NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Irrational Jealousy and Mate Guarding in Relationships - Part 1

Most people would agree that being abandoned by a spouse or a romantic partner can be heartbreaking.  This is especially true when a partner leaves to be with someone else.  However, even in relationships where there is no objective threat, jealousy and mate guarding behavior can be the destructive element that drives a couple apart (see my article: Overcoming Jealousy).

Irrational Jealousy and Mate Guarding in Relationships

What is Mate Guarding?
Mate guarding occurs in both the animal kingdom and among humans.

Mate guarding can involve:
  • keeping constant tabs on a partner
  • checking that a partner is where s/he says she is
  • going through a partner's phone or personal items to look for suspicious calls, texts or email, letters, hotel bills, etc.
  • secretly listening into phone calls
  • installing a tracking device in a partner's phone or car
  • stalking/spying on a partner
  • asking friends or other individuals to keep tabs on a partner
  • questioning a partner about friendships, coworkers and other people
  • constantly questioning a partner's motives about engaging in separate activities
  • wanting a partner to give up certain social activities 
And so on.

The Effect of Irrational Jealousy and Mate Guarding in Relationships
Irrational jealousy that turns into mate guarding can have a very toxic effect on a relationship.  The partner who is engaging in mate guarding can lose objectivity and become irrational and accusatory.

Most partners who are being unfairly accused of wrongdoing eventually become resentful.  In addition, the partner who is on the receiving end of mate guarding behavior often feels controlled and suffocated, which creates even greater problems.  

By being irrationally jealous, the partner who fears being abandoned can actually bring about the demise of the relationship if the partner gets fed up.  At the very least, it erodes the quality of the relationship.

When someone has a history of jealous mate guarding, s/he often has insecure attachment problems, specifically, anxious attachment.  See my articles:  
In my next article, I'll provide a clinical example of irrational jealousy and mate guarding in a relationship.  See Part 2 of this topic.

Getting Help in Therapy
It can be difficult to step back from irrational jealousy on your own.  Triggers often occur so quickly that you don't have time to reflect on your irrational thoughts.

Even if you know objectively that your jealousy is irrational, you might feel very different on an emotional level.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you get to the root of your problems to help you change your behavior.

Rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional so you can enjoy your relationship and live a more fulfilling life (see my article: How Therapy Can Help You to Overcome Your Fear of Abandonment).

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

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

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

Monday, September 13, 2021

Rethinking Foreplay as More Than Just a Prelude to Intercourse

Foreplay is commonly thought of as sexual activity that precedes sexual intercourse.  As such, it's often considered secondary to sexual penetration, including penis in vagina or penis in anus penetration (PIV or PIA).  Unfortunately, for many couples foreplay can last only a few minutes or it can be completely nonexistent (see my article:  What is Good Sex?)

Rethinking Foreplay as More Than Just a Prelude to Intercourse

In his books, She Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman and So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex: Laying Bare and Learning to Repair Our Love Lives, sex therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D. emphasizes that sexual foreplay is more than just a prelude to intercourse, especially for women.  He indicates that what we normally think of as foreplay should be considered "coreplay" because it's an essential part of sex and, in particular, core to women's sexual pleasure.

Human sexuality professor Laurie Mintz, Ph.D. stresses in her book, Becoming Cliterate - Why Orgasm Equality Matters and How to Get It, that a focus on the penetration model of sex (PIV or PIA) is shortchanging women of the sexual pleasure they seek and deserve.

According to a 2016 sex research study with over 52,500 participants published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, 95% of heterosexual men usually or always have an orgasm during sex as compared to only 65% of women.  The discrepancy between men's and women's response is known as the orgasm gap (see my articles: Closing the Orgasm Gap Between Women and Men - Part 1 and Part 2).  

Dr. Mintz, who is a sex positive advocate for closing the orgasm gap between men and women, emphasizes that the main reason for this gap is cultural ignorance about what most women need to experience an orgasm, specifically ignorance about the clitoris and the importance of clitoral stimulation.

Accordingly, based on sex research, Dr. Mintz challenges the idea that sexual intercourse is the best (or only) way for heterosexual women to have a climax (see my article: Women's Sexuality: Tips on Sexual Self Discovery).

According to current sex research, a whopping 75% of women don't experience orgasm through sexual penetration alone (PIV or PIA). As previously stated, most women need clitoral stimulation.  However, many women, who lack access to good sex education about this issue, believe there's something wrong with them if they don't experience orgasms through PIV or PIA alone.

Even for couples where they're knowledgeable about the importance of clitoral stimulation, many men in those relationships approach pleasuring their female partners with oral sex as if it's a chore.  These same men often like to experience receiving oral sex but, for a variety of reasons, they don't want to reciprocate with their partner.  Needless to say, this is selfish.

When women sense that men don't like to reciprocate with oral sex, they're often hesitant to ask their partner to "go down" on them.  As a result, it's not unusual for these women to approach sex as something they have to "get through" because it's not pleasurable for them, but they don't want to annoy their partners.  In many cases, they also don't feel like they deserve sexual pleasure.

Similarly, Esther Perel, Ph.D., who is also a sex therapist, emphasizes that we need to reconsider foreplay as "more than just a warm up act" to intercourse.  She indicates that foreplay is an atmosphere a couple creates and it can run through the entire relationship.

Dr. Perel says foreplay is the art of anticipation which builds sexual tension between two people.  From her perspective foreplay is essentially about playing.  It can include a look, a gesture, banter, a text, and so on (see her book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic).  

There is more information available today from books and podcasts about enhancing sexual pleasure than ever before, but there's still not enough.  Complicating the matter, most sex education programs in the US are only focused on prevention and disease.  While this is important information, a comprehensive sex education program needs to include education about sexual pleasure--not just the potential problems that can occur during sex.

Due to the lack of information about pleasure in sex education programs, many people, especially young men, get most of their information about sex from watching porn, which gives a distorted perspective about sexual pleasure.  For instance, in heterosexual porn the woman is usually shown as being ready to have sex immediately without any prior sexual stimulation.  

Another important contributing factor is that many women don't understand their own anatomy.  This isn't women's fault.  Again, it gets back to the lack of information in sex education programs and taboos around women discovering what gives them sexual pleasure (see my articles: Sexual Pleasure - The Erotic Self - Part 1 and Part 2).  Also see Betty Dodson's book, Sex For One: The Joy of Selfloving).

In addition, many women suffer with dyspareunia, which is painful sex during intercourse due to physical and/or psychological issues.  Dyspareunia often goes untreated because women are too ashamed to get help and/or the medical community sometimes, unwittingly, sets up obstacles to appropriate medical treatment, which often consists of seeing a physical therapist who specializes in pelvic floor issues (see Heather Jeffcoat's book, Sex Without Pain).

Another problem is that many couples feel too ashamed to talk to each other about sex.  Many of these problems, including the most common one, discrepancies in sexual desire, could be overcome if couples learned to discuss what they like and don't like sexually (see my articles:  How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

There needs to be a rethinking of sexual foreplay as more than the preclude or the "opening act" to intercourse but as an essential part of sex.

To improve sex between heterosexual men and women there needs to be: 
  • More and better sex education, including cliteracy, about sexual pleasure for women and men
  • Psychoeducation for women about their bodies and that they are deserving of sexual pleasure
  • Improved communication about sex between heterosexual men and women
  • Improved access to appropriate medical and psychological care for women who experience sexual pain or other sexual problems 
  • Men who are willing to prioritize their female partner's sexual pleasure
  • A willingness for couples to talk openly about what they enjoy sexually

Getting Help in Therapy
The psychological and emotional toll that sexual problems cause can exact a big toll for individuals and people in relationships. 

Many relationships end unnecessarily because couples don't know how to talk about sex with their partner.  As a result, longstanding problems go unaddressed, resentment builds and people feel they have no other option but to end the relationship.

If you're struggling with unresolved issues, you're not alone.  Reach out for help.  

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to work through these issues so you can have a more fulfilling life.  Help is a phone call away.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

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 regular business hours or email me.

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Relationships: Why Looking For a "Soulmate" Will Disappoint You

A soulmate is commonly defined as a special someone who is uniquely destined to be your  romantic partner forever. Usually, a soulmate is thought to be a partner who was placed on this earth just for you.  He or she is "the one."

Relationships: Why Looking for a "Soulmate" Will Disappoint You

The belief in soulmates is common.  For instance, a 2011 Marist poll revealed that nearly 75% of people believe in the concept of soulmates, and people often talk about searching for that unique person who is destined to be with them forever.

Why Searching For a Soulmate Will Disappoint You
So what's wrong with believing in a soulmate?

While it might feel comforting to believe that there is a special someone out there who is  meant for you and only you, this concept is unrealistic and it can also be damaging to the prospects of any potential long term relationship.

Most people who believe in soulmates believe their relationship with this person should be easy and effortless.  

After all, if this person is really "the one," there would be effortless compatibility.  There would be no need to work things out in a relationship of soulmates because, as per the logic of soulmates, if there were problems, this person wouldn't be a true soulmate.

The concept of one person destined to be your one true love is magical thinking.  While this might be fun to daydream about during your adolescence, if you continue to believe in this form of magical thinking, it will backfire on you and no relationship will satisfy you.

Clinical Vignette: Why the Search for a Soulmate Backfires
The following clinical vignette, which is a composite of many clinical cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates why the concept of soulmates is unrealistic and damaging:

When Nan was in her early teens, she and her friends would talk dreamily about how happy they would be when they got older and found their soulmates. Nan believed that they would each eventually meet the man of their dreams and they would live happily ever after like in the fairytales. 

When she was in high school, she began to date casually.  There was one boy in particular, Nick, that she really liked when she was in her senior year of high school.  At first, since they were both head-over-heels infatuated with each other, Nan believed that Nick was her soulmate.  But after a few months, they began to argue over their college choices. 

Nan wanted to attend a commuter school close to home in New York City so she could remain close to Nick and her parents.  But Nick wanted to attend a school on the West Coast where he was offered a full scholarship.  He tried to persuade Nan that they could maintain a long distance relationship.

As they continued to bicker, Nan no longer believed that Nick was her soulmate because if he was, they wouldn't be arguing.  From her perspective, since the relationship was no longer easy, he must not be the person she was destined to be with, so she ended it.

Nan's belief in soulmates continued throughout college and even several years after college.  Each time she fell in love with a man, she thought he was her soulmate.  But when even minor problems arose, she changed her mind because the relationship was no longer easy.

After experiencing several similar disappointments, Nan began to despair that she would ever meet her soulmate.  She wondered where he might be and how would she ever meet him in a planet with billions of people.

By the time she was in her late 20s, her disappointment and despair increased and Nan sought help in therapy.  She wanted very much to get married and have a "forever relationship" and she was worried that she might never meet "the one" who was meant for her.  

As they discussed Nan's views, her psychotherapist pointed out how much pressure Nan was placing on herself and on whoever was her boyfriend at the time.

Reluctantly, as Nan continued to attend therapy and as she observed her friends' marriages, she realized that there was no such thing as a "perfect" relationship that was destined for her.  She also realized that no one was going to be perfect and all relationships take work--even healthy ones.

Although letting go of the idea of a soulmate was disappointing, Nan developed more realistic ideas about relationships.  Instead of thinking that everything would magically work out with one person she was destined to be with, she realized that there were potentially many people she could be happy with if she gave herself and the relationship a chance.

She worked with her therapist to explore what was important to her in terms of being in a relationship.  Over time, she realized she wanted someone who would be kind, honest, dependable, and intelligent with values that were similar to hers.

Instead of being so focused on the other person's qualities, she focused on herself to develop those same qualities in herself.

When she began dating Dave, Nan realized that they had an emotional connection she hadn't felt before.  She also saw that he had all the qualities she wanted in a long term partner.  But when they bickered, she wondered if they were right for one another and she brought this up in her therapy sessions.

In the past, whenever even small problems arose, Nan would leave the relationship because she believed someone who was truly her soulmate would be perfect for her and the relationship would have no problems.

She had never tried to work out differences in prior relationships, so trying to work things out with Dave was new and scary for her.  

But, gradually, she saw that their small arguments were normal and common to all relationships.  She also developed the necessary relationship skills and confidence to pick and choose her battles since the most important aspects of what she wanted in a relationship were there between her and Dave.

Eventually, when they moved in together, Nan realized that her former ideas about soulmates were part of her childhood and that, as an adult, she had developed more realistic ideas of what to expect in a relationship.  

She also realized that no relationship is destined to be a "forever relationship," but if they continued to work together on developing themselves as individuals and as a couple, they would be together for as long as they were both happy.

The idea that you'll find a soulmate is a concept that is part of childhood and adolescence.  

As an adult, if you want a mature relationship, part of being an adult is letting go of magical thinking that leads you to believe there is one person who is uniquely destined for you.

When you believe in soulmates, not only will you be disappointed when you come up against the common problems of all relationships, but your unrealistic expectations will prevent you from doing the necessary work involved to succeed in an adult relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
Change can be difficult and there are times when you might need help to get through a challenging time.

If you have tried unsuccessfully to resolve your problems on your own, you could benefit from seeking help from a licensed mental health professional.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that are preventing you from living a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

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.