Archive for the ‘The Good Stuff’ Category

We talk a lot about how to stay connected to your partner and build intimacy (and last week’s post was about taking advantage of your new empty nest). But what if, in spite of your best efforts and intentions, the relationship is still unsatisfying? Here are a few places you can look for help.

Books. How do you find the good ones? Ask people you trust for recommendations. Books that my patients have found helpful include: The All or Nothing Marriage: How the Best Marriages Work (Eli Finkel), The Five Love Languages (Gary Chapman), Ten Lessons to Transform your Marriage, and The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work (John Gottman).

Podcasts. Esther Perel has a great podcast called “Where Should we Begin.” Each episode features a couple in an actual counseling session with Perel, who helps them articulate their feelings and get to the bottom of what’s really going on.

Weiss quoteSeminars and retreats. Using Google, you can find everything from reasonably priced retreats hosted by religious organizations to pricey seminars hosted in scenic locations by marriage experts (often authors of books on marriage). Be sure to do your research and discuss what you’ve learned and what you expect with your partner before signing up. Some are classroom style with small group breakout sessions, while others may include public roleplaying, couples counseling, or game playing designed to foster connection.

Counseling. A good marriage counselor can help identify the underlying issues in your relationship and then facilitate the conversation as you work through them together. Look for counselors who specialize in marriage and family counseling and find out what kind of approach they use. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors, is quite different from a Freudian approach, which focuses on unconscious meanings and motivations. Imago relationship therapy (IRT) is another approach; it explores how emotional wounds in childhood affect adult relationships so partners can better understand each other.

Marquez quoteHow will you know if a counselor is good? Our friend Ann McKnight, a clinical social worker who is experienced with couples and families, has some thoughts. After the first session, you’ll likely have an idea of whether or not the person understands the issues and can offer a direction that makes sense to your and your partner.  Don’t be afraid to ask about the counselor’s training and experience working with couples, as well as what kinds of outcomes they see. And, she says, “Do your own homework, as well, in considering ahead of time what outcomes you are hoping for from the process. Willingness to take ownership for your own role in the challenges of your marriage is important.”

All marriages go through rough patches. Often, they can recover with some extra help. Ann says that, of the couples she sees “an extremely high percentage of marriages can recover, particularly if people start to work on the marriage before they’ve reached the point of total burnout and hopelessness.”* It’s important to point out that she sees a self-selecting group in that they have sought out therapy—but you would fall into that category, too.

Whatever you do, don’t wait. Just like with your physical health, the sooner you address whatever the issue is, the greater the chance that it can be fixed.


*This holds true as long as there’s no domestic violence and/or untreated substance abuse.

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It’s move-in weekend at the college in the town where I work, and seeing all those packed minivans crawl along the side streets, trying to find their way to the right dorm, makes me think of the parents who drove out of the driveway with their youngest child and a full van—and will return with an empty van to an empty nest.

Some will break out the champagne; others will retreat with a box of tissues. And some will do both within 20 minutes. It’s a wild time.

Emma Thompson quote

This built-in transition also happens to be the perfect time to reset your relationship with your significant other. As with so many other things we talk about, the important thing is to be intentional. As Dr. John Gottman says, couples often ignore each other’s emotional needs “out of mindlessness, not malice,” so being mindful is critical.

In the first few days, give each other some space. Everyone has their own way of processing this major milestone, and you may find that your partner’s way is a lot different than yours. It’s okay. As long as the behavior isn’t harmful, live and let live. If your partner goes silent in those first few days, check in occasionally, but don’t hover.

If you suddenly realize you’ve drifted apart over the last few years (or decades), row back together. Raising children is a demanding job, and many couples are surprised to find that while they were busy tending to their children’s needs over the years, they lost track of each other. It’s not too late to find your way back to each other. There are many ways you can do it—all of them start with acknowledging that you’ve drifted and desiring to come back together.

Without children to monitor and guide, it can be tempting for partners to monitor and guide each other. Resist the temptation. Instead, look for the good in your partner, including the things that you might be taking for granted, and express appreciation. Every time you do, you are making a deposit in what Gottman calls “the emotional bank account,” and you can draw on that bank account during hard times. Ideally, that account is healthy before you get to the empty nest, but it’s never too late to start.

Rediscover the things you used to enjoy doing together before the kids’ needs and activities commandeered your time. You could start by having a dinner conversation reminiscing about your dating days. How did you like to spend time together then? Then try to remember what, over the years, you said no to because there wasn’t time. Going on a mission trip? Hosting a salon to discuss literature or art? Which of those things are you still interested in? Then make a plan together for doing them.

Emma Thompson quoteFind a new interest that’s yours and yours alone. I know. I just said to find things to do together. But the truth is that you need both. Pursing your own passion is not just rewarding for you—it can also be intoxicating to your partner, who will see you with fresh eyes. In her research, Esther Perel found that one of the times a person is most attracted to their partner is when watching the other do their thing from a distance. “When I look at my partner, radiant and confident, [is] probably the biggest turn-on across the board,” says Perel. She’s a big advocate for nurturing both intimacy and mystery (AKA security and passion) in relationships, and doing something new is a way to amp up the mystery.

With time and effort, your relationship can be more satisfying and simply more fun than ever. Enjoy it! And appreciate it while it lasts, because those children might come home again. Thirty-two percent of children 18 – 34 live with their parents, according to Pew Research Center. But that is a topic for another time.

To raise the topic of renewed intimacy with your partner, or to support mindfulness for yourself, check out our Empty Nest Kit

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When Aretha Franklin sang “Respect,” “It was a demand for equality and freedom and a harbinger of feminism, carried by a voice that would accept nothing less,” writes the New York Times. We agree.

Born in Memphis to a preacher and raised singing gospel in New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Franklin had a “both/and” life, experiencing hardship alongside success. Her parents separated when she was six, and her mother died just a few years later.

Things didn’t get any easier. Franklin had two children by the age of 15, married at 19 a man who managed and physically abused her, and struggled with alcohol and marijuana for a time as an adult. In the 1980s, she lost her father, her brother, and a sister.

Sometimes, what you're looking for is already there. Aretha Franklin

But alongside the pain (some say as a result of it), she experienced lasting success and fame. Songs like “Respect,” “Think,” “Chain of Fools,” “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” and “Freeway of Love” are included in many of our personal soundtracks of life.

She received far too many awards to list, but they include induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1987), a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1994) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2005). Beyond her professional achievement, she was deeply committed to and engaged with her community. And Aretha set an example in owning her own body and appearance, embodying self-worth and self-love.

Like the rest of us, Franklin was human—not perfect. She jealously guarded her “queen of soul” title and could be difficult to deal with. And she was a strong women who sang powerfully and, in so doing, inspired others to respect themselves and demand that others do the same.

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Occasionally we post about women who have come before us who helped make frank conversations about women’s sexuality possible. Certainly, the way we feel about ourselves affects intimacy. That’s why we want to express appreciation for Cindy Joseph, a model and entrepreneur who redefined beauty in midlife by being an advocate for aging authentically.

In her obituary, the New York Times called her “a model who embraced her age” but before she was discovered on a New York city street by a casting agent at the age of 49, she was a professional makeup artist. She worked with super-models including Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell.

Aging is just another word for living. One becomes more and more as life continues.

“It was difficult to spend days with these girls and feel good about myself,” she said. “I knew deep down, however, that there was more to attractiveness than shiny hair and big eyes.” Over time, she noticed that “surface beauty was fleeting” and the models were the most beautiful when they were truly enjoying their lives. After that, she was no longer intimidated by what she calls “their package.”

She modeled into her sixties for clients like Elizabeth Arden and Ann Taylor. In 2011, inspired by the realization that every cosmetics company was anti-age, she started Boom! Based on Joseph’s belief that women can look beautiful without looking younger, Boom! offers sheer cosmetics with the goal of burnishing a woman’s features rather than masking them.

“Aging is really just another word for living,” she wrote. “The concept that aging is becoming less in some way is really the antithesis of what happens. One becomes more and more as life continues. I am always and forever in the ‘prime of my life.’”

Joseph died on July 25, 2018, at the age of 67.

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While reflecting on our anniversary a few years back, we were reminded of how many women have come before us, paving the way for straightforward conversations about women’s sexuality. We don’t see any reason not to keep adding to the series (read the firstsecond and third) meant to express our gratitude to them!

Patricia Schiller’s parents wanted her to be a teacher. And while she eschewed a degree in education for degrees in law and, later, psychology, she did end up teaching an entire generation, becoming “a leading voice in sex education and counseling.”

As a lawyer in the 1950s, it occurred to her that couples needed counseling more than the legal advice she was offering them. She returned to school and earned a masters degree in clinical psychology from American University in 1960.

In 1963, a time when pregnant teenagers were expected to drop out of school and did, she helped launch the Webster School, which gave pregnant girls the opportunity and support needed to finish their educations.

She also was a founder of the American Association of Sex Educators and Counselors, helping to establish standards for the profession. At the same time, she was changing the conversation about sex education. One of her goals was to make it acceptable to talk about sex, which she saw as being about more than just the act of sex. To her it was “a function of being human” and something that could lead to people becoming “warmer, more caring.”

Sex education should reflect that idea, she felt. In her book Sex Questions Kids Ask—and How to Answer, which she published in 2009, she wrote “sex education can teach children what it is that makes a mother or father sympathetic, understanding and respected.” She wrote two other books (Creative Approach to Sex Education and Counseling and The Sex Profession: What Sex Therapy Can Do), as well as many articles for professional journals.

People often joked about Schiller’s profession, saying things like “there’s the sex maniac.” “But I don’t mind,” she once told The Washington Post. “I enjoy it.” She died on June 29, 2018, an educator to the end.

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If the title of this post pulled you in, you’re likely part of the almost 50 percent of women aged 40 to 64 who have sleep problems. I’m sorry you’re a part of this club, but welcome! Sleep has been in the news a lot since—well, for as long as I can remember. It affects everything from mood and willpower to productivity and relationships. We all know how hard it is to gin up enthusiasm for romance when we’re sleep deprived.

Sleep also has implications for long-term health. Research shows that not getting enough sleep can lead to serious issues like diabetes and cardiovascular disease and a weakened immune system.

The evidence that we should make sleep a priority is pretty compelling. Perhaps you took the advice of our recent post on good sleep hygiene, and you have been going to bed at the same time every night, avoiding food, exercise, and alcohol several hours before bed, and keeping your bedroom cool and dark. Well done!

But if you’re still reading, those good habits may not be paying off for you. There are few things more frustrating to my patients than knowing all the reasons good sleep is important, following all the advice—and still not getting good sleep.

If you’ve tried all the normal ways to fix your sleep problems, and you don’t want to try medication, you might want to experiment with natural remedies.

As I’ve said before, herbal supplements are generally considered foodstuffs in the U.S., so manufacturers don’t have to conduct clinical studies about their efficacy or side effects. I can’t necessarily vouch for them, but few are known to be harmful. Some patients report one supplement or another has worked for them, and maybe one of them will work for you, too.

If you do want to try one, first consult with your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you, given your health and the medications you’re taking. I also recommend that you keep a sleep journal for a week before you begin and for 12 weeks after. Make a note of sleep hygiene factors, too, like when you ate and exercised and put away screens for the night.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates when we sleep. When melatonin levels rise at night, body temperature falls and we feel sleepy. Melatonin seems to be most effective at helping people fall asleep rather than stay asleep. Calcium aids in the production of melatonin, which may be why some people find that drinking a glass of warm milk before bed makes them sleepy.

L-theanine is an amino acid that increases brain chemicals that are calming and reduces brain chemicals linked to stress and anxiety. Rather than acting as a sedative, L-theanine can improve the quality of sleep by lowering anxiety. It’s most often found in tea but can be bought in the form of supplements.

Valerian is an herb. Valerian root is thought to reduce anxiety by acting as a sedative, but research results on that have been mixed. It may help you fall asleep more quickly and improve the quality of your sleep, but you might need to use it every day for up to four weeks before it starts to help.

Magnesium is a mineral. Most adults get enough of it through their diets (leafy green vegetables, nuts, and whole grains are good sources), but it might affect the sleep of those who don’t; magnesium deficiency has been linked to higher levels of anxiety, which interferes with sleep. If you suspect you are low on magnesium, eat more of the above. Magnesium supplements often don’t play nicely with medications.


Lavender is a popular natural sleep remedy. Many people say just the smell of it relaxes them and makes it easier to sleep. There is some research that shows that taking lavender oil by mouth for 6 to 10 weeks reduces anxiety and improves sleep.

Lavender—or any of the natural remedies above—may really work for some people. Or perhaps it’s just the placebo effect. If something is safe and it helps a patient get better sleep, I don’t care much about whether it’s “real” or placebo. And I suspect that you don’t, either.

Have you tried any of these or another that we haven’t included? I’d love to hear what’s working for you!

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Getting Out-Together!

Summer has finally arrived, along with the opportunity (and energy) for different kinds of date nights. My date night strategy in the summer is driven by the climate where I live: Summer is a short season, but the days themselves are blissfully long, with daylight that extends until 10 p.m. That makes it easier to plan date nights that are active. It’s a great time to change things up with your partner to keep things interesting. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Couple walking beachPush a favorite activity in a new direction. If you already enjoy taking a leisurely evening bike ride together, that’s great! Your body thanks you and your relationship is likely stronger because of it. You already know that biking is something that works for both of you. Now just add a twist, perhaps by trying tandem biking, or by planning a daylong (or even overnight) bike trip. If you like to walk, consider doing more strenuous hikes. You might be surprised by how much tackling something that’s familiar yet challenging invigorates your relationship.

Get competitive! You and your partner might not think of yourselves as competitive. But competition has some things to offer a relationship. First, it gives you a common goal. Second, preparing for the competition—whether that’s a 5K or a chili cook-off—automatically carves out “couple time.” Finally, struggling together—the frustration, hardship, mutual support, and laughter that are all part of it—can strengthen the bond between you.

Walk—or foster—a dog. Sometimes seeing your partner in a new light can make you swoon all over again, almost as hard as you did when you first fell in love. The Humane Society has lots of opportunities for volunteers, including playing with and walking dogs. What better way to enjoy each other’s company than spending quality time with small fluffy animals? (Just make sure you know where you both stand on actual adoption.)

Be a tourist in your own town. This is something you can do even if—perhaps especially if!—your town is not a true vacation destination. Put together a short list of the best places in your area, and then spend a date night visiting them. Maybe it’s a museum, or a small park that has rare flowers, or a kitschy attraction just off the nearest expressway. You may have to get creative and keep a sense of humor, but that’s part of the fun. Miniature golf, a river that’s great for tubing, or a pick-your-own farm—all are fair game. You may develop a whole new appreciation for where you live, but at minimum you’ll have fun trying together to achieve that appreciation.

Intercourses CookbookPack a picnic that feeds your relationship. What would a summer date night list be without this old chestnut? Incomplete! What can make this traditional summer date night special is what you choose to talk about while sitting on a blanket nibbling on cheese and grapes. Choose something romantic, like how you met. Or something important, like what keeps you awake at night or what impractical thing you still dream of doing. Or work together to create a list of where you’ve celebrated every anniversary since you first got together. All of these topics feed your relationship. They open you to insight about each other and reminding you why you were attracted to each other.

If you forget everything here, I hope you’ll remember the underlying premise: Get out together! Get moving together! Both are sure to bring you together emotionally, and that is where intimacy begins.

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