Category: Love and Intimacy

The new CBD oil and THC massage cream that makes your vagina stoned and helps facilitate great sex

The science is compelling. And there is a reason that products derived from the cannabis plant are becoming legal all over North America. Not only are the studies coming back with great results.

The new THC massage oil is magic for women experiencing pain, tightness, discomfort around sex.
CBD the anti-inflammatory oil (which gives you NO high just pain relief) has been shown to reduce pain and is a great tool for dealing with pelvic pain. But the THC massage oil is a localized “happy oil” for your genitals.

We can’t keep it in stock. Go see your doctor and get a prescription.

6 things you need to think about when healing from past trauma

Lately I’m seeing more and more sad, overwhelmed and troubled people in my office. As a Sex and Relationship Therapist I spend most of my day talking about genitals (and how they rub together) and how to increase the amount of connection and intimacy with your partner. I don’t specialize in anxiety, depression, family of origin work but I have clients whose trauma and life stress are spilling over into their relationships.

Women especially are overwhelmed, and self medicating to deal with the unmanageable parts of their lives. We hear lots about balance, self-care and “getting rid of baggage” but how do you actually do that?

Here are some suggestions from the PTSD experts.

On the journey from “Heal Thyself” to “Healthy Self,” remember:

1. We must be willing to choose to grow up and become the fully embodied Self; to own all of who we are – the good, the bad, and the ugly; to blow the lid off of exploitation, oppres­sion, and fear; and to know that, to be empowered, we must embrace our darkest hours as deeply as we do our brightest moments. It all matters. It all makes us who we are.

2. There is no shame in being human. There is no shame in being flawed and im­perfect. There is no shame in telling the truth.

3. It takes courage to do what must be done. It takes courage to be an adult in this world. It takes courage to be your Self – all of you!

4. We need to accept, forgive, and love ourselves rather than hate, despise, and humiliate. Shaming yourself for what you’ve been taught to believe is a “bad or unacceptable” version of you will only keep you disempowered. Fragmented. Broken.

5. We need to learn from the most wounded parts of us by shining light on them, listening to what they need more or less of, then encouraging them to ascend and expand rather than shrivel and die.

6. Expanding our emotional edges takes self-awareness, courage, and willingness. We have to pull our heads out of the sand and wake up!

Basically it means writing, reading, listening, talking, getting counseling, support for all the pieces inside you that are fragmented. Pushing it down will only work for awhile. And you are worth it.

Valentine’s Day gifts for under $10! Be sexy but cheap!

I love these suggestions! I use (they give me loyalty points) and are inexpensive!

Under $10

· Romantic Rose Petals ($3.99) – It is Valentine’s Day after all, why not bring some romance into the bedroom tonight? Spread these romantic rose petals around your bed and set the tone for a passionate lovefest.

· Trojan Ultra Thin Condoms 3 Count ($5.99) – Safety first! Unless you’re more interested in getting a U Check Pregnancy Test…. ($4.99)

· Edible Crotchless Gummy Panties (5.99) – Your partner doesn’t need to be the only snack in the bedroom tonight. Turn yourself into a tasty treat with these yummy Edible Gummy Undies. These delicious candy undies are a sexy way to satisfy your lover’s sweet tooth, available in peach, strawberry and watermelon flavors.

· Fetish Fantasy Series Beginner’s Metal Cuffs ($5.99) – Hey, beginners all have to start somewhere right? These metal cuffs are perfect for bondage novices yet strong enough for even Houdini. The locking mechanism has a quick-release button in case you lose the key, and their sturdy design ensures they’re made to play hard.

· Ultimate Roll Bedroom Dice ($6.99) – Not sure how to spend Valentine’s night? Why not… roll the dice. In this game of chance, there are no losers. Dice Include: Foreplay Activities, Fun Props, Oral Sex Positions and Sex Positions.

· JO All in One Warming Massage Glide ($4.99) – It’s getting hot in here! Use this as a massage oil to get the party started, then use it as lube to conveniently slip into something more comfortable – like the person next to you. Plus, it warms as you use it, like a hot tub, in your hands… or pants!

Best date nights when the weather gets yucky and cold

It’s November. The clocks have gone back and at least in my part of the world it’s gotten cold. -18 with the wind tonight. Halloween is over and Christmas seems like a long way off. For our American friends the holidays are approaching with a list of things to do. The date nights are hard to initiate and get motivated.

The urge to pull the covers over your heads is strong. But relationships need time, energy and enthusiasm. Even (or especially) when it’s hard to do.
I’ve borrowed some of the list from my friends at Elite and have added a few of my own. I have a list of more sexual things you might try

1. Go for a dip in a local hot spring (or hot tub).

2. Hit the ice rink or pond for some adorable couples skating.

3. Go for a stroll (or cruise around in a nice warm car) to look at all holiday lights together.

4. Take a stroll in a nearby state park and pack a thermos of some adult (aka spiked) hot chocolate.

5. Do a winter wonderland photoshoot.

6. Hit the slopes for a snowboarding or sledding adventure.

7. Hike a local nature trail. It’s gorgeous out there, so why not see it together?

8. Fire up a bonfire on the beach or in your backyard and roast some s’mores.

9. Crack open your local parks and rec guide to find local winter events or programs you didn’t even know existed in your town.

10. Book a trip to somewhere with warmer climates. Hawaii sounds amazing right about now.
11. Break out some boardgames or jigsaw puzzles and play over steaming cups of mulled wine.

12. Check out Atlas Obscura and visit some nearby strange and unusual attractions or museums.

13. Or go the total opposite and play tourist at your most popular local attraction.

14. With the weather turning colder, less fortunate folks and our furry friends need even more help than in the warmer months. Pick a cause and volunteer together.

15. Speaking of furry friends, go visit them in the zoo or at the aquarium.

16. Play some indoor sports together like indoor mini golf, going for swim at the local indoor pool, or bowling a few games.

17. Scale an indoor rock climbing wall together.

18. Arcades are making a comeback and oftentimes they even serve drinks, so gather up your quarters and go get your Ms. Pac-Man on.

19. Head to a local brewery to taste all the awesome seasonal beers. Mmmm so pumpkin-y.

20. Test your teamwork skills with an escape room (seriously, these are so fun).


21. Rent a cabin up in the mountains or by a lake and just try not to have the most romantic weekend.

22. Netflix and chill is for the rest of year, but Netflix and snuggle? That’s my idea of winter fun. Not sure what to watch? Each of you should pick their favorite movie and make it a double feature.

23. Make an amazing dinner together at home. Pick something that makes you feel cozy in the winter and use lots of seasonal veggies.

24. Snuggle up in front of a fire with some spiked hot chocolate or bundle up under a blanket together and watch the sunset with a couple of mugs.

25. Embrace your inner child by building a pillow fort… and then do really adult things inside it.

26. Paint your toes or groom each other. It’s one of the most bonding things you can do together.

27. Put on some fast music and dance.

28. Come to a Ducklings event! Or check us out and duplicate one of our crazy ideas!

29. Develop a hobby together! Beekeeping course, salsa dancing, beginner volleyball, paint nights….

30. SEX! As your sex therapist I’m actively encouraging you to get naked!

Why the need for women (and many men) to connect personally – before they put out sexually

I’m often asked during one of my counseling sessions by confused men “why their partners aren’t interested in sex?” I hear from men who are frustrated that “they need to give a 2 hour massage before they can get laid”. For many women I speak to they are frustrated and often irked by their partners because of normal life issues. And if they are miffed at their guys, usually the last thing they want to do is to get naked with them.

It may not seem fair but the need to feel close and connected is one of the fundamentals for women to get uninhibited in the bedroom. Yes, passion can flair during a one-night-stand, but if you really want to know what buttons to push then making a partner feel noticed, appreciated, and emotionally close will throw open the doors to really hot sex. I don’t think men have to be perfectly behaved 100% of the time but they do have to hit women’s “connection button” before women become more interested in being the sexually open partner their men remember.
While men can compartmentalize sex, most women can’t. Women like to think they can just have sex for sex’s sake, but those pesky hormones get in the way. In the case of feeling loved to be horny, it’s all about oxytocin – the cuddle hormone. Women need to feel bonded to get in the mood. And if their partners have been dumbasses throughout the day they feel disconnected. And for most (although not all) women, fighting turns down their sex drive significantly. That doesn’t mean you have to do everything she wants in order to get some action. It means that doing things that make her specifically feel close will overcome any of your daily shortcomings. For example, in my case I’m verbal. Telling me you love me- even if we haven’t had much time together, will cause me to melt and feel close. For other women, it’s doing things that make her life easier. Throwing in a load of laundry, or straightening up the bedroom will go a long way in settling down our daily OCD and making us receptive to sex.

The challenge for most men however, is that they feel loved when they are touched. And touch leads to sexy thoughts. It’s not quite the old adage “that most men want sex to feel close, and women need to feel close to have sex” but there is lots of truth in that statement. The truth is that sex (actually ejaculation) brings down men’s energy and ups their desire to cuddle and connect emotionally. Often the ‘sperm brain phenomenon” gets in the way of the intimacy that women crave. Both men and women need a more accurate, and better communicated list of what they truly need from their mate in order to be sexual.

Doug and Leslie Gustafson have a great quote on the dialogue between men and women before sex.
“Most men have no history of positive role models for how to treat women, what real intimacy looks like and how to translate their needs for closeness into a positive way of pursuing their lover. And this is the rub! Think about it. Women want men who open up their feminine heart and body skillfully. Like a finely wrapped gift, they don’t want the beautiful wrapping paper and ribbon hurriedly ripped off, wadded up and tossed into the garbage. They want to experience profound safety, honor and excitement in how men approach them, hold them and ask to be inside. Men, on the other hand, are quite capable of “paving the way” to intimacy — after the fact. They surrender to their feminine, touchy-feely side during and after sex. During and after!

What a chasm in timing. Men want sex, which helps move them into a deeper connection with all their emotional wants and needs. Women want that deeper connection before the bedroom door opens. Ultimately, they both want the same thing. Passionate, rock-the-bed-stand, earthquake sex with souls bared wide open in tenderness, connection and erotic touch. And orgasms that spell not only physical release, but the intersection of two souls who need a deep kind of love suspended in time, delivered with expertise and boat-floating sexiness.”

So what can you do?

Much of it comes down to self-awareness. Knowing what you need and how to articulate it to your partner. As an example, asking for a hug, or saying “I would really like to fool around later”, or just holding your partner without the expectation of sex can pay big dividends later when you do have time for sex. Alternatively trying to be calm and asking for some gentle touch and eye-gazing (even if you are a bit mad) can close the gap you need to be intimate.

It may seem a bit corny but I really like the research on gratitude statements. A gratitude statement is exactly what it sounds like. Showing appreciation and telling your sweetie what you are grateful for. “One study looked at 36 committed couples. They found that even though relationships have ups and downs, they were reliably marked by one person’s feeling of gratitude. The study concluded that everyday gratitude serves as an important relationship maintenance mechanism, acting as a booster shot to the relationship”. The reverse is also true. When partners (especially men) hear complaints, blame or disrespect, it can have a devastating effect on his testosterone. He then feels neglected and very disconnected.

So praise, touch, gratitude, self-awareness and words of love are some of the best advice I can give people on improving the “disconnected” part of their sex lives. The next time you are being rebuffed for sex, try some praise, and words of love. That may be a better way to get some between the sheets action.

Local date night suggestions. Ottawa area things to do to keep relationships connected

couples3333Keeping Things Hot as the Temperature Drops
As the leaves fall the temperatures dip, it can certainly be difficult to find a good reason to leave the warm comfort of home. Luckily enough, The Capital offers a multitude of fun date night activities, making it a little easier to forgo your typical night of Netflix and takeout for an evening of romance and excitement!

Complimentary Oysters at Luxe Bistro
Every Tuesday evening from 4:30-6:30pm, Luxe offers a complimentary Oyster Happy Hour, where guests who order a drink and food are welcome to as many little creatures as their hearts’ desire. I’ve been known to eat upwards of thirty in one sitting! The delicious food, modern décor, and relaxing ambiance all make for a truly luxe-urious experience. And hey – oysters are said to be aphrodisiacs! While the science may still be a bit hazy on whether certain foods can actually stimulate sexual desire, there’s no denying that a romantic date night at one of Ottawa’s poshest restaurants is sure to get anyone in the mood!
A Night in Old Ottawa South
Old Ottawa south doesn’t get nearly the recognition it deserves. Just over the bridge from Lansdowne and the Glebe, this little gem is home to a fabulous selection of pubs, restaurants, and wine bars. Begin your date-night at The Belmont, a neighbourhood haunt specializing in unique small plates and creative cocktails using only the freshest ingredients from local farms. Afterwards, go catch a flick at The Mayfair, Ottawa’s oldest active movie theatre, operating since 1932. Inside, there are four faux-balconies, stained-glass windows, and wrought ironwork that will make you feel like you’ve been transported to another era for the evening. After the film, cap your night off at Quinn’s, a cozy little pub just a stone’s throw from the theatre.

Explore Gatineau Park
There’s nothing more romantic that an escape to the Gatineau Hills in the fall. The Champlain Lookout, best known for its stunning bird’s-eye views of the hills over the Ottawa Valley, is the perfect place to sit back, relax and enjoy each other’s company. Breath in the crisp country air on a hike along the 1.2-kilometre hiking trail surrounding the lookout. On your way back to town, take a stroll through the charming streets of Old Chelsea, where you’ll find plenty of little cafés and specialty shops to enjoy. The Cafe Chat Siberien and the Chelsea Pub are two of my favourites!

Cooking and Wine Classes at La Bottega Nicastro
La Bottega Nicastro in the Byward Market offers cooking and wine tasting classes led by various guest chefs and wine experts from the region. As you sip on fine Italian wine, you and your date will be guided through the preparation of a gourmet three-course meal that you’ll get to enjoy along the way. Check out their website for upcoming classes and registration:

A Night at the Museum

Come party with the creatures of your planet at Nature Nocturne. Every month, the castle-like Nature Museum is transformed into Ottawa’s best dance party. It’s a fabulous opportunity to dress up, let loose, and discover the Museum after hours. The event combines DJs, live music, mingling, dancing, food stations, bars, and fascinating exhibitions.

Thanks to B for all of these. Watch here for more of her ideas and thoughts.

How to work with relationship deal breakers

What are relationship deal breakers?

I was polling a group of single Duckling women recently and asked them what they could and couldn’t live with in a potential partner. I had the usual answers like “no substance abusing”, “gainfully employed”, and “doesn’t live in his parent’s basement and talk into a pretend communicator”. But there were also more nebulous ones like “I need him to be sexually open and a little kinky”, “he can’t want to move in- I need my space”, and “I need him to have his own teeth and be able to get it up occasionally without duct tape and popsicle sticks.”

In a Psychology Today article (October 2015) they cited a poll from a singles dating site and the list included; Disheveled appearance, lazy, too needy, lacking a sense of humour, bad sex, too much tv or video games, blunt, doesn’t want kids, and low sex drive.
I think I would add to the list, poor oral hygiene, selfish in bed, no sense of humour and has that “smell of desperation” about them as disastrous in a dating situation. Even if they appear initially attractive.
There are many factors that lead to the creation of deal breakers. Some people are turned off by simple things like a walking style while other factors are complex such as double dealing.
You should ask yourself the following questions before dealing with problems so as to get an overview on what your deal breakers are.
1. What are the most common deal breakers for men?
• Health – some people are not hygienic and have bad smell and other suffer from STI’s.
• Dating behaviors – this involves being with multiple partners or pre-existing relationships.
• Negative personality traits – most avoid people who are untrustworthy, are abusive or uncaring. Men seem to have trouble with overt drama, meanness, lack of interest in sex, talking too much, and indecisiveness. As I tell women who are wondering what men want, they want a kind woman who looks good, who rolls with situations and who likes sex and is sexually open.
2. How can we deal with the relationship breakers when meeting a potential partner?
• Know what you want.
Most people know the deal breakers in advance while others don’t recognize them until they encounter the hurt. Know what you can’t tolerate, “set the bar” above this and settle for nothing less. Grow from the lessons leant from past experience.
• Understand expectations
Set your hopes high and go into a date with an open mind. Understand that nobody is perfect and there’s a difference between being impossible to please and being picky.
• Take time to know the other person first
Learn to acquaint yourself with the person before becoming romantic; it can save a lot of frustration.
• Talk to a therapist
When it comes to understanding what is important to you in a potential relationship have a look at why previous relationships haven’t worked? Are you clear about how you want to be treated? Can you teach partners how you want to be treated? Do you have a list of what’s important and your values when choosing a potential mate? If you are having trouble, or are constantly attracted to the wrong partner it may be time to get some help. I see lots of both men and women who are struggling to find love and keep hooking up with Mr. Bad Boy, or Ms. I-Hate-Sex. If you aren’t clear about what you are looking for and your absolute no-no’s then you may be destined to keep making the same relationship mistakes over and over. Send me a note (suem at and let’s talk about quick and effective therapy to get you matched.

Coping with deal breakers can be very frustrating but it is difficult to avoid them. Many people mesh while others don’t. As long as you stay cool, know what you want and be patient, you will finally get your match.
But what happens if some of these qualities are not initially apparent? Relationship deal breakers in existing relationships are things like being passive/aggressive, being dismissive of your feelings, or controlling your access to your friends and family. If you are in a relationship and the relationship isn’t working for you it may be time to ask yourself if any of the following list of qualities applies to your relationship.

• You are the only who is unhappy
• To make the relationship better, you work harder to make things work. You restrain your personality to avoid any conflict from arising.
• He/she hardly meets your needs while you meet theirs.
• You do away with all your friends just to make your partner happy
• Your partner cares less on how you feel and is not remorse about anything dealing with your needs.
• He/she never listens to whatever you say and sees you as a product of their fantasies. He/she finds it difficult to see you as your own person with feelings, thoughts and own motivations.

So if you have been unhappy in your relationship for longer than the last six months and if any of the above list resonates with you it may be time to really look at how well you are being treated in your relationship. Dealbreakers are just that. Things you can’t live with. The best thing to do is stop burying your head in the sand and address it or get out of it. What I do know is that partners who are behaving this way will not magically improve. It’s your life, and you need to teach people just how you want to be treated.

deal breakers2

Intimacy. Why it may be the biggest sexual problem of all.

intimacy10I spend much of my day talking about the challenges and mechanics of sex. Low libido, premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, sexual addiction, fetishes and inorgasmia are the bread and butter of a sex therapy practice. I see singles and couples who are trying to find their authentic sexual selves and figure out why things aren’t working the way they should. There is an expression that states, “sex is perfectly natural, but NOT naturally perfect.” Sex therapy is about finding out what you need sexually and what you can do to get it. Specific sexual problems are often treated quickly after a half dozen sessions. If you focus on solutions you can quickly see yourself being successfully sexual. Where clients get stuck however is in the area of intimacy.

Intimacy problems can be hard to define for some people but it’s really about the lack of a deep, meaningful connection with a primary partner. And if the connection isn’t there, a blockage can occur to prevent the kind of sexual lives that everyone is striving to have. A lack of intimacy can leave you unfulfilled sexually. There is no emotional link that makes sex magic. The number one thing couples in relationship therapy seem to crave is a partner that “gets them”, and who works on increasing closeness. For sex it works both ways. Intimate couples are safe enough with each other to be wild in bed, and being creative in the bedroom can open you up for more intimacy in your relationship. Sex shows us in our most vulnerable selves and allows our partners a chance to see us.

I know a lot of people that think intimacy is only physical sex. And due to the constant barrage of sexual images in modern culture, it’s not surprising why people believe this. However intimacy is much more than sweaty bodies.
Wikipedia defines intimacy like this. “Humans have a general desire to belong and to love, which is usually satisfied within an intimate relationship. Intimacy has a huge effect on individual health and well-being, positive emotion, and self-esteem. Within the close relationship, intimacy is associated with satisfaction, security, and stability.

Psychologist Lori Gordon says this about intimacy.
“Intimacy, I have come to believe, is not just a psychological fad,
a rallying cry of contemporary couples. It is based on a deep biological
need. The truth is that couples have never learned
reliably how to sustain pleasure in intimate relationships. The
difference is it never mattered so much before.”
Modern civilization does a good job getting our basic needs such as home, health, food, and safety covered. But we are rarely taught the skills that allow us to connect with someone close. We don’t live in clans anymore. Lots of people aren’t in church groups and we often live far away from our families or childhood communities. We fall through the cracks and don’t have people who truly know us.

Yes couples want to connect sexually, but they also want to be touched, understood, listened to, confided in, support each other when life is hard, and generally be each other’s best friend. The challenge of working, parenting, supporting an extended family, along with the basic challenges of communication and gender differences has many couples confused and unsatisfied emotionally. Skills like communication, empathy, compassion, and intuitive understanding aren’t taught in most high schools. And they are skills that really should be.
Partners want their significant other to heal all the hurts that the world inflicts on them. So what can couples do to make those intimate shifts that everyone seems to be craving?
I have five suggestions that have come out of watching couples who are genuinely striving for true happiness and contentment.

1. I’ve realized that attracting someone who is comfortable with intimacy begins with our own ability to be truly intimate with ourselves. Can you articulate what you want from a partner? Can you get quiet (all that mindfulness stuff) and figure out what you need? It’s really hard for a partner to meet your needs if you don’t know what they are. Get quiet, make a list of all the qualities that you need in order to be fulfilled. Then figure out how many of those needs you can ask your partner to fulfill.

2. Try something called Active intimacy. Intimacy is an action feeling. It comes from touching (hold hands, rub your partner’s head etc.). It comes from listening and giving your partner your undivided attention. And it comes from doing things together. If you can’t remember the last time you planned a date for your sweetie then it’s time to look on Groupon for a date activity in your city. And then make it as sexy as you both can handle. Making your partner feel special should be a top priority.

3. Take a deep breath and work on being vulnerable. Most couples are not allowing themselves to be vulnerable with their partners and find themselves not being as honest as they could be when talking about what they really need. Sex is a great example of this. Asking for what you need in the bedroom can be really insurmountable for some people. When we guard ourselves in relationships, it’s often because we feel that we have to protect ourselves from being hurt by the other person. Such fear does not invite intimacy. Instead, it invites disconnection.

4. Communication. Can you speak your mate’s language? As I say in therapy “use your words”. Your partner can’t know what you want, or what upsets you without you telling them. Understand how your sweetie feels loved. And then do more of it. Don’t assume what they need. Talk, eye gaze and really pay attention to what your love is telling you.

5. Make appreciative noises. As Lori Gordon says in her article about intimacy, “rarely in long-term relationships do we talk about what we appreciate in our partner. Communication is limited, yet it is not possible to sustain a pleasurable relationship without that. I have found that most couples
need to rediscover what it is they value in each other.”

If intimacy is the missing link, and more connection and couple time is what most people are craving, then what’s stopping you from reaching out today?


Book A Sex Therapy Appointment today!

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Happy New Year – Why you need to dream big this year

Mindfulness. It was last year’s buzz word in pop psychology. Mindfulness was about being present, meditating, and focused on managing your emotions. It was the topic de jour among self-help circles. For those of you who don’t go to yoga or read Psychology Today, mindfulness is about living in the moment. The Coles notes version says that “by focusing on your breathing you can stay present and not let your brain lead you down the path of negative self-talk. You can get behind the waterfall of emotion” Respond to life rather than react. It’s really about self-awareness of managing your own mood and being a grownup.

I describe mindfulness as focusing on living an intended life- not simply running in place every day. The New Year is often a time to reflect on what you want for your life. More than resolutions, it’s the focus on goals, dreams and values (either alone or with a partner). The New Year is a great time to evaluate where we stand, how life is going, where we want to be, and what we want to achieve in the year(s) to come. We know we’ll never match the perfect, ideal image we have in mind for ourselves, but we try to improve—eat less meat, less sugar, walk more, go to the gym, spend more time with our family and friends, read more, and spend less time on our phones.

I push clients to focus on dreams- rather than on areas where they have failed year after year. We don’t want to keep beating ourselves up or repeating the message that we aren’t cutting it. If your resolutions aren’t goals they don’t motivate you for long. And then we feel diminished for not meeting them. Leadership coach Madhu says that “The tradition of New Year’s resolutions simply normalizes and perpetuates this misguided thinking”.

Instead, focus on gratitude- all the amazing things you have in your life, and pick one big picture item that lights you up. It’s about finding your passion or something you want to do that actually inspires you. Last year for Blaik and I it was about building community. We launched the Ducklings ( and we are making more friends than either of us ever imagined. For some people it’s learning to dance, speak Spanish, be an amazing parent or grandparent or simply having way, way more fun in 2016. You are far, far more likely to achieve goals when they are framed as dreams rather than a resolution involving something you feel inadequate and guilty about.

As a sex and relationship therapist I constantly pitch finding and living a life of intimate connections. I really believe that the quality of your life is the quality of your relationships. It could be my bumper sticker. That phrase along with; “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone”, and “dream big” is my wish for everyone for 2016.

Getting space in a relationship

spaceYou know those marriage ceremonies where they blend two candles into one symbolizing the couple becoming one entity instead of two separate individuals? Well it makes relationship therapists cringe. People are individuals. And healthy relationships need two committed but independent people pulling in the same direction and who share commonalities to flourish. Having the same interests and values are great. Feeling like you’ve lost your individuality is toxic to a healthy relationship. For many couples the reason that the passion and heat has waned in their relationship is that they are overly connected. What you say? Being too close can lead to a lack of intimacy, passion and sex. There is no mystery or spark. As Esther Perel says in her brilliant book Mating in Captivity, “fire needs air”. What Perel means is that you need space, tension, and a bit of unpredictability to create serious heat in the bedroom.

Harris O’Malley, the nerd love guy has this to say about space in relationships; “One of the things that people often don’t understand about relationships is that everybody needs their space at one point or another. We have a tendency to treat relationships like being The Defiant Ones: once you’ve agreed that you’re in a relationship now you are shackled together for all time, never to be alone again and the only thing you can do is learn how to work around it. You’re no longer an individual, you see; you’re now officially a couple – a gestalt entity forming feet and legs, arms and body that somehow still has a hard time agreeing on what to watch on Netflix, never mind agreeing which of you forms the head. This is especially true when you are young and/or new to relationships in general – spending every waking moment together is seen as proof of just how much you love one another and why you’re so perfect together.

Except… that’s not how people work. You don’t subsume your identity into the collective Matrix that is your union, exchanging your sense of self for a cutesy portmanteau couple-name that even TMZ would gag over. Just because you love somebody doesn’t mean that your need for time to yourself goes away, and wanting time to do your own thing by yourself and with your friends doesn’t mean that your love is any less “real” or “true”. For that matter, spending every single minute of every single day together doesn’t mean that your relationship is wonderful and all cartoon birds and rainbows and hot and cold running blow-jobs. In fact, by not making room for having some “me” time, you’re actually hurting your relationship.”

I couldn’t agree more. So how do you find some space amidst kids, cooking together and sharing a bathroom?

It starts with carving out time. I know it’s hard when life is as busy as it is. I really do understand crazy schedules. I’ve written in past blogs about how my amazing husband makes Monday Night Football evenings extra sexy by upping the foreplay before the half time frolic. We set that Monday evening aside for each other. Sometimes as a therapist the first thing I do is talk about child care. You have to make the relationship a priority or something will ALWAYS get in the way. Your kids are programmed to get between you and your partner. It’s your job to find that balance. And it takes consistent effort.

Once you have found time together, then you need to find time apart. Cultivate your own friends, do things that make you interesting (and allows you to have something to share at the end of the day). Find things that you are passionate about. Engage your brains and your enthusiasm. Then share that with your partner. You are far more likely to be enraptured by your sweetie if you are interesting and have a unique perspective.
I also believe that you need to reign in feelings of jealousy to give your relationship a healthy perspective. Jealousy isn’t just one emotion, it’s a whole bunch all rolled into an ugly green monster. It’s feeling threatened, being fearful, being worried about being abandoned or replaced, thoughts of loss or just plain anxiety. But it is your own mind messing with you and these thoughts can be managed or controlled. So let your partner go out with the boys or have a “girl’s night” at the bar. Encourage your spouse to have friendships with other people who have similar interests. It reflects positively on you and gives you the space to continue to choose each other.
Men and women often perceive the same situation completely differently. Moreover, no two people share the same need for togetherness. Neither would they require the same levels or intensity of intimacy. Balancing space in a relationship is an art, as fostering intimacy requires both togetherness as well as separateness. It is the magical formula we all keep striving for.

The last piece of the puzzle is the worry that if you are too individual then you might drift apart. That’s a real fear and can be managed by making sure you do things together. I’m a big proponent of adventures and finding something that bridges you. If the joint activity gets your adrenaline up, then it’s even more positively impactful. I just heard recently of one couple that does karate together and spars with each other. They both have busy jobs, and it’s their chance to mock fight, feel connected and do the “Mr and Mrs Smith dance” where they try to best each other. She’s been doing karate longer, but he’s stronger. They say that everyone stops to watch the match. And then he kisses her in the middle of the dojo.

Finding a balanced space between “joined at the hip” and “too distant” is a challenge for most couples. And relationships take work. But when they work, and you can find that happy medium, relationships can be absolute magic. So grab your sweetie’s hand and go find that sweet spot.

The Anti-Valentine’s Day Movement. Or how to celebrate your singleness.

anti1There is a growing movement of people who want to say “shove it to Valentine’s Day”. Singles have long felt left out of the sappy “let’s connect” roses and chocolate messages of the holiday. Now Anti Valentine’s parties are all the rage. These are parties decorated with dead roses. The have rules like: You must not bring any chocolate, wine or champagne to the party. Black things such as Guinness or a cake with black icing are preferred. Or heart shaped cupcakes with knives through them. Black is also the color theme for clothing. Anti V-Day songs like Roxette’s “It must have been love”, or “Love hurts” by Gram Parsons are the anthems. The Anti V-Day movement is to celebrate being single and loving it! Or to at least have friends around when you draw horns on your ex’s picture. It’s also about loving oneself, wherever you are in life.

So what can you do to feel powerful if you aren’t hooked up as part of a couple? Well you can get in the mood of the Anti V-Day celebrations by making your own voodoo doll for all the ex’s who need to be prodded with a sharp pin. Or you can go with the theme of many of these parties “Love stinks, so let’s drink”. But I’m advocating a more positive approach and coming up ways to announce your awesomeness to the world.

There are a few ideas to embrace your singleness. I do a vision board exercise with my Women’s Body Image and Sexuality Workshops that I run. Check out the Ducklings site for ongoing information. Powerful statements of self-love like “You love when you are ready, not because you are lonely” or “because good enough isn’t good enough for you” can become mantras.

Do some things you can’t do if you were in a relationship. I’m not advocating sleeping with the football team, but go crazy doing something unconventional that is hard to do when you are with somebody that makes demands on your time. Like take a spur-of-the-moment trip. Update your profile to single and loving it.

Make business cards and hand them out to cool people with your fun (and safe) email address on it. Start a gratitude journal. There are lots of things you can do to really embrace your life as it is right now. If you have enough like-minded friends have an Anti V-Day party. Get everyone to dress up as cupids gone very, very bad. Think naughty and armed angels as sexy as you want to be. Sounds like fun. And if you really want to be in a relationship then make a vow that 2015 is going to be your year. Be the interesting person that people want to get to know. Deal with some of that lingering baggage (therapy can help) and get rid of that “poor me, pity party stuff”. Life is too short to be needy.

So whatever your take is on Valentine’s Day, I encourage you to embrace it. Whether it’s couple love, group love (those polyamorous people shouldn’t be excluded) or self love then make the most of this February 14th. If you are struggling with singleness and want to finally do something about it then I can help. I’ve helped hundreds of people find love and I am no-nonsense, cut-to-the-chase when I do therapy for finding love. Reach out, I can help.

How to fall in love (for the first time or again) this Valentine’s Day

fallingHave you noticed that love is in the air this month? It’s that time of year when grocery stores and shopping malls are full of chocolate hearts, red roses and unconditional love seems to be on everyone’s mind. Why is love something that we seem to practice only when Hallmark tells us to? How do we make time for relationships when we are so busy trying to get through work, homework, housework, parenting, elder care, and errands? For many women, it seems like all work and no play. Where did the fun and intimacy go when we fell in love and couldn’t wait to see our partners?

Someone asked me recently what I thought was the secret to great relationships and maintaining the “in love” magic. I said that I thought “it was three hours a week of intimate time where there is sensuous touch, eye contact and conversation that isn’t about work and kids”. I’ve been pushing sensuous date nights for a while with my marriage-counseling clients. It turns out that conversation, touch, and eye gazing really are the secrets to falling (and staying in love) according to the study by Arthur Aron that is getting loads of airplay this Valentine’s season. Aron did a study in 1997 that paired 33 students (who were open to the possibility of falling love with a stranger) and had the couples ask each other 37 personal questions followed by four minutes of eye gazing. The couples in questions felt a tremendous amount of intimacy towards their previously unknown partner. One couple who met during the study actually got married.

So is it that simple? For women, conversation is huge. I used to use random questions from If… the Book of Questions as an ice breaker during my singles and couples workshops. Things like “if you were a carnival ride, which one would you be and why?” Or “What dessert would best describe your personality?” Asking personal questions of someone quickly creates intimacy between individuals and is one of the best ways to rapidly get people talking. And it turns out the type of question you ask helps find the type of relationship you are looking for.

A study by found more casual questions such as ‘Do you like the taste of beer?’ were more likely to lead to a one-night stand than a long-term relationship. Questions about kids, pets, and favourite books are far more likely to help you find a partner that sticks. So if you are single, make your first dating contact letter full of interest and questions about the other person. That and lots of eye gazing by the third date and you will no doubt stand out from the crowd of many possible suitors.

So what are the elements of great relationships and how do you sustain them? While people have been trying to define love for millennia, as a sex and relationship therapist, in my opinion love is a mix of the pragmatic and the nebulous. I think that in order for love to sustain itself beyond the first year of honeymoon “in love hormones” and to endure, there needs to be a connection in four areas. First there needs to be chemistry. It’s an elusive quality, poorly defined, but critical for great love. Scientists would argue that it is a mixture of pheromones relating to a good genetic match and something else that makes your heart flutter. Secondly, love has a physical component. You need to find that person physically attractive. They don’t need to be body perfect, but there must be some features that really appeal when you see them. There also needs to be a lifestyle and intellectual match. The guy next door or someone most like yourself who becomes your best friend consistently offers the best chance for happiness and longevity in a relationship. Look for someone you have tons in common with even if they don’t seem like “your type” at first glance. Finally the emotional connection of same values leads into bonds that stick even when the going gets tough.

So meet people with commonalties of values, intellect, and lifestyle. You meet a number of them and with one of them the chemistry will hit you between the eyes. For couples who have been together awhile, work on or re-introduce those things that brought you together. Then stir up those cooling embers with intimate conversation and absolutely make time to look into each other’s eyes.

Forget asking for chocolate and flowers. Uninterrupted time, proximity, personal conversation, and face to face touch will pay the biggest dividends this Valentine’s Day.