationship, forgiving parents or siblings and seizing the possibilities of the present.
  3. Practise self-love: As women we want to be loved and told that we are beautiful, sexy and desirable. Amazingly, some of us can’t stand the best bone in our own bodies. We are filled with self-loathing and self-rejection every time we stare at ourselves in the mirror; which is fairly often. If we are unable to say to ourselves “girl you look fine”, then why on earth would we expect our man to tell us this. Low self-esteem and self-recrimination are tangible states of being which affect the way we carry ourselves; they breed a negativity which does not exactly encourage compliments. Even when we may ‘over-do’ fashion or make up in an attempt to cover up our negative feelings, we can come across as insecure and lacking in depth. Starting with personal honesty is always best. Admit why we may ‘hate’ ourselves then renounce this negativity by walking in the exact opposite. This can be achieved through daily declarations which affirm that we are indeed beautiful; fearfully and wonderfully made. If there is anything we do need to change, then we can actively pursue this while understanding that our worth is not tied to our looks. A confident woman, who loves her inner self and her body, makes for a more dynamite lover and by extension this breeds a better relationship.
  4. Pursue dreams: Some of us, particularly from conservative or religious backgrounds, have been taught that it is vain or even self-serving, to focus too much on ourselves. As a consequence, we usually place the needs of others before our own; ALL THE TIME. Of course I wholeheartedly believe that there is a juncture in our lives when this is entirely necessary. When we have babies and small children we learn about this all too well. Even when our children have grown into adolescents or young adults we know instinctively that we would sacrifice anything to ensure their happiness; and this is perhaps as it should be. But there is nothing wrong with also pursuing what makes us happy or fulfilled; as long as it’s legal and no one is being hurt. Women, who constantly sacrifice their dreams and goals and never share such with their partners or children, run the risk of becoming angry and resentful. This could present in the relationship in a number of ways; chief among them being a bout of starvation in the sex department. Such women withhold sex or fail to actively participate, as a means of inadvertently punishing their partners for their unhappiness. In so doing, they are, however, also robbing themselves of the sexual enjoyment which is their right. When we feel happy and fulfilled we bring a positive energy to the relationship which is infectious.
  5. Shed unrealistic relationship expectations: I am a big believer in love and finding “the one”. Of course this does not mean finding a perfect soul-mate who will meet our every emotional and sexual need; this is a myth. I, nonetheless, think that there is a partner who is perhaps more suited to us than everyone else out there. There can be a sense of purpose or even destiny in partnering with someone who does share our vision and values. No one, however, is perfect. We should therefore shed unrealistic expectations. These can include beliefs that our partner should anticipate our every need, read our minds even before we speak, know exactly what we mean when we do speak, be the perfect lover, kisser, gourmet chef, provider, leader, handyman, disciplinarian, planner and the list can go on. While there may be such men somewhere out there on Mars, I haven’t met many of them. Of course I am not abdicating men of their responsibilities, but expect that a marriage will involve loads of mistakes, personality flaws, wrong decisions and hopefully some couple-growth in the midst of it all. Accept that neither of you is perfect and determine to improve together.

Ultimately, “cutting the crap” out of our relationships, involves cutting the crap out of ourselves. We need to flush away our own “stinking thinking” or flawed perceptions, so that we can emerge better individuals. While some may argue that from Dec 31st to January 1st, is just another twenty four hours, we normal human beings need times and seasons to make sense out of life. Let’s use this time to review, renew and to become re-energized for a better relationship in 2012 and beyond.

Men, Commitment, Marriage and the New Age of Relationships

Commitment is often sealed by marriage

Commitment means making a choice to give up other choices (Scott Stanley Ph. D). Narrowing of the options is not something, however, that we are at all accustomed with in today’s society. Advances in technology and human development, have meant that in life, there are now so many choices. Among any number of the technological gizmos and gadgets which exist there can be found an array of choices; each clambering to be the best. In an even more abstract way, socially and politically, we thrive on ideas like diversity, multiculturalism, and tolerance which attempt to suggest through very post-modern lens, that there really is no longer one correct way to view the world. Whether or not we buy into that philosophy lock, stock and barrel, we can perhaps all agree that the way we view the concept of choice, is perhaps having an impact on the way we are able to experience commitment.

If Scott Stanley’s definition of commitment is true, and I suspect that it is, it would seem to suggest that commitment involves abdicating one’s right to have other options. If I am committed to a person, a cause or an ideology, I have more or less decided to ‘forsake all other options’ for the sake of my specific choice. My commitment requires that I do this. Because, however, we live in a society which popularises the notion that we must always keep our options open, how practicable can this old-fashioned understanding and practice of commitment be? Even in the area of professional development we are now encouraged to be multi-skilled, multi-taskers, whose expertise or skill-sets, should span a range of areas and not just one. The concept of having a range of options to choose from and switching up these options as we see fit, is one of our very post-modern realities. While I am not necessarily criticising each of these social developments, it is necessary that we understand how our changing social mores, will have an impact on how we engage our relationships.

This brings us to the question of marriage and why men seem to fear it today perhaps more than any other time, in recent history. Traditionally, marriage was viewed as one of the most popular ways for a man to affirm his sense of manhood based on what society determined was essential. His sense of leadership, his ability to provide for a family, his ability to father in a controlled context, were some of the esteemed social values attached to marriage. Women were therefore “needed” for a man to “become” a real man. Enter our 21st Century postmodern age of “standardless” living or at best of shifting standards, where almost anything goes, where traditional values are scoffed at as antiquated; are we really surprised at how this has impacted an institution like marriage?

Let’s look at some of these shifts in their rawest forms. There is no order of priority nor am I suggesting that some of these changes may not have good merit. In fact, while I believe that some have been a step in the right direction, others I believe have been counter-productive and have negatively affected our own social and moral development. The fall-out has of course been felt in our relationships and families. Of course for the purposes of this article I will generalize, fully acknowledging that there are always exceptions to the rule. At the same time, we are examining a particular social trend.

Social Shifts in Relationships

  • Marriage is no longer necessary to “legitimize” the birth of children
  • Women are now better educated and more financially independent
  • With the advent of sperm-banks, male-female relationships are no longer necessary for the start of a family
  • Marriage as a unique, singular, institution, defining male-female relationships, is actively being redefined
  • The concept of “family” has also been redefined and is now all-inclusive of any union, including gay couples with children
  • Women no longer “need” men for financial or social advancement
  • Men have been “forced” to redefine their concept of manhood as this pertains to socially expected behaviours
  • Women, for the most part, have been socially liberated
  • Many women are generally “anti-men” and some (particularly the uneducated or unemployed) view them  only as financial conveniences
  • Men feel little social or emotional responsibility towards the women they have impregnated or are sexually involved with
  • The suggestion that morality or values should guide adult sexuality is labelled as regressive, conservative, insular and politically incorrect; (the idea is that consenting adults should be free to do whatever they want with sex, sans values); this leads to a reduced barometer for males to regulate their personal sexuality
  • Sexual safety is mainly defined by a greater emphasis on condom-use with little thought for the emotional fall-out of broken or failed relationships; again this absolves men of their emotional responsibility towards women
  • Marriage is viewed as an expendable legal contract as opposed to a life-long covenant
  • Individual satisfaction always supersedes the “greater-good” of the couple or the family
  • Cohabitation as a viable social arrangement has grown in popularity
  • Sex outside of marriage is no longer a social taboo
  • Divorce is easily accessible in case we make the wrong choice

Some men decide to keep it strictly casual

While I am not making any attempt to excuse men for their failure to commit or for their lack of interest in marriage, I want to suggest that at a subconscious level, marriage is perhaps no longer a pressing concern for men in relationships. Let’s face it; for the most part, marriage is no longer necessary for a man to get what he wants sexually from a woman. (Of course there have always been men getting sex outside the context of marriage but I think you get my drift). It no longer guarantees the benefits of emotional and social esteem which it did previously because as a social construct, it has been redefined. Men may tend to feel more like expendable commodities because women no longer “need” them as they may have before. Some men, being the selfish creatures that they often are, have also grabbed at the opportunity of having their cake and eating it too. Why bother to commit to one woman when there are so many women to choose from? Why buy the whole cow when you can get your milk for free? (Sorry about that analogy ladies).

It is my suggestion, therefore, that the reality of these social changes, may have caused men to revert to emotional protection mode. That is, they will take as much as they can get from a woman, while attempting to preserve or hold on to their own flagging sense of machismo. This is perhaps achieved by bedding as many women as they can, fathering children from different women and emotionally detaching themselves in relationships in an attempt to preserve a false sense of power or control. Since women are now viable competitors in the work place and every other sphere of life, the notions of chivalry and being protective of the “fairer sex” has been thrown through the window. Who wants to marry his rival? And what’s the big deal anyway; she doesn’t even want to be defined as the “fairer sex”!

Now lest I be misunderstood, I am not suggesting that we revert to the old, caveman days of male dominance and superiority in home and work life or that the battles won by the feminist movement be trivialised. I am simply suggesting that as a society, in our quest for equal opportunity, we may have literally shot ourselves in the foot. Men and women most decidedly are equal but we are not the same.  While as women we have fought and worked hard to demand respect in all spheres of life, we have somehow failed to communicate, (or have failed to admit) that our emotional needs have not really changed. No matter how successful or accomplished a woman is, she still desires the security of a loving, committed relationship. There is something instinctive in us that demands intimacy and connection. Yes there are a few exceptions but most of us women want that proposal, the ring, the ceremony and the whole nine yards. So here is a decided anomaly. We want to be respected on new relationship terms but our old girlish longings of the heart, of having a guy sweep us off our feet, still remain the same. Do guys even understand this? Do we understand this ourselves?

Some men, on the other hand, instead of re-writing the script in terms of how men and women should relate, have bailed out in fear of confronting a stronger woman. Some men are only comfortable with a relationship context where they maintain one-upmanship. As a result, such men have sub-consciously decided to take their relationships thus far and no further. Coupled with this is the idea that life is so much about diverse options and the need to experiment with them all, that there are no longer any social pressures to guide a man’s thinking towards commitment and marriage. He’s literally scared out of his wits and let off the hook; all at the same time! Men are not normally in the business of pinning themselves down in a scenario where they feel uncertain, powerless or not in control. That position is actually called vulnerability and this is still very much a bad word for many males.

Vulnerability is, nonetheless, also the place of love and commitment. Love, and its movement toward serious commitment, occurs in such a place where we are unsure of what we are navigating or of whether we will be hurt. True love demands that we be willing to take the risk. This brings me back to my original quotation by Scot Stanley. If commitment is a choice to give up other choices, it is also a place where I expose myself to the possibility of hurt and disappointment if my choice does not pan out the way I expected.

Instead of men allowing fear to keep them from this place, they must literally step outside the box of male experience, to allow this place of uncertainty but also of complete trust, to guide their own growth and personal development. It is a new age of relationships and we can perhaps never go back. However, balancing the positive traditional values of male-female relationships (qualities like chivalry, selfless commitment, protection, leadership) with the more modern redefinitions of interdependence, shared decision making, and mutual parenting, should make for the emergence of an interesting 21st Century relationship, which boasts the best of both worlds.

So Men Just Aren’t Sex Machines After All!

Just when I thought we could no longer be surprised by sex research, a new study by the Kinsey Institute for Sex Gender and Reproduction yielded a set of unusual findings. Contrary to popular opinion, this new study found that men, who kiss and cuddle, are three times more happy than those who don’t. Imagine that. In other words, men who were more in touch with their kinder, gentler, “coochier” side were more likely to experience satisfaction in their long term relationships. These men who made it a practice of smooching with their wives or significant others, were in fact found to experience greater levels of sexual satisfaction than those who didn’t.

What does this tell us girls? It confirms what we’ve known instinctively since Adam was a lad; that sexual satisfaction is much more than the straight-forward thrusting of a penis in a vagina. There I’ve said it! It goes a lot deeper than the length and breadth of the penis, or the depth of the vagina for that matter; never mind what Cosmo says! Sexual satisfaction also definitely extends beyond the latest tricks or is more than those impossible gymnastics’ positions highlighted in the Kama Sutra.

If what we understand about this study is correct, then we can gather that intimacy means a lot more to men than they have traditionally let on. If you remember anything about the movie Pretty Woman, starring Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, then you would recall that the prostitute played by Roberts, had a distinct difficulty with kissing her clients. She admitted that it fostered attachments and created a sense of intimacy that she didn’t exactly want to encourage in her line of work. Both women and men recognize that there can be nothing more intimate than breathing each other’s oxygen. Maybe this explains why some men subconsciously decide to lay off the smooching after they have landed their catch; perhaps it’s a means of maintaining some level of control; you know, like protecting themselves against too much vulnerability. Unfortunately, however, holding out in the intimacy department actually leads to less relationship fulfillment.

Not that I’m suggesting that most men don’t like to kiss, but other studies have shown that the more stale a relationship gets, the less kissing there often is. As sex becomes routine, several couples admit to simply honing in on what they see as the important hardware for sex; mainly the genitals. With kids to get off to school, pets to feed and jobs to get up and go to, kissing can become relegated to the trash-heap of a relationship. Whether intimacy dies because there is a lack of deep kissing or whether it is that the death of intimacy means that we no longer want to kiss and cuddle, this study confirms that relationships which are satisfying do thrive on something more than just straight-up sex.

What was even more astounding was that this cuddly stuff was more predictive of male happiness than it was of female happiness in relationships. Hmmm. Now that was a stunner. We women have been conditioned into seeing ourselves as soft, mushy, emotional and in need of lots of non-sex affirmation; that is, hugging and the like. While I do believe that this is still very true, it is also true that as women grow older, they also become more in tuned with and comfortable about expressing their sexual needs. In other words, we become more sexually complex. A woman in her late thirties, forties or fifties is more assertive in requesting what she wants from her spouse, than a woman in her twenties, who’s more concerned about how she looks in bright light.

As confirmed by one sex expert, as we women grow older, we come into our own sexually. A woman’s sexual peak tends to take place after thirty five and really takes off when she hits her forties. Men on the other hand, tend to peak in their early twenties and keep up a lot I believe through social expectations and the consumption of Red Bull (just kidding). Not that I’m suggesting that men lose interest in sex, but there is a known difference in our sexual peak points. (I honestly believe that this see-saw effect is genetically engineered to allow us to get on with other aspects of our lives; imagine how the world just might stand still if men and women both peaked at the same time; nothing else would ever get done; balance is always good)

Of course being in love and being committed in a long term relationship, will affect a man’s libido to a great extent. Consequently, what this study also reveals is that men in stable relationships are very concerned with pleasing their partner sexually; it’s more about connection and less about competition. After all it takes a class act of a man to learn his woman’s body very well and know how to keep it humming as her sexual needs change. But these findings all fit together quite nicely. As men become more settled with one woman, their desire is to be more intimate with her and this is strengthened as they kiss and cuddle and allow that attachment hormone Oxytocin to do its work. Women, on the other hand, as their relationships lengthen, experience a greater yearning for hot, steamy sex with the one man to whom they are committed. And this is of course in keeping with a woman’s rise in sexual assertiveness. These male-female differences in need, are in fact complimentary and represent a wonderful dove-tailing of cuddly warmth and hot passion.

These findings to my mind are a great plus for the institution of marriage, which has wrongfully taken a beating and the blame for many a failed sex life. There is a lot then to be said for long term relationships and the commitment which allows couples to grow sexually together.

And it’s nice to know that it’s finally official; guys are a lot more than automatic sex machines.

What a Man Wants

I know that some of you, especially males, are going to think that it’s decidedly presumptuous of me to even think that I know what a man wants. But I’m no Johnny or Jane come lately. Having been married to the same man for over twenty-five years and the fact that I live in a house with four males, gives me the distinct advantage of getting up close and personal with this enigma called the male-species.

Men I believe have their own peculiar set of needs. While much time and energy is spent on deciphering how to make a woman happy and how to keep her satisfied, I think the brothers may have been somewhat hard done by. Because men try so hard to come across as happy go-lucky creatures who are not emotionally needy, we may have become convinced that all a guy needs is a full stomach and some good sex to send him on his way rejoicing. In fact, men thrive on perpetuating this myth that they are in fact one-dimensional creatures.

I recently heard a radio program where a husband admitted that while his wife needed friendship, intimacy, romance and emotional support, all he needed was plenty food and lots of sex. He admitted, to the roaring laughter of his audience, that he could think of nothing else. Of course the flippant response of his listeners confirmed that they had bought his lie; hook, line and sinker. Men, from my own observation, however, need a whole lot more.

The humanity in all of us, whether male or female, cries out for love, attention, a sense of security and affirmation. This is what sets us apart from the animals. Of course socialization and global concepts of maleness and femaleness have to a large degree influenced how we even perceive or articulate our relationship needs. While I don’t intend to make the huge mistake of lumping all males together in the same mold, I believe that males generally pass through three basic stages of emotional and sexual development. These stages, to some degree, do shape or determine the emphasis on specific needs. For instance, trying to navigate a relationship with a guy while he is not yet in his “relationship/settling stage” could prove disastrous to the lady who is hoping to make an honest man out of her guy.

It is imperative therefore that we women understand the male psyche if we are to experience any peace of mind in our relationships with them. Of course there are no absolutes and some guys will by-pass stages or not dwell there long simply because of their own emotional/spiritual development or because of rapid personal growth. Regardless, these frames are perhaps useful terms of reference for assisting us in deciphering the peculiarities of the male species.

Primal Male

This is man on the prowl. Basically he is hunting and hoping to gather a mate to satisfy his cravings for sex. He is usually enamored by the panacea of choice before him. In other words, he can’t decide from the vast array of women he sees. Whether short, tall, black, white, big or small, Primal Male loves women and sometimes wishes there was a way for him to have them all, of course without losing life or limb. If Primal Male is smart, however, reality eventually sets in and he grows to recognize that he can’t very well have his cake and eat it too. This usually happens when one woman enters the picture and effectively convinces him that she is all he really needs. If this “love-of-a-lifetime” experience never happens for Primal Male, he may spend his years on a constant quest for a variety of sexual encounters. On another take, he may come into an experience of emotional development or enlightenment where he becomes tired of his own behavior and yearns for change. The woman, who however, tries to tame this man before he has brought his own savage beast under control, is in for the ride of her life. Primal men at their rawest levels can’t be forced to commit because they are ruled by their desire for sexual conquest. If a Primal Male does marry while still in his prowling stage, then his wife is likely to be confronted by a series of infidelities over which she will have little control.

Settling Male

If Primal Male thrives from the thrill of the chase, then Settling Male has chased, grown tired and wants to pause long enough to put down roots. No seriously, quite a lot is said about the maternal instinct and a woman’s biological clock. Precious little is discussed about the fathering instinct and a man’s desire to proliferate his genes in a secure environment where he can actually influence how his son is allowed to grow into a better version of himself. Yes, despite their reputation, not all men are canine in their activity and just content to spray their sperm around for target practice.

There comes a distinct time in every discerning male’s development when he does recognize that life is not all about him and that he must make active preparation for the next generation and the continuation of his legacy. And of course you will not find men sitting around in packs or groups discussing these things as women do on a regular basis in coffee shops (if you ask a man about his biological clock he’ll probably ask you where he can buy one). To admit this need is an almost unspoken code in the school of masculine initiation but I do believe that it is deeply embedded at the level of the sub-conscious. Remember, men are not prone to admit to any needs unless pure sex is involved. Nonetheless, my experience and observation tells me that the need to father is a distinct male need that more often than not, goes unmentioned.

This need then influences how males do go about selecting a mate or a life partner to facilitate their instinct for fathering. Maybe this explains (not excuses) why some men will run around with a particular woman or women for years and then “select” an entirely different woman to marry and mother the children he wants to father (and this is not a judgement call or an aspersion on women; just a fact of male sexual behavior).

Companioning Male

Now I do believe that every man is terrified of growing old alone with no one around to clip his toe nails. As men come into their own (which admittedly does take some of them a very long time) they grow to recognize that self-exposure and  vulnerability to one woman is not such a bad thing after all. Am I suggesting a diminishing interest in sex or competitiveness or in any of the things that make a man identifiably male? Of course not! There are some core behaviors that will not change even as males mature. Nonetheless, as a man exposes his bad behavior over time to one woman who will often tolerate it (leaving the toilet seat up, socks on the floor, farting loudly, ogling other women) he grows to appreciate how close to God most women are in their behavior. You know what I mean; we’re forgiving, gracious and merciful and our men appreciate that we do put up with their idiosyncrasies even if they never admit it. And how are we rewarded?

We become the companion to whom they begin to expose their thoughts; their deep fears, hopes and unfulfilled dreams. It is perhaps a fact of human nature that it takes several instances of trial and error, foul-ups, bleeps and blunders before we can really reach the potential that has been lying dormant inside of us for so long. This is particularly true of men and their relationships. In other words, the learning that takes place as a result of early relationship mistakes serves a purpose. Very often it causes the true prince to finally emerge from the frog that many are sure they really married.

All Men?

Am I suggesting that all men will navigate their lives in these three distinct stages? Of course not! And yes there is a fair amount of generalization here. But those who have lived with, researched or observed men know that they can be as predictable or as complicated as the next girl. The fun part comes when some aspects of these stages are actually experienced simultaneously. For those of us who choose to love them regardless, it is important to note that reciprocal forgiveness, on-going self-exposure and the lessons learned, do serve to cement the bond. And oh yes, the sex does get better.