NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Getting to Know Your Own and Your Partner's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes to Improve Your Sex Life

As I've mentioned in my previous articles, one of the best sex education resources for individuals and couples is Dr. Emily Nagoski's bestselling book, Come As You Are

An important topic in this book is sexual accelerators and sexual brakes (see my articles:  Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Your Sexual Brakes - Part 1 and Part 2).

Getting to Know Your Own and Your Partner's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes

Dr. Nagoski discusses the Dual-Control Model of human sexuality, which helps you understand how everyone is wired in terms of sexuality.  

To simplify this concept, she uses the metaphor of a car, which has an accelerator and a brake.

While some men and women are less sexually inhibited (more sensitive accelerators than brakes), others experience more inhibitions (more sensitive brakes than accelerators). 

Whether you have more sensitive accelerators or brakes, there is no right or wrong way to respond sexually--it's just different.

To become sexually aroused, it's a matter of deactivating the brake and activating the accelerator.  

But before you can do this, you need to know your own as well as your partner's sexual accelerators and brakes.  

Becoming Aware of Your Sexual Brakes (also known as Inhibitions)
If you're not aware of your own accelerators and brakes, you might need to think back to situations with your partner or when you were alone where you felt sexually inhibited and other situations where you felt sexually turned (see my article: Discovering Your Peak Erotic Experiences).

In order to allow yourself to respond sexually, deactivating the brakes is more important than activating the accelerators.  

Just like when you drive a car, you can't accelerate if your foot is on the brake.  You need to be able to release the brake first before you can accelerate.

So, in terms of accelerators and brakes, since deactivating the brakes is more important to start, let's focus first on possible brakes you and your partner might experience.

     Stress as a Sexual Brake
For example, a common sexual brake for many people is stress.  Let's say you had a very stressful day.  It's usually difficult to transition from feeling stressed to feeling open to being sexual.  You might need to relax, meditate or do some breath work to feel open and sexual.

     Lack of Privacy as a Sexual Brake
Another example is if you're in the habit of leaving your bedroom door unlocked and you're worried about your child coming into the room and finding you and your spouse having sex. It would be hard for you to relax enough to have sex with your spouse if you think your child might come into your bedroom.

     A History of Unresolved Sexual Trauma as a Sexual Brake
A history of unresolved sexual trauma can also be a brake if you get triggered, and there can be many different triggers: a certain touch by your partner, the scent of an after shave or a cologne that is the same as the person who abused you, certain sexual acts, and so on.  

Unresolved sexual trauma can get worked through in individual therapy with a trauma therapist (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).  

Couples therapy, like Emotionally Focused Therapy, can also be helpful for you and your partner to work through these issues in your relationship.

     A Negative Body Image as a Sexual Brake
Another common sexual brake, especially for women, involves body image (see my article: Sexual Wellness: Is a Negative Body Image Ruining Your Sex Life?).  

A related issue would be critical remarks from a partner ("You gained so much weight. I'm not turned on by you anymore" or "You're so flabby. How do you expect me to be turned on by you?").

     Anxiety About Sexual Performance as a Sexual Brake
Focusing on sexual performance rather than pleasure is another common issue.  For men, this might mean worrying about penis size and/or maintaining an erection, and for women, it might mean worrying about having an orgasm (see my article: What is Performative Sex?).

Working through sexual brakes can be challenging, but many individuals and couples are able to do successfully work through these issues with a skilled psychotherapist with an expertise in these issues.

Becoming Aware of Your Sexual Accelerators
Assuming your sexual brakes have been deactivated enough for you to enjoy sex, you can focus on your sexual accelerators (see my articles: What Are Your Core Erotic Themes?What is Your Erotic Blueprint - Part 1 and Part 2).

Becoming Aware of Your Own and Your Partner's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes

     Discovering Your Sexual Turn Ons During Solo Pleasure as a Sexual Accelerator
If you're not aware of what turns you on sexually, one way to find out is through your own self exploration.  

This might involve allowing yourself to become comfortable enough to put aside any critical voices in your head, which are also sexual brakes, to engage in solo pleasure.

     Talking About Sexual Fantasies as a Sexual Accelerator
Another way to discover your sexual turn ons is for you and your partner to explore sexual fantasies (see my article: Exploring Sexual Fantasies Without Guilt or Shame).

When you and your partner are sharing your individual fantasies, be aware that you're both emotionally vulnerable so it's important not to be judgmental or critical of your partner's fantasies or your own. 

Your partner's fantasies might not be your fantasies, but if you want to have an open discussion about them, you both need to be empathetic and nonjudgmental.

By exploring, I mean that you and your partner talk about the sexual fantasies that turn each of you on.  At this point, this doesn't mean you're going to enact any of these fantasies--unless you both want to do it (see my article: The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).

     Being Open to Sexual Exploration With Your Partner as a Sexual Accelerator
Once you each know what you both like sexually, you can be more sexually adventurous and try novel ways of having fun.  

Whether these sexual explorations work out or not, once again, it's important to be empathetic and nonjudgmental. 

Being open and playful can be helpful.  Rather than focusing on having an orgasm or other performative issues, focus on having fun and enjoying each other (as Dr. Nagoski says, "Pleasure is the measure").

Overcoming Problems With Talking to Your Partner About Sex
It's not unusual for couples--even couples who have been together for many years--to feel too uncomfortable to talk to each other about sex (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

Getting to Know Your Own and Your Partner's Sexual Accelerators and Brakes

Whether these inhibitions involve guilt, shame or shyness, know that you're not alone.  

This is a common problem for many couples, especially couples living in the United States and other places where sex education is generally inadequate and many people grew up in a sex-negative environment (see my article:  What Does Sex Positive Mean?).

A skilled couples therapist can help you and your partner to overcome the communication challenges you're experiencing together.

Overcoming Problems with Sexual Desire Discrepancy in Your Relationship
As I discussed in previous articles, problems with sexual desire discrepancy are common in relationships.  

In fact, it's one of the most common problems that brings couples into couples therapy (see my articles: What is Sexual Desire Discrepancy? and Overcoming Sexual Desire Discrepancy in Your Relationship).

Whether it's a temporary issue or an ongoing problem, you and your partner might experience differences in terms of sexual libido.  

One of you might have a stronger sexual libido and want sex more often than the other, and this can become a contentious problem, especially if one or both of you feel hurt, rejected or misunderstood. The problem is often compounded if you and your partner don't know how to talk about it. 

For many couples, sexual desire discrepancy leads to the end of their relationship.  But this problem and other related sexual problems doesn't mean your relationship is doomed.  

Educate Yourself and Seek Help in Therapy If Necessary
Rather than giving up on your relationship because of sexual problems, educate yourself by reading and discussing Dr. Nagoski's book, Come As You Are, together.  

If you continue to have problems, seek help from a skilled couples therapist.

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

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individuals and couples (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?

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, August 14, 2022

Working Through Past Unresolved Trauma So It No Longer Affects You in the Present

In my recent articles, Global Pandemic Causes Significant Increase in Anxiety and Depression and How to Increase Your Tolerance For Uncertainty to Reduce Your Anxiety, I began addressing the psychological impact of the pandemic and how to cope with it. 

Working Through Unresolved Trauma Doesn't Impact the Present

In the current article, I'm focusing on how to work through past unresolved trauma so it no longer affects current uncertainties and anxiety (see my article: Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic Past).

Increased Stress and Anxiety About Routine Decisions
While uncertainty has always been a fact of life, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly  increased uncertainty and anxiety for many people (see my article: Common Reactions to the Pandemic: Fear and Anxiety).

This includes making what used to be considered routine decisions--like whether or not to dine out, take public transportation, go to the gym, go to the office, visit elderly relatives, go on vacation, and so on (see my article: Coping With Pandemic Reentry Anxiety).

Due to the health risks involved, especially for people with underlying health conditions, and the uncertainty about the future of the pandemic, many people find it stressful and anxiety-inducing to tolerate this ongoing uncertainty.

The Impact of Unresolved Psychological Trauma on Tolerance for Uncertainty and Anxiety
People who have a history of unresolved psychological trauma, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are especially vulnerable to increased stress and anxiety.

Although many people find it challenging to deal with pandemic-related anxiety, people with unresolved trauma are attempting to deal with the current uncertainties as well as the emotional triggers related to their past.

Clinical Vignette: How Unresolved Trauma Impacts Tolerance For Uncertainty and Anxiety
Let's take a look at a clinical vignette about the impact of unresolved trauma on current uncertainties and anxiety and how trauma therapy can help.  As always, this case is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information removed to preserve confidentiality.

People who knew Mark professionally in his role as a successful sales executive saw him as a calm, confident, agreeable individual.  

His superiors, colleagues and customers praised his work.  But underneath his seemingly calm and confident exterior, Mark was often plagued with doubts and insecurities most people didn't see.  

Although he appeared outwardly confident, inwardly he often felt like an impostor, and he feared others would see just how insecure he felt much of the time.  

To try to alleviate his anxiety, Mark confided in his wife, Pam, and his closest friends. And most of the time he felt relieved for a while.  But by March 2020, when his office closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic without any certainty it would reopen, no amount of reassurance from his loved ones helped Mark to feel better.  

He felt so overwhelmed by anxiety that he had difficulty sleeping at night.  And when he finally fell asleep, he often had pandemic-related nightmares (see my article: How to Conquer Your Nightmares).

Even daily activities, like grocery shopping, household chores or paying bills, felt emotionally fraught for him.

Although Mark and Pam both had successful careers and substantial savings, he worried relentlessly that they could be wiped out financially and lose their home.  Usually Pam could help Mark to calm down, but that changed at the start of the pandemic.  

No matter what she said to reassure him that they had the financial resources to get through whatever came, Pam was unable to get through to Mark.  She had never seen him like this before during their 10 year marriage and she was concerned.

Pam was aware that Mark had overcome a childhood filled with adversity to become financially successful.  But she also knew this same history often left Mark feeling emotionally vulnerable at times--never more so than at the start of the pandemic.

Realizing Mark's childhood history of emotional neglect and upheaval was getting stirred up for him and making his life unmanageable, Pam suggested he seek help from a psychotherapist who was a trauma specialist (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

During the history taking phase of therapy, his therapist learned from Mark that he grew up as an only child in a chaotic home environment where his parents could barely cope most of the time.  

Since they couldn't cope, his parents were unable to help Mark cope with anxiety.  They also had their own unresolved childhood trauma that was affecting them in the present circumstances (see my article: Intergenerational Trauma).

As a result, as a child, Mark had to try to cope as best he could on his own.  Not only was Mark unable to depend on his parents for emotional support, but he was often in the role of trying to calm his distraught mother when the father disappeared for weeks during one of his unpredictable alcohol binges (see my article: Children's Roles in Dysfunctional Families).

Although Mark did the best he could in his parentified role of being emotionally supportive to his mother, his efforts came at a high emotional cost to himself.  This included stress-related headaches as well as debilitating anxiety which none of the adults in his family or at his school seemed to recognize.

By the time he was a teenager, Mark was often in the role of pleading with the landlord not to evict them for rent arrears because his father was often out of work and his mother was too distraught to deal with the family finances.

Uncertainty and anxiety was a part of Mark's everyday life as a child until he was able to get away to college.  By then, his father had sobered up, the family finances were stable, and his mother was coping better with the relative calm in the household.  But the history of adversity had taken its toll on Mark so that he frequently felt insecure and anxious throughout his life.

As his therapist listened to Mark's history, she could see how this traumatic history was getting triggered in his current life circumstances, so she provided Mark with psychoeducation about it (see my article: When Past Trauma Affects You in the Present).

But his therapist was also aware that insight alone wouldn't be enough to resolve his problems. So, she spoke to him about how experiential therapy could help him to overcome the impact of his unresolved trauma so he could cope with his current circumstances.

Specifically, she talked to him about the effectiveness of a form of trauma therapy called EMDR therapy.  

EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (see my article: Experiential Therapy, Like EMDR, Helps to Achieve Emotional Breakthroughs).

As part of preparing to do EMDR therapy, Mark's therapist helped him to develop internal resources and coping strategies (see my articles: Overcoming Trauma With Somatic Experiencing and Using the Somatic Experiencing Technique of Pendulation to Calm Yourself).

These internal resources and coping strategies helped Mark to cope with his uncertainties and anxiety between his therapy sessions.  Although they didn't resolve his problems, they helped him to get by on a day to day basis so that his anxiety no longer spiraled out of control.

Over time, Mark worked on his unresolved childhood trauma so that the uncertainty of the present no longer triggered his past.  

The work was neither quick nor easy, but he made progress (see my article: Working Through Trauma: Separating the Past From the Present).

Like most other people, Mark still had pandemic-related concerns, but he was able to deal with them in a calm, objective way.  In addition, he had a realistic perspective about his current situation.  

Even though he had concerns about his current job, he felt sure he would find another job even in a worst case scenario.  

Trauma From the Past No Longer Gets Triggered in the Present

Whereas before he had insomnia and nightmares, after he worked through his childhood trauma, his sleep was restful and he no longer had nightmares.  And getting proper sleep helped him to stay calm.

Several months later, when Mark was called back to work a few days a week, he adjusted to this new change and looked forward to seeing his colleagues.  

In addition to coping better with pandemic-related uncertainties, Mark no longer felt like an imposter.  He felt genuinely confident in himself. 

Unresolved psychological trauma often gets triggered in the present by current stressors.  It can take its toll emotionally and physically.  

Experiential therapy, like EMDR, helps you to work through unresolved trauma from the past so it no longer affects you in the present (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Just Talk Therapy)

This allows you to deal with current uncertainties without the emotional triggers from the past because you're free from your history.

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

I work with individual adults and couples, and I have helped many clients to overcome unresolved trauma.

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.

Friday, August 12, 2022

How to Increase Your Tolerance for Uncertainty to Reduce Your Anxiety

As I discussed in a prior article, Global Pandemic Causes Significant Increase in Anxiety and Depression, anxiety fueled by uncertainty is now the biggest mental health problem in the United States and around the world according to the findings of the World Health Organization (WHO). 

Increasing Your Tolerance For Uncertainty to Reduce Anxiety

But even before the pandemic, other types of uncertainty contributed to anxiety for many people.  So, the focus of this article is on how to increase your tolerance for uncertainty so you can reduce your anxiety (see my article: Coping With Uncertainty).

Increasing Your Tolerance for Uncertainty to Reduce Anxiety

What's the Difference Between Fear and Anxiety?
In a prior article, What's the Difference Between Fear and Anxiety?, I made this distinction: 

Whereas fear is a response to a known threat, anxiety is a vague feeling of apprehension about an anticipated unknown threat (see my article: Self Help Tips For Coping With Anxiety).

What's the Difference Between Coping with Fear vs Coping with Anxiety?
When you're struggling with a specific fear, you can deal with your fear directly because it's known.  

For instance, if you have a fear of public speaking, you can deal with it directly by taking a class to help you become more comfortable with speaking in public. 

But the vagueness of anxiety makes it more challenging.

Tips to Increase Your Tolerance For Uncertainty and Reduce Anxiety
Although it's not easy, here are some tips to increase your tolerance for uncertainty that fuels anxiety:
  • Accept That You're Anxious: Rather than trying to deny your anxiety, start by acknowledging and accepting it.  Acceptance doesn't mean you like it or that you're being passive about it.  It's more about accepting that you have a problem as a starting point.  The more you try to deny and suppress it, the worse the problem will become.  It's better to admit it and have compassion for yourself.  Also, when you acknowledge and accept your anxiety, you're in a better position to do something about it (see my article: Awareness and Acceptance: Being Willing to See Things You've Been in Denial About).
  • Educate Yourself About Anxiety: Knowing that anxiety is currently the most common mental health problem can be comforting by letting you know you're not alone.  
  • Learn to Be Flexible With Change: When you're inflexible, you're more likely to feel stuck and unable to cope. But, in general, when you learn to approach change with a degree of flexibility, you're more likely to come up with ways to deal with change and feel better about yourself.  Over time, you'll be able to look back on times where you dealt with change and feel more confident about your current situation.  
  • Learn to Distinguish Between What's Possible vs What's Probable: Being able to step back to ask yourself whether your apprehension is possible vs probable is a useful way to get a better perspective.  To the extent you can make this distinction, you can reduce your anxiety about something that isn't probable.  You can also remember prior times when you were needlessly anxious about something that was improbable and compare that situation to the current one.
  • Get Information: If you're anxious, get information. For instance, if you're anxious about the possibility of losing your job (even though there are no known reasons for you to be anxious about it), you can seek information about other job opportunities in your field.  Just taking this step can get you out of an endless cycle of paralyzing anxiety by helping you to realize that there are other possibilities for you if the need should arise.  This can help you feel more empowered.

My Next Article
In my next article, I'll discuss how a history of unresolved psychological trauma can act as a trigger to increase your anxiety when you're dealing with uncertainty:

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

I work with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many people to overcome problems with anxiety (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?)

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, August 7, 2022

Coping With Emotional Distress By Using the Somatic Experiencing Technique of Pendulation to Calm Yourself

In my prior article, Global Pandemic Causes Significant Increase in Anxiety and Depression, according to the findings of the World Health Organization (WHO), there has been a 25% increase in pandemic-related anxiety and depression.  

WHO also indicates that this increase in anxiety and depression is probably just the tip of the iceberg.  

Given these circumstances, individuals who are struggling emotionally need a way to cope with these emotions, and one way to cope is using pendulation.

Using Pendulation to Cope With Emotional Distress

What is Pendulation and How Can It Help You to Cope With Emotional Distress?
Pendulation is a concept which is part of Somatic Experiencing (SE) (see my article: Mind-Body Oriented Therapy: Somatic Experiencing).

SE is a mind-body oriented therapy, developed by Dr. Peter Levine, which helps individuals to heal from trauma.

Pendulation is a useful technique to help individuals to cope with distressing emotions--like the pandemic-related emotions described in my previous article or any other type of distressing emotion, including emotions related to psychological trauma.

Similar to the pendulum on a clock, pendulation involves a shifting back and forth of emotions or body sensations.

Pendulation is Similar to the Movement of a Pendulum on a Clock

Specifically, you start by identifying the distressful emotion or bodily sensation you're experiencing and locate it in your body.  

After you notice the distressful emotion/sensation and where it's located in your body, you find a neutral or calm point in your body and you shift your awareness back and forth (or pendulate) between the distressful and calm experiences.

An Example of Pendulation
For instance, if you identified sadness as the distressful emotion and you locate the sadness as being in your throat where you feel a constriction (a welling up of tears), you sense into other parts of your body to find a calm or neutral point.  

Let's say you detect a sense of calmness in your chest.  You stay with that sense of calmness for a moment to give yourself a chance to experience it.

Then, move back to the sadness in your throat and stay with that for a moment before you go back to the calmness in your chest. 

As you keep going back and forth between the sadness and the calmness, you are pendulating between the two emotions.

As you continue to pendulate back and forth, notice what how the sadness changes.  There is usually a shift due to the integration of the two emotions.

If you have difficulty finding a calm or neutral place within yourself, you can find an external resource, like looking at a glass of water or looking out the window at a tree, and so on.

What If You're Unable to Identify the Distressful Emotion?
There are many individuals with a history of trauma who have difficulty identifying emotions, especially distressful ones.  

They might know they're struggling with a difficult emotion, but they don't know if it's anger, sadness or any other emotion.

If this sounds familiar to you, you can still use pendulation even if you can't identify the emotion.  

For instance, you might know you have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, but you don't associate any particular emotion with that sensation.

Even without knowing the distressful emotion, you can still locate an area in your body where you don't feel that sinking feeling--where you feel neutral or calm.  Then, you can shift your awareness back and forth between those two areas.

If you're working with an SE therapist, over time, you can learn to identify your emotions.  This takes practice. 

Even before you learn to identify specific emotions, you can use pendulation as a self help technique between therapy sessions to calm yourself.

How Does Pendulation Facilitate Emotional Healing?
According to Dr. Levine, pendulation is a natural process that facilitates emotional healing within the nervous system.

As previously mentioned, the shifting back and forth allows for an integration of these emotions, which facilitates healing.  

Pendulation Facilitates Emotional Healing

Whereas before you might have felt stuck in your distress, after you learn pendulation, you feel more emotionally resourced.  

Over time, as you sense the integration of emotions, you gain confidence that you can cope with uncomfortable emotions and you won't get stuck in a distressed state.  

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

As a trauma therapist, I work with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

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, August 6, 2022

Global Pandemic Causes Significant Increase in Anxiety and Depression

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) there has been a 25% global increase in anxiety and depression due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and they believe this is just the tip of the iceberg (see my article: The Emotional and Physical Impact of the Global Pandemic).

Pandemic Causes Increase in Anxiety and Depression

What Has Contributed to the Pandemic-Related Increase in Depression and Anxiety?
According to WHO, some of the contributing factors include the following:
  • Social isolation
  • Constraints in work life
  • Constraints in being able to seek emotional support from loved ones and community
  • Loneliness
  • Fear of getting the virus
  • Getting sick due to the virus, including long-term health issues
  • Worrying about underlying conditions that increase vulnerability to serious illness 
  • Pre-existing mental health issues
  • Inability to access health care/shortage of care
  • Inability to access mental health care/shortage of care
  • Grief due to loss of loved ones who succumbed to the virus
  • Financial worries
  • Uncertainty/fear that conditions will never improve
  • A sense of foreboding, helplessness or powerlessness
Health care workers and others who have been on the frontlines have been hit especially hard, which has triggered suicidal thoughts for some of them (see my article: Helping the Helpers Overcome Burnout).

In addition, according to WHO, women and children have been impacted more than men.

NAMI Advocacy For Increased Access to Mental Health Care
The National Alliance For Mental Illness (NAMI) has been advocating for increased access to mental health care.

Pandemic Causes Increase in Anxiety and Depression

In addition to their advocacy for increased access to mental health care, NAMI also offers an array of education and free support for those in need.

NAMI also has a Helpline and provides a telephone number for those in need: 
(800) 950-NAMI (6264)

Getting Help in Therapy
Anxiety and depression can be mentally and physically debilitating.

If you or someone you love is struggling with anxiety or depression, help is available.

You can access help from your insurance carrier or if you don't have insurance, you can contact the NAMI Helpline (see link above).

In New York City, some of the postgraduate psychotherapy training institutes also offer low-fee or sliding scale therapy, including:

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: What is a Trauma 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.


Keeping the Spark Alive in Your Relationship

In recent years, researchers have discovered that the initial phase of a new romantic relationship is characterized by new relationship energy (NRE).  NRE refers to that intense passion you experience at the beginning of a romantic relationship, which can be exhilarating and fun (see my article: The 5 Stages of Love From Attraction to Commitment).

Keeping the Spark Alive in Your Relationship

NRE occurs during the so-called "honeymoon phase," which typically lasts up to 2-3 years or so.  

This is the phase when you spend a lot of time thinking about and yearning for that person, and when you see each other, you can't keep your hands off each other.

The Brain and New Relationship Energy 
Dr. Nan J. Wise, cognitive neuroscientist, licensed psychotherapist and certified sex therapist, explores NRE in her book, Why Sex Matters.  

According to Dr. Wise, NRE includes high levels of dopamine flooding the brain.  

Keeping the Spark Alive in Your Relationship

Dopamine plays a major role in movement, motivation, perception of reality and the ability to experience love and pleasure. 

High levels of dopamine can make you feel giddy and euphoric when you're around your partner.  

In addition, you usually experience high levels of oxytocin, often referred to as the "cuddle hormone," and vasopressin, which makes you feel emotionally and psychologically attached to your partner.

So, it's no wonder NRE makes this phase of the relationship so intense.

Tips For Keeping the Spark Alive in a Long Term Relationship
As previously mentioned, NRE eventually diminishes.

The chemicals in the brain settle down and, if your relationship endures past this phase, your feelings for each other often mature into a deeper kind of love.

Keeping the Spark Alive in Your Relationship

While it's normal for NRE to wane after a while, many couples want to know how to keep the romantic and sexual spark alive in their relationship.

Here are some tips:
  • Keep Joy Alive: The ability to experience joy together is important, especially for a long term relationship that will, inevitably, go through ups and downs.  The ability to laugh together is important to maintaining the vitality in your relationship.  In addition, finding new and novel ways to be with each other can also keep the joy alive.  This could include you and your partner being more playful with each other and exploring new fantasies.
  • Engage in Open Communication: Being able to give and receive feedback openly is important to keeping the spark alive.  This means being open to hearing feedback which might not always be positive without getting defensive as well as your ability to talk openly and tactfully with your partner about how you feel about all aspects of your relationship, including sex (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).
  • Be Open to New Experiences: Whether this means exploring new interests, ideas or places or finding new and exciting ways to be sexual, being open to new experiences helps to keep the spark alive in your relationship (see my article: Being Open to New Experiences).
  • Be Your Own Person: Rather than merging together, find that balance between being your own person and being part of your relationship.  Maintain your own identity and interests as well as those you share with your partner.  Learn to compromise about time together and time apart.  Not only will being your own person allow you each to grow as individuals, but you'll both have something unique to bring to your relationship.  
  • Be Generous: It's easy to take one another for granted, especially in a long term relationship, so it's important to show your appreciation and to be kind and emotionally generous.  Instead of keeping score, pick your battles and know when to overlook certain things that aren't important in the long run.  Know your partner's love maps and talk about your own.
Getting Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help at some point.  

If you have been unable to resolve your problems on your own, you could benefit from working with a licensed psychotherapist.

A skilled therapist can help you to develop the tools and skills you need to live a more fulfilling life.

So rather than struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health professional who has the expertise and experience to help you.

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

I am a sex positive therapist who works with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is Sex Therapy?

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.