In a group of moms I admitted ignorance, "Oh, I don't know. My husband's in charge of all kids' emails this year," in reference to a school field trip question.
"WAIT. HOW. DID YOU DO. THAT?"
Four gaping-mouthed women stared back at me in the midst of the Kindergarten Moms' Night Out.
"I just did."
In my practice working with couples I hear all day every day stories that support the recent research findings: the degree to which household tasks are shared is now one of the two most important predictors of a woman's marital satisfaction.
I've realized since standing in that group of women I probably really minimized the monumental task that has been the distributing of labor equally in our family system.
To be completely honest, it took us years after having children to get to a place where division of tasks felt equitable.
For me, it felt like we were on completely even playing field until we were engaged. During wedding planning I was beyond frustrated I was doing the bulk of the work and couldn't seem to get my now husband to see picking out tablecloths and working on seat assignments as a priority.
During that time I attended one of my graduate school classes. The professor handed out decks of note cards with varying roles written on each. In groups, we were instructed to flip a card over, read it, and then say out loud which gender we most associated with that role.
Until this moment I really hadn't considered being too impacted by gender roles. I grew up playing sports, despised Barbie, my Mom and Grandmother worked, and I spent many summer evenings hanging at the softball fields while my mom played on leagues with her friends. I thought it was a pretty "girls can do anything boys can do better" world.
Card 1: Is president
Card 2: Takes out the trash
Card 3: Plans kids' birthday parties
(it went on and on and on like this...)
When that "Plans kids' birthday parties" card flipped over I realized that the wedding planning scenario wouldn't end when the wedding was over...and that I was buying into some "socially constructed roles, behaviors, activities and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women" - i.e., gender roles.
Wedding planning has never been, and will never be, my thing. Same goes for my husband.
But who would be judged more for a crappy wedding? The bride or the groom?
To avoid this perceived future judgment, I really unconsciously made the decision to plan every aspect of our wedding. I designed our invitations, programs, made decisions on no less than 100 details, spent at least 40 hours of my life creating a video montage of pictures of ourselves as kids, and spent the rest of my time wanting to scratch my fiance's eyes out for not saving me from wedding planning hell. I felt all the pressure.
What's that saying? "The shit rolls down hill"?
Yep, I think that's it. I bought into the pressure coming from an entire culture and he got all the overflow. I'm pretty sure this is when the expert-level nagging began.
I felt like I was drowning in school, work, and wedding planning and he was up on the boat watching me sink. His lack of motivation and interest was really hard not to take incredibly personally.
And sometimes I would hear things like "I'm doing the best I CAN!" paired with what seemed like minimal effort. I almost divorced him right before walking down the aisle when I realized the ONE task he was charged with (getting the video montage to the people who'd volunteered to set it up) didn't happen.
I felt like I didn't matter. It made me question everything. Did he even love me?
Some bridesmaids talked me off the ledge of bolting from the ceremony in the bathroom.
Over the years, I've realized he's not on the boat. It's more like I'm drowning off the coast of California and he's a strange breed of person who's never left land-locked Missouri and doesn't believe in oceans and I'm calling him for help on the phone. From his gender-based perspective, and with much of my to-do list being invisible, it looks to him like I'm afflicting much of this suffering on myself or am just making it up.
I've had to become hyper-aware of the 2 totally different set of cultural norms we have internalized. While counseling couples over the years I've convinced many wives that *perhaps* her husband isn't intentionally trying to drown her...and that swimming to shore is absolutely an option.
Fast-forward in our personal story to becoming parents; any semblance of my former life is gone, and I am now a baby feeding, bouncing, and slinging machine. I have body parts that facilitate me taking more of a driver's-seat kind of role in baby care which, by default, sets Dad in the passenger seat in parenting department, but in the driver's seat in the providing department.
Who would you judge more if a couple lost their house?
When my daughter was a year old I was working and earning less, and felt like I had to make up for that with more childcare (a self-imposed belief). I was seeing clients 3 days per week and teaching 2 nights per week (essentially full-time work), but squeezed as much out of my flexible schedule as possible and only used childcare 3 days per week.
I assumed the bulk of the mental load as well: the planning and coordinating of tasks (what the baby eats, research on when the baby eats what, figuring out how often the baby should bathe, creating the bathing schedule, scheduling doctors appointments, etc.): the invisible work.
DO NOT GET ME WRONG, my husband is an amazing and involved dad. He changed LOTS of diapers. At this time in our lives, however, I believe we had both unconsciously slidden into roles we didn't necessarily want. It was so insidious.
Before we had kids we had really clear conversations about how we wanted to be as parents. One of his biggest fears was that I would take over, and he wouldn't have a say in or be able to be as involved as he wanted to be. One of my biggest fears as a Ph.D. student with big aspirations was that the bulk of the child-rearing would fall on me.
Nevertheless, I found myself uttering the same 2 questions I've heard uttered by moms in my practice no less than 784,000 times, "WHY DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU WHAT TO DO?? WHY CAN'T YOU JUST KNOW!!!????"
He was a champ at taking orders, but would often defer to me on what to do, when to do it, and how to do it.
Managing him felt like one more thing I had to frappin' do on my already over-full plate.
The resentment was palpable.
He felt like he couldn't win: like he couldn't do it right, and he couldn't do enough.
I didn't want to feel like the only driver of this ship, and had no idea how we'd gotten here or how to get somewhere else. I didn't know how to be any more clear about what I needed from him.
While in session with a client dealing with an alcoholic relative, I had an epiphany about my own relationship. I think a lot of people are clear about the role of enabling when it comes to being in relationship with someone struggling with addiction. The psychological Family Systems Theory term associated with this is underfunctioning/overfunctioning reciprocity.
In systems where overfunctioning and underfunctioning exist, the power to create change lies with the overfunctioner. Overfunctioners inadvertently play a part in the problem by enabling or allowing the other person to underfunction.
Shit. I had been overfunctioning. And I know that an overfunctioner nagging, yelling, stewing, and blowing at an underfunctioner in a system rarely, if ever, creates change.
The communication didn't need to be clearer, the paradigm had to shift.
As women we’re taught we shouldn’t take up too much space, that we shouldn’t be a burden, that we shouldn’t speak up for ourselves, that motherhood should come with far more expectations (many unrealistic) than fatherhood, and that we should be doing it all...and liking it.
We should feel guilt for staying at home, for working, for not working enough, for working too much, for helicopter parenting, for giving the kids too much freedom, for raising entitled brats, for giving them too much responsibility, for feeding them gluten, for not serving up enough whole grains, for not giving them enough dairy, for letting them consume cow's milk at all, and for never measuring up to the mom with 2 more kids than you who always seems to have her shit together despite her husband traveling for work 2 weeks per month...and she rarely utters a complaint.
The degree to which we buy into and internalize these shoulds is the degree to which we are part of the problem.
In order to have happier and healthier relationships I had to start giving everything I wanted from others to myself first. I want him to honor and respect me? Then I have to honor and respect me first. What does that even look like?
I had to stop putting other’s needs before my own, I had to stop kicking my own ass, I had to get clear about my enoughness, I had to stop being afraid of conflict, I had to quit being so goddamn accommodating, and I had to learn to draw firm boundaries and to say “NO” more.
According to Brené Brown the most boundaried people are the most compassionate. We cannot give to others, what we don’t first give to ourselves.
Deep down, under my anger and resentment were a lot of hurt feelings. I thought his underfunctioning meant I wasn't important, that he didn't care, and...maybe...he didn't love me. How else could you sit on a boat and watch your wife drown?
I had to stop taking personally these roles that we had unconsciously slidden into, get really conscious about where they came from so that I could emotionally detach, and start focusing on solutions and MY PART in the problem.
Neither of us had great examples of how to create an equal partnership, but we both knew we wanted one.
And it turns out my husband isn’t an emotionally unintelligent nincompoop who's incompetent and incapable ONLY in terms of household and family-related tasks. The problem was that I consistently got in the way of letting him rise to the occasion.
This realization came when I was pregnant with our second child. Perfect timing. Instead of compiling evidence for my case of "I DO MORE AND THEREFORE YOU SUCK" I got really clear about a task that could be all his. I looked at him one day and said, "You are now in charge of all nails."
He said, "What?"
I clarified, "All kids' finger and toenails. I need them to be all yours."
He said, "I...I...I can't. I'll cut the baby."
"Yes, I had that fear too. And I even cut her...maybe more than once. But you'll figure it out."
Did he slide into nail cutting duty doing things all my way and operating within the timelines I would have operated in? NO.
When he dropped the ball did I pick it up so that he didn't have to feel the natural consequence? Nope.
Did this mean that the baby scratched his own face off? Yes.
I might say something like, "Ooooohhhh. 😬 It looks like the baby has a scratch. Huh." But I refused to take the task over. I refused to remain in the monitoring role that played a part in him not feeling ownership.
I know this seems so small and ridiculous...nail clipping. But my husband is now the nail nazi in our house. In charge of 30 nails (40 if you include his own)! I don't even SEE the nails anymore. They aren't MINE.
It turns out the research shows that couples who share a clear understanding of which duties are whose are less likely to participate in monitoring and criticizing the other's behavior. These couples were also more likely to spontaneously help with the other's responsibilities when the partner was away, sick, or otherwise unable to carry out a task.
This sets up the system for the ABSENCE of communication (negative especially) regarding duties and is correlated with a healthy and efficient partnership that's high in mutual respect.
There are so many tips and tricks I have to doing this well, I could probably write an entire book on the subject - instead I'm creating an online course (deets below). Here are 3 great ones:
1. Say what you want/need instead of what you don't want/need. Resist criticism, it pinches you off from the resources you're trying to tap into.
2. Assume competence. When dealing with your partner assume competence. If you treat someone like a nincompoop, they'll act like one.
3. KNOW that negotiating equitable roles is an ongoing process and not a one time talk. Choose discomfort over resentment over and over again. Don't give up.
And I'm THIIIIISSSS close to launching the online, yet-to-be-named course on this VERY subject so you can feel more like partners and less like frenemies! If you want to be first in line to receive all the details and early bird pricing just be sure you've signed up for my FREE Training for Busy Couples and you'll receive an email notification as soon as the yet-to-be-named course is available.
You deserve happy relationships,
You GUYS. The Family Economy is changing our lives!
Have you ever tried to implement an allowance, but NEVER have the cash on hand and, slowly, the motivation of "I'll pay you later" loses its sparkle with the kiddos...and everyone throws the chores/allowance out the window?
Do you worry about how to create competent and capable human beings who know how to do their own laundry by the time they get to college?
Do you want to yell less??? Lose your mind less? Then you have to have built-in motivation and a plan for consequences and stop flying by the seat of your pants. Flying by the seat of your pants means YOU are the motivation and YOU are the consequences....which then equals YOU are the kids' enemy. [See the part in the video about the Ugg Boots...without the Family Economy in that example I would have become the enemy that says NO...and instead the Family Economy empowered my 10-year-old to make a decision for herself!]
That system is broken.
Enter: The Family Economy.
My kids have the chance to earn 4 points per day Monday-
Friday by doing chores and OTHER super-important things (like getting out the door to school on time).
Points translate to allowance! Bonus points can be earned and points can be deducted for not following the house rules.
We keep track of allowance in each child's individual check register. This way, we don't have to have cash on hand to pay out. So if we go to Target and Kyan wants gum, we deduct the $1.17 from his check register and the Bank of Mom & Dad pays for the gum. Voila!
You'll also see that they have to save 40% of what they earn. I just created a savings register on the last page of the check register. I started them each out with $100 to get them excited about this whole family economy thing. It worked for 2/3 children: you win some, you lose some.
Below is our family economy. I've also included a link to an editable version to create your own family economy.
We started with checks, too, but have pretty much ditched those and just started deducting from the register when purchases are made.
Click HERE to create your own Family Economy.
Let me know what you think! Or if you have any awesome additions.
You deserve happy relationships,
What's a celebration session? It's the session couples think will NEVER come.
It's the session, months into our work (never planned or calendarized) when there is only good news to report.
And maybe we chat about some curve balls that life has thrown at the 2 of them, but also how they've navigated the catching or the dodging of those curve balls BEAUTIFULLY.
"Way different than we would have 5 years ago."
Magically (if magic is taking micro-steps over 3-6 months towards an overwhelming goal), they've arrived.
INEVITABLY, they question if they might need more sessions (beyond the comprehensive program they've signed up for) about 1 month before this, "We might never not need you."
Once where there had been betrayal and mistrust and questioning and fear and hurt lives things like, "I would say, on a scale from 1-10, my trust level is at an 8 or a 9," which...by the way...is an A+ in my book. [Assuming we fully know the inner-workings, beliefs, and feelings that live inside another seems dangerous to me...and like it might give me a permission slip to be lazy in my communication.]
It really does feel like part of my job title should be "Surprise Party Planner": I hold the space for this day throughout my work with couples in much the same way I hold an invite to a top secret soiree.
I know that something so exciting is on the way, and you have no idea.
And there are good-feeling tears, and thank yous (no, thank YOU...my pleasure), and I kick them out and tell them I hope I don't see them soon, but to always know they're welcome when the shit hits the fan, or when they've been off track for too long (2 weeks, max).
And I get to leave work buzzing with energy and a smile plastered across my face.
No wine necessary.
Celebratory sessions - they're the best.
You know what's great about my job?
Sometimes I'm allowed into the trenches of other people's pain so deep that most of us couldn't fathom the abyss.
It's a sacred and privileged place where not just anyone is allowed to tread. I think I used to be one of those people who avoided this space like the plague...whether it be my own pain or anyone else's.
To others, I'd offer a typical trite response alluding to some probability of a silver-lining-esque outcome and they'd force a half-smile half trying to make me feel helpful and half hoping I would shut-up.
I was such an asshole.
They were in the depths of hell and I was talking about the goddamn clouds.
Now, after a few degrees, I get that I wasn't just cheating them out of some decent support and connection...I was cheating myself, too.
With the confidence to walk into someone else's hell, sure... I get to see the worst, but over time I also get to see the absolute, most jaw-dropping, better-than-anything-on-TV best.
I get to see people rise up in ways they never thought they could. I struggle putting into words this part of my job when people say some version of, "Gawd, I don't know how you do what you do..." (I'm a therapist).
I don't understand how you don't.
People are fucking amazing.
When we avoid the vulnerability required to feel, or walk with someone in, the trenches of pain...we also miss out on the vulnerability required to experience deep connection and pure joy.
Avoiding someone who's struggling? Do the thing that makes you most uncomfortable: show up on their doorstep with nothing silver-lining-esque to say instead of texting. You'll never regret it.
I was in a car accident May 24th on I-170. You know that section of highway heading south that's 2 lanes, no shoulder, and WALLS on either side? And you have to choose between 40 E or 40 W? Right there.
I was chugging along at 60 MPH getting ready to head west on 40 when I realized, up ahead, the left lane heading east was at a complete standstill and the guy in the lane next to me, about a car-and-a-half length ahead, was plowing full steam ahead right for the standstill.
"Ohshitohshitohshitohshit," Do I punch the gas? Or hit the brakes? I started to hit the brakes, but didn't want to hit them so hard that the cars behind me piled into my back-end.
Then, finally, he hit his brakes, but it was way too late. He hit the brakes so hard the back-end of his SUV lifted, and smoke billowed from his front tires. He swerved into the wall on the left, over-corrected, and came flying at me: hitting my front end and slamming me into the wall on the right. His car then spun around and the back end hit me again near my fuel door cover.
The impact pushed my vehicle off its front tire.
I truly thought I was going to die.
My 1-year-old, not-cheap-car was totaled.
What happened is all such a blur, but I do know I was flung around so much that the sunglasses on my face ended up in the back of the car, I had burns from the seat belt, and my foot hurt. Still can't figure out, for the life of me, how my foot was sprained.
BUT I WAS ALIVE!!!
I looked behind me and traffic was stopped, thank G. And then I saw my kids' empty car seats and boosters in the back rows...and started to cry.
At this point the other guy was pinned against the left wall and had to climb out the passenger side. He came hobbling across the highway and kept repeating, "Are you OK?"
I motioned to him, from behind my closed window, what I thought was the universal sign for, "I DO NOT want to talk right now," but could see how he could have interpreted it as, "Nope, not okay."
Things like car accidents are what our fight or flight response is made for. It kicked in when I needed to react and drive defensively, and it was still pumping as this guy was bumbling around wondering if I was ok...even though he was clearly not a threat. That's how it works. Physiologically, it takes time to calm down...sometimes lots of time.
Here's my Bitmoji reinacting how I felt as he was at my window asking repeatedly if I was OK:
Lucky for him I teach this stuff and instead of acting out on him repeated, "I don't want to talk and I need you to walk away."
An ambulance ride and some x-rays later I was home and in bed. Strange symptoms started the following week. The strangest was a complete sense of I-don't-give-AF accompanied with a side of I-don't-give-AF-about-not-giving-AF."
I didn't want to do anything except see my clients (that has always energized me) and hang out with friends and family.
-I could not want to contact the insurance company or the chiropractor.
-I could not want to do yard work or house projects.
-I could not want to write articles or blogs, create videos, or send out newsletters to keep in touch with you.
-I could not want to go car shopping.
-I could not want to host events that I was previously excited about: I cancelled my Moms' Retreat for the Fall.
-I could not, for the life of me, want to make a list of business goals (was asked to do that in a meeting)
Side note: If you attended my June Date Night Workshop for couples and want your $$ back, seriously, just email. It was not my best performance. I think that night was what made this case of I-don't-give-AFs crystal clear.
Afterwards, I looked at my husband and quietly said, "I don't think that went very well..... And....... the weird thing is..... I don't care," with a completely flat affect. And it was true. I really didn't.
I didn't even recognize myself.
And it was interesting, because I still cared about and had energy for SOME things, but other things - I just didn't.
If I had any give-AFs left I think I would have been kicking my own ass for *not doing more*, *not doing enough*, *procrastinating*, and generally *being a slacker*.
One day, while wondering if perhaps I should be beating myself up a little more, I thought, "Ok, am I procrastinating? Is that what this is?" I wasn't really clear that the I-don't-give-AFs were correlated with the accident. But here's what I know about procrastination:
Procrastination isn't about laziness; it's about fear, perfectionism, and overwhelm.
In that moment I didn't feel afraid, like I was (in any way, shape, or form) trying to project a perfect image, or like I was overwhelmed.
I thought, "If this isn't procrastination...maybe it's percolation?" and decided that I was just gonna go with it and not waste time kicking my own ass.
One day, a contact I have, who I think was trying to be helpful, was listening to me as I told her about the car accident and my case of the I-don't-give-AFs and said, "Well, it all does feel overwhelming when that's the story we tell ourselves, doesn't it?"
What? I didn't say I was overwhelmed, I said I CAN'T WANT TO DO CERTAIN THINGS.
I didn't try to make that moment less awkward like the usual me would have by agreeing or even smiling. I didn't give AF. I met that comment with a blank stare and silence.
And, as it turns out, my chiropractor (Dr. Cam...in case you need one) looked at me in our first meeting and said, "The things you're describing are all symptoms of a mild concussion."
Huh. At lease there was some explanation.
Fast-forward a couple of weeks and I'm sitting across from a couple who's a little over a month into navigating the most horrific of all things to grieve: the loss of a child.
The loss of a lifetime of birthdays and laughs. The loss of a lifetime of kisses & hugs. And she's describing to me her case of the I-don't-give-AFs; worried about who she's become, terrified she'll never get back to who she was, wondering if she should be doing more of the things she doesn't want to do, and hanging out with the people she doesn't want to see, and hosting a memorial for her son that she can't bear to host right now. And then wondering out-loud if exercise might help.
And it all sounds strangely familiar, completely different scale, but still familiar.
There are things, many things, she can't want to do....that she used to have no problem doing. And in that moment I was able to give her the biggest, boldest-fonted permission slip of all time.
I said, Ok. I hear you're wondering if you should be doing more, if you're not feeling this right, and if you'll ever feel like doing the things you used to do. But the truth is, right now, you CANNOT want to do certain things and expecting yourself to do the things you CANNOT want to do is disrespectful to yourself and I won't help berate you or tell you to start exercising tomorrow.
How about we start just remembering to breathe. And water. Remembering to get a dang glass of water every once in a while. THAT's IT. I'm not even putting showering on this list and it looks like you've done that today so you are WAY ahead of the game.
Listen, this sounds completely unrelated, but I promise it isn't. I was in a car accident a few weeks ago. Turns out I have a MILD concussion. You know what they call concussions? Traumatic brain injuries. It turns out traumatic brain injuries can cause serious cases of the I-don't-give-AFs.
I then rattled off the list of all the things I could not want to do and watched her eyes well up with tears of compassion for herself.
You have been through and are going through a HUGELY tortuous and traumatic time. OF COURSE you can't care about some things you used to care about.
And I've been thinking about this for myself. How does this make sense? How is this healing and/or adaptive?
It's like your brain is telling you, "YOU DO NOT HAVE ROOM RIGHT NOW FOR ANYTHING THAT DRAINS YOU....EVEN A LITTLE BIT. WE ARE HEALING. HEALING IN PROGRESS."
I asked her, What would you say to your son... fast-forward 30 years... if he were in your exact position, feeling the way you're feeling?
Would you say, "You should be doing more! You're not doing enough! You're a terrible person for not getting back to all the people who are reaching out, even though you're 99% certain they'll say stupid things to you in your grief that you just don't have room for!"?
She laughed.... and cried some more.
Nooooooo. You'd say, "Son, do whatever you need to do. If it makes your heart sink, don't do it. Be easy on you. And when the day comes when the thought of doing something or being with someone feels equally as good as it does terrifying...give it a whirl. But please, at all costs, avoid the things that feel completely dreadful and draining. There's just no room for that right now. Ok? Take a breath. Can I get you a glass of water?
And that's how you know if you're procrastinating, lazy, fearful, and/or avoiding versus percolating and/or healing.
Percolating means to filter gradually, and I totally feel like that's what I've been doing. I've gotten really clear about what energizes me, and, what a shocker, it's all relationship related: friends, connecting, community, gathering...And it's all I've had energy for.
So, it's funny, because since May 24th I haven't had the energy to really pick out a new car (riding my bike everywhere...whole other post), but I did have the energy to build 2 picnic tables recently so that I could host a dinner party for more people than I can fit in my house.
Building (literally) connection & community is in the coffee cup, and picking out a new car is in the grinds...it just didn't make it through the filter.
If you would have told me I could live 4.5 months without a car 4.5 months ago, I would have told you you were completely bonkers.
I also have taken 2 trips to see friends (with unused car payment $$), that I haven't visited in years :)
This time of gradually refocusing and realigning my life with this new filter has been interesting, to say the least. I've been busy filling up my energetic cup and getting really clear about who and what actually fills that up....and suddenly, today, my itch to write is back.
So, friend, maybe you're just percolating. And maybe it's just temporary. And if you need some tools, hardware or not, you know where to find me.
This time last week I found myself smiling while driving, while doing the dishes, while brushing my teeth...I looked like a complete goober.
I had just returned from hosting the TRIBE Retreat for Moms and I just kept thinking of the women, and the fun, and the deep conversation, and the vulnerability, and the connection, and the support that all went down...it was beautiful.
Hosting the retreat is probably my most favorite event I've ever done.
It was EXACTLY what I wanted it to be and had been dreaming of facilitating. It was a mix of deep work and play, connecting with other women and connecting more deeply with oneself, fireside guitar playing and permanently purple hands cake decorating, and yoga and wine sipping.
We had women from Missouri, California, Tennessee, & New York. Some I knew, some I knew a little, and some I didn't know at all, but I'm so glad to have connected with all of them and they each brought something completely different and equally valuable to the retreat.
My favorite thing that was said about the retreat?
"Went with one of my best friends and came back with so many more friends!"
And then I smiled some more.
And the positive feedback just kept rolling in in our private Facebook group where the women are continuing to support each other in small and big ways. This mama had a particularly tough week ahead:
"I can't stop thinking about how grateful I am to have shared time with each of you. I am carrying you all in my pocket as I navigate this week ... "
And that's when I started smile/crying.
It's taken me a full week to digest all the goodness so that I could even tell you about it.
And...I've loved it SO much that I've already booked the next retreat for the Fall. JOIN US! Unless you don't like fun, connection, powerful tribes of women, laughter, fireside chats, wine, growth, yoga, good support, and food....then never mind.
You deserve self care that's more than a pedi,
As a Therapist and Relationship Coach “How's your sex life?” is a question I ask every couple I work with. I’ve heard every answer from, “Non-existent,” to “[giggle, giggle] Ummm, OK I guess,” and many times each partner has a different perspective on the same sex life.
Sexual frequency can be a barometer for how the relationship is going, but it can also be a barometer for stress levels and personal well-being.
For the sake of this article I'll be generalizing men and women based on what's most common, but I see all sorts of differences in drive that don't fit into what's most common. <--This is probably a whole other article.
What I see frequently in heterosexual relationships is that most men are trying to figure out how to have more physical intimacy and most women are trying to figure out how to have more emotional intimacy, but they're both making the same HUGE mistake.
Let's start with the nuts and bolts: men and women are inherently, genetically and hormonally, different creatures.
Let's just talk testosterone for a minute. Men have 9x the testosterone that women do and testosterone plays a HUGE part in sex drive (wanting or desiring sex). NINE TIMES. In Dr. Laurie Mintz's book, The Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex she likens this difference to men having 9/10 of a tank of gas and women having 1/10 of a tank.
Dr. Mintz says she once asked a medical doctor about this difference in testosterone and he said it's why a man can be standing in a pile of elephant feces, see a beautiful woman walk by, and think about sex....and a woman can be on her way to the bedroom, see a dirty sock on the floor, and it's all over. It's easier for women to run out of gas.
More mothers can relate to this than not.
What impacts testosterone levels? Stress: the aforementioned dirty sock on the floor, to-do lists, not enough support, young children in the home, care taking, moving, paying bills, being a stay-at-home parent, being a working parent, grocery shopping, saving for retirement, renovation projects, holidays - so basically being an adult.
High stress and low amounts of sleep have an almost immediate impact on testosterone levels.
When stress goes up testosterone levels go down, but women have a definite disadvantage in this area. Sexual desire is something most men in early-middle adulthood don't have to worry about, but most women at some point in this stage wonder, "Is there something wrong with me?".
I think about this drive-lessening response to stress as your body's way of saying, "Pssst. Might not be a good time to have a baby."
Years ago I worked with a couple and remember explaining this to them. He looked at me quite seriously and said, "So, what do I do?" I said, "Reduce her stress levels." He seemed perplexed. She was smiling.
She recounted stories of how he would "grab my boobs" while she did the dishes, and "smack my butt" while she folded laundry. I asked him what his intent was: "What were you trying to communicate?"
He smirked, "That I wanted to...ya know..."
I asked her if this got her closer to the bed or further away from the bed. With irritation she boomed, "FURTHER. AWAY!" and her tone indicated she felt this was ridiculously obvious. "How could he not know this?"
what I wanted; he didn't want it at all.
If a husband gropes...it's probably because he wants to be groped. My husband would be exactly 50x more thrilled if I groped him than he was at his one and only surprise party. His day would have been made and I could have saved a lot of money, but I didn't deeply understand our differences at 23.
This wife was SO different in what got her closer to the bedroom that she vocalized she found his squeezes and thwaps to be "adolescent, disgusting, and irritating - especially in the midst of chores".
This wife craved emotional intimacy: to feel deeply seen and understood. When he groped her while she was working through her mile-long (invisible) to-do list she felt like he didn't care ("Don't you see me?") because that's what it would mean if she pulled something like this while he was obviously in the middle of something.
How would he feel about being groped in the middle of folding laundry? We don't need a research study to know the answer to this question.
I asked how much closer she'd be to the bed if he would have instead said, "You look stressed. What can I take off your to-do list?"
She sighed, "YAS! A LOT closer."
WHY IS THIS SUBJECT SO HARD TO TALK ABOUT? Because it's value-laden. Sexual intimacy is inherently deeply vulnerable. It's easy to start questioning your enoughness when it comes to this subject - "Am I enough?" - which, in turn, makes our self-protective defensiveness flare fast. It seems common for conversations about this subject to escalate quickly and go no where.
For example, I meet so many men who take their wife's lower drive so personally. The amount of times I've heard, "Maybe I should workout more?" as a possible solution from men is more than I can count. What the man is really assuming is, “I’m probably not physically enough.”
For men, physical attraction is a priority, but for most women it's SO not. This is why there are so many more strip clubs with naked ladies on the stage than men.
The problem isn't our differences, it's assuming we're the same and attaching meaning deducted from the misinformation gathered through our very different lenses AND THEN trying to communicate about it through hurt feelings that quickly morph into anger and defensiveness...it's easy to see why so many couples have a really hard time communicating about this subject in a meaningful, not-exhausting way. Just typing this paragraph was exhausting.
Engaging in tough, really uncomfortable conversations that escalate quickly and leave you with zero results makes people want to not ever talk about the subject again.
About a month after our session where we teased out some of the non-verbal communication, wants, and needs underlying the irritation the same couple, now equipped with some very strategic ways to communicate about drive, wants, and needs, came in after the Holidays.
He reported that he was shut-down with a big fat NO for sex on Christmas Eve morning. She just had "too much to do". He began asking what he could take off her list and after wrapping presents, making a dish, and coming up with a white elephant gift they had sex TWICE.
He seemed pretty proud of himself.
Men, I know what you're thinking: "WHOA, WHOA, Mika....I work my butt off ALL DAY and you want me to do MORE???"
Men, I don't want you to do anything you don't want to do. But if there's something that you want and need in your relationship that you're not getting it's your job to figure out how to get it. If this is the case, increasing your wife's low drive is your job, too.
Men: Speak her language and let her know you want to know when she's overwhelmed and that it's OK to ask for help and that you are not...in no way, shape, or form...a mind reader.
Ladies: Pay attention to your drive. Does it come back with a vengeance when you go on a vacation without kids? If so, there's probably a good chance that cutting yourself some to-do list and expectations-of-yourself slack could increase your drive and well-being overall. I suggest getting better at being kind to yourself: saying NO more and clearly asking for more support.
Having a lower sex drive than your partner, or than what's generally expected for your gender, can be a shameful thing. It's easy to start feeling defective and like a failure. It seems like it's really easy for the person with lower drive to take on all the responsibility and that just seems to turn into a whole lot of pressure. Super-romantic, right? Nope. Actually pressure is a sex drive killer.
I've found that taking a curious stance together regarding the one person's lower drive to be a more effective strategy (**read: more likely to get laid). This might include being willing to engage in uncomfortable conversations and really open to hearing complaints and suggestions about what gets her further away and closer to the bed. Ninja-like communication skills come in handy here.
This is just ONE way to increase drive: everyone's different.
Wanna learn lots more about the highly misunderstood topic of sex drive? Come to my Date Night Workshop Series in June. We'll cover this topic in great depth and I hope participants leave feeling less crazy and more empowered to work through their differences in drive in a way that leads to some really clear next best steps instead of tears, anger, defensiveness, and shut-downs. Lots more info and tickets here. Early bird pricing still available :)
You deserve happy relationships...sex included,
We're craving villages, emotional intimacy, connection, and support but this goes against our American ideals of independence, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps, and the great importance of being "fine".
I had a mom to an 18-month-old ask at a recent talk I gave to a group of women, "Does anyone talk on the phone anymore?" and "...how do you make those kind of friends?"
She was in a room full of about 20 other moms wondering how to be more connected.
I don't know that there's anything worse than being in relationship AND feeling alone.
And so I've started wondering lately, "Is small talk killing the village?"
I used to be so good at mingling. I think I mastered small talk in the midst of grave (and not so grave) life experiences as a child.
Mingling probably saved me in a lot of ways.
Stuck at home with a soap-opera watching Grandma at age 3? Mingle enough with surrounding families and they'll entertain you and feed you lunch.
Tensions flying high in my parents' highly conflictual marriage? Mingle with ANY neighborhood kid that will bite...then play 'til the lights go out.
Parents divorce and I move out of state at THE WORST and most AWKWARD age EVER? Mingle your way into the hearts of some better-feeling families so that you're welcome 24/7.
DON'T BURDEN THEM WITH YOUR CRAP. Be light! Easy breezy. Smile! And especially smile when you tell them WHY you moved to St. Louis; you don't want them to think you're DYSFUNCTIONAL...Here, practice these lines, "We moved to St. Louis when my parents' divorced. No, don't be sorry. The divorce wasn't hard, it was expected."
No one taught me how to mingle. The unspoken rule was clear: Don't burden people with your crap.
The truth is that behind all that smiley small-talk I was an anxious and depressed child with a plummeting self-esteem.
I mingled my way through college, into the hearts of a few boyfriend's families, and into my Master's program while successfully not fully owning any of my issues and not truly deeply connecting with anyone except for maybe my therapist.
When I was 24 mingling became impossible when my 3-month-old niece passed away. It turns out the part of my brain that knows how to shoot the shit literally shuts-down for months (maybe years) after helping my half-sister pick out a casket for her baby.
I just couldn't talk about the weather, or the game, or your hair...I just couldn't. And I knew you didn't want to talk about dead babies as you would quickly contort your face and say, "Oh, I'm sorry," with an implied "THE END. WE'RE DONE HERE. FINITO." as you'd quickly change the subject to my hair.
Strangely, this mingling master was in a master's program where we were being taught to NOT small talk. If psychotherapists are small-talking we're wasting your time and money.
Nothing therapeutic or healing happens in small talk. NOTHING.
Do our brains have the ability to shut off the small talk when we need it the least? I have no idea. All my research in affective neuroscience hasn't revealed this phenomena, but I know many others who have experienced it as well.
And now, in my office, where I have worked deeply with couples and individuals for over a decade, I see the effects of all of this small talk: Moms feeling deep loneliness, people panicked wondering if they're feelings are normal or if they're somehow defective, and a degree of emotional distance and charade that is literally pinching us off from a basic human need to feel like we belong - like we're part of a tribe.
So what can you do if you're feeling like you're craving a tribe?
1. Stop wearing your "It's fine!" mask and see who's left. YES, there are people who are in your life now who will not like you as much when you're not fine....and there are people out there who will love you MORE.
How are you going to find your tribe of people if you're not wearing YOURSELF...they will never recognize you.
I met my most recent tribe member at a social event for our kids. In a group of women small-talking she said, "Well I have 4 kids, so I always look like shit and my house always looks like shit." I started inviting her over and out immediately.
2. Imperfectly invite people over. Don't wait until the house is clean (or in my case- not under construction). Host not-fancy dinner parties, happy hours, fire-pit gatherings, or book clubs. I started a book club last year and literally called it THE IMPERFECT BOOK CLUB - yoga pants casual, wine welcome.
The ways you are imperfect allow people to connect to you and love you even more... and the people who are not in your tribe might run away screaming. It's a great litmus test.
3. Stalk people. As busy adults it's so rare that friendships just spontaneously happen. When I had my first child I felt so alone. Many of my friends moved out of state within a 2 year period and I was the first to have a child. To my dismay, new friends didn't fall out of the sky and into my kitchen.
I remember seeing an old acquaintance on MySpace (yes, it was THAT long ago) and thinking, "She likes Indian food, baby wearing is one of her interests, and she's funny....I think we could totally be friends." I asked her and her family on a date to the Indian Buffet for lunch.
Did it feel strange? YES! Did I feel like a stalker? ABSOLUTELY. And we've been great friends ever since and she loves to tell people the story of how I stalked her on MySpace.
If there's someone out there you'd like to get to know more ask them to connect 3 times before giving up.
4. Know you deserve (and need...just ask Maslow) a tribe. Historically for our species living in close, inter-reliant groups of 30-50 is what's normal. It's no wonder we're all craving that village. Listen to this FASCINATING snippet from the Ted Radio Hour where journalist Sebastian Junger explains that the need to belong is so innate and so strong it's why some veterans actually miss war. He says their experience of trusted brotherhood while at war mimic more closely a village than anything else in our society.
5. If you're a mom, attend my upcoming TRIBE retreat for Moms in May, 2017. I've worked deeply with moms for the last 10 years and have created this retreat just for YOU (or the mom in your life). For all the details click here.
It will definitely be a no mingling zone.
You deserve happy relationships....without having to go to war,
I don't know about you, but lately I'm feeling scattered and lost. I'm making dinner less. I'm working less. I'm cleaning less. I'm connecting less. I'm procrastinating everything more.
Wandering aimlessly is my new past-time.
I wake up most mornings at 6am to write with my Australian writing buddy who lives in Atlanta (accountability is hugely important when a task requires me waking up when it's dark outside...and hearing an Australian accent first-thing isn't so bad) and as I hopped on our Google Hangout Jetsony video call I realized I have not a frappin' clue what I'm going to write about today.
As I was saying all of this out-loud to my writing buddy I realized I'm feeling a little bit paralyzed by all of the current events: keeping up with all of the changes, listening to the swirling outrage, educating myself, forming opinions, figuring out HOW on EARTH people's opinions could differ from mine, reading about what everyone's doing, about what I should be doing, deciphering what Joe Schmo on my Facebook page thinks about the current events through all the grammatical errors (I'm just asking for a big grammatical error in this post by writing that...if you find it, you win a prize!)...
and I'm forgetting to breathe.
I'm forgetting to notice what's good.
I'm forgetting to look within.
I'm forgetting to reach out for support.
I'm forgetting about how powerful I am.
I'm allowing myself to become overwhelmed and overstimulated and frazzled by a never-ending barrage of information that I have control over.
And it's taking its toll.
The world doesn't need us to be overwhelmed, overstimulated, frazzled, and under-productive.
I've never heard of any great change or leadership or well-being coming from a frazzled and overwhelmed human being.
The world needs us to be clear, focused, and collected.
I believe this lies somewhere between what I've been doing lately and burying my head in the sand and never watching or reading another news source again.
Here's what I'm going to try:
Limit information intake: I'm going to do this by time and by source.
I think we need to ask ourselves a few questions about the information we're consuming:
1. Is it addicting?
2. Am I learning something or is this just confirming my opinion?, and
3. Would this article NOT do a damned thing to convince others of my opinion?
If the answer is YES to any of these questions I believe these articles or programs are a waste of my time, energy, and resources and I'm pretty sure that 90% of what I've allowed myself to consume falls into this category.
Limit social media time or filter your feed: Jumping on Facebook is no longer the destresser it used to be. I haven't decided yet, but I'm either limiting my time there and/or filtering political posts or posts from known not-so-great-sources from my feed. More on that HERE.
Come up with doable action steps: There are so many ways to get involved it sends my brain into a tail-spin. If I choose one action item per week it will be about, rouuuuggghhly....my math could be really wrong here...51 more ways I am consciously being involved than last year.
And I have to REMEMBER: no amount of caring is too small. I can send $2 or $200 to organizations and causes I care about depending on what feels good to me that week.
Get Some Accountability: Know someone in the same boat?...I bet you do. Come up with your own guidelines for yourself so that you can harness your energy and VOW to send a despicable organization of your choice a check if you veer off course. EEP! This one hurts.
We might as well be sending the other side an energetic check when we allow ourselves to be drained, overwhelmed, and paralyzed, right? Why not just double-down to keep yourself on track?
You're boiling inside about something your partner just said or did...maybe it's the VERY thing you've talked about 457 times before and it's STILL happening.
The thing to do next to actually come to a resolution is probably THE most counterintuitive...
So, let's start with that witch that lives inside you
You know...the one who says things like, "YOU SUCK" or "YOU'RE A TERRIBLE MOTHER" or "YOU'RE JUST A SCREW UP" or "YOU'RE NOT DOING ENOUGH"
I think we all live with some version of that voice. Our brains are wired for it. I don't really care what you call it: ego, fear, the devil...
One of the very first things I do when I work with couples is I try to tease out the specific-to-you destructive core beliefs at play within each person that are being triggered within the relationship.
We all have destructive core beliefs shaping our lens through which we see ourselves, each other, and the world. When left unexamined, they can slowly deteriorate relationships and put an upper limit on success and happiness.
Last weekend I made an extensive list of these beliefs on a whiteboard for a classroom full of couples and asked them to pick the ones that most resonated with them.
And what happened is what usually happens, people have a REALLY hard time identifying these beliefs...especially as they pertain to their relationship.
It's like when I've had my sunglasses on my head for hours and then am booming, "WHERE ARE MY SUNGLASSES?! HAS ANYONE SEEN MY SUNGLASSES?!" as I'm trying to get out the door.
They've been there so long I can't feel them anymore.
I approached a couple who looked confused. He said, "I can't really figure out what mine is." I had asked the group to think of some arguments, irritations, blow-ups, or times they shut down with their partner, and then see if they could find a theme of one of the underlying beliefs on the board.
He had plenty of examples. "Like when she asks me to change the baby's diaper and then has an opinion on how much diaper cream I've used, or when I'm making dinner and she takes over a task because she doesn't like the way I'm doing it...."
I said, "So, it feels like you can't do it right? Or like she feels like you're not competent or capable?"
These thoughts fit clearly under the belief in inferiority (I'm less than you) and in fact were listed on the board.
And this is REALLY common. I wonder if the toughness in seeing these beliefs in ourselves is that in those moments of defensiveness or shut-down we're so focused on the OTHER person's part that it makes a blind-spot for seeing our own.
THE HUGE TRUTH IS...if there wasn't a part of you that believed that insert your destructive core belief here it wouldn't bother you when it seemed like someone else thought it too.
I also wonder if in many of us one defense mechanism we've created in living with such beliefs is portraying the opposite in an effort to prove to ourselves and the world that we're O.K.
For instance, it's easy to begin acting from a superior intent when you perceive that someone is treating you like you're inferior.
Imagine the outcome if he snaps back, "YOU're always micromanaging ME!"
"It sounds like you think I'm not capable?"
One elicits defensiveness in the listener and the other invites a conversation about the real underlying issue.
What I see in my office is just a few themes of core beliefs:
In men I mostly see some variation of: I can't DO it right or I can't DO enough - focused on DOING.
In women I mostly see some variation of: I am not enough - focused on BEING.
There's also the insidious, "I'm defective", "I'm a failure", and "I'm bad."
I have one client who is, career-wise - REALLY successful, but also moves through his personal life with a large dose of belief in his defectiveness. Because of a diagnosis of depression and anxiety it's like he can't trust his own feelings or his brain at large. This keeps him from addressing emotional issues in the moment which has his partner feeling like she's playing a game without the rules as she gets blindsided with his true feelings long after the fact.
This triggers her belief that she's not enough and sets off a big reaction to which he attributes to him not feeling or thinking about this "right" and ends up being one more piece of evidence for the stack labeled, "I'm defective".
In the workshop I hosted this weekend a man said, "I think mine is that 'I'm bad', but I'm not really sure." He told me this comes up for him when he travels a lot for work leaving his wife home to parent their 3 young children.
"I know she wants me to call, but sometimes I'm in meetings and in different time zones and it just makes it not possible."
His wife was in the restroom. I asked him if her core belief was, "I'm not important". His eyes got big and he tapped on her worksheet, "YES."
I love when people think I'm a witch.
I often see couples' destructive core beliefs fitting together like puzzle pieces - holding them in a go-nowhere pattern of interaction like Chinese handcuffs. The more they do what's intuitive from the perspective their destructive core belief creates, the more they're locked into an argument that feels like it never gets resolved and probably happens on repeat.
I teach couples to lean in to these moments so that they can be set free (same deal with Chinese handcuffs). To lean into these tough conversations we have to learn how to wrap our mouths around our own destructive core beliefs and those of our partner.
THE MOST RIDICULOUS EXAMPLE: Months after we had our first child we were attempting to go on date nights. It was a real joke. Despite being away from the baby, it seemed we couldn't remember how to talk about anything but the baby: when the baby last pooped, was it a big poop?, or a small poop?, how long the baby had slept, and when the baby will sleep again....
You get the idea.
In a really conscious effort to get us talking about something else I said, "So, what places to visit are on your bucket list?"
"I don't know," he said abruptly with a HINT of a "that's a stupid question" tone.
I read his response as confusion: I had changed the subject REALLY QUICKLY. So, I gave him some examples, "You know, like I REALLY want to go to Greece, and Italy, and Hawaii, and Spain. THOSE are the places I'm really drawn to. So, how about you?"
I don't know.
Like where have you always dreamed of going?
I DON'T know.
I . DON'T . KNOW.
It was clear that he really wasn't saying "I don't know," at this point and I dropped the subject. I thought maybe he was just in a bad mood.
Same thing happened on the next date night. It was clear he was irritated with the topic.
Because I know some big destructive core beliefs for him are "I don't do it right" and "I don't do enough" I thought, "HOW could he be perceiving this conversation through THAT lens?"
Wait...Do you think I'm saying that it's YOUR job to get me to these places?
YES! What else would you be saying?
He also heard that he wasn't doing enough because he hadn't gotten me to any of these places yet.
THAT WAS SO NOT MY INTENT. But now, because his perception of my intent was clear, I had a chance to clear it up. "ERIC, I work! If I want to get these places it's my job to get me there...not yours. My happiness is MY job."
When we're not clear of our destructive core beliefs and how to talk about them in the moment, it can be SO easy to get off track.
We had the bucket-list-places-to-visit conversation recently and it went really differently. I asked him if he remembered the last time we talked about it, and he didn't (our oldest is 9).
And as I'm writing this I'm realizing that just the context of having a new baby could have really magnified his destructive core beliefs: They are often mirrored back to you by the people and things you care about the most. A baby's cry sure can sound a lot like, "YOU'RE NOT DOING IT RIGHT!" and "YOU'RE NOT DOING ENOUGH!"
I was going to take more credit for us being able to get through that conversation this time without him taking my dreams personally, but maybe the fact that we don't have a newborn plays as big a part as all of the relationship work we've done??
So, what's the first step in wanting to scratch your partner's eyes out less? Examining and addressing the witch that lives inside of you...and the one in your partner.
If it bother's you, it lives in you.
You deserve happy relationships,