NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, December 29, 2020

How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out The Differences in Their Relationship to Have a Happier Sex Life - Part 2

In Part 1 of this article about sexual pursuers and withdrawers, I described the dynamics in a relationship where one partner, the sexual pursuer, tends to want and pursue more sex than the sexual withdrawer.  I also provided steps that each person can take, as either the pursuer or the withdrawer, to improve their relationship.  In this article I'm providing a clinical vignette to illustrate the dynamics that I discussed in the previous article.

How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out the Differences in Their Relationship

As I mentioned in Part 1, an emotional pursuer in a relationship can be a sexual withdrawer in the same relationship and an emotional withdrawer can be a sexual pursuer in the same relationship.  

Also, both men and women can be either sexual pursuers or sexual withdrawers. However, when it comes to emotional pursuers and withdrawers, most of the time women are the emotional pursuers and men are the emotional withdrawers.

Clinical Vignette: A Relationship With a Sexual Pursuer and a Sexual Withdrawer 
Amy and John, who were in their mid-40s, were married for 15 years and they had two teenage sons who lived with them.  For the last six months, Amy, who was the sexual pursuer in their relationship, was complaining to John, who tended to be sexual withdrawer, because he often wasn't in the mood for sex.  

Whenever Amy attempted to initiate sex with John, he told her that he was too tired and stressed out from his new job at a corporate law firm.  He worked very long hours, and he was also expected to work most  nights and weekends, which left very little time for the couple. 

Amy loved her job as a director at a major New York City museum.  Whereas John often came home feeling exhausted and depleted, Amy usually came home feeling invigorated by her work.  She would come home feeling inspired and she wanted to talk about her day, but ever since John started his new job, he came home anxious and irritable, and he still had several more hours of work to do after he got home.  

Amy felt lonely and sad because John was so immersed in and exhausted from his work.  Before John started at his new job, they usually spent time in bed on Sunday mornings while their sons were at soccer practice.  This used to be their private time when they cuddled and made love.  

However, since he began his new job, John preferred to sleep late on Sundays.  Even at the beginning of their relationship, he tended to take longer to get sexually aroused as compared to Amy, who, as previously mentioned, was usually the one to initiate sex.  

A year into their marriage, Amy suggested that John have his testosterone level checked and, sure enough, his testosterone level was low, which helped explain why he often wasn't as sexually aroused as Amy and he usually didn't initiate sex.  Even though it took him longer than Amy to get sexually aroused, he was usually responsive to Amy's sexual initiation, and they both eventually accepted that she was the sexual pursuer in their relationship.  

But since his workload and stress increased, John had almost no interest in sex, and the things that Amy used to do that got John turned on no longer worked.  Moreover, whenever Amy tried to talk to John about it, he got angry and told Amy that she wasn't being understanding.

During this same time period, Amy hired a new consultant, Bill, for a six month her museum.  Amy and Bill began to work closely together on a museum project, and they were spending a lot of time together, including afterwork dinners.  

Since John hardly ever wanted to hear about what was going on at her museum, Amy was happy to finally have someone to talk to about her projects.  She also liked that they had so much in common and he shared her enthusiasm for the work. 

Bill was very handsome and charming, and Amy realized she was attracted to him immediately, and she realized that he was attracted to her too.  But she wasn't worried that she would cross the boundary from colleagues to lovers.  She knew that in 15 years of marriage, neither she nor John had ever been unfaithful and she had no intention of getting involved with Bill.  

Then one night over dinner and drinks Bill confided in Amy that his relationship with his girlfriend was on the rocks and he felt lonely.  He told Amy that his girlfriend, who lived with him, never wanted to move to New York City when he was offered the consulting position with the museum, and he thought they were headed for a breakup.  

Amy listened compassionately.  Then she confided in Bill that she was also concerned about her marriage to John, and Bill reached over and held her hand.  At that point, Amy realized that they were crossing over into potentially risky territory, and she tactfully removed her hand from his.

The next day when Amy was in her therapy session, she told her psychotherapist that she was worried about the mutual attraction with Bill.  After Amy described the situation to her therapist, her therapist told Amy that it appeared she and Bill were on the verge of having an emotional affair (see my article:  Are You Having an Emotional Affair?).  

Amy's therapist recommended that Amy set better professional boundaries with Bill.  She also recommended that Amy and John attend couples therapy to deal with their nonexistent sex life.

Two weeks later, Amy and John began Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples.  After a while, they began to have a better understanding of their relationship dynamics.  Their couples therapist did an assessment of each of their sexual histories as well as their sexual history as a couple.  

When asked, John explained that he still found Amy attractive, but he just couldn't muster the energy to have sex. He said that when Amy told him that she wanted to attend couples therapy, it was a wake up call for him and he didn't want his marriage to fall apart.

Listening to John talk about his work stress and anxiety, Amy felt a new sense of empathy and compassion for him.  Her attitude towards him softened and she reached out to touch his arm to comfort him.

During their sessions, John acknowledged that his libido was low due to his low level of testosterone, and, whereas he had been unwilling to take medication before, he now agreed to take medication.

John also made an important decision that, although he liked the fact that he was earning a lot more money on his new job, he didn't feel the extra money was worth the negative impact it was having on his marriage.  So, he approached his former boss, who had told John that he could return to the company if things didn't work out at his new job, and told his boss that he wanted to return.

In addition to taking the medication to increase his libido and returning to his old job, which was much less stressful, John began to initiate sex more with Amy.  Although she was still the one who got turned on more easily, she was patient with John and allowed him to take the lead more often in their lovemaking.  

A few months later, their couples therapist suggested that they had made progress in therapy and they no longer needed to attend sessions, and John and Amy agreed.

It's not unusual for there to be differences in sexual arousal, desire and willingness to have sex between two people in a relationship.

Whereas the sexual pursuer is usually the one who is more easily aroused sexually and tends to be the one who initiates sex, the sexual withdrawer often takes longer, for a variety of reasons, to get sexually aroused and initiates less often.

The sexual pursuer is usually the one who wants to work on their sex life (and, often, the relationship, in general).  Unlike the vignette above, sometimes, if the sexual pursuer pushes the withdrawer too hard, the withdrawer will retreat even more and then they get stuck in a negative cycle where each person's actions exacerbates the other person's emotions and behavior.

If both people are willing to work out these issues in couples therapy, they can learn about their relationship dynamics and make changes to improve their sex life.

Getting Help in Therapy 
If you and your partner are having problems in your relationship and you have been unable to work out these issues on your own, you could both benefit from seeking help in therapy.

Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples (also known as EFT) is a well-researched and evidence-based therapy.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an EFT couples therapist so you can have a more fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.

Monday, December 28, 2020

How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out Their Differences in Their Relationship to Have a Happier Sex Life - Part 1

I've been focusing on sex in relationships in my recent articles (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex).

How Sexual Pursuers and Sexual Withdrawers Can Work Out Their Differences

In this article, my focus is on relationships where one partner is more interested in sex (the pursuer) and one partner is less interested (the withdrawer) and how they can work out their differences so they can have a happier sex life.  

It's not unusual in a relationship for there to be one person who is more interested in sex than the other (see my article:  Overcoming Sexual Incompatibility).  

Alternatively, even when there's a couple where both people are equally matched in terms of desire, there might be times in the relationship when one person feels less sexual.  So, this is something that needs to get worked out.

In prior articles, I've discussed the concept of pursuers and withdrawers in terms of emotional intimacy in relationships as opposed to sexual relations (see my article: How Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT) Can Help Emotional Pursuers  and How Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT) Can Help Withdrawers (also known as Distancers).

It's important to keep in mind that emotional pursuers and withdrawers in the same relationship can be different from sexual pursuers and withdrawers.  Someone who is an emotional pursuer isn't necessarily a sexual pursuer.  The same person who is an emotional pursuers might be a sexual withdrawer in the same relationship.  Likewise for emotional withdrawers--an emotional withdrawer in a relationship might be a sexual pursuer in the same relationship.

In addition, most people tend to think of sexual pursuers as being men and sexual withdrawers as being women.  But this isn't necessarily the case--a woman can be a sexual pursuer and a man can be a sexual withdrawer.

What Can A Sexual Pursuer Do to Improve Their Sexual Relationship With a Sexual Withdrawer?
Pursuers, whether they're emotional or sexual pursuers, usually have good intentions.  They often seek sex with their partner because they want to connect with their partner.

But when their partner, who is a sexual withdrawer, says they're not interested in sex, pursuers often feel rejected by their partner.  Then, add to this that the pursuer might attach a particular meaning to the rejection (i.e., they're not attractive or they're just too sexually demanding) that the other partner often doesn't mean.

If the pursuer is pushing for sex with their partner and the pursuer's need is for sexual satisfaction, the pursuer first needs to recognize that the withdrawer's rejection is probably not about lack of attraction.  It just might be that their partner isn't in the mood, and it probably doesn't have much to do with the pursuer.  However, it might trigger old feelings for the pursuer that they're "not good enough" or "not lovable."  So, the pursuer needs to step back and get curious about why their partner isn't engaging when the pursuer wants sex.  

So, rather than having tunnel vision and being emotionally reactive, the pursuer can be calm, take things less personally, and try to understand what's going on for the partner.  Also, sometimes pursuers pile on their partner by being critical or judgmental, but that's counterproductive to the relationship.

If it's a matter of wanting to connect with a partner, the sexual pursuer can find other ways to connect.  This might mean cuddling with the partner or finding other ways to connect emotionally.

If it's a matter of experiencing sexual satisfaction, the sexual pursuer can engage in self pleasure/masturbation with their partner holding them.  So, the pursuer experiences sexual satisfaction and also connects with their partner without being emotionally reactive to their partner.

What Can a Sexual Withdrawer Do to Improve Their Sexual Relationship With a Sexual Pursuer?
Sexual withdrawers usually don't want sex as often as their partner, but there are things they can do to improve things sexually in their relationship.

As I mentioned above, rather than being emotionally reactive or shutting down emotionally, calming down, being present, and getting curious about the other partner's experience is a much better approach.  

Many people, who are less sexually responsive than their partner, can get in the mood for sex if they're open to it.  Often when people start out not being in the mood, they can become sexually aroused and engaged once they start being sexual--whether they begin by kissing their partner, thinking about other times when they were sexually aroused, fantasizing, and so on.  

Rather than being judgmental towards a pursuer, the withdrawer can recognize that their partner isn't wrong for wanting more sex.  

If a withdrawer is too exhausted or not feeling well enough to have sex, they can be supportive of their partner's need for sex.  So, for instance, they can hold their partner and be present for them while their partner engages in self pleasure/masturbation.

In my next article, I'll provide a clinical vignette to illustrate the points I discussed in this article (see Part 2 of this topic).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner have tried without success to resolve your problems on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from an experienced psychotherapist.  

Rather than struggling on your own, you and your partner can work with a skilled psychotherapist who understands the dynamics of pursuers and withdrawers in a relationship and can help you to work out your problems so you can have a happier relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

What's the Difference Between Sexual and Emotional Intimacy?

Many people use the words "intimacy" and "sex" interchangeably. They talk about being intimate when what they really mean is being sexual. But even though there's often a connection between being emotionally intimate and being sexual, these two expressions aren't synonymous, so the purpose of this article is to understand these terms better and understand how differing needs can create problems (see my article: Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Emotional Intimacy).

What's the Difference Between Sex and Intimacy?

What is Emotional Intimacy in a Committed Relationship?
Emotional intimacy in a committed relationship occurs when two people can be open, emotionally vulnerable, and experience an emotional connection with one another.  

In addition to sharing their hopes and dreams, two people in an emotionally intimate relationship also share their more vulnerable side--their fears, failures, embarrassing moments, and traumatic experiences.  

To be able to share themselves in this vulnerable way, there must be a high level of trust that these vulnerabilities won't be used against them in an argument or shared inappropriately with others.  

Emotional intimacy doesn't happen overnight.  It develops over time in a committed relationship.  It's a process.  As two people in a relationship get to know one another, they learn to take emotional risks with each other as love and trust develop.  

What's the Difference Between Sex and Intimacy?
For two people, who have access to their emotions, sex often provides a way to connect on a physical as well as a deep emotional level.  However, for people who are mostly cut off from their emotions, sex is primarily a physical act and lacks depth and emotional connection.

This is, of course, a generalization and there are gradations of experience.  But for the purpose of distinguishing sex and intimacy, it's obvious that sex and intimacy aren't the same thing.  

For people who are primarily cut off from their emotions, sex in a relationship can be primarily about lust or it can be a way to relieve stress, anxiety, loneliness or other uncomfortable experiences (see my article: 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love).

Sex can provide a temporary respite from emotional discomfort, but that comfort doesn't last. But when sex is combined with emotional intimacy, two people often experience a deep, loving connection.

This doesn't mean that a loving couple always wants this level of emotional intensity.  There can be times when sex can be more playful or flirtatious or focused on lust.

Intimacy Doesn't Always Involve Sex
Although the combination of sex and emotional intimacy can be powerful, there are many ways to be emotionally intimate that don't always involve sex: Cuddling in front of a fireplace, kissing, sharing deeply personal experiences, and so on, can also be emotionally intimate.

Differences in Comfort With Intimacy
Two people in a relationship can differ in terms of how comfortable each of them feels with various levels of intimacy.  One partner might want deeper and more frequent experiences of emotional intimacy while the other partner might not want such a deep, intimate committed connection (see my articles: Emotional Pursuers and Emotional Distancers).

Over time, this is something that will have to be negotiated between the two people if they are to remain together.

Sex as a Prerequisite for Intimacy vs Intimacy as a Prerequisite for Sex
Whereas some people feel sex is a prerequisite for emotional intimacy, other people need to feel an intimate emotional connection first before they become sexual with their partners.  

There is no right or wrong way involved with either of these needs.  What's important is that each person understand their own wants and needs as well as the wants and needs of their partner, and they work together to satisfy each of their needs.

Problems With Sex or Intimacy in a Relationship
Since two people can have very different ways of connecting sexually and emotionally, misunderstandings often develop.

For example, as mentioned above, if one person needs sex to feel emotionally intimate and the other person needs emotional intimacy to have sex, a couple can get stuck in ongoing conflicts about these issues.

Similarly, conflict can develop if one partner tends to withdraw emotionally when the other partner pursues a deeper emotional connection.

Getting Help in Therapy
The issues mentioned in this article are common problems.

If you and your partner are having problems, you can work through these problems with the help of an experienced psychotherapist (see my article: Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT): Are You Reaching For Each Other or Turning Away?).

With the right help, you and your partner can have a more loving and fulfilling relationship.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Understanding Men Who Can Only Get Their Emotional Needs Met Through Sex

The need for emotional connection is a universal need for both men and women.  But many men are only comfortable having their emotional needs met through sexual activity (see my articles: Understanding the Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are Players and The Thrill of the Sexual Chase).  

At the root of this problem is our culture, which gives men the message, either implicitly or explicitly, "Be a man! Don't ask a woman for love and affection! Get her in bed instead!" So, when we consider the enormous pressure society places on men to suppress their emotional needs, is it any wonder that many men can only get their emotional needs met through sex?  

Understanding Men Who Can Only Get Their Emotional Needs Met Through Sex

The need to attach emotionally is a core need that all babies experience from birth.  In fact, this need is so essential that babies wouldn't survive if they couldn't form an emotional attachment with their mothers (see my article:  How the Early Attachment Bond Affects Adult Relationships). 

The need for emotional attachment continues throughout the life cycle from cradle to grave.  So, when men suppress these needs, there are negative consequences, including experiencing shame, depression and anxiety.

While it's true that sex and physical touch can lead to emotional intimacy, the problem arises when it's the only way an individual can seek closeness with a partner.  

In addition, when men can only channel their emotional needs through sex, this creates problems in  relationships with women because women often misunderstand these men, and they think, "He doesn't love me. He's only interested in me for sex," when, in reality, he might really love her.  The problem is that he just doesn't know how to express it in any other way--except through sex.

Common Examples of Men Who Can Only Get Their Emotional Needs Met Through Sex
Here are some common examples:
  • Reducing Sadness:  Ted often feels sad, but when he was growing up, he was told by his parents that he needs to be "strong" and it's a sign of weakness when a man expresses sadness.  So, instead of expressing his feelings, Ted disconnects from his sadness by chasing women and hooking up with as many women as he can to experience the comfort of physical touch.  The dopamine release he gets from having sex gives him relief from his sadness temporarily.  But since he only gets a temporary reprieve from his sad feelings, he continues to pursue sex again and again whenever he can't suppress his sadness.
  • Reducing Anxiety: John feels overwhelmed by his anxiety, but he doesn't want to appear "weak" by letting anyone know he's anxious.  Instead, he tries to reduce his anxiety by pursuing frequent sexual encounters.  These sexual encounters help to relieve his anxiety for a while, but since the it's only a temporary fix, he continues to pursue sexual activity in order to quell his anxiety.
  • Overcoming Loneliness: Mark feels lonely and isolated, but he was raised to believe that "a real man" doesn't feel lonely--much less admit to anyone that he feels this way.  So, rather than seeking emotional connection or talking about his loneliness, he seeks comfort from his loneliness in frequent one night stands.  The physical touch he experiences in these hook ups gives him comfort for a time, but after a while his feelings of loneliness come to the surface again and the only way he knows how to deal with his feelings is through sex.  So, he engages in many one night stands obsessively.
  • Seeking Sex Instead of Affection: Alex has been in a monogamous relationship with Jane for a year.  She frequently complains that the only time Alex allows her to get close to him is when they're having sex.  She would like to spend time cuddling and being affectionate with him when they're at home, but whenever she tries to get close to him, he stiffens up and gets defensive. Jane complains to Alex that she feels he doesn't really love her--she thinks he only wants to have sex with her. She tells him that she feels "used" by him.  Whenever Jane tells him this, Alex doesn't know what to say.  He loves Jane, but he doesn't know how to tell her how uncomfortable he feels with physical affection outside of the bedroom.
  • Attempting to Repair Arguments With Sex: Bill and Alice have been married for two years.  They have frequent arguments about ongoing unresolved problems.  Whenever Alice tries to get Bill to talk about their problems, she feels disappointed and abandoned because Bill walks away from her.  The more Alice attempts to get Bill to talk, the more emotionally distant he becomes. And the more distant he becomes, the angrier and more frustrated Alice becomes.  After a while, Bill will approach Alice sexually as a way to repair their argument because this is the only way he knows how to reconnect with her.  But Alice is still angry and she's not in the mood for sex.  Whenever Bill approaches her in this way, Alice feels even angrier because she thinks he wants to avoid dealing with their problems by trying to be sexual.  Bill, in turn, feels Alice doesn't understand him.  He loves her and he just wants to get close to her in bed, but since she turns him down at these times, he doesn't know what else to do.
The scenarios outlined above are only a few examples of men who can only get their emotional needs met through sex.

Getting Help in Therapy
Experiencing your full range of core emotions--including anger, sadness, joy, disgust, and sexual excitement is a universal need.

If you're suppressing your core emotions--with the exception of sexual excitement--you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed psychotherapist who has experience helping clients to overcome these problems.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP,  EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to overcome their fear of their core emotions so that they could lead healthier and happier lives.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Why Was Dating So Much Easier in the Past?

One of the biggest complaints today among people who are dating is that, compared to dating in the past, the dating world today has become so difficult and often discouraging (see my article: Dating vs Being in a Relationship: Take Time to Get to Know Each Other).  I'll be exploring why dating was so much easier in the past in this article.

Why Was Dating So Much Easier in the Past?

Why Was Dating So Much Easier in the Past?
There are many reasons why dating was easier and a more satisfying experience in the past:
  • Meeting in Person vs on Dating Apps: Unless you're in your 20s or younger, you probably remember a time before dating apps when dating was a lot simpler than it is today.  Part of the reason for that is that you would meet people in person. You would go out to a social event, a friend's party, a club, a dance, a discussion group or some other social event, and you would meet people in person.  The other alternative is that a friend might fix you up on a blind date.  Today dating apps are convenient, but there are thousands of choices on these apps which can lead to an endless and obsessive feeling of there being "someone better" out there.  This attitude often leads to bypassing many good potential choices. Instead of taking the time to get to know someone better, people can get stuck in an endless cycle of first dates that go nowhere because they're focused on that next elusive person who might be "someone better."
  • Getting a Vibe About Someone in Person: When you met someone in person, aside from the initial physical attraction, you would get a "vibe" about that person.  If there was a spark of an attraction between you, you would probably exchange phone numbers and go out on a date later that week.  Today, even when dating apps have detailed profiles, most people are making choices based solely on looks instead of an overall first impression you get from meeting someone in person.
  • Making an Effort With Someone You Liked: In the past, there was a recognition that you would have to make an effort to win someone over.  Both people would try to put their best foot forward in a romantic way. Today when someone wants to ask someone out on a date, s/he usually doesn't even call--they text.  That takes minimal effort and it's devoid of romance.
  • Taking the Time to Get to Know Someone You Liked: More likely than not, in the past you weren't dating several people at the same time, especially if you hit it off with someone special, because you and the person you like wanted to see if something more would develop between you.  You would know that dating multiple people at once wouldn't allow for a potential romance to develop. So, when you were focusing on that special person you liked, you would try to connect with them on a deeper level. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen nearly as often today in the fast paced world of online dating.
  • Dating With a Purpose: Developing a Relationship: As compared to the more superficial world of hooking up, dating had a purpose in the past, and the purpose was to try to figure out if you wanted to be in a relationship with the person you were dating. This isn't to say that there aren't people today who want to be in a relationship because there definitely are. This is what leads to so much frustration and dissatisfaction. People who want to be in a relationship are frustrated and discouraged by the superficiality of the dating app world.  Also, overall, dating is complicated today because people have many different choices about the type of relationship they want to be in. Rather than just dating with the idea of entering into a potential "forever relationship," there's the possibility of hooking up or some other form of casual relationship (see my articles: The Pros and Cons of Friends With Benefits (FWB).
  • Knowing What You Want: Many choices can lead to confusion about what you want.  When dating someone special meant that the two of you were trying to see if you were compatible enough to enter into a relationship, it was generally understood what was wanted and expected. But today so many people seem confused about what they want. Whereas in the past a question like, "Do you want to be in a relationship?" was a relatively simple question, today this same question elicits confusion from people.
  • Understanding Where You Stand With the Person You're Dating: In the past, it was more likely that you would know where you stood with the person you were dating.  There was clearer communication and most people were better at talking about their feelings as compared to today. Since people had more experience meeting in person, talking on the phone, having more in depth conversations and knowing what was expected of them, they communicated better with each other. Today what often passes for a "conversation" is a few lines of text messaging, which is much more impersonal than talking on the phone and certainly more impersonal than talking in person. More often this superficial communication can lead to confusion and mixed messages (see my article: The Connection Between Ambivalence and Mixed Messages).
  • Developing Better Social Skills From Dating: In the past, people developed better social skills and knew how to interact better as a result of their dating experiences. Dating helped to improve overall social skills because people were interacting more in person, making more of an effort, approaching dating with a purpose, and taking the time to get to know each other. As a result, they learned valuable social and interpersonal skills through dating--even if dating didn't result in a long term relationship. A first date was more about having a conversation and making a good first impression than it was about showing up with a checklist of questions for your date or ticking off boxes.
  • Breaking Up Was Cleaner: Overall, before the age of online dating and social media, when you broke up with someone, it was generally a clearer and cleaner process. Usually, you would have a discussion in person and, ideally, have closure.  But today people are breaking up with each other via text messages.  This can leave the person who is being broken up with feeling confused, angry and abandoned.  Also, in the past, you might occasionally run into the person you were dating, but you wouldn't have to be concerned about seeing what was going on in their life on social media. Also, you wouldn't have to be concerned about all the posts and pictures of the two of you that would live on forever online.
Since dating is a topic that interests many people, I'll focus on this topic in future articles.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Monday, October 26, 2020

The 5 Stages of Love From Attraction to Commitment

Committed relationships usually go through five main stages from attraction to commitment.  Each stage has its own rewards and challenges (see my article: Is It Love or Infatuation?). 

The 5 Main Stages of Love From Attraction to Commitment

The 5 Main Stages of Love From Attraction to Commitment:
Many couples never make it passed Stage One or Two.  Other couples get stuck in one of the various stages prior to commitment for various reasons (to be discussed below). However, with commitment, patience and good communication, couples can make it to Stage 5 and beyond.

Here are the five main stages of love:
  • Stage One: The Attraction Stage: Most couples in a dating relationship go through this stage. Typically, it lasts anywhere from a few months to two years.  This is the heady, fun time in a new relationship. It's the time in a relationship when you're head over heels about your partner. There's a lot of chemistry between you--so much so that you feel "high" from all those endorphins coursing through your body. During this stage, couples tend to focus on similarities and ignore differences and potential problems (some people don't just ignore these problems--they don't see them because they're so infatuated with their partner). It's also the time when you spend a lot of time fantasizing about their partner.  You also spend a lot of time together and tend to have a lot of sex.  Since you're focusing on similarities, you also tend to avoid conflict (see my article: 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love).
  • Stage Two: The Reality Stage: After the initial "getting to know you" stage where emotions, chemistry, and fantasies about your partner are prevalent, reality slowly begins to sink in. Rather than continuing to idealize your partner, you begin to see your partner and your relationship more realistically.  This is the stage where you see each other's flaws and the possible incompatibilities between the two of you.  The endorphins from Stage One tend to level off during this stage, and it can feel like a letdown. Whereas you ignored differences and potential problems during Stage One, now you see them and you might wonder how you missed them before. Many of the things you found endearing before might feel annoying now. This is often the stage when many relationships end for a variety of reasons, including: 
    • There isn't enough substance to the relationship to keep it going.
    • The couple discovers they're incompatible.
    • One or both people want to continue to have heady romantic feelings so they seek out other partners to go through Stage One again, and so on (see my article: Falling In Love With the Fantasy and Not the Reality).
    • And so on
  • Stage Three: The Disappointment Stage: If you make it past Stage Two, you're likely to enter into the Disappointment Stage.  This is the stage where the two of you begin to argue. You might argue about big things or little things.  Before this, you and your partner probably managed to avoid arguing, especially during Stage One. If one or both of you are uncomfortable with arguing and see it as a negative thing, you might end the relationship. But arguing isn't inherently negative.  If you can communicate well with each other, it's possible that the two of you can work through your differences and the relationship could be stronger for it. 
  • Stage Four: Stability Stage: If you can get through the disappointment of Stage Three, you can work towards having a more stable relationship. You might feel a little bored because you're no longer in that heady romantic stage, but having a more stable, mature, trusting relationship can be more gratifying and enhance your state of well-being. Not only have you accepted your own and your partner's flaws and differences and the inevitable arguments that occur from time to time, you now begin to see a long term future for your relationship. If you're unable to cope with the inevitable boredom that occurs at this stage, you might cheat in order to relieve your boredom and get "high" from a new attraction that's passionate (see my article: The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Desirable).
The 5 Main Stages of Love From Attraction to Commitment
  • Stage Five: The Commitment Stage: The two of you make a commitment to have a long-term relationship.  You both have a vision of your future together--whether this involves marriage or living together. If you make it to this stage, your relationship has reached a more mature, enduring phase. You can endure the occasional boredom because you know that what you have is a deeper kind of love as compared to the earlier stages.
  • Beyond the Commitment Stage: If you choose to have children, you'll go through the Parenthood Stage with its own unique rewards and challenges. And if you continue to stay together, couples go through the Mature Love Stage where the children are living on their own independently, and you could be dealing with issues related to taking care of elderly parents.  
The Challenges of Navigating Through the Stages of Love
As previously mentioned, being aware of the Stages of Love can help you anticipate what you'll go through as a couple so you won't be surprised.

Many couples don't make it passed the first one or two stages.  Aside from the reasons mentioned above, some people lack the emotional maturity or they lack the desire for a committed relationship. 

For other couples, real and significant problems come up during the Reality Stage and they recognize that they're not really compatible or they want different things, so it makes sense to breakup.  But even couples who are willing to work towards a committed relationship can get stuck in one of the stages.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you and your partner are struggling in your relationship, you could benefit from working with an experienced psychotherapist who can help you work through your issues--whether you decide to stay together or not.

A skilled couples therapist can help you to understand your relationship dynamics so you can either work out your differences or to part amicably (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples).

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from an experience therapist.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 or email me.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Relationships: The Pros and Cons of Friends With Benefits (FWB)

Having casual sex with a friend, also known as Friends with Benefits (FWB), isn't for everyone.  Many people need the romance and the commitment to feel comfortable with having sex.  Other people don't like to mix friendship with sex.  But there are also many people who say Friends With Benefits works for them, and those people see certain advantages to having casual sex with a friend. This article will look at the pros and cons of FWB (see my article: 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love).

Relationships: The Pros and Cons of Friends With Benefits (FWB)

The Different Types of Causal Sex
Before delving into FWB, I think it would be helpful to understand the different types of casual sexual encounters from the most superficial to FWB:
  • One Night Stands: Of all the different sexual encounters, a one night stand is the most superficial with the least emotional commitment.  In fact, there's usually no emotional commitment. One night stands usually occur between strangers or people who are only superficially acquainted.  As the name implies, the encounter lasts one time and then the individuals part.
  • Booty Calls: A step up from one night stands, booty calls are usually between people who are acquainted with each other but who don't have a friendship or a romantic relationship.  One person calls another on the spur of the moment to have sex.  Often, the people involved don't sleep together after they have sex, and there's no commitment.
  • F--k Buddies: One step up from booty calls in terms of knowing one another, f--ck buddies are often friends whose primary objective is to have casual sex.  The relationship is often more about sex than it is about friendship.  They might have sex more often than people who see each other for booty calls.
  • Friends With Benefits (FWB): Of all the casual sexual relationships, people who consider themselves FWB define themselves as mostly friends with the added bonus that they also have sex together.
The Pros and Cons of Friends with Benefits

    No Strings Attached vs. Feelings of Emotional Alienation:
  • Pro:You'll have a person to have sex when you want to be sexual with someone.  This can be a very convenient way to fulfill your sexual needs without making an emotional commitment (if you and your friend mutually agree that this is what you both want).
  • Con: Depending upon the two people involved and their agreement about their arrangement, they might not spend the night together or even show affection for each other after they have sex.  If this is what both people have agreed to, there might not be a problem.  But if one person is feeling especially lonely, this sexual encounter could be alienating and feel lonely.
    No Obligations or Constraints vs. Feelings of Insecurity and Inadequacy:
  • Pro: You don't have to worry about obligations towards this person with regard to holidays, birthdays and other special occasions. You're also free to see other people without the constraints of a committed relationship.
  • Con: Since the two of you can have other relationships and be sexual with other people, you or your friend might feel unexpected jealousy.  This could also bring up feelings of insecurity and inadequacy.
    The Possibility of a Deeper Relationship vs. Heartbreak:
  • Pro: What starts out as being only Friends with Benefits could develop into a deeper relationship if both people want to shift the nature of their relationship.
  • Con: Since there is no commitment, it could lead to emotional pain and heartbreak if one person develops deeper feelings and the other doesn't.
Maintaining Boundaries in a Friends With Benefits Relationship
If you're going to be in a FWB relationship, you and your partner need to communicate clearly and honestly about the boundaries and expectations of your relationship and any other relationships that you might be in (i.e., if you're in a primary romantic relationship with someone else).

Even if you have a clear understanding to start, one of the risks of FWB is that you could lose your friend if one of you develops romantic feelings for the other and the other person doesn't develop these feelings. So, it's important to understand that this is a risk.

It's also important to understand that even though the arrangement has the benefit of sex (often frequent sex), part of the boundary setting is usually that there are no other "benefits" like having emotional support during a stressful time.

You also have to prepare yourself that you might get "dropped" when your friend finds someone else where there are deeper feelings.  Or, you might be the person who finds someone else and has to discuss this with your friend.  Even though there was an original understanding that the relationship was only about sex, this can still be painful.

Your FWB Relationship Could Have a Negative Impact on Potential Romantic Partners
Potential partners who might be interested in you could be put off by your FWB relationship because it seems messy or complicated to them, and they might not want to be part of this. As a result, someone you might want to form a deeper relationship with might steer clear of you.

Only You Can Decide If FWB Is Right For You
The decision is yours as to whether you enter into a FWB arrangement with a friend. That's why it's important that you know yourself and what you need. This might be convenient for you if you just got out of a serious relationship and you don't want another serious relationship right now or there's some other reason why you only want to focus on having sex without a commitment.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with these issues, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional.

An objective professional won't tell you what to do, but she can help you to sort out your emotions and get a perspective on what's best for you.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed psychotherapist so that you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Coping With An Ambivalent Partner: You Want a Committed Relationship, But Your Partner Isn't Sure

In my article, 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love, I discussed the difference between relationships based primarily on sex and relationships based on love. In this article, I'm focusing on coping with an ambivalent partner when you know you want more of a committed relationship instead of a casual sexual relationship (see my article: Dating vs Being in a Relationship).

Coping With An Ambivalent Partner in a Relationship

You Want More of a Committed Relationship
Many people are just fine with having a casual sexual relationship, and there's nothing wrong with that as long as both people agree to this.  But if you have been dating someone you really like for several months on a casual basis and you want more of a committed relationship, you might be feeling anxious about bringing it up.

You're Not Sure When to Bring Up "The Talk" About Defining the Relationship
It can be tricky to know when to bring up defining your relationship.  You might be concerned that you're both enjoying each other's company so much that you might ruin things if you bring this up (see my article: Dating: When to Have "the Talk").

This can be tricky if you didn't bring up what you wanted when you first started dating.  It's even trickier if you were happy with a casual sexual relationship when you started dating but now you've developed deeper feelings for this person and you're not sure your partner feels the same way.

Feelings Change, People Change and Relationships Change
You might be concerned that the other person could say that you said one thing at the beginning--that you only wanted casual sex--and now you're saying something else--you want more of a commitment. But feelings change, people change and relationships change too.  So, it shouldn't be so surprising that one or both people in a casual sexual relationship might want something more.

I don't think most people would be surprised if, after several months of dating, you bring up having a committed relationship because casual sexual relationships don't usually last that long.  So, if you've been dating for several months, the relationship is either going to develop into something more serious and committed or it's probably going to fizzle out (for exceptions to this, keep reading below).

Be Honest With Yourself and Your Partner
It's important to start by being honest with yourself. Ask yourself if being in a committed relationship with the person you're dating is really what you want or are you wanting something more because you can't stand being alone and lonely? Are you going to be happy with this particular person in a committed relationship?  

Once you feel sure that you want the person you've been dating to be your committed partner, you need to be honest about your feelings and find out what your partner has in mind.  This conversation doesn't have to be an interrogation, but it's an important conversation to have and it's worth doing it with forethought and intention in a place that's quiet and where you'll have privacy to talk.

Listen and Accept What Your Partner Has to Say
If your partner feels the same way as you do, that's great--the two of you can talk about taking your relationship to the next level. For some couples, this happens naturally because it's clear that the relationship has been going in that direction.

When you and your partner want different things, this is harder to deal with. But, as hard as it might be, you need to listen to what your partner says and, ultimately, you need to accept it and make a decision for yourself about what you want to do.  Do you want to continue the casual sexual relationship or will you feel resentful that your partner isn't giving you what you want?

Don't Nag and Try to Bargain With Your Partner to Get More of a Commitment
If you and your partner aren't on the same page, nagging and bargaining doesn't work.  You can't force your partner into a committed relationship if it's not what s/he wants. 

This might seem obvious, but it's all too common that the person who wants more of a commitment tries to push the other partner into something s/he doesn't want.  Not only does it not work, but it often ruins whatever you currently have with this person and, more importantly, it makes you feel bad about yourself.

After the Talk: You Realize You're With a Reluctant/Ambivalent Partner in Terms of Commitment
Dealing with an ambivalent or reluctant partner is especially difficult. S/he isn't saying "yes" but s/he's not saying "no," so you're not getting a clear answer.  

This is where a lot of people, who want a commitment, get stuck and remain too long in the kind of relationship they don't want because they're hoping to get the ambivalent partner to change his or her mind.  Even when they realize they're not going to convince their partner, they find all kinds of rationalizations for remaining in the relationship that's not meeting their needs:
  • "Well, at least the sex is good.  I might not find anyone else that I enjoy sex with as much."
  • "The devil I know is better than the devil I don't know."
  • "I'm too old to find anyone else, so I might as well remain with him/her" (for this one you can substitute "fat," "tall," "short" or any other description for "old"). 
  • "Who else will want me? At least I know s/he finds me sexually desirable."
  • "There are no good men (women) out there anyway, so I might as well remain in this relationship even if s/he's not meeting my emotional needs."
  • "Maybe s/he will come around eventually if I wait long enough."
A partner who is reluctant or ambivalent might have many reasons for his or her mixed feelings--reasons that s/he might not know about because the reasons are unconscious.

Some people have a fear of making a commitment to anyone--whether it's you or anyone else, so their reluctance might not be about you in particular.  At the same time, you're affected by it, and it can be crazy making for you.

Although it might be hard to see, first, determine that you're not with someone who is stringing you along (see my article: Understanding the Underlying Emotional Dynamics of Men Who Are Players, although the title of this article is about men, women can also be players).

You don't need to be manipulated in this kind of relationship with someone who is so selfish and narcissistic (see my articles: Is Your Partner Breadcrumbing You?A Relationship With a Narcissistic Partner Can Ruin Your Self EsteemA Relationship With a Narcissistic Person: Where Did the Love Go? and Are You Being Gaslighted?).

Second, even if the person you're dating isn't manipulative and selfish, you need to figure out if you're with someone who will never make a real commitment to anyone because s/he wants to continue seeing other people.  Maybe the idea of being committed to one person makes him or her feel claustrophobic or bored.

Sometimes, the ambivalent/reluctant partner hasn't matured yet. S/he might be an adult in terms of chronological age, but s/he might be much younger in terms of maturity.  In other words, your partner might still have a lot of growing up to do regardless of whether s/he's 25, 35 or 45. And if that's the case, only you can decide if you're going to wait around to see if s/he matures into the kind of person who can make a commitment.

Another issue is that your partner might have attachment style issues, which are difficult to change if s/he isn't in therapy (see my articles: Understanding the Avoidant Attachment Style of Emotionally Unavailable People and How an Avoidant Attachment Style Affects You and Your Relationship).

Only you can decide how long you can deal with an ambivalent partner when you're not getting what you want.  After a while, you'll probably want to consider that no decision becomes a decision.  In other words, an "I don't know" becomes a "No" because it will likely become too painful for you to keep waiting for your partner to choose a commitment with you (see my article: When Indecision Becomes a Decision).

The ambivalent partner can also trigger in you feelings of being unworthy (see my article: Overcoming the Emotional Pain of Feeling Unlovable).

Aside from narcissistic or manipulative people, there are also people who just know they don't want to be in a committed relationship.  They're not pathological in any way.  They might be kind and wonderful people, but they just want something different from what you want. Still, this can be very painful for you because it's still a rejection of what you want and can feel like a rejection of you.

Maintain Your Autonomy and Don't Be Overly Dependent on Your Partner
While the two of you are deciding if you will take your casual relationship to the next level, maintain a sense of autonomy with your own friends and interests.  

If you're only focused on your relationship with your partner or you're overly dependent upon your partner to meet your needs (regardless of the status of your relationship), you're putting your entire sense of well-being in this person's hands.  

The healthiest relationships are ones where each person can maintain a degree of autonomy while also being able to share in the experience of the relationship.

Get Help in Therapy
If you're struggling with a difference between what you want and what your partner wants, you could benefit from the help of a skilled psychotherapist.

Life is short, and if you allow yourself to remain stuck for too long, you're going to feel increasingly unhappy and it will take longer for you to recover from this situation.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who can help you to overcome your problems so you can move on with your life.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.