Can an Open Marriage ever really Work?

POLYAMORY

Can an Open Marriage ever really Work?

People come in all shapes and sizes. They have different wants and needs. Anthropologists say what was traditionally supplied us by a whole village such as warmth, guidance, financial sustenance, understanding, passionate love and eminent friendship we now seek solely in our spouse or significant other. But that’s a huge burden to carry. Due to the high divorce rate, the need for sexual novelty, the desire to try the same gender or emotional needs that their spouse can’t supply sometimes pivots them in the direction of an open marriage. It’s often when the needs of one person cannot be met by the other. It’s no one’s fault. Instead, it’s usually just a mismatch. For others, it’s a need to explore further with love, a mindset that requires free will, strong confidence, good communication and a non-jealous personality. Surely, there are dysfunctional open marriages as there are dysfunctional closed ones. But can an open marriage ever really work? Experts say there are such that can work but it takes the right kind of couple and the proper mindset. Open and honest communication is the most important aspect. An open marriage doesn’t mean a person can have sex with whomever, whenever. Instead, a certain set of pre-agreed upon rules are made and adhered to, with each mate’s preferences in mind.

According to psychologist Deborah Anapol an expert on polyamory— practicing intimacy with more than one partner, though many couples who in an open marriage struggle with jealousy from time to time, very few say they regret being able to share intimacy outside the confines of their relationship. There are many alternative romantic and sexual couplings going around nowadays. People are getting married later on in life due to the time it takes to get a proper education and work your way up. The new generation prefers lots of choice and not getting tied down. In the wake of the sexual revolution and the explosion of dating and hookup apps, people have freedoms and opportunities they’ve never had before in the history of humankind. That and the elevated divorce rate has non-traditional people looking for new ways to have their needs met, explore their sexuality and enjoy their life with others.

Still, the reason for entering into such a relationship is important. One party should not be pressuring the other into entering into such an agreement. Another party should not be going along with it when they really don’t like the idea, just for the sake of saving the relationship. Instead, this is something that both parties have to be sincerely interested in. For some couples, it’s a way for a person who has a large sexual appetite for instance to have his or her needs met without disenfranchising their partner. For others, it’s a way to express their freedom. They believe the human heart has the capacity to love more than one person and in more than one way. They feel that commitment and fidelity are not synonymous. Besides intermittent jealousy, the potential for a stream of uncomfortable conversations and lots of chances to be tempted to lie to your partner, cause many to steer clear of the idea. Others fear the chance that no matter what rules are in place their spouse could run off with another. Really it’s all about how you feel about one another and your relationship. If it’s a way to renew the marriage or explore new dimensions of love and freedom, go for it. If it’s to placate someone or a last ditch effort to save the marriage, you may be setting yourselves up for a terrible fall. For more pick up a copy of the book, The Seven Natural Laws of Love, Polyamory in the 21st Century by Deborah Taj Anapol, Ph.D.

Why do we Fall in Love?

inlove

Why do we Fall in Love?

Have you ever wondered how much of love is biology and how much is psychology? If you’ve ever wondered if chemistry just happens or can be created, if love at first sight is real and all other things about love, you are living in a wondrous time. Why do we fall in love? Science has some answers. There are three different systems in the brain, that when brought together spell the emotional and biological phenomenon we call love. First is the sex drive created to ensure the perpetuation of our species. The feeling of romantic love helps you focus on one person making sure you don’t waste any time or energy. The last part is the comfort and security you feel when with a long term partner, giving you time to raise children together.

Love feels fantastic because the pleasure centers of the brain are activated when we fall for someone. Dopamine, the chemical that makes you feel euphoric, enthralled, and sleepless mirrors other experiences, such as being high on cocaine. Love at first sight does occur, though more to men than to women. Men are visual creatures. Whereas women fall in love in terms of who a person is, their charm, status or power rather than their physicality. Love at first sight may be an evolutionary advantage, producing offspring in a short amount of time rather than the long, drawn out process we go through today with society as our backdrop.

Timing of course is just as important in falling in love as it is with everything else in life. If you’re too busy with work or focusing on your responsibilities you may not notice the perfect person for you, when they’re just inches away. But with a little free time and the right mindset, a sort of openness, not necessarily looking for it, love can hit you like a lightning bolt. If you want someone to fall in love with you, do exciting things together with them. This releases dopamine and norepinephrine into the brain, mimicking romantic love. There is a difference between love and lust. You can feel love for one person. But lust dissipates after sex. And you can feel attracted to someone without being compatible, or jealous if they are into someone else.

How do you keep the spark alive? By trying new and exciting things together, and doing the things you did when you were first dating. Perhaps someday all of our questions on love will be explained. Will that kill the romance? Or will it give us a finer appreciation of the nuances of love? Only time and intrepid scientists will give us the answers. For more on this topic read, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love by Helen Fisher.

Can Marriage and Lust Coexist?

Happy couple in bed --- Image by   Darren Kemper/Corbis

Can Marriage and Lust Coexist?

It is a common misconception that people who have been together a long time inevitably see their passion fade. So can marriage and lust coexist?  In fact, research has shown that married people are having more sex than their single counterparts. For instance, a 2010 Kinsey Institute survey found that three out of five single people went without sex last year, as opposed to one out of five married people. In another study conducted by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth which studies families, married 25 to 59 year olds were more likely to have sex two to three times per week than their single counterparts. Usually couples have sex often in the early phase of the relationship but frequency slows down as time goes on. What often happens is people get caught up in the demands of a career and raising a family and so have sex less often. But studies have shown that married people enjoy it more. Laura Carpenter, a sex researcher from Vanderbilt University says, “While people get older and busier, as a relationship proceeds they also get more skillful—in and out of the bedroom.” Still, couples often blame dry spells on their marriage. It’s usually certain aspects of the marriage such as an all too familiar partner, arguing or household chores and the politics that can come with them.

Science can’t help us here. There are few studies that have looked into what a normal sex life looks like in mid-life. There is no recipe therefore on what can keep sex hot and lust going in a marriage. Still there are indicators. The eminent John Gottman, a pioneer in the field of couple’s research and head of Seattle’s Gottman Institute says that when men and women share their lives, they are more likely to engage in sex. Men who share in the household chores and childcare had sex more often than those that didn’t, Gottman’s research found. Other researchers have also found that the more a couple shared, the more sex they had. Other research has shown that it doesn’t matter who is the breadwinner. No matter the financial situation, long-term couples had the same frequency. On another front, it’s important to see a certain psychological paradigm that exists and how to overcome it, or balance it out. Our sexual feelings are filtered through our culture. Rules and norms on desire, fantasies and arousal lock us in to what researchers call “sexual scripts.” These are the roles, desires and fantasies we allow ourselves to take part in. University of Washington Sociologist Julie Brines thinks the trouble is we are still stuck in traditional sexual scripts. Even more problems occur when we are between scripts.  “I don’t think we have newer alternatives to traditional sexual scripts in marriage,” she said. Since couples relate differently in and out of the bedroom perhaps our sexual scripts should reflect this new dynamic. But one has yet to settle in.

Psychotherapist Esther Perel says the issue of losing passion in a marriage comes when we are too focused on our need for security. It comes to dominate our competing need for novelty. Perel says that, “couples who describe themselves as loving, trusting, and caring complain that their sex lives have become dull and devoid of eroticism.” What Perel does then is show couples how to, “reconcile our fundamental need for safety and security with our equally strong need for adventure and novelty.” It’s worth noting that her 2013 TED Talk has five million views on YouTube. Some suggest using one’s sexual imagination to explore what is interesting and novel to the couple themselves. Gottman found that desire was present most in couples who responded to each other’s feelings. Those that were adversarial shut down desire. These were the sexless marriages. Gottman also found that sex didn’t take a back seat to other things on the couple’s agenda.  “Couples who are going to have a lot of sex end up somehow being able to communicate to one another that it’s a priority,” the researcher said. “It is not going to be the last item on the infinite to-do list.” When one person wasn’t in the mood in these marriages Gottman said one would give the other person an alternative to intercourse. This is done so as to show love and concern for the spouse and their needs. Lastly, to keep the spark alive, Gottman said that sexual imagination needs one very important thing, a free and comfortable atmosphere conducive to play. For more on keeping the novelty in your marriage read, Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel.

50 Shades of Your Relationship

SPANKING

50 Shades of Your Relationship

At one time bondage, domination, sadism and masochism (BDSM) was considered abhorrent, frightening, freakish or extreme. But today, in the wake of the Sexual Revolution and the advent of the erotic novel 50 Shades of Grey, many people are more interested and open to the lifestyle. What’s more, it may have benefits such as rekindling the spark in your relationship, getting you out of a sexless marriage and even improving on communication—something all couples struggle with from time to time. The New York Times and other newspapers have run articles about BDSM, Cosmopolitan has been giving kinkier advice and Harvard University now teaches a class on S&M, all in preparation for the 50 Shades of Grey movie that just hit theaters.

So how common are these types of activities? Researchers say somewhere between 2-62% of couples practice BDSM. This is kinky sex we are talking about. There isn’t a clear picture exactly. People are most likely apprehensive about opening up about it. One 2008 Australian poll found that 2.2% of men and 1.3% of women said they engaged in S&M within the last month. But a study that just came out asking 1,500 American men and women about their fantasies, found that 53.3% of men and 64.6% of women had dreamt of being dominated sexually. Meanwhile 59.6% of men and 46.7% of women fanaticized about dominating someone else.

So is it normal or sick to engage in such behavior? Those who participate in BDSM are surprisingly well-adjusted according to a 2006 study. Here researchers tested those in the kink community for psychological disorders. They found that BDSM practitioners had lower levels of PTSD, anxiety, depression, borderline pathology, psychological masochism and paranoia. They were found just as prone to obsessive-compulsive disorder, narcissism and dissociation as their “vanilla sex” counterparts. Those who enjoyed BDSM had positive personality traits, according to a 2013 study. They were more conscientious, extraverted, open to new experiences and had a higher sense of wellbeing. Kink lovers were also less sensitive to rejection and were less neurotic than the straight laced. There was one negative. Those who engaged in BDSM were found less agreeable than their non-practicing counterparts. Certainly, normal healthy people engage in BDSM with no short-term or permanent damage. In fact, it can be an enjoyable, zesty enterprise if you are open to it. One of the central themes is non-judgment which many people find freeing. Others say it gets you out of your head, which leaves worries and cares behind, relaxing you. There has even been talk about parallels between BDSM and tantric sexual practices.

So what do BDSM practitioners actually do? Effects are more psychological than physical. One person is generally the dominant character or the “top” and the other plays the submissive role or the “bottom.” This can fit the person’s natural assertive or submissive nature, or express their latent desire to be assertive or submissive. There is also the rare switch, the person who can play both roles. Practitioners take part in elaborate role plays which include elements that both parties are interested in. Bondage can include tying someone up with rope, chains or handcuffs. Sadism can include whipping, caning, spanking, using nipple clamps and much more. Humiliation is also a part of it, things such as name calling, blindfolding and gagging. Couples have to be very comfortable with one another and communicate well to engage in this kind of play. They should also have a safety word which if either one utters, stops play immediately. This is when one party feels uncomfortable and the level of play is getting close to crossing their boundaries. Be sure to study up and learn more before engaging. Bondage rope for instance should be tied loosely as not to cut off circulation. And believe it or not, there is a proper way to spank someone. If you are interested in learning more, check out the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), look for community organizations in your area, or pick up a copy of Jay Wiseman’s SM 101: A Realistic Introduction.

Overcoming the Winter Relationship Drain

COUPLE-IN-LOVE-WINTER

Overcoming the Winter Relationship Drain

In the barren landscape of this cruel season, your heart may feel as bitter as it is outside. Unfortunately for many, especially those who would rather hibernate, it’s often hard to keep a relationship vibrant during this time of year. Then there are bleak statistics like the fact that couples are more likely to split over the holidays and St. Valentine’s Day. The season can put extra pressure on a couple, particularly pertinent if they aren’t getting along to begin with. Psychologist Seth Meyers, PhD, says we tend to be moodier in the winter months, and our energy level is lower. These also take their toll on our love life.

HERE ARE SOME POTENTIAL RELATIONSHIP OBSTACLES AND HOW TO GET PAST THEM:

  • Both men and women feel cooped up during the cooler months, and this adds to our irritability. The lack of sunlight also robs us of serotonin—the happiness neurotransmitter in our brains. One way to combat this is to bundle up and go outside. Even if it’s just for a few minutes at lunchtime, a little sunlight can get the serotonin flowing, and make you your own fun-to-be-with self again.
  • Another problem is that we often try to feed this lack of serotonin with temporary fixes such as simple carbs, sugar or alcohol. These can make you feel better short-term, but when you crash later on you feel worse. This is when we find ourselves in a screaming match with our partner. Being “hangry” is no laughing matter. Nutritional psychologist Julia Ross suggests high protein snacks instead. Eggs, cottage cheese, fish, a handful of nuts or some natural peanut butter on a slice of whole wheat are all good options. These will give you a long-term boost while avoiding the blood-sugar roller coaster other foods put you through.
  • Winter is a time when some put on their thick, puffy socks, pajamas, swaddle themselves in blankets and settle down to a TV binge. This is not exactly the sexiest scenario. But a lack of sex in the winter can also spell a lack of connection. Exercising together can boost mood enhancing biochemicals like serotonin and dopamine. Why not hit the gym?
  • Also, work a little harder to keep the spark alive. Spend some time with the TV off. Play some nice music, light candles and get in the mood. Couple time is always appreciated. It makes your cuddling on the couch that much cozier. And cuddling releases oxytocin, the bonding neurochemical.
  • If you haven’t been intimate in a couple of weeks why not initiate a romantic setting and see how your partner responds? Skin gets dry in the winter. Offer to rub some lotion on your sweetie, and while you are at it give them a nice massage. Pick up their favorite dessert and feed it to them over hot cocoa or warm apple cider. Mulled wine and some fun conversation could work. Sure it may be a struggle, but get up and go out once in a while. A little bistro, live jazz, open mic night at your local coffee house or dancing at that hot little joint downtown are some fun options.
  • When it is time to snuggle on the couch, watch the latest RomCom, or perhaps something naughty.
  • Sometimes a little adrenaline can get the juices pumping and make you feel closer. Look for indoor rock climbing at the mall or laser tag at the arcade.

There are lots of fun and romantic things you can do to break out of the winter rut and embrace love, no matter how cold it is outside. For more on this subject read, The Truth about Love: The Highs, the Lows, and How You Can Make It Last Forever by Dr. Patricia Love, EdD.