Category: Relationships

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.

The 21-word, 5 stage apology that will simplify your life.

Someone recently asked me what the best qualities were to look for in a potential partner. How do you know that when the chemistry wanes (9 to 15 months after you first hook up), that this person is worth the time to invest in a potential relationship? What should you really look for in a person you want to spend your intimate life with?
When you read some of the women’s magazines there is often a check list ranging from being a good provider to owning a toolbelt. For the men I speak to in my therapy sessions, most are “looking for a kind, friendly, sane woman who likes sex, and isn’t boring.”

When I ask groups at large about the best qualities I get responses like; “being great in bed, having an amazing body, Intelligent conversation, sense of humour, drive to achieve things, or great hygiene”. Although those things are important, (sometimes very important), I think self-awareness and a willingness to shift is the number one quality for a potential partner to have.

What I mean by self-awareness is the emotional faculty to see where you are wrong and do something about it. What I do know about relationships after 25 years as a shrink is that if you don’t own your share of a problem and sweep things under the rug you are destined to keep making the same mistake repeatedly.

Everyone screws up. It’s taking responsibility for your behavior and owning your share that gives you the ability to weather life’s challenges as a couple. An unqualified apology and a real desire to fix things is what I try and help clients understand during therapy. Things change. And life is sometimes hard. Being able to reflect and manage your mood is what makes us grown-ups.

The challenge comes if your reality doesn’t see your behavior as out of line. That takes some reflection, someone to bounce things off, and understanding patterns in your previous relationships. If it happened once it could be a personality conflict, if it happens more than once look at who is the common denominator.
It’s easy to wish problems away. It’s harder to know that sometimes your responses aren’t getting you the results that you are looking for.

One of the main tools I suggest using in therapy is an unqualified 5 stage apology. If you get a real, genuine apology and not a deflection then the other person has two choices as to how to respond. To forgive you or to throw you under the bus. A five-stage apology looks like this.

1. Clear regret
2. Understanding how your actions has hurt the other person
3. Making a plan so that it won’t happen again
4. Offering restitution
5. Saying the words.

It’s hard to remember all of that. My brilliant husband teaches how muscle memory practice helps you respond rather than react when you are trying to remember something important. I’ve got the 5 stage apology down to 21 simple words.

Here it is:
I’m sorry. I was wrong. (or moron, idiot, dick etc.) I know I hurt you. It won’t happen again. What can I do to fix this?

It allows you to move forward and come up with a solution. It gives you a starting point to fix ongoing issues. It doesn’t change personality issues or have people become something they are not. But it does allow you to move on core issues in relationships. And that’s worth apologizing for.

Best date ideas for 2018. Why keeping it romantic is worth the effort.

Why surprising your partner (even when you are super busy) is essential for great relationships.

I try hard to consistently do and suggest great date night ideas. My friend Angela sends me ideas every quarter for activities in the Nation’s Capital (Dec/Jan’s are posted below).
But for those of you who don’t live in Canada’s most beautiful city my team has come up with some of the best new date suggestions for 2018.

Feeding each other at a food truck.
Even when it’s cold the food trucks make some of the best tacos, chips, and beaver tails around.

New Year’s fireworks. Most communities have firework displays (or inexpensive fireworks) to ring in the New Year. Find a good spot (hint: try the top level of a parking garage), and gaze at the spectacle. Bring along some sparklers and warm beverages in a thermos to make it more fun.

Geocashing. Geocaching is the ultimate scavenger hunt. Using a smartphone and GPS coordinates, participants search for hidden objects. Just sign up for a free Geocaching account and download the app. Then pick a geocache near you and start hunting. It’s a great togetherness activity.

Have you considered ice fishing? You can bring a deck of cards and stay out on the ice in rented fishing huts. Check your local outdoor store for details.

Stargaze. Pack some blankets and dust of those festival chairs. There are lots of stars that you can’t see in the summer and it’s worth some cuddle time on a cold night. Once the stars come out, search for constellations and identify them using an app or book. Make a game of it: Whoever finds a specific star, planet, or constellation — or the most of all three — wins.

Play strip chess. Learn to give great massages.

The list of activities in Ottawa:
Skating through the Forest – Discover the enchanting site of Skating Through the Forest next to the vast Gatineau Park, at 45 minutes from Ottawa. Savour the pristine experience of ice skating on a natural 3km open air ice path in an incredible landscape and sheltered from the wind. Non-skaters can spend some time snowshoeing or walking on our designated paths. Can you spot our friendly wolf “Loupie”? After discovering the ice, join us in our chalet for a hot drink and a snack. (opens officially Dec 15th!)

Alight the Night – Starting Friday! EASTERN ONTARIO’S BIGGEST OUTDOOR LIGHT FESTIVAL. Bundle up for an evening stroll through this picture-perfect postcard setting! Close to one million lights adorn the heritage buildings, trees and fences of Upper Canada Village creating a one-of-a-kind magical backdrop for its annual Alight at Night Festival – a
true winter wonderland!

Rideau Hall Skating Rink – The outdoor skating rink was originally built in 1872, during the mandate of the Earl of Dufferin, Canada’s third governor general. Along with his wife, Lady Dufferin—who quickly became a keen skater herself—he organized many skating parties during his stay at Rideau Hall. Today, you can step back in time and go for a skate on this historic rink which is also now refrigerated. Saturdays and Sundays, from 12 noon to 5 p.m. (without reservations).

8. Christmas Lights across Canada – Ottawa sparkles and shines during the Christmas season with Christmas Lights across Canada. From early December to early January, thousands of colourful lights illuminate the National Capital Region’s winter landscape. The 33rd edition of Christmas Lights across Canada will take place from December 7, 2017 to January 7, 2018. Hundreds of thousands of dazzling holiday lights glow throughout downtown Ottawa. Parliament Hill is a must-see stop on any tour of the lights, with tens of thousands of bulbs lighting its historic buildings.

Also from December 7, 2017 to January 7, 2018, a winter lightscapes multimedia show is projected onto Parliament Hill’s Centre Block. Inspired by Canada’s nature, climate and culture, this 13-minute fairy tale runs nightly in a loop, from 5:30 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
10. Christmas in the Byward market – Complimentary wagon rides and Christmas Choirs. Saturday and Sunday on the George Street Plaza from noon – 4 p.m. Choirs: Saturday, December 16 12:00-2:00 Northern Stars Saturday, December 16 2:00-4:00 Ottawa Gay Men’s Choir, Sunday, December 17 12:00-2:00 Chinese Alliance Church, Sunday, December 17 2:00-4:00 Ottawa University

Christmas in the ByWard Market – Wagon Rides & Christmas Choirs

Ottawa Art Gallery Lit Up – We’re taking art outside for one night!
Join us as the Ottawa Art Gallery (OAG) celebrates two new commissioned works in the front courtyard of the soon to be opened OAG Expansion at 50 Mackenzie King Bridge. The night will include the spectacular projection artwork Of Buffalo, Bears, and Indian Scouts on the facade of the new OAG cube by Bear Witness and an accompanying DJ set by the JUNO winner. We will also be celebrating the large-scale, interactive light installation Ascension by The Latest Artists which will soon be mounted on the Mackenzie King Bridge wall. So much to celebrate! Heated tents, festive food and drink, participatory artwork and much more will help to mark the occasion. Admission: Free. 50 Mackenzie King Bridge (at the intersection of Waller Street), front courtyard
13. Tim Hortons on the Hill – December 14, 15, 16, 17, 30 and 31. 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Warm up and refuel with free coffee and hot chocolate from the Tim Hortons truck on the Hill!

14. Inuit experiences with Nunavut Sivuniksavut December 16 and 17 on Parliament Hill. 11:15 a.m. to 11:45 a.m., 2:15 p.m. to 2:45 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. Join Inuit youth from the Nunavut Sivuniksavut
college program for choral singing, group dancing from the Western Arctic, throat singing, drum dancing, a sharing of their history, culture and
language through education as well as a demonstration of Inuit Games such as the Muskox, Leg Wrestle and High Kick.

The top 5 things you can do to improve your relationship in 2018

Every year researchers come up with new studies that outline the best way to stay connected with your significant other. Much of the advice seems like common sense. But even as a Sex and Relationship Therapist I have to remember to be mindful and find time to really focus on my partner with these ideas.

1. Stay positive:
“It’s not surprising that the more positive a person is, the more likely they’ll be happy in their relationships. What’s interesting is just how much it matters.
In a study from the University of Chicago, researchers found that when a husband has a high level of positivity, there’s less conflict in his relationship. Likewise, the way partners respond to each other’s good news matters too. In a study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers found that the way couples react to each other’s good news—either with excitement, pride, or indifference—is crucial in forming a strong bond.”

2. Have a life outside of your partner:
Not only is it important to have something interesting to talk about at the end of the day, outside friendships can help reinforce the couple connection. This doesn’t mean losing emotional intimacy with your husband or wife. It just means that married couples have a lot to gain by fostering their relationships with family members and friends. The happiest couples, she says, are those who have interests and support “beyond the twosome.”

3. Have fun together and do new things:
I (along with my amazing husband) started a date night group a number of years ago called The Ducklings. If you are anywhere near Eastern Ontario then come on out and join us. What kept coming up was the need for fun ideas to keep things exciting. It’s really easy to get in a rut. Doing things that are out of your comfort zone together creates hard-to-break bonds. This also means just having fun together. Research from The University of Denver shows that couples who make time for fun activities tend to stay together longer:
“The more you invest in fun and friendship and being there for your partner, the happier the relationship will get over time,” says Howard Markman, a psychologist who co-directs the university’s Center for Marital and Family Studies.
“The correlation between fun and marital happiness is high, and significant.”

4. Make time for great Sex:
Yes I think sex is critical for relationships. Life can get in the way of being sexy. And as partners feel pushed away they are less likely to initiate. And sex starts to feel awkward. Being able to communicate about what your sexual needs are and asking for what you need sexually is something I often facilitate between spouses in my office.
“Anthony Lyons, a study co-author and research fellow at La Trobe, said the main lesson from the study is that couples need to learn how to communicate about their sexual needs or their reasons for not wanting sex.
“Couples need to talk about the frequency of sex,” Dr. Anthony said in an e-mail. “Talking openly about sex and finding a middle ground with regard to frequency appears to be very important for overall sexual and relationship satisfaction.”
It might seem silly to do something like scheduling time for intimacy, but it’s important to open up the dialogue about your sex life to dedicate some time to just be with each other.”

5. Communication and The division of labour:
Communication can be all important when it comes to impacting the relationship. I have a rule with my clients that they have to learn to talk about issues holding hands and maintaining eye contact. It helps. Understanding that if you can maintain your clam and learn to fight fair (here are the rules) then it goes a long way to settling the differences between couples.
Stop fighting about money, and quit talking about big issues by email or text.

Good communication takes effort, it’s hard, and it doesn’t always go smoothly. But when you let small things fester and don’t communicate, problems arise. Studies show that it’s usually money that causes this rift, but every relationship has its own set of issues that need to get worked through.

“Quit hashing out problems over text messages: Technology has a knack for disrupting relationships, but one study pinpointed that couples who deal with fights over text have a lower relationship quality. This means couples who used text messages to apologize or work out differences instead of having face to face conversations tended to report unhappiness. That said, positive texts like the occasional “I love you” are still great, just stop trying to work complicated things out over SMS.”

Finally, don’t be a dumbass when it comes to sharing the work load. I hear about how exhausted the women who visit my office are feeling. Some of it is self-inflicted in that they want to entertain perfectly or have a Marth Stewart Christmas. But many of them are working full time and then come home to another full time job cooking, cleaning, shopping, child care etc. Feeling overwhelmed and tired is one of the top reasons women are less interested in sex.

Contribute to the household chores: In a small scale study, UCLA researchers tracked the lives of several relationships over the course of 4 years. Their conclusions? Couple who have a system to handle household chores and who evenly disperse those chores are a lot happier. So, when you’re significant other makes the suggestion that you do the dishes now and again, just do it.

Re-ignite you! February 4th, 2017 9-4, Ottawa! Four great speakers!


Give yourself the gift of re-igniting and rebuilding your relationships. It all starts with you!
Allow yourself to work from the outside in and the inside out and get clear about what you want in your future.
Empower your sex life! Find out how to increase your libido, ignite the passion, and discover your authentic sexy self.
Got money questions? Re-vamp your money plans, re-think your spending and make sure you are in charge of your credit and cash flow.


“You have to find what sparks a light in you so that you in your own way can illuminate the world.”

-Oprah Winfrey

In a fun and exciting environment; give yourself the gift of this amazing opportunity to ignite your inner change and connect with others who want to rebuild, restore and refresh.

Diane Valiquette

Do you know why you do the things you do? Do you know what your patterns are in relationships, why they exist and how to change the ones that are just not working? It all starts with you! With Diane’s help you will learn why you do the things you do in relationships, why you pick the partners you do, and how to empower yourself to create the best relationships possible.

Sue McGarvie

Good sex is part of a healthy and abundant life and is an important part of the human condition. Food tastes better, the sun shines brighter and great sex is the glue that sticks relationships together. Find out how to increase your libido, ignite the passion, and discover your sexy self. We will explore new models of relationships, learn about the five things you need to understand before meeting a new partner, and make your intimacy magical.

Pierrette Raymond

Going through transition and starting over can be very difficult. In this session Pierrette Raymond, life makeover specialist, will guide you through a powerful experience of getting clear about what you want for your future; how to let go of what no longer serves physically, emotionally and psychologically. Pierrette will help you move forward and live your life to the fullest. This session will leave you feeling empowered knowing that you can do it, you can create the life that you want, your way.

Judith Cane

Money – one of the most powerful forces in the world. Do you understand it all? Judith Cane, Canada’s Money Coach does and she’ll share it with you through a dynamic, engaging presentation. Got questions? Ask. Answers? Judith has them. Plain-talking, point-making, educational and entertaining, Judith Cane, will help you to re-ignite your money plans, re-think your spending and make sure you are in charge of your credit and cash flow.

My clients get a 2 for 1 rate! Bring a friend and make the change! $50 for the day is great!
Click here for yours! What a deal!!!

New date night ideas! Pick a suggestion and make a sexy date happen.


So it’s late summer and the schedules are irregular. Life is good but there are lots of family, and social obligations and chores to be done. Planning a date night with your partner may have gotten lost in the shuffle. It’s definitely time to pick a few ideas and plan something before homework and football games take over.

1.Try a honey tasting! As a beekeeper and honey sommelier I definitely eat my share of honey. Honey has been known for its medicinal properties for thousands of years. Honey not only is an excellent sweetener, will never go bad, and can prevent wound infections it also can boost the immune system, relieve seasonal allergies, and improve gut health.
Honey also tastes amazing and has unique flavours based on the geographical location, types of flower nectar sourced by the bees and how the beekeeper has harvested the honey. Time of the year impacts the flavor of honeys. Autumn honeys tend to be darkest and most full-bodied but crystalizes the most quickly. This is the time of year that it is most flavourful and has the most aphrodisiac properties. Buy a few different local honeys (honeys from the grocery store is often cut with other ingredients or pasteurized- killing the healthy enzymes). Blindfold your partner and pour some honey into a glass. Using a clean spoon have them taste the honey and describe the taste. You can kiss them and let them nibble a little green between honeys to cleanse their palates. Have them pick their favourite. Then you get to spread it on you and have them continue the tasting….

2. Send them text bombs or random questions. Make them into paper airplanes, leave them on the bathroom mirror or in their wallets. It’s a fun thing to do if you have some time and want to find something out about your partner you don’t know.
`What’s something you always wanted to do as a child but never got to do it?
`If you were in a witness protection program, what would be your new name and where would you go?
`If you could get away with a crime, would you? If yes, what would it be?
`Who was your first celebrity crush?
`What’s the worst thing you ever did as a child and what was your punishment?
`What is one thing you refuse to share?
`What are two things you would do if you woke up to find yourself completely invisible?
`If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
`If you could be on the cover of any magazine which one would you choose?
`What song would you sing for your American Idol audition?

3. Find the country fairs! Check out the homemade pies, look at the 4 H club livestock judging, go on a merry-go-round, and take in a local band. This is the time of year and there is one on every weekend.

4. Star gazing with foods you haven’t tried before. We like to try mystery fruits. Things like dragonfuit and lychee
and look up at the night sky. This is the best time of year to do this because there aren’t any bugs. You can also do a tailgate picnic in the evening and watch the sun set.

5. Take one of the couple’s cooking classes. Around here the Loblaw’s cooking schools or LCBO classes are fabulous. There is also one every Tuesday night at the Independent at Bank and Somerset where you get a $10 gift card for the $10 class. Loved their pizza making. Playing with dough was sexy.

6. Make a drive-in movie. Lots of people have those projectors that show off computer screens. It can project easily to the side of your house or even a sheet on the wall. But the fun is doing it outside. Run a “drive-in type movie”. Think Indiana Jones, Grease, or The Martian. Sit in the car and make out during it. There is a reason why drive-in’s never go out of style.

How Facebook and Gaming impact your relationships

We are all guilty of it. Reading Facebook posts, answering emails, or hitting the next level in Candy Crush while our partners are trying to get our attention. We knew it vexed them. Now it has been shown to make your spouse feel like they are not as nearly as important as another few minutes of gaming or of liking your neighbours garden pictures.

We all know how we feel when we are standing in a store and the sales person answers the phone from another customer while you are looking for service. It makes us feel devalued. But how does it really influence relationships? According to the research, recently published in Journal of Family Economic Issues, wives typically use social media more often than their husbands, but that imbalance does not necessarily correlate with marital dissatisfaction. However, when husbands spend more time on social networking than their wives, they are more likely to report marital conflict and so are their spouses. Gaming, too, seemed connected with marital dissatisfaction. If either the husband or the wife was spending more time playing video games, it was associated with higher conflict, lower satisfaction and higher perceived instability in the marriage.
So is the answer simply less technology?

It turns out one of the best markers to deal with increasing speed of life and more social media and phone interruptions is to schedule date nights. Check out my new list of new date night ideas for late summer early fall. Or if you are local join our fun, zany date night group called The Ducklings that is the fastest growing social group in the city. It’s somewhere between Rotary or Church groups and crazy swingers and is all about being sexy but safe with your partner. Connecting with your sweetie takes work, time and mindfulness. Do something with your partner today that makes them feel important. And do it without technology.

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

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.

Why love is simply not enough to make it.

I tell my clients that simply “being in love” isn’t enough to fix all of their problems. Unfortunately, love doesn’t conquer all. With a 52% divorce rate in this country, couples needs more tools besides love in order to make relationships sustainable. Things like attraction, similar interests and values, support systems, courtesy and acceptance. You can go to your grave loving someone but if you can’t live with them them relationships are doomed. So what can you do? There is a great article by Mark Manson ( talking about why this adage is oh-so-true.
Manson calls them three harsh truths about love:

1. Love does not equal compatibility. Just because you fall in love with someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good partner for you to be with over the long term. Love is an emotional process; compatibility is a logical process. And the two don’t bleed into one another very well.

2. Love does not solve your relationship problems. My first girlfriend and I were madly in love with each other. We also lived in different cities, had no money to see each other, had families who hated each other, and went through weekly bouts of meaningless drama and fighting. Unsurprisingly, that relationship burst into flames and crashed like the Hindenburg being doused in jet fuel. The break up was ugly. And the big lesson I took away from it was this: while love may make you feel better about your relationship problems, it doesn’t actually solve any of your relationship problems.

3. Love is not always worth sacrificing yourself. One of the defining characteristics of loving someone is that you are able to think outside of yourself and your own needs to help care for another person and their needs as well.

But the question that doesn’t get asked often enough is exactly what are you sacrificing, and is it worth it?

I used to teach a pre-marriage course with the United Church of Canada. I spoke of the 5 reasons that most people get divorced. They are being absent (physically, emotionally, workaholic), sex and sexual infidelity, conflicts about money, division of labor (read: housework), and interfering or conflicting extended families. never was that the couple in question didn’t love each other.

There is nothing more exciting than a new relationship. That love-sick feeling lifts you up and sends you spinning. But as I remind people in new relationships “it’s simply chemicals and you mustn’t make any life altering decisions for the first 9 to 15 months.” So enjoy the feelings. We are all envious about the excitement. But find a selection committee and listen to them. Do some due diligence. Investigate this relationship. Because listen up, love is simply not enough to make it.

8 things you can do to improve the frequency of sex in a long term relationship

lust1There is a great article in this month’s Psychology Today called Love and Lust about the things you can do to let passion thrive in a modern relationship. It’s well argued and a great read if you are interested in the Psychology of intimacy. With that theme in mind, I have compiled the eight best things you can do to increase to chance of getting horizontal and naked with your spouse this summer.

1. Do some housework together. Seriously. Most people calm down in an uncluttered environment. Dr. Gottman of Seattle discovered that men who do housework get significantly more sex then men who don’t. Sharing chores help couples stay connected.

2. Keep some mystery. Esther Perel in her book Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence talks about couples who often find sex dull the closer and more aligned they are. Build in some mystery dates. Try some erotic adventures that are outside of your comfort zone. I have a list of 50 erotic date ideas you may want to try. Reach out and I’ll send it to you.

3. Increase the playfulness. Sex really is adult play. And if you go into it with the attitude that you are “playing in the sandbox” rather than making the encounter serious the odds of it repeating go up significantly.

4. Lock the bedroom door. I think a door lock should be mandatory to anyone who has kids. Kids need to know that parents have alone time together and that it is to be uninterrupted.

5. Make sure you have a minimum of 3 hours every week of connected, intimate time. I just did an article for the Citizen that said “if you can’t set up adult-only time in your week where you discuss things beyond work and kids your relationship is headed for the rocks. It goes further than that. I suggest a sensuous date night weekly, a weekend or overnight away quarterly, and an annual kid-free holiday. It’s not important, its essential.

6. Think about a sex contract. I think contracting areas of conflict is a great idea. I write up sample agreements on all kinds on domestic issues from how you are going to deal with your in-laws to a “threesome contract”. You need to negotiate the amount, variety and type of sex you need. You can’t hit a target you can’t see, and if you and your partner are both shooting for different targets in terms of sexual expectations there is bound to be trouble.

7. Sex doesn’t necessarily mean intercourse. I often suggest a “medicinal hand job” or mutual masturbation with a battery operated romance item instead of sex. What most men miss in the process is that sex can be intrusive. Goo runs down the inside of your leg, you need a shower, and there is a sweaty person on or inside you. If you are not in the mood and have used your words, try suggesting an alternative.

8. Be gracious. If you stomp off and say “FINE” when sex is rebuffed, it causes a major disconnect between couples. One party feels guilty, not worthy, and continues the cycle of them not wanting to have sex. The partner who has been pushed away spends an inordinate amount of brain space thinking about how they won’t have sex, along with feelings of rejection and unattractiveness.

As the Psychology Today article put it, “the paradox is that we expect more from our marriages but feed them less. Take some time out this summer to feed your relationship.

That awkward conversation about sex…between couples

If you’ve been together for awhile, you may be comfortable discussing sex with each other. You no doubt have chatted about contraception, know each other’s favourite positions and you may have even ventured into the potential minefield of past lovers.

But most couples stall when it comes to the talk about what to do when their sex life gets dull. If sex for you is Saturday night, lights off and missionary position it may be long past the time to heat things up. Even if it’s more frequent with an interesting repertoire, an inventive sex life can still become routine. Have you tried anything new in the last year? Have you planned a sensual date night? Have you ever had a truly honest talk about sexual fantasies? Do you know what your fantasies are? Or what are the most common fantasies for your gender? Have you ever role-played?
What if you really want to try something that may seem a little out there and are too terrified to bring it up to your spouse? Where do you find the skills to discuss and negotiate sexual play in a culture where you never talk openly about sex? Most Canadian homes can discuss politics, neighbours or pop culture around the dinner table. Very few dinner tables are open enough to joke about or have any kind of sexual conversations.

The inner place we inhabit sexually is one of our most personal and intimate places. Most of us are afraid to show off our sexual selves as it leaves us too open and vulnerable. This personal sexual seclusion often forces us to exclude the partner we share a household and life with. We may worry that our partners will find us perverted if we share our secret selves. Or worse, laugh at our sensual desires. The truth is that most people name having a terrific sex life as one of the fundamental requirements in having a great marriage. For a majority of people having good sex is a priority. So why are so few couples having what we call “mind blowing, toe-curling sex?”
We decided that the need to learn sexual communication skills is fundamentally important in relationships. Men and women often need to collectively contemplate new sexual ideas before they decide whether or not a potentially new kind of sexual play is interesting to them. So we designed this course.

It is a workshop for couples and singles who want to be able to find their voices when discussing their sexual desires. It’s for people who want to avoid the landmines when speaking up about acting out their desires. It’s also for people who want to know what’s going on in a stuffy, government town like Ottawa. Most people want to make sure that their neighbours aren’t having hotter, more interesting sex than they are. With speakers that include Ottawa’s leading Dominatrix, an intimacy and tantra leader, a burlesque performer, and a local lifestyle couple, this course is about acquiring knowledge and communicating around it.

Hosted by Ottawa sex therapist and talk show host Sue McGarvie and her husband Blaik Spratt, it’s more than a series of information lectures. It’s therapy on learning to communicate and understand your sexuality in relation to your partners. It’s more than the mechanics of sex, more than what’s out there, and safe enough to allow you to hear where other participants are in the process of finding their authentic sexual selves.
The course begins Sunday, April 13th, 2014 at the Masonic Temple in Westboro (Byron and Churchill). It is from 2:30 to 4:30 and continues five consecutive Sunday afternoons. Find out more by contacting Sue and Blaik at will also give you an outline.