Category Archives: Intimacy

Husbandry 101: Committed Men

Neil Rosenthal

by Neil Rosenthal

 

Dear Neil: I saved a column you wrote over a decade ago called “Husbandry 101: For Committed Men.” My copy has yellowed and frayed over the years, so could you rerun that column again? I believe many would like to see it again.

- Boulder, Colorado

 

Dear Boulder: You bet. Here is a list of “rules” that every committed man would be wise to follow in his intimate relationship:

Never forget what’s really important. Despite all the challenges that we face with our careers, paying the bills and surviving, it is our relationship issues that cause us the most challenge, pain, excitement, satisfaction, joy and heartbreak. Our relationships, in the end, are the only things that really matter–the relationships we have with our spouses, lovers, parents, children, siblings, in-laws, friends–and the relationship we have with ourselves.

You must give to your marriage more than you expect to receive from it. Learn this–and form the habits of giving, pleasing, serving, nurturing, being affectionate, romancing. If you take more than you give, the reservoir of trust, good will, generosity and love will dry up.

Women want to feel cherished. That’s more important than virtually anything else you can offer. Ask for what you want in concrete, specific terms and give up whining, manipulating, punishing, withholding or withdrawing to get your way.

Take responsibility for making your relationship right. It’s up to each of us to take the actions required to make our relationship happy, vital, passionate and close. So search for the solutions to the dilemmas and conflicts in your relationship. When you look for solutions, you’ll usually be able to find them. Accept the leadership role in keeping the relationship close and clearing up anything in the way of the two of you being close.

Learn the art of apologizing genuinely. Admit when you are wrong, do whatever necessary to make it right, then don’t do it again.

Ask these questions: How am I doing as your partner/mate/husband? What are the ways I could improve? Are your needs getting met in our relationship? If not, what would you like me to do differently?

If you want a happy, long-term intimate relationship, learn good problem-solving, negotiating, conflict resolution, anger management and compromising skills–and apply them.

A happy woman will influence your happiness more than you’ll ever know. An unhappy woman will create an unhappy environment, and it will eventually sour you and everyone else around you. If you wish to have a happy home, do everything you can to keep your woman happy.

The key to creating the best relationship you possibly can is to learn how to take your wall down and open your heart.

Always be a lover in training. Always be a “student” husband–constantly willing to learn or take feedback about how you could be better.

Learn how to be a true friend to your partner. Ask yourself: if I were saying this to my best friend, how would I show I care? What would I say? How well would I listen? How would I help?

Loving her isn’t enough. You must also be skilled, tactful, balanced, kind, generous, compassionate, emotionally and physically present.

Adopt this motto: The only purpose of this relationship is for me to learn how to become a more loving person.

Thank the woman in your life for all she has contributed to you. Do this right now.

Should I Allow My Boyfriend To Experience Another Woman?

by

Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: My boyfriend and I have been together over three years. During a break in our relationship, I had a one-night stand. I told him about it, and now he is very jealous because he didn’t get the opportunity that I did.

We are now back together, but he still talks about the desire to spend the night with another woman. Although we have talked about me allowing him to have that chance, he claims that he doesn’t want to hurt our relationship further by doing so. What does this mean, and can we fix it?

 

- What Should I Do in Denver


Dear Denver: It sounds as if your boyfriend needs his ego to be consoled because he presumes you had more fun than he did when the two of you were broken up.

There is a difference between having sex when you’re single and available, verses having a revenge affair when you’re already in a relationship. The first is about negotiating the dating/single’s world and saying yes to an opportunity, and the second is considered a betrayal of trust. Unless, of course, the two of you are not committed to each other, and there is no agreement about exclusivity. If that is the case, you could give him a choice: either accept me and offer me your commitment and your promise of fidelity, or let’s break up again, and we will then both be free to sow our wild oats as much as we want.

I am uncomfortable with you giving him permission to have a one-night stand. Because a man has to usually woo a woman, are you sure you’d be comfortable with him flirting with other women in order to seduce one? And once he got the knack of it, how easy do you think it would be for him to stop at just one woman? It seems as if you would be setting yourself up for possible pain and betrayal later on.

You could tell him that you will be the best friend, lover, companion and life partner to him you can be, and invite him to look at what he would need in order to be happy, content, and completely fulfilled by you. What does he want from you that he isn’t getting? What changes in the relationship would make him feel safer, happier and more content?

If he responds by saying that he still needs to sleep with another woman (or two), he is saying he is not ready to commit to you. If that is the case, you will likely get hurt–because he will not be able to be yours and only yours, and he will always be looking for other sexual and/or romantic opportunities.

Forgive me for being the bearer of bad news, but if you aren’t enough for him, maybe you’d be happier with someone else.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado. His column is in it’s 20th year of publication, and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at (303)758-8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com.

An Alternative To The Cold, Silent Treatment

by Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: After my husband and I have a disagreement, especially if voices have been raised, I get the silent treatment. It can last as long as two weeks. I used to cry and attempt to cajole him into communicating during those spells, but that only seemed to strengthen his resolve. So now I go about my business and behave as normally as possible until he thaws.

He usually signals he is ready to come out of the deep freeze by approaching me for sex, and then he does not understand why I am not receptive to his advances. I have tried to explain many, many times how painful it is when he shuts me out, but he insists he does not do it to hurt me. He says he is only protecting himself and waiting for the bad feelings to diminish, but it still feels like punishment to me. After years of this treatment, I feel drained and emotionally distant from him.

Is there anything I can say or do that would get through to him?

War Weary in Redmond, Oregon

Dear Oregon: You and your husband need a different set of skills in order to talk about disagreements, hurt feelings or arguments.

The problem with the silent treatment that you're describing is that it has led the two of you into a power-struggle where cold war tactics are considered normal, acceptable and common place. Now each of you can pretend to not care and to ignore each other until the other person cracks and gives in. In the meantime, the two of you can go weeks in the same house without talking, without feeling close, without cuddling and without loving behavior. That's a pretty lonely way of being married.

Your husband likely learned this technique by watching his parents do it, and he no doubt learned how powerful it can feel to be cut off by someone else in the home. Undoubtably, that's why he's doing it. Furthermore, he is not protecting himself, he is attempting to force you to do what he wants you to do, and he's using withdrawal as his weapon.

But it's manipulative as well as unfriendly, unloving and cruel. It also makes you afraid of him–afraid of his disapproval or of upsetting him–so you wind up walking on eggshells so as to not set him off. This is not the way you want to be married, and I would guess it's very unsatisfying for him as well.

There is a better way for the two of you to communicate about difficult subjects, including arguments, disagreements and hurt feelings. Here's how:

Husband: I am frustrated about…. Will you talk with me about it?

Wife: Yes.

Husband: What I'm frustrated about is… (say one or two sentences at a time, so your wife can paraphrase back to you what she hears). In this way, explain the issue throughly.

Wife:(Paraphrase what you think he is saying, leaving your own feelings out of the discussion for the time being.) Example: "You think I'm being insensitive to you, am I right?" Your task is to adopt the attitude: I care about you enough to let you have the floor and speak openly and honestly about how you feel.

Husband: (State your deeper desire) Example: "I would like us to be closer." or "I would like for you to be more available to me on the weekends."

Wife: Paraphrase the desire.

Husband: (Make two requests that your wife could reasonably do in the next two weeks that would defeat the issue, or go a long way toward defeating the issue).

Wife:Paraphrase the requests, and then grant at least one of them to him (both of them if you can). If you can't say yes to the requests, you can modify or change them so you can agree, but be mindful that you are agreeing to these requests for a two-week trial, not for all-time.

You can then reverse roles, so the wife becomes the speaker and the husband paraphrases back one or two sentences at a time. Follow the same series of steps, and then the wife gets to make two requests on this subject as well. However, she may or may not feel the need to do so, depending on whether she feels that his solutions are enough to defeat the problem. Author Harville Hendricks has several variations of this idea, but this may be all the two of you need.

Everyone gets married in order to feel loved, and the cold, silent treatment definitely feels unloving, uncharitable and unfriendly. Surely the two of you can find a way to be more happily married than this.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder, Colorado. His column is in it's 20th year of publication, and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at (303)758-8777, or email him through his website: www.heartrelationships.com.

Exploring Your Trust Issues

by Neil Rosenthal

Do you have difficulty trusting important people in your life? More to the point, are you wanting to trust people more than you do? Trust your intimate partner more? If so, complete the following sentences as thoroughly as you can, courtesy of Pat Love in the book The Truth About Love (Fireside):

Concerning your intimate partner:

1. I would feel more secure in our relationship if…
2. I would trust you more if…
3. I would be willing to risk more in terms of romance if…
4. I would take more sexual risks with you if…
5. I would trust you more sexually if…
6. I would feel better about us going out socially if …
7. I would feel closer to you emotionally if…
8. I would do more projects with you if…
9. I would enjoy time with our family and friends more if…
10. The one thing that would strengthen my commitment the most is…

Now, explore how you can be more trustworthy to your partner:

1. I believe you would trust me more if I…
2. I could help make our relationship more romantic if I …
3. I could help make our relationship more sexually satisfying if I…
4. I can improve the trust level of our friendship if I…
5. I could make our relationship safer for myself if I…
6. I could make our social life more fun if I…
7. I could make it easier to live with me or be around me if I…
8. I could improve our time with family and/or friends if I…
9. I could make our relationship emotionally safer for you if I….
10. I could make projects around the house more enjoyable if I…
11. When we hit a low spot, I could help our relationship get back on track by…
12. I could make our relationship more of a priority if …
13. I could help my partner feel more confident about my commitment if I…
14. I could include my partner more in the important events in my life by…
15. I could improve my part in helping us to resolve our conflicts if I…
16. I could help improve the amount of fun we have together if…

Cynthia Wall, in the book The Courage To Trust (New Harbinger) offers the following exercise about your trust issues. Draw two vertical lines on a page, creating three columns. The first will hold names of people you know and the next two are for notes.

Column 1: Begin the list with people you frequently see or interact with, such a coworkers, neighbors, family members, parents, bosses, teachers, friends, lovers, ex-lovers, customers, clients, employees and so on.

Column 2: Give a rating of 0-100 to note how relaxed and confident you feel with each of these people. This measures your trust of key people in your life. You are simply noting how authentic, free or cautious you are with this person about revealing who you really are. If doing this exercise makes you tense, ask yourself “What rule am I breaking here, whose rule is it?”

Column 3: Look over the list of people and the ratings. Write down any qualities about each person that caused you to feel either safer or more apprehensive. Are they younger, less experienced, non-confrontational? Are people who are personable and/or self-confident easier or harder for you to trust?

Choosing to trust is an act of emotional resilience. It is connected to our happiness, serenity and peace of mind, and it largely defines how close our intimate relationships will be.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com

Quiz: Do You Have A Hard Time Trusting People?

by Neil Rosenthal


Note: This is the first of a two-part series.

Answer true (T) or false (F) to the following statements:

1. I believe most people can be trusted.

2. I find it easy to trust those close to me.

3. The people I have loved the most are trustworthy.

4. The people closest to me throughout my life are sensitive to my needs.

5. I was raised with very responsible people.

6. I have several models of happy love relationships in my family.

7. Growing up, I could trust the adults in my family to tell the truth.

8. Communication was very clear in my family.

9. As a child, I was given good information about life.

10. Telling the truth was an important value in my family.

11. I could always trust my mother to care for me.

12. I could always trust my father to care for me.

13. I felt important growing up.

14. My earliest romantic relationships were fulfilling.

15. I felt attractive growing up.

16. I received very good sex education as a child and adolescent.

17. I came into adulthood very well prepared for relationships.

18. I felt special as a child.

19. My parents were devoted to one another.

20. I have always been trustworthy.

Now circle the answer that completes the sentence most accurately. Circle more than one if they fit. If none apply, complete the sentence on your own:

21. My biggest difficulty with trust is:

(a) not trusting enough
(b) trusting people who are not trustworthy
(c) expecting people to be perfect
(d) not trusting myself

22. In terms of jealousy, I:

(a) am rarely jealous
(b) am prone to jealousy
(c) have a jealous partner
(d) like it when my partner is jealous.

23. My personal history with trust includes:

(a) being untrustworthy
(b) breaking confidences
(c) being very trustworthy
(d) learning to be more trustworthy.

24. I am least trustworthy with:

(a) private information
(b) money
(c) keeping appointments
(d) sexual fidelity

25. My greatest fears around trust have to do with:

(a) sex
(b) money
(c) friends
(d) family

26. Most of my love relationships were:

(a) trustworthy
(b) fulfilling
(c) disappointing
(d) painful

27. In a relationship, I am usually the one who:

(a) wins the arguments
(b) gets his/her way
(c) apologizes
(d) gives in

28. My worst fear in a relationship is:

(a) getting hurt
(b) hurting the other person
(c) getting too close
(d) losing interest

29. In a relationship, I practice:

(a) total honesty and truth
(b) selective honesty
(c) the right to privacy
(d) prying into my partner’s privacy

30. Overall my ability to trust is:

(a) healthy and balanced
(b) comfortable for me
(c) still developing
(d) insecure

Going back over your answers, how would you evaluate your history with trust? Can you see any reflection of your history in your current relationship or recent relationships? There are no right or wrong answers to the above questions. They are designed to help you look at the past and present issues you have regarding trust.

This quiz was taken from Pat Love’s book “The Truth About Love” (Fireside). I will continue this discussion and offer recommendations about trust in next week’s column.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com

What Are the Dreams Within Your Conflicts?

by Neil Rosenthal

Intimate relationships experience a certain number of differences that don’t go away, no matter what.  But a failure to be able to dialogue and compromise on such conflicts can lead a couple to profound feelings of frustration, anger and resentment.

Relationship experts John and Julie Gottman, in their book “Ten Lessons to Transform Your Marriage” (Crown Publishers) have an exercise to help you understand, verbalize and talk about the dreams imbedded within your conflicts-the individual hopes and aspirations each of you have on a variety of issues.

Look through the following list of dreams, and circle any that are causing tension in your relationship with your intimate partner:  a sense of freedom;  the experience of peace;  unity with nature;  exploring who I am;  adventure;  a spiritual journey;  justice;  honor;  unity with my past;  healing;  knowing my family;  becoming all I can be;  having a sense of power;  dealing with my aging;  exploring a creative side of myself;  becoming more powerful;  getting over past hurts;  becoming more competent;  asking God for forgiveness;  exploring a part of myself I  lost;  getting over a personal hang-up;  having a sense of order;  being able to be productive;  having a place and a time to just “be;”  being able to truly relax;  reflecting on my life;  getting my priorities in order;  finishing something important;  exploring the physical side of myself;  being able to compete and win;  travel;  quiet;  atonement;  building something important;  ending a chapter of my life;  saying goodbye to something;  finding love;  the frequency of lovemaking;  what I need in order to be in the mood for sex;  finances (spending vs. saving);  socializing and spending time with other people;  wanting more romance and passion.

Take one of the issues to talk with your partner about – and invite your partner to do the same with one of his/her issues.  Designate one person as the speaker and the other as the listener.  The speaker tells the listener all about his/her dream.  The listener’s job is to draw the information out of the speaker using questions like these:  What’s important to you about this dream?  What’s the most important part?  Why is this part important?  Is there something from your life history that relates to this dream?  Tell me the feelings you have about this dream.  Are there any feelings you left out?  What do you ideally wish for regarding this dream?  What would be your ideal?  How do you imagine things would be if you got what you wanted?  Do you imagine some fear or disaster if this dream were to not be fulfilled?

When you’re the listener, don’t debate the issue or express your own opinions about your partner’s dream, don’t attempt to use this exercise to try to convince the other that your  position in the conflict is the “right” position.

When the speaker is done, switch roles and explore the other partner’s dream.  Then look for ways that you can be flexible in order to honor the letter and the spirit of  your partner’s dream.  Realize that this is an issue of compromise, and compromise never feels perfect.  The important thing is that each of you feels that your dream is understood, respected and honored if at all possible.

These inner dreams are likely what’s underneath the conflicts between the two of you.  Looking at how you can be empathetic and encouraging toward your partner’s dream – and how she/he can be supportive of yours – will hopefully reduce the conflicts, arguments and distance between the two of you.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, CO, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships.  He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com

Rejecting the Right Man and Choosing the Wrong One

by Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: This is a story of two men. One is a gentle man who genuinely likes me and who nurtures me, is wonderfully caretaking, kind, emotionally healthy and sweet. The other man is totally self-absorbed and self-centered, jealous, insecure, controlling, manipulative, mean-spirited, dishonest and he treats me like dirt. Oh, did I mention that he has a drinking problem? Or that he calls me every demeaning name in the dictionary?

So why would I reject the sweet guy and choose the insecure, selfish, mean-spirited one and then not be able to stay away from him, even though I know he’s unwise and unhealthy for me?

-Needing To Know in Canada


Dear Canada:
Why would you reject the right man and have an addiction to the wrong man? Four answers: 1) Choosing what you’re familiar with; 2) Feeling that you don’t deserve or are not worthy of a caring, nurturing, sweet guy; 3) Getting hooked on the drama and the chaos that comes with being with an insecure, unhealthy and addicted man who “needs you”; and 4) Being a habitual people-pleaser.

In the first scenario, look at the way your parents treated each other and how the kids were treated growing up. Did one of your parents-or did you-feel as if what you wanted or needed wasn’t valued? If you grew up feeling that your needs weren’t taken seriously or considered important, you may be-as an adult-uncomfortable with a intimate partner who is caretaking, nurturing or generous. You may be more comfortable with what you are used to or familiar with. And what you grew up with – or how previous romantic partners have behaved toward you-or how your parents treated each other, is what you’re familiar with. Most of us choose what we’re familiar with, even if it’s downright destructive.

Second, in your heart, do you feel that you are worthy of a nurturing, giving, attentive, emotionally available guy? Yes, I know that is what you’ve always said that you wanted-but deep down do you feel you deserve such a man? It may be that this feels foreign and even unsafe to you. Do you fear that if you give your heart to a wonderful guy, he will eventually find you unworthy or inadequate, and then reject you? If you don’t feel deep down as if you deserve to be loved and spoiled, you are far more likely to choose intimate partners who can’t or won’t love you because your self-image tells you that you don’t deserve any better.

Third, the drama and the chaos created by a guy who is always on the edge of losing control-or who is addicted, needy, jealous, selfish, controlling or perhaps desperate – creates enormous intensity, which is easily mistaken by many people for love. But this is not love. It is drama, being on the verge of losing control and emotional intensity. Learn the difference between love and dramatic intensity. They are not the same.

Finally, what is the advantage of continuously trying to please a person who is never pleased except in a very temporary way? You wind up feeling as if you are beating your head against the wall. If you’re a people pleaser, choose someone you can actually succeed with, not someone who is impossible to win over.

As sad as it seems, many people can’t handle a good relationship with an emotionally healthy giving person. It’s too unfamiliar and threatening.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com

What to do When My Appetite is Much Stronger than His

by Neil Rosenthal

Dear Neil: I am living with a younger man who is drop dead gorgeous. He takes care of himself, has a beautiful body and looks like he stepped out of GQ. He is 5’ 7” and 29 years old. He brings me flowers and cards for no reason, and he is very affectionate: he cuddles, kisses and touches me often. He also tells me several times a day that he loves me, he helps with cleaning and we cook together. He frequently makes me laugh, and we have lots of fun together, and he says he is happy with me.

I, on the other hand, am average looking on a good day, although I have been told that I look pretty damn good for my age. I’m 43 and 6’ 1”. The problem is he has a very low sex drive, and I am in my sexual prime. I enjoy sex now more than I ever have in my past. I’ve talked to him several times about how I want to make love more often, but he makes no extra effort.

I can’t help but think that if he were with someone younger- firmer – prettier that he would be friskier. He just doesn’t have much interest, and I can’t help but take it personally. The past six months since our relationship has begun have been the best of my life, but I’m at my wits end at the lack of feeling sexually desired. Can you help me?

- Feeling Unfulfilled in Oregon
Dear Oregon: There is no correct number of times a couple in love is supposed to make love. Different people have different appetites – and sometimes libidos can differ wildly between partners. Even in the same individual, sexual appetite can vary dramatically depending on season, level of fatigue, how emotional you feel, how work is going – and on an endless variety of other factors. All that being said, here are some things you might try.

First, ask for his help. Is there anything that would help him be amorous more frequently? If you guys were going to create the perfect setting for love-making, what would he include? What time of day does he most prefer? What conditions or circumstances are most conducive for him?

Second, get assertive and ask him to take care of you, even if he himself isn’t in the mood. If he’s willing to do that when you ask, it just may arouse him as well. But whether it does or doesn’t, presumably you’ll feel happier and less rejected.

Third, you might try reaching over to him early in the morning. That’s when many men easily can feel their wild oats. If you find him receptive, you could always take the lead.

Fourth, trying going away for a weekend together. Sometimes a different location, setting or set of activities helps us to feel more connected and relational. You might also try renting an X-rated movie or buying a new hot lingerie number.

Finally, understand that his libido and your self-esteem are not the same. He is not rejecting you, although it might feel like it. He is presumably being himself-and that means that he has a different appetite than you do. If you let this undercut your self-esteem, you are compounding the problem that very likely isn’t about you at all.


Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com

Afraid of Being Alone

Dear Neil: I have been with my partner for three years. In the beginning, our love making was great, but as time went on she stopped giving herself to me on a regular basis. I now get sex once a month, if I’m lucky. It seems related to money, because the more I make, the more she wants to take, and then she is more sexual with me. But I lost my job three months ago, and now she’s angry with me all the time. I have come to realize that I feel so much lighter without her. I truly want to leave, but I’m afraid of being alone. How do I move on?
- Sucked Dry in Miami, FL

Dear Miami:
You move on by deciding your life is better without her than with her, and then by acting upon that decision-by cutting the relationship off-and keeping it cut off. Your task is to heal yourself, to learn whatever lessons this relationship has taught you, and also to take whatever gifts or blessings this relationship has afforded you.

Dear Neil:
My boyfriend and I have been together for about two years. We were living together and we cuddled a lot, but that gradually dwindled away as he accused me of suffocating him, saying that he wanted us to live apart because he wanted “space.” So we broke up. When we got back together again, he told me he loved me and that he shouldn’t have broken us up.

But a couple of weeks later he virtually abandoned me. Now he says he’s not sure whether he loves me, and doesn’t want to talk about how to get closer again or how our relationship might develop in the future. I’ve expressed my unhappiness with the distance between us (he hardly ever touches me outside of bed in an affectionate way on his own accord unless I say something). I’ve asked whether there’s any point in us continuing to be together but he basically refuses to discuss it. I sometimes get told off for expressing my unhappiness at how things are. I want to be in a close, loving, committed, connected relationship, and have asked him to tell me if he doesn’t so that I can move on-but he won’t. What would you advise me?
- Unwanted in New Zealand

Dear New Zealand:
Your boyfriend does not love you-and does not want a closer relationship or a future with you-but he isn’t coming out and directly saying that. It sounds as if he doesn’t want to acknowledge his true motives to you because he is reluctant to lose the sexual relationship he has with you.
So the ball is back in your court. Is the sexual connection enough for you, or do you want more from this relationship? If you want more, cut it off with him and find someone who wants an actual relationship with you, and who will value your feelings, needs, desires and your happiness.

Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver and Boulder, Colorado, specializing in how people strengthen their intimate relationships. He can be reached at 303.758.8777, or e-mail him from his website, www.heartrelationships.com