Wednesday, January 23, 2013

America: We Hate Nudity and Love Violence

Ever notice this trend? Many parents have little or no problem exposing their children to violence via video games, TV, moves... whatever. The same parents also flip out if their kids see a nipple. 

What the fuck is up with that?

[For the record, I don't care if my kids view violence or nudity... Shelly and I take it as an opportunity to explain context, the difference between fantasy and reality, etc.]

Anyway, why exactly DO we "protect" kids from nudity? To the best of my knowledge, there are no controlled experimental studies that suggest exposing kids to nudity has any negative effects. In fact, I would suggest teaching children to feel shameful of nudity is definitely harmful. Think how much better our society would be if more of us could shed the shame and guilt we feel about our bodies?

Shelly and I go to great lengths to expose our kids to things they need to know as adults, which includes fielding any questions that arise. Sometimes we're nude in front of our children. It's not a big issue.

As far as I can tell, our anti-nudity obsession is a direct result of Puritanical religious beliefs that have been generalized to the entire population. 


Wouldn't it make more sense to teach kids to celebrate their bodies? Teach them that the human body is a beautiful thing, no matter the shape or size? Wouldn't this be a more healthy approach? Couldn't we use nudity as a teaching tool... sort of like what we should be doing with violence?

Ah, America and our mixed-up priorities.

What do you think? Are we too protective? For those parents that actively shield their kids from nudity, what is your rationale? Leave a comment!


Sunday, January 20, 2013

Why is Confidence Hot? A Discussion on the Need for External Validation

Ever notice confidence makes people appear much more attractive?


Most of it comes down to our hatred of neediness. We don't like needy people because they require constant attention. They have little or no ability to provide their own validations. It's exhausting to constantly answer "Am I pretty" or "Do you really love me" questions.

There may be a subset of people that DO like neediness, but they're simply meeting their own need to be needed. In that case, it may be a workable symbiotic relationship. For the rest of us, we despise neediness.

Quite possibly the best thing we can do to make ourselves more attraction is to boost our self-confidence by eliminating the need for external validation. Get to a point where we can give ourselves all the validation you need.

The idea of being more confident will help you whether we're single or in a relationship. Confident single people get action. Confident "taken" people have better relationships. In either case, it will improve our lives.

Here's a few tactics to teach yourself to be more confident:
  • Don't complain. Nobody likes a whiny bitch.
  • Self-analyze. Spend a few minutes every day asking why we do what we do. If we're brutally honest, we'll admit when we did something to impress others or elicit validation. Consciously stop those behaviors.
  • Crush your fears by embracing the uncomfortable. Put ourselves in a position to do things that make us uncomfortable on a regular basis. This is the idea of BRUcrew.
  • Assume rapport with strangers. When we meet someone new, a simple trick to avoiding the awkwardness is to assume they're an old friend.
  • Don't be a perfectionist. Perfection is a way self-handicap. We beat ourselves up when we can't reach an imaginary level of proficiency, and it affects our self-confidence. Learn to be okay with "good enough."
  • Believe you can do anything. Having 100% confidence our abilities is a powerful method to project confidence. This takes considerable practice, but will allow us to achieve far more than we think is possible.
  • Use confident body language. Stand up straight. Look people in the eye. Use hand gestures. Talk with authority. Don't mope.
  • Always learn. Lifelong learning keeps you mentally sharp. Smart is confident.
  • Celebrate your strengths; ignore your weaknesses. We all have things about our bodies or personalities we don't like. Fuck 'em. People notice what you put on display. Accentuate your strengths.
  • Don't be offended. Ever. People that are easily offended are reflecting their own insecurity. They need to feel like they're right. When confronted with contradictory information, they either evaluate their own belief or disregard the source of the information. Being offended is one such method. The solution- be okay with people having different values, beliefs, and behaviors. In other words, don't judge. Practice unconditional love.
  • Focus on the successes, learn form failures. Then forget them. This is sort of like accentuating our strengths. If we focus on our failures, we'll feel a lot less confident. We should definitely learn from our failures, but also learn to forget them.
  • Learn to take a compliment. Nothing says "I'm not confident' like responding to a genuine confident with a depreciating statement. If someone says "Damn, you're hot!" respond with a polite "Thank you, I appreciate the compliment."
  • Learn to fake it. If any of these previous suggestions are too difficult, just fake it until you can actually do it. I learned this tip from my friend Christian- if you're not awesome, fake it until you are. 
 All of us have the power to be more confident. Like any skill, it takes practice. The more we eliminate the need for external validation, the more confident we become. The more confident we become, the more attractive we appear. Give it a shot. The benefits are well worth the effort. ;-)


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Contrast Effect: An Easy Way to Become More Attractive

As a society, we spend countless dollars (somewhere in the ballpark of several hundred billion dollars) on products to make us more attractive. Cosmetics, dental work, plastic surgery, fancy clothing, perfume and cologne... the list goes on and on.


Attractive people are treated better.

We all know this, even though it is difficult to admit. Beautiful people have it easier. They make more money, get more perks, and are considered to be more friendly, empathic, outgoing... whatever. It's known as the halo effect.

It's easy to justify our expenditure on products to make us more attractive because it actually works. There's a solid return on investment. 

There's a flaw in our thought processes, though. We assume we're always being compared to some preset cultural standard of beauty... like the pictures we see on the cover of magazines in the checkout line at the grocery store. 

But we're not.

We're compared to the people around us. It's known as the contrast effect. If you are in a group of five people, everyone will rate your attractiveness based on the attractiveness of the other four. How exactly does this work?

Let's assume you're a solid "7" on a 1-10 scale. You're hanging out with another seven, a five, and 2 fours. The presence of the five and 2 fours will make you and the other seven appear more attractive... maybe like nines. People will treat you accordingly.

The idea can be turned around. Let's say you're a six and you're hanging out with a bunch of eights and nines. You'll be perceived even lower than you would if you were alone... maybe a four.

You don't even have to be in the presence of others for this effect to work. If you enter a room after someone more attractive enters, you'll be perceived as being less attractive. If you enter after someone less attractive, you'll be considered more attractive. It's a concept called priming.

So what's the lesson from this post? 

If you want to seem more attractive, it can be as simple as being in the presence of less attractive people. Or entering a room after a less attractive person. It may seem like an exceptionally shallow concept, but it's how we operate. Knowledge is power. 

Give it a shot. Notice how people treat you when you're in the presence of more attractive and less attractive people. Post your experiences in the comments section!


Sunday, January 13, 2013

Thoughts on Therapy

A few days ago I received a comment requesting my thoughts on therapy. I frequently recommend people seek the help of a therapist, but never really do into detail beyond that. Having relationship problems? Odds are good those problems are a function of your own problems. Fix those problems before tackling relationship issues.

The Importance of Therapy

Mental health interventions can be invaluable to improving quality of life. As much as we would like to believe we have a firm grasp on our own thoughts and behaviors, we're more or less blinded by the biases inherent in our frame of reference. It's sort of like a fish not recognizing it's in water because it's the only frame of reference it's ever experienced. 

People around us, like friends and family, can provide a different frame of reference, but their perspective is often flawed by their own self-interest. They may offer advice, but it will likely be skewed because they will always keep their interests in mind.

A good therapist will provide that unbiased frame of reference that will help you see yourself in a different light. They train extensively to observe, understand, interpret, and offer opportunities to change your thoughts and behaviors in an unbiased manner. 

When confronted with unpleasantnesses about ourselves, we tend to get defensive and do what we can to avoid admitting our faults. If our friends are pointing this out, we'll make excuses, deflect, or employ some other strategy to evade actually changing.

Good therapists recognize that pattern. They call us out on our bullshit.They're not fooled by the facades we build. That ability is what makes a good therapist invaluable. We can't fix what we don't acknowledge, and they guide us toward acknowledgment.

What is a "Good" Therapist?

Therapy comes in many different flavors based on the theoretical framework the therapist studied. Like anything else, a therapist from one school will insist their approach is best. The problem is different types of therapy work better for certain types of people or certain problems. In short, we're all individuals with different needs, so our therapy needs will vary. There's no "one size fits all" solution.

The key is to find a therapist that will actually help, which may take some time. Good therapists will be completely honest about their abilities and will be more than happy to set up an initial consultation to assess the situation. If they think they can help, they will. If not, they can refer us to someone that can.

Understanding the basics of the major schools may help narrow that initial search. These are the major categories. Note I'm really generalizing these schools of thought. Many specific therapies would fit under one or even more of these general umbrellas. 

Psychodynamic school: This is the stereotypical "therapy." Couches. Taking about your childhood. A therapist silently nodding on occasion while taking notes. Remember the show "Frasier?" He was a psychoanalytic therapist based on the theories of Sigmund Freud. His brother Niles was a psychdynamic therapist based on the somewhat related theories of Carl Jung.

This therapy is effective at helping people understand the connection between past experiences and current thoughts and behaviors. Once these connections are understood, changes could be made to make positive improvements.

I was very skeptical of this method until actually going through it. I can credit much of the progress I've made in improving my life to this approach. 

The negative- this approach takes time. As such, it can be expensive. Insurance may not cover this therapy in its entirety, but most psychdynamic therapists have adapted to that limitation.

Humanistic school: The humanistic school is based on a simple idea: Humans are fundamentally good. Bad behaviors are a function of bad choices. Humanistic therapists teach personal responsibility and decision-making skills to help people reach their full potential, usually utilizing our motivations to meet our own survival and social needs.

This is an overwhelmingly positive approach to therapy. It emphasizes the idea that we have free will, and we can learn to use choices to maximize our potential. One of the hallmarks of the humanistic school is the tendency to resist diagnosing "problems." The other schools usually identify a problem, name it, then work to fix it. The humanistic folks empower us to improve. 

This specific school is also known fr the tendency to look at the human potential to always grow. As such, humanistic therapy would be appropriate for anyone, not just those experiencing problems. 

I actually utilize many of the tenants of humanistic psychology in everyday life, namely the idea that we always have the capacity to grow and learn. Furthermore, we have the capacity to help those around us [spouse, kids, family, friends, blog readers :-)] continually grow and learn. It's a major motivation to continue doing what I do.

Cognititve-behavioral school: The cognitive-behavioral school is an umbrella term that covers A LOT of different methodologies. Back to Frasier- remember his life Lillith? She was a behavioral experimental psychologist. As an experimental psychology student, I trained under a bunch of behaviorists. 

The cognitive-behavioral approach is heavily rooted in fixing problems. If you have a specific problem, these therapists will create a strategy to fix the problem. There's little concern for the past or underlying causes of the problem, they focus on solutions.

This type of therapy is especially effective for specific problems that may be holding a person back, like phobias or negative thoughts about a certain issue.

Potpourri: Okay, this school isn't really called "potpourri." It's usually called something like "eclectic" therapy. It's essentially a hybrid between different schools. Each of the above has distinct advantages and disadvantages. a therapist that can utilize all methods can be extremely effective.One specific method may be effective for some issues but not all.

I'll use myself as an example. After about six months of therapy with my psychodynamic therapist, we had pretty much solved all the relevant problems related to my earlier years. The last two months or so were mostly done in conjunction with Shelly and her psychodynamic-based theorist solving our relationship issues. Our last two individual sessions were spent geeking out about the field of experimental sexuality research. 

At that point, a cognitive-behavioral psychologist could have helped with very specific issues I was having that weren't easily addressed with the other methods. A humanistic approach could have helped improve my decision-making skills. [sidebar- my therapist was actually capable of that, but we agreed I had enough understanding of the concepts to do it myself.]

Difference Between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist

This is another important consideration when looking for a therapist. The major difference- psychiatrists are medical doctors, psychologists are not. As such, psychiatrists can prescribe drugs. 

My personal recommendation would be to seek out a psychologist first unless there's alife or death situation related to mental state. If they determine there's a need for drug therapy, they will refer you to a psychiatrist. Drugs work by screwing with brain chemistry. Before taking that leap, trying non-drug therapies is a good idea.

The Searching Process

Therapists, at least honest therapists, welcome the therapist-shopping process. They understand a comfortable fit is necessary for successful outcomes. The best method is to do more research beyond this post. Find therapists in your area. Check out their websites. Give them a call. Or email them as I did... I hate the phone. Yes, I still have issues. :-)

Once you contact those that seem like they'd be a good fit, I would recommend meeting in person. They will probably go through an assessment process that will vary based on their theoretical background. That process should be enough to determine which therapist would be the best fit.

What About Couples Therapy?

Couples therapy, or marriage/relationship counseling, can be an incredibly effective means of improving relationships. In most cases, the therapy involves learning good relationship skills. I highly recommend it for any couple experiencing troubles.

HOWEVER, there is a serious caveat to couples therapy. If one or both partners have significant baggage from past experiences, it's unlikely couples therapy will be effective. Each partner has to figure out their own issues before they can tackle their relationship issues. This is why I always recommend both people in a relationship seek individual therapy prior to seeking couples therapy.

This is a general rundown on my take on therapy. When done properly, therapy can result in amazing life-changing outcomes.



Saturday, January 12, 2013

Shitty Guy Skills: Determining Female Interest

A Facebook friend recently asked me about stalkers, which made me think about the nature of attraction, which led me to think about our ability to recognize attraction. Some guys exhibit stalker-like behavior because they mistakenly believe a woman has romantic interest in them. Unfortunately most dudes tend to be woefully bad at assessing if a woman genuinely likes them or is just being friendly. Men will often say women put out "mixed signals." 

This "mixed signal" phenomenon, however, is a problem with the receiver, not the sender. The woman is sending crystal clear signals. The man is the one butchering the message on the receiving end. The problem- we (men) don't always know the specific nuances of physical attraction.

We've all seen (or experienced) this situation- a cute girl smiles at a dude, then he assumes she's totally into him. In reality, she was just trying to be friendly. Worse, a woman is working as a waitress, bartender, or even an exotic dancer, flirts a little to get a better tip, and the dude assumes she's totally into him.

How do guys learn to discriminate true attraction from friendliness or playful "I'm not really interested in you" flirting?

Physical attraction is a biological phenomenon that occurs in the brain... lots 'o chemicals being released. That biology results in predictable behaviors. Knowing those behaviors is the secret. If you see them, she's into you. If not, she's just trying to be nice.

Before we get to the specifics, let's talk about default settings.  If you're a dude lookin' for love, you're better off assuming all women are disinterested as your default setting, then alter course if you detect the reliable signs of attraction. Too many dudes put out the desperate vibe when they're looking for a mate, which causes them to interpret friendly overtures as romantic interest. The result- you come off either creepy, desperate, or you scare away women that may be sitting the fence.

Okay, now that we're assuming all women are just being friendly, let's look at the reliable indicators of attractiveness.

Signs She's Interested

  • Eye contact: If a woman is interested in you, she will make direct eye contact. The more the eye contact, the greater the level of interest. Furthermore, our pupils dilate when we view someone we find attractive. If the lighting is consistent, this can help conform attraction. Warning- eye contact varies greatly among individuals. Just because one woman gives more eye contact than another isn't a good indicator she's interested. Her level of eye contact with the amount of eye contact she maintains with other people.
  • Open body language: Leaning in, opening legs, keeping arms uncrossed... all of these subtle body movements are indicators of attraction. If you're sitting at a table, look where she places stuff. Warning: If she places objects directly between the two of you, she's building an unconscious barrier. That's a bad sign. Also, if you're in a loud environment, leaning in may just be an attempt to hear you better. Consider your surroundings.
  • Asking questions: When we're interested in someone, we want to know more about them. The best way we do this is by asking questions. Most of us, when meeting someone new, will ask a predetermined set of questions. "What do you do? Where did you grow up? What's your favorite MM color?" If the questions seem like they're being read from a script, she's probably not in to you. If she asks follow-up questions based on your answers, she's genuinely curious, which is a good indicator of interest. Warning: Many people are inherently curious about others. Like eye contact, it's best to compare one person's questioning behaviors to other people they interact with.
  • Touching and invitations: If a woman touches your hand, arm, leg, neck... pretty much anything, it's a powerful indicator of interest. This is especially true if combined with open body language and eye contact. Same deal with "invitations" such as licking the lips (unless you're in a desert), biting lips, and playing with their hair.
  • Sympathetic Nervous System Responses: Sounds dorky, I know. But it works. When we're attracted to someone, our heart rate increases, face becomes slightly flushed, palms get a little sweaty, and we get a little more fidgety. It's our body preparing for fight or flight... or in this case- sex. It will most often appear as slight nervousness.
  • Laughing and smiling often: This is a good "supporting" clue that can go along with the rest. If a woman smiles and laughs a lot, it's a good sign she's interested. BIG warning: We're socially trained to smile a lot anyway, even to people we may not like. That's why this is more of a supporting cue than anything else.
  • "Jealous" behaviors: When both men and women are interested in someone, their behavior will subtly change if someone else threatens to take their place. We're not talking about catfight level behavior changes, they will likely become somewhat hostile toward the newcomer. I knew this dude in college that would bring one of his female roommates to the bar and act as a litmus test. If he met a woman and was gaging interest, he would give a secret signal and his female roommate would approach and start talking to them for a few minutes. The subtle reaction from the woman could help determine if she was really interested or not.
Okay, now let's look at the other side of the coin. What are signs she isn't interested in you?
  • Comparing behaviors with other dudes: I mentioned this above, but it's worth repeating: If a woman acts the same way with you that she acts will all guys, she's not interested. Re-read that sentence multiple times until you memorize it. This is especially important for women that might not be very good at flirting. Especially shy women may do the exact opposite of everything I noted above when in the presence of someone they may be interested in. The only way to determine interest would be to compare their behaviors around you with their behaviors around other men. The same? No interest. Different? There may be romantic interest there.
  • Looking elsewhere: If a woman is actively looking around when either of you are talking, she's not interested. She's looking for an out. Or she's using you to determine the interest of someone else by judging their reaction. Either way, it's not going to lead anywhere.
  • Lack of questions: If a woman is giving more statements than questions, it's a good indicator she's not interested. She's not getting to know you. She's engaging in small talk.
  • Closed body language: Crossing the arms, turning away, crossing the legs, and leaning away are all good indicators that the woman isn't interested in you.
  • Mentioning of other romantic interests: If a woman mentions she has a another interest (crush, boyfriend... whatever) repeatedly she's not interested. If she's complaining about another love interest, you've been friend-zoned. She's not interested in you romantically, she's just looking for a sympathetic ear.
A note about seduction: Seduction is the art of increasing and decreasing interest to increase attraction. Done well, it's a subtle but obvious game. Most women are very good at playing seduction games. They will give obvious signs of interest, then back off a bit. That cycle will repeat itself to build tension which increases attraction. 

The problem: Guys will often misinterpret initial interest followed by disinterest with seduction. A woman may meet a guy, show interest, learn more about him, realize he's not right, then back off. The guy mistakenly believes she's being seductive and will pursue despite very obvious signs of disinterest. That's where some dudes take it to the creepy level (cough, cough, stalkers, cough.)

The solution: Guys can employ a simple test. If the woman is interested then backs off, pursue for a short time, then back off yourself. If she's into you, she'll go back to showing signs of interest and both of you can play the seduction game by showing more and more obvious signs of strong attraction. If she doesn't respond with signs of interest, she is no longer interested. For the love of Raptor Jesus move on. Don't become a creepy desperate dude that gives the rest of us a bad name.


All men should be well-versed in observing and interpreting these signs of interest. They aren't especially difficult to understand, especially when multiple signs are used. Women rarely put out mixed signals... guys are just really bad at interpreting them. 

Both men and women readers- have anything to add? Have an interesting experience to share about misinterpreted signals? If so, leave a comment!


Friday, January 11, 2013

Staying Together for the Kids: Some Considerations

If you're a fairly regular reader of this blog, you probably know I have a pretty straight-forward approach to relationships. If you're in a bad relationship, either take the steps to really fix it or split up. The philosophy is based on a very simple idea: Life is too short to waste in an unhappy situation. For what it's worth, I apply the same principle to anything- your career, relationships with friends and family, where you live, your cell phone provider... whatever.

In regards to romantic relationships, the advice is pretty easy to follow... unless there are kids involved.

Well, actually the "really fix it" part is fairly easy assuming both partners really want to work on themselves and their relationship skills. It's the "or end it" part that gets complicated. It really boils down to a fundamental question:

Is it better for children to have two happy divorced parents or two unhappy married parents? 

The answer, not surprisingly, is complex. If parents are living in a loveless marriage with poor communication, little compassion or intimacy, or lots of poor conflict skills, the kids will be worse off. No matter how difficult it is to hide, kids will internalize what they see- two people that are just pretending to be in love. And some are definitely worse than others. The kids are learning the skills they'll use in their own relationships some day. To say "I just want my kids to be happy" while living a miserable existence is flat-out stupid. If we really want our kids to be happy, we have to model being happy ourselves.

Having said that, divorcing doesn't necessarily solve the problem. If the parents are acrimonious toward each other and display anger, bitterness, resentfulness, and other negative characteristics, the kids will still suffer. 

When talking to children of  that did not have parents that modeled a loving, healthy relationship, this trend is pretty obvious. Kids that came from loveless marriages are almost always acutely ware of their parents' lack of love toward each other, and they usually struggle in relationships... at least until they learn good relationship skills. Kids that had parents that divorced but were bitter (and usually used the kids as pawns) had their own serious relationship issues.

So what people DID learn good relationship skills from their parents? Those that had parents that were in a loving healthy relationship learned all the necessary skills to have happy, fulfilling relationships of their own. Those that had parents that divorced but still remained civil also fare pretty well... mostly because they were then free to enter a better relationship.

There's also an implicit message associated with the decision: 

Are we willing to actually work toward getting what we want out of life, or are we content to throw up our hands and powerlessly accept whatever crap we experience?

Our kids internalize that message, too. I hear a lot of married people talking about this in terms of "making a commitment." I see that as code for "I'm too much of a pussy to actually make things better." How much are we really willing to suffer? 
  • What if we have a partner that doesn't meet our needs? 
  •  What if they ignore us? 
  • What if they nag a lot or are overly critical? 
  • What if they're overly jealous and controlling? 
  • What if they verbally abuse us? 
  • What if they physically abuse us?

My point- most of us would draw a line somewhere in those examples and say "Yes, if I were in this relationship, I'd get out!" Most of us would say it's okay to break the commitment of marriage if we're being physically abused. But most would say we should suck it up if our partner just bitches a lot. There's a lot of gray area when deciding enough is enough.

Some also like to say things like "Back in the old days, grandma and grandpa stuck it out through thick and thin! We need to do the same!" Of course, the same people saying this don't seem to understand their own shitty relationship skills were probably passed on from grandma and grandpa to their parents, then to them. They're using the past to rationalize their own cowardice to break that cycle of unhappiness.

Instead of trying to figure out how much of a crappy relationship we're willing to tolerate, I'd simplify the question by simply asking "Is my partner helping me grow as a person?" If you can honestly answer yes, you're probably in a pretty good relationship and modeling that for your kids. If you have any doubts about the question, odds are pretty good you're in a bad relationship and are probably doing your kids a disservice.

In life, we can either take control and make ourselves (and our surrounding world) better, or we can stick our head in the sand and pretend we're powerless. Which lesson would we want to teach our kids? If we're really concerned about their long-term welfare, we need to seriously consider what kind of relationship we're modeling for them. Putting up a facade of happiness will only teach them how to make a better facade in their own relationships down the road.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

We Need to Ban Porn!

A meme pic is far cooler than stock photography!

Surprising opinion, huh?

Bet you didn't see that one coming. :-)

Okay, here's the real opinion- we need to ban bad porn. 

What constitutes bad porn? 

Bad porn is any pornographic material that depicts unrealistic situations, bad techniques, or misrepresents actual human desires. In short, it teaches people to have bad sex. I'd confidently say 98% of all pornography found on the Interwebz could be classified as bad porn. What exactly am I talking about? Here's a rundown of some things we see in porn that contribute to this problem:
  • The body image myth: Most dudes are ripped, most females are thin with huge-ass breasts. The depiction isn't necessarily bad, but the implication that these characteristics are generalized to everyone makes us feel like we're weird if we have different tastes. Some women don't like bodybuilders. Some dudes are ass men. What we actually like and what we think we should like are often not in sync, and porn doesn't help.
  • The erection myth: Dudes in porn instantly have erections that last forever. That's pretty accurate... if you're a 15 year old boy. We don't see the Cialis and fluffers. This sets up the expectation that men don't need foreplay to get aroused. Sometimes a helping hand is appreciated.
  • The lubrication myth: The same deal holds true for women. Vaginal lubrication, while a function of arousal, isn't automatic. Porn actors use a lot of lube, which they never depict on-camera.
  • Erogenous zone myth: According to most porn, women have two erogenous zones. Men have one. Porn ignores the fact that our entire body is an erogenous zone, and all of us have our own favorites.
  • Penis size myth: Yes, size does matter to most women. Yes, it's rarely a make-it-or-break-it issue in relationships. And yes, there is a point of diminishing returns with size. Porn gives us a very skewed perception on penis size (5 3/4" is roughly average), which is tough on the ego of any guy that doesn't have the last name "Diggler."
  • Frequency of activity myth: Porn usually follows a pretty strict set of activities: touching genitals, licking and sucking nipples, a little oral, vaginal sex until the dude ejaculates. Sometimes anal is thrown in. In reality, sexual activity is much more dynamic. Some of these elements may be present some of the time, but most of us have our own preferred set of scripts we follow. If we follow the porn script, we soon get bored.
  • Technique myth: Porn is filled with atrocious techniques. Why? part of it is probably due to cinematography. Gotta get the right angles and lighting can be a bitch. Still, every technique from massaging to oral sex to thrusting is often really, really bad. Not only are the techniques bad, but there's never any communication between partners on what each actually enjoys. For me, this is the deal-breaker. THIS is the reason I'd support a ban on bad porn. If you learned your sexual skills from porn, you'd be a really bad lover.
So there you have it- a rationale for banning bad porn. That DOES bring up a good question- is there good porn?

Actually, yes. There is. It almost always comes from two sources: female directors of professional porn and amateur porn. Both genres break down many of these myths. Both genres either depict real people having real sex or set up a scenario that accurately simulates real sex between real people. Or give the written word a try. Flexing your imagination muscles is always a good thing.

If you're going to be a consumer of porn, at least support good porn. ;-)


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How to Fight: Another Essential Relationship Skill

Any relationship will experience some degree of conflict. People, no matter how much we appear to be similar, always have significant differences. That includes your significant other. How we navigate those differences can determine the quality of our relationships.

Some people learn good relationships skills at a young age. Their parents have an awesome, healthy relationship and model that awesomeness. If this is you, congrats! Thank your parents.

Unfortunately, we have a tendency to expose kids to crappy relationships on a regular basis. Parents bring their emotional baggage and dysfunctional relationship skills into marriages. They then model this dysfunction to their kids while mistakenly believing "staying together for the kids" is a good thing. If we were one of those kids, we probably internalized a lot of bad relationship skills.

Conflict resolution was probably at the top of that list.

What does healthy conflict resolution look like? It's pretty much the same idea as asking for what you need in a relationship, which I covered yesterday. 
  1. Each of us shares our point of view in a calm, emotionless manner. 
  2. We confirm that they really heard and understood our partner's point of view. 
  3. We then look for possible solutions that are mutually beneficial.
  4. Implement the solution.
That's it. That's all it takes to overcome any conflict. It's much easier said than done, however. Why? We have a lot of shit that prevents this process from progressing smoothly. Here are the most common mistakes we make:
  •  We deny there's a problem. We like to say relationships are hard, then simply live with a ton of unresolved issues. It's code for "I don't want to put forth the effort to actually make this relationship great." If both of us follow this pattern, the relationship soon devolves into nothing more than a convenient but uncomfortable living arrangement. If one of us believes everything is okay but our partner believes there are problems, our partner will only tolerate being with us for so long before they search out greener pastures. If there's a problem, acknowledge it... even if our partner is the only one that believes it's a problem.
  • We have a need to be right. Dr. Phil is a tool. However, he does have the occasional bits of wise advice, including his phrase "Would you rather be right or be happy?" It ranks right up there with "We're not raising kids. We're raising adults." Anyway, the point is spot-on. If we always insist on being right, this process simply won't work. Negotiation, which is rooted in empathy and reciprocity, cannot happen if one partner is unwilling to accept blame, fails to take responsibility, and assigns fault to their partner.  Relationships are based on cooperation, not competition. Go into every conflict with the mindset that you may be 100% wrong.
  • We protect our ego. If we feel like we're under attack, we put up our defenses. We counter-attack. We yell. We swear. We call our partner names. We resort to physical violence. All of this immediately ends any hope of a logical, mutually-beneficial solution and always causes the conflict to blow up. Always stay calm, fight "nice" be resisting the urge to use attacking language, drag emotions into the conflict, and assign blame.
  • We lose sight of the goal. If we try to 'win' a conflict, we drag out the big guns. Those big guns could include past unresolved issues, past indiscretions by one or both partners, or the things we know would really hurt our partner. Or we may move to another area of conflict. We need to focus on the problem before us. Solve that before moving on. Clearly define the conflict, and only work on that one conflict.
If a conflict ever escalates to a point where a mutually-beneficial solution isn't likely, stop fighting. Back away. Take some time to calm down. Come back to the problem when both are more level-headed. If it takes multiple sessions, so be it.
If a conflict cannot seem to be resolved, do not hesitate to seek professional help. Good relationship skills are not intuitive if you're never seen them in action. Suck up your pride and get help. A good therapist can teach you the skills needed to be successful in a relationship.

If the conflict or conflicts persist, consider the possibility that your relationship may have run its course (see my comment about parents modeling bad relationships for their kids.) Relationships will naturally ebb and flow; they will experience highs and lows. At some point, one or both of the partners may have simply grown in a different direction and there's not a lot of common ground. That fact is usually evident in a steady increase in conflicts over time. Consider the possibility that the relationship may need to end for the sake of all parties involved. 

Conflict resolution is an essential relationship skill. Some of us learn it from a young age. Some don't. If you're in the "I have no fucking clue" category, don't fret. Conflict resolution is pretty easy to learn. It takes some time to avoid the sometimes automatic responses that make conflict resolution difficult (or impossible), but stick with it. As I've said before, life is too short to waste stuck in shitty relationships. Take control of your life and fix it! Or leave it. Either way, make a choice to do something.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How to Get What You Need From Relationships: Honest, Direct Communication

In my last post, I talked about the skill of active listening. After we practice that skill, we'll become better listeners. 


Now what?

The next step is working on communicating our own needs with our partner. In a healthy relationship, each partner will feel comfortable opening dialogue about their needs. If they have needs that aren't being met, they feel safe expressing those needs. That should result in a discussion where the couple finds a mutually-beneficial solution to the problem.

In unhealthy relationships, one or both partners do not feel comfortable expressing their needs. It may be the result of patterns developed earlier in life. It may result in one or both partners' reactions. It's not uncommon for one partner to feel angry or inadequate. It is as if the discussion is a direct assault on their self-worth.

The trick is to find a way for each partner to express their feelings in a safe environment without blame, condescending comments, name-calling, or other hurt feelings. That will only inhibit future sharing, which ultimately dooms relationships.

I would recommend using the following method:

Step one: The partner (A) with the unmet need shares their concern with their partner (B.) Be calm and direct. Say exactly what need is not being met including how you'd like that need to be met.

Step two: Partner B will practice good active listening skills by rewording the need and reading the emotional state of Partner A. This should be done in a clam, relaxed manner with no judgment, commentary, or opinions.

Step three: Allow Partner A to correct any mistakes in Partner B's interpretation. Once both partners are clear about the exact nautre of the issue, move on.

Step four: Partner B will now give their opinion. How can this need be met? What would it take for that to happen?

Step five: Both Partner A and Partner B will brainstorm possible mutually-beneficial solutions that take both sides into consideration. Both parties need to be able to make concessions if needed. Continue until a solution is reached. At some point, the desire to be 'right" may supersede the desire to come to a conclusion. Remember, the goal is compromise, not "winning."

That's it. It's a simple process that's exceedingly effective. I highly recommend developing special "rules" when sharing needs to keep each other on task and prevent the situation from devolving into a bitter argument.

  1. Always remain respectful. Do not resort to yelling, name-calling, or bring up old unresolved issues. 
  2. Keep emotions at bay. Emotions tend to cloud our judgment and create a situation where negative emotions escalate.
  3. Accept responsibility for the issues in your relationship. Realize most problems are the result of both partners' actions (or lack thereof.)
Just like any other relationship skill, this whole process takes process. Try it out on a few minor issues before tackling the big ones.

Happy conflict resolution!


Monday, January 7, 2013

How to be a Better Listener

Good relationships are based on open, honest communication. A major part of that communication involves the ability to talk to your partner. Unfortunately, many of us are terrible listeners. When other people talk, we have the tendency to nod, make eye contact, and other signs we're apparently paying attention.

It's a learned response, though. Most of the time we're not really processing what the other person is saying. We're either thinking of what we're going to say next or off in our own little worlds imagining what we're goin g to cook for dinner that night.

The result- communication completely breaks down.

The first step to good communication is actually listening to what your partner is saying. We need to become active listeners. We have to process what the other person is saying by thinking about it. Fortunately it's a pretty easy skill to learn. We'll break it down into two parts.

Part One

When your partner says something, reword it an repeat it back to them. If they come home from work and say "Today was a rough day. I had to file a lot of TPS reports." 

You respond with "I understand today was difficult because you had a large number of TPS reports to file."

That's all there is to it. Practice this technique for a few days. When it begins to feel more natural, move on to step two.

Part Two

Now we're going to interpret our partner's emotional state in our repeated response. Instead of just rewording their statement, try to interpret their emotions along with the cause. For example:

"I just got off the phone with my sister. She's such a bitch. I can't believe she wore my yellow dress to that party."

You'd respond with "You feel angry your sister wore your dress."

This gives your partner a chance to correct you should you be wrong about the emotion or the cause of the emotion. This process assures you're really hearing what they're saying because it forces you to interpret. Interpretation requires a degree of deep thought. Once we really hear what our partner is saying, we can then work on other more advanced elements of interpersonal communication.

Give it a shot for a week or two. When communication breaks down in relationships, the best way to get it back is to learn the necessary skills. This is the first such skill. Get to work!

My Experiences

This is sort of a sidebar that has nothing to do with the actual practice... just the story of why I'm pretty good at this skill. It may be useful for those of you that have people in your life that don't seem to be very good at listening to others talk. ;-)

I always assumed all people used active listening. I didn't realize most people didn't until my late 20's. Yes, I can be a bit dense sometimes.

I always did it out of necessity. I have a memory disorder called auditory processing disorder, which is sort of like dyslexia for hearing instead of vision. My brain holds on to auditory information a fraction of a second too long, which interferes with new information coming in. It requires me to decipher every part of a conversation, which includes processing what was said to give it context, watching body language, and reading lips. If I can decipher what a person says, I'll have already thought about it.

Of course, there's a serious trade-off. Like a dyslexic trying to read a textbook, my ability to follow a conversation is seriously hampered by loud environments, soft or high-pitch talkers, or party atmospheres. I hate talking on phones, too.  Auditory information without visual cues can be close to impossible to understand and is very mentally exhausting.

If you know someone that seems to suffer from the same problems, Google "auditory processing disorder." There's some great information out there to help people understand why they seemingly can't "hear", even if they have perfect hearing.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

What's the Deal with Sexual Orientation? Is Society's Prejudice Justified?

Sexual orientation, or which sex we're attracted to, has always been a fascinating topic. Specifically, I've been fascinated with the emotion behind the prejudice against gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals. Why do people care which gender another person loves?

Some History

I grew up in a small rural town. It wasn't as conservative as some other areas Shelly and I have visited in our travels, but it was rather typical. As kids and teens, we would routinely use "gay" to describe something we didn't like and "fag" as a derogatory term. I never actually gave much thought to the idea that people could be attracted to the same sex; it just wasn't in my sphere of experience. I didn't understand why someone would like a member of their own sex, but I had far more important things to think about.

When I went to college, my intro to psych professor discussed sexual orientation. He talked about the present research (mid-nineties at the time) and the possibility that sexual orientation could be determined by genetics or biology as opposed to a conscious choice. 

It was one of the first times I realized my view of the world was incredibly limited.

It forced some fascinating cognitive dissonance, namely the fact that sexual orientation could be outside the realm of free choice and my prior behavior toward homosexuality was nothing but ignorant prejudice.

Over the next few years, i studied lots of elements of human sexuality. During that time, the picture of sexual orientation came into focus. I had a handful of non-heterosexual friends that shed A LOT of light on my own perception of sexual orientation. 

Specifically, it made me realize that they weren't choosing to be attracted to the same sex any more than I was choosing to be attracted to the opposite sex. It was one of the first times I was able to really experience empathy.

When I became a teacher, I was thrust into an overtly hostile antihomosexual environment. Our principal at the time did nothing to stop bullying, including that coming from teachers. Over the course of a few years, a few other teachers and I managed to build a small community where we attempted to create a safe place for students. 

The stories they told were absolutely heart-breaking. They had been tormented with their feelings for years. Many clearly understood they were attracted to the same sex, but were immersed in a world that would severely punish them should they speak out. Most that did come out to their families were essentially abandoned. The few kids that were open about their sexual orientation experienced severe harassment. Many had contemplated suicide; a few actually tried.

Present Day

Since those early experiences, I've been a fairly vocal advocate of equal rights based on sexual orientation. It's one of the few opinions I express that I genuinely support (as opposed to many others which are just done for the sake of spirited debate.) Most of it is based on a combination of realizing my gay, lesbian, and bisexual friends are no different than my heterosexual friends. It's also based on science. Finally it's based on a sense of moral justice... I cannot justify treating a group differently based on my own personal sense of right and wrong.

Rationale for Homoprejudice?

I honestly cannot understand the opposition to homosexuality. Science is fairly clear and supports what pretty much any gay, lesbian, or bisexual person will say- they didn't make a choice about who they are attracted to. Based on that, prejudice against sexual orientation is no different than racism, sexism, ageism, or handedness.

Some people like to use religion as a rationale for their prejudice, but is that really warranted? Let's use Christianity as an example. Some sects and denominations are overtly anti-homosexual. Why? Because of a few passages that hint at it? What about the overarching theme of the Bible- treat others as you wish to be treated? And didn't Jesus preach love and acceptance? Could you imagine Jesus beating up a dude because he was gay? Why do we use the Bible to justify antihomosexual prejudice but yet stopped stoning women? What about other parts of the Bible that direct followers to stick up for those that have no powers? For example:

Proverbs 31:8- "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed."

Is there an asterisk after that passage that omits sexual orientation? 

Marriage is a popular, more acceptable means of expressing our homosexual prejudices. Some will use a rationale that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry will somehow ruin the institution of marriage. What the fuck is that about? As a married dude, I'm positive denying others the same right I have in no way devalues the relationship I have with my wife.

Some argue that allowing homosexual couples to marry will open up a floodgate of people wanting to marry inanimate objects, animals, or something similarly stupid. Marriage is a consensual activity. If one cannot give consent, one cannot get married. Simple but powerful idea.

Others like to argue the economics by claiming allowing homosexual couples to marry will somehow hurts us on a micro or macroeconomic level. Regardless of the legitimacy of their argument, it ignores the fact that heterosexual marriage would cause the same potential problems. If you're anti-marriage based on economics, that's cool... but be anti-marriage, not anti-gay marriage.

Sometimes people drag children into the equation by justifying homoprejudice on the grounds that homosexual cannot have kids. Of course, this ignores the fact that a significant number of gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals have kids. Sexual orientation doesn't eliminate the mechanics that allow procreation. That aside, if having children is so important, shouldn't we also have the same prejudice against heterosexual individuals that choose not to have kids?

Finally, many will justify their prejudice under the belief that eliminating prejudice will allow homosexuality to "spread." It's the "I don't want my kids to be turned gay" argument. Simple logic should dispel this idea by paraphrasing a gay friend "Why on earth would anybody voluntarily choose to ignore their biological attraction to the opposite sex to live a life of persecution and social rejection?!?"

What's Really Going On?

A few years ago, a line of research emerged that attempted to answer a question- is prejudice towards homosexuals a defense mechanism against an individual's latent attraction to the same sex? In other words, are gay-bashers so emotional in their prejudice because they're hiding their own desires toward the same sex?

The research, which used some pretty nifty experimental methods, seemed to indicate this is true. There's not enough data to reach a consensus, but there is enough to consider this a possibility.

Westboro Church? I bet all of the members are pretty far to the right of the Kinsey scale. :-)

I also think the prejudice we see toward homosexuality is based on the same principles that affect all our prejudices... we fear what we don't understand. It's no surprise people's perceptions of homosexuality change dramatically once they get to know a few people that are not heterosexual. We break down stereotypes we have toward groups once we stop seeing them as a "group" and begin seeing each other as individuals.

At the very minimum, prejudice against any group should elicit at least some feelings of injustice. Can we really rationalize poor treatment of any group of people? Do we have the right to infringe on the rights of others, especially if their rights don't infringe on ours? Are we really doing to use someone else's moral code to rationalize our own prejudice?

What do you think? Leave a comment, but be respectful. Intelligent discourse is welcome, but overt hatred will not be tolerated. ;-)


Saturday, January 5, 2013

How We End Our Relationships

The first post in the series talked about the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. The second post was a call to action if your relationship is unhealthy- either fix it or end it. This post digs into the uncomfortable topic of ending relationships.

How do people end relationships? Is there a way we should end relationships?

Let's start with the first question- what methods do we see when ending relationships. If you're in a bad relationship, you may be doing some of these right now. Or your partner may be doing them to you. Either way, all of these are signs the relationship has more or less ended for one member of the partnership, and they're trying to work their way out.

  • Positive tone honesty: This is usually very direct, sort of like ripping off a bandaid while eating ice cream. One partner will usually tell the other they still care for them, but no longer love them and would like to move on.
  • Verbal deescalation: This is sort of like the above tactic without the ice cream. You simply tell your partner you no longer love them, want to see other people, etc.
  • Behavioral deescalation: This is a slower method where one partner simply begins avoiding contact with the other. This may range from constantly busying themselves with outside "projects" to completely disappearing.
  • Negative identity management: This method can take many forms, but generally involves the breaker feel better by comparing themselves to the breakee. This may include behaviors like telling your partner both of you should start seeing other people or even trying to set them up with someone else.
  • Justification: This occurs when one partner simply lays their cards on the table by telling their partner they're not meeting their needs.
  • Active sabotage: his method occurs when one partner does behaviors that force the other partner to end the relationship. They're making themselves bad partners. This may range from the unhappy partner acting douchey and critical to ignoring and/or withholding sex and affection to having an affair. A sudden increase in conflict is a tell-tale sign of this method.
  • Taking a Break: Ah, the method popularized by "Friends." The idea is to give the other partner false hope by suggesting that the relationship may continue after a period of time.
  • Moving on before the relationship ends: The unhappy partner finds a better partner and begins an affair. This is fundamentally different than active sabotage because the breaker is looking for a replacement relationship, not just a relationship that will cause the present relationship to end. This almost always results in the unhappy partner making sudden, drastic changes to their appearance or behaviors.
There are probably a few others, but this pretty much sums up most of the popular methods.

So how should we end relationships? In healthy relationships, both partners are acutely aware of the state of the relationship, so neither is blind-sided. In this case both partners realize the relationship has run its course. Both mutually realize it's time to move on. It may be sad, but both are also eager to move on.

What about unhealthy relationships? In almost all cases, one person wants to end it while the other does not. Worse, that partner may be completely oblivious that the relationship is on the rocks even if they're aware the relationship is less than perfect.

It's probably a good idea to attempt to fix the relationship with the help of a therapist before ending it unless there's abuse. Even if it doesn't save the relationship, it will help both people understand why the relationship isn't working.  This will help both partners find some degree of closure and help prevent similar problems in future relationships.

If You're the Breaker... 

The decision to end a relationship is difficult. If your partner does not want the relationship to end, they will likely use some form of manipulation to keep you in the relationship. It's important to be completely honest, but don't be overly critical over your partner's flaws. Just accept that they cannot meet your needs. There's no need to unnecessarily vilify them.

Set a date to tell them of your decision. Choose a private place unless they may be dangerous. Anticipate anger or attempts to manipulate you into staying. If you've been working with a therapist, they can provide mediation if you feel it is necessary. Acknowledge their feelings, but don't apologize for making the decision to end the relationship. Be nice; don't get sucked into an argument. Once the decision is made, stick to it. Afterward, it's likely there will be lots of logistics to take care of (divorce, dividing property, child custody, etc.) That process is difficult and it may be helpful to remove yourself from their presence (live apart.) Having a plan beforehand is useful.

If You're the Breakee...

If you're the person being broken up with, the situation is more difficult. The relationship may have seemed solid even if you were aware of problems. It's important to know most people don't decide to leave a relationship without a great deal of thought. They probably did a few of the things listed earlier in the post in an attempt to distance themselves from you.

Odds are good you're still deeply in love with the person and will do anything to keep them. However, they may no longer love you. A good test is to observe their emotional reaction. If they express anger, it's a decent sign they still have feelings for you but you're not meeting their needs. Therapy could feasibly save the relationship, but only if they're willing. If you do try to fix the relationship, give it one sincere try. Put forth your best possible effort to fix your own personal issues, then work on your relationship issues.

If they have little or no emotional reaction, it's likely they no longer love you. In that case, it's best to move on. Don't become a crazy stalker. As difficult as that may be, the sooner you move on the better. In that case, accept their right to break up with you. There will be a lot of pain, both emotional and physical. The sudden withdrawal of endorphins and dopamine that were released when in their presence is one of the causes and completely normal. Celebrate the good times, and learn from the bad. Treat it as a learning experience. Both of you were likely at fault to some degree, so work on your skills for your next relationship.

Want more information? Here's a pretty good article about getting over a breakup.


Most relationships end. Being familiar with the patterns and warning signs that a relationship is nearing an end may help us fix it before it's too late, especially for the breakee. It may also spare us some of the prolonged heartache associated with living in a bad relationship. If we're the breaker, we may recognize the relationship is over and seek a quicker end.

So... do readers have any other ending relationship tips? Leave a comment!


Friday, January 4, 2013

Fix It or End It: The Only Two Options for Bad Relationships

In my last post, I discussed some characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships. I'm always a little surprised at the sheer number of people I encounter that indicate their relationship has major problems. Many times it's manifested as "My spouse has a serious problem with me running barefoot." When I dig a little deeper, that seemingly minor issue is a symptom for far deeper issues.

I shouldn't be surprised, though. I've been in bad relationships. I was married previously. My current relationship with Shelly hasn't always been muffins wrapped in rainbows. In both situations, I knew I was in a bad relationship for a long time before deciding to take action. The gist of this post is just that- a guide on how to take action.

Once you acknowledge you're in a bad relationship, a decision must be made:

Fix it or end it.

Simply continuing is not fair to you or your partner. Life is far too short to spend in a shitty relationship. If your partner keeps you from being the best you can possibly be (or vice versa), you're wasting the precious little time you have.


Most people that stay in bad relationships use a litany of excuses to justify and rationalize inaction. Some of the most common:
  • We have kids together. What's worse- having two happy parents that aren't in a relationship together or two bitter, angry parents modeling a loveless marriage? If you think the latter is better for your kids' well-being, please stop reading my blog.
  • We've been together for a long time. This is the anthem of the unhappy. No matter how much time and effort you've spent on anything, be it a relationship, career, or jig saw puzzle, we have to look at the effect it has on us right now. Imprisoning yourself in a world of misery for the future based on past happiness is flat-out stupid. Learn to rejoice the past, cut your losses, and create a better future.
  • "Everyone has problems. There are ups and downs in all relationships. Relationships are hard." WRONG. If a relationship is hard, you're doing it wrong. The hard part of relationships is recognizing and admitting our own faults, then fixing them so they don't pollute our relationship. There are lots of people in great relationships, and they do it with ease. Why? They're secure, healthy individuals.
  • The entire relationship isn't bad. Most relationships have some good elements. There are a few good times mixed in with the bad, and those few good times can be enough to motivate inaction.
  • We're working on it, but not really working on it. This may be the most insidious excuse of them all because it gives the illusion of improvement. In many relationships, this involves a series of behaviors where the relationship sours, both people change their behavior pattern for a period of time and the relationship temporarily improves, then both slip back into the same old destructive behaviors.
None of these reasons are valid excuses to maintain a shitty relationship, which leads back to the two possible options- really fix it or end it.

In my own relationships, I had to make that decision. I ended one, decided to really fix the other. Both situations ended up working out for the better for all parties involved.

Before we get to the point where we try to fix a relationship, we should probably assess if the relationship is worth saving. Here are few pretty easy cases:
  • If one or both partners are physically or emotionally abusive, the relationship probably needs to end, especially if there's children involved. 
  • If both people just aren't into each other anymore, the relationship should end. This is actually the best-case "breakup" scenario.
  • If one partner has no interest in continuing as a couple, it should probably end. You can't force someone to love another.
  • If the people are fundamentally incompatible (vague description, I know), it should probably end.
Here's a quick and dirty test. Ask yourself how you would feel if you never saw your significant other again. If your honest gut response is "relieved", it's time to end it.

Yes, it's hard to end a relationship. There are a lot of costs associated with the decision. There may be kids involved. There's shared property. Family. Common friends. Pets. However, deciding to leave a bad relationship may be the best thing for you personally. If you're not growing as a person, you're not living up to your fullest potential. If that's not motivating, your partner is suffering the same fate. You're keeping them from being the best possible person they can be. If you have kids, you'll spend their childhood modeling bad relationship habits. Where do you think your bad relationship habits came from? Are you comfortable knowing you're setting them up for the same strife you're experiencing right now? If the relationship needs to end, end it.

There's more gray area if both people really want the relationship to continue, but have significant issues that cannot be overcome. This is where we REALLY fix the relationship. I would strongly suggest giving it one last shot with the understanding that using the same methods that failed to resolve issues in the past will not fix current problems. Most relationship problems stem from the bad relationship patterns we learned earlier in life. We simply don't have the tools to fix our own problems, let alone relationship problems.

In that case, I would highly recommend seeking individual professional help. A good therapist can help us work through our own issues so we can be part of a healthy relationship. IT'S IMPORTANT FOR BOTH PEOPLE TO DO THIS! Once each person has worked through their issues, then we can seek the help of a good couple's therapist to teach us the relationship skills to make a great relationship.

If only one member of the couple seeks help, the relationship will fail. This is common when one person is blamed for the problems in the relationship, which is never the case. BOTH people need to solve their issues or the relationship will continue to suck.

If you're in a bad relationship, I challenge you to take action today. Really fix it or end it. Life's too short to take any other path.

The next post in the series will discuss how we end relationships.



Thursday, January 3, 2013

Am I In a Bad Relationship?

This is the first in a multi-part series about healthy relationships. I'll be discussing what constitutes a healthy relationship,what patterns of behavior define an unhealthy relationship, and what to do if you're in a bad relationship. 

First, what does a healthy relationship look like? Most healthy relationships heavily feature these qualities:
  • Respecting each other as individuals, which includes accepting their thoughts, opinions, decisions, activities, and social network. If they want to be a professional dominatrix, we help them shop for whips.
  • Excellent communication, including nonjudgmental active listening, willingness to compromise, and seeking mutually-beneficial solutions to problems. If they hate the way we put the toilet paper on the roll, we acknowledge how they feel and work out a solution that makes everyone happy.
  • Fairness in financial arrangements, household and parental duties, and time allowed to devote toward individual pursuits. I'll change all the poopie diapers if you give me the time to go for a long run on the weekend.
  • Honesty and accountability in all aspects of the relationship, which includes mutual trust and the ability to accept personal responsibility. If your emotional baggage is dragging the relationship down, admit it and fix the problem.
  • Maintain an atmosphere of safety where each partner is free to express themselves in thoughts and actions. Each person should feel the freedom to say or do what they want, which could feasibly include ending the relationship.
A shortened version- each partner helps the other grow as a person.

So what about bad relationships? 

There are a million possible negative behavior patterns found in relationships... here are a few:
  • We try to change our partner. We spend a significant amount of time and effort trying to change others, which is always futile. The only people we can change are ourselves. If your partner doesn't want kids, trying to convince them otherwise simply will not end well.
  • We expect perfection. We have a relationship ideal (think fairy tales) and hold our partner to that standard. If your relationship ideal comes from Disney movies, you're not going to be very successful in the love game.
  • We expect early or better days of the relationship to last forever. Almost all relationships start off great because both partners are deluded by brain chemistry, which causes us to ignore faults. When that passes, we hold our partner to that same early standard. He's not going to give you flowers and poetry every day anymore. She's not going to give you enthusiastic blowjobs after a night out at the bar anymore. We're not in a relationship with the person that was wooing us; we're in a relationship with the person they really are.
  • We expect our partner to meet the needs we should be meeting ourselves. We rely on our partner to give us affirmations to fuel our self-esteem, which eventually turns the relationship into a job for them. Need them to compliment your new dress to feel good? That's a problem.
  • We try to force them to love us. We believe if we love them enough, all the relationship or individual problems will disappear. Contrary to popular belief, love doesn't conquer all.
  • We ignore reality and fail to fix the significant problems. The relationship may be crumbling but we delude ourselves into thinking everything is okay (or it's just a rough patch.)This is the classic "They [insert relationship-ending behavior] with no warning at all! I thought everything was great!" situation. Everything wasn't great. You just deluded yourself into ignoring how shitty the relationship became.
  • One or both partners have no ability to empathize. Successful relationships require partners to see things from the others' perspective, which makes it impossible to really love and trust each other.
  • We expect our partner to know what we want and need. None of us are mind-readers (though it's not a hard skill to fake.) If we don't have excellent communication to express our needs, anger and resentment develop.
  • We lack real intimacy. Intimacy is developed via open, honest reciprocal self-disclosure. We essentially make ourselves vulnerable to each other.
  • We don't understand how trust works. There's a tendency to go to extremes of either blindly trusting a partner or having no trust in them at all. In healthy relationships, trust is adjusted based on relationship dynamics and situations. If you're blindsided by your partner's behaviors, see the comment above about ignoring significant problems.
  • We have too much emotional baggage. All of us bring our childhood and past relationship baggage into our present relationships, which results in unhealthy relationship patterns. In essence, we don't know how to be in a relationship. When both people fail to acknowledge and actively work to learn to fix their emotional issues, relationships fail.
  • We're in a relationship with the wrong person. Compatibility is a tricky issue. We like to think opposites attract. While we like the novelty, it soon wears off. In reality, we need partners with shared goals, values, and desires. Sometimes we look at a few "surface" traits (like hobbies or a mutual love of tacos) as an indicator of compatibility, but it's the stuff under the hood that matters. We often try to make a relationship work with someone that's fundamentally incompatible with us.
These are just a few behavior patterns that define unhealthy relationships. In my next post, I'll discuss what can be done if you are in a bad relationship. I'll give you a hint- it requires that both partners acknowledge that they're in a bad relationship.

Part Two: Fix it or end it!


Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Build a Better Relationship by Learning to Fight. Literally.

 What if there was an activity you could do as a couple that would bring you closer, make you more attractive to each other, make each of you more self-confident, feel safer, help you lose weight and gain muscle, make you more flexible, improve physical endurance, give you better conflict resolution skills, and ultimately leads to hotter, more emotionally-connected sex?


No, just kidding. 

Golf is lame. 

Unless it's used as an excuse to either drink in excess or race golf carts. Anyway, I digress.

For about a month, Shelly has been talking boxing, kickboxing, and jui jitsu classes at a local gym (San Diego Fight Club.) She's been showing me what she's learned during that time, which manifested itself in "fights" several times per week. I've joined her at the gym for the last two sessions. The result- we spend a significant amount of time fighting... literally.

And it's awesome!

Most people wouldn't consider learning fighting skills to be a relationship builder. After all, we often associate fighting with negativity. The benefits have been great, both individually and as a couple. 

Shelly started because she wanted a new challenge and wanted to learn to defend herself better. It was another activity to add besides her normal running/ weight training/ Bikram yoga combo.

I started because it was obvious she was loving it. Honestly, I also needed to learn to counter some of the stuff she was learning. Her right cross was getting really fucking strong. 

I suspected I would personally like it. I wrestled in high school. Even though I sucked, I really enjoyed the experience. This adds a whole new dimension to those experiences, and has been an awesome experience.

I did not expect Fight Club to create such a positive relationship benefit. We've always done physical activity together, like running and weight training. We've done the occasional spin class together, and I even joined her for a yoga class. None have been like this

Here are a few we've experienced:
  • Improved communication. Working on various punches, kicks, and jui jitsu positions and moves requires us to give each other instruction, positive feedback, and occasional criticism. If we fail to communicate, improvement is hampered. Once that pattern is established, it's easy to generalize to other aspects of our relationship from parenting to discussing our emotional temperature.
  • Builds trust. Fighting requires each of us to trust the other won't go too far and do something to hurt the other. If Shelly's practicing a lapel choke, I have to trust she's going to let go when I tap out. Same deal with practicing punches. I have to trust she's going to punch the pad and not my defenseless face. Like communication, that trust gets generalized to other areas of the relationship.
  • Norepinepherine and dopamine. These two neurotransmitters are released when we engage in physical activity. Norepinepherine is adrenaline, which makes our heart beat fast, palms sweat, increases attention and focus, and all sorts of other physiological things that prepare us for battle. Dopamine is the chemical that rewards us; it makes us feel really good. It's also the neurotransmitter that makes activities addictive. Both are released when we fight. They're also released when we fall in love. Interestingly, your brain usually misinterprets that causal relationship, which makes you feel some of that early relationship spark with your partner.
  • Increased confidence = sexy. Both men and women will list "confidence" as one of the most attractive traits in the opposite sex. Nobody likes a needy little bitch. Fighting teaches, among other things, how to take care of yourself. While it's possible to take this too far into the realm of douchiness, fighting can definitely cure unattractive self-loathing insecurity.
  • Better body. Intense, full-body exercise builds incredible muscle balance in a way few other physical activities can match. Fighting burns lots 'o calories. The result? Hotter bodies.
  • More testosterone. Physical activity produces testosterone. Fighting leads to even more. Testosterone boosts sex drive. 'Nuff said.
  • Less arguing; better arguing. There seems to be a bit of a catharsis effect with physical fighting. Shelly and I don't argue too often, but we do so even less since we've been doing this. There could be a lot of potential causes for this, but the net effect is undeniable- our relationship has less strife.
  • Endorphines. These neurotransmitters are released in response to painful stimuli, which is inevitable when fighting. Endorphines also make us feel good and have a calming effect after the physical activity, which helps amplify the effects of...
  • Oxytocin. This neurotransmitter makes us feel closer to others, especially our significant other. When we pass the "honeymoon" phase of a relationship, oxytocin is released any time we touch each other (kissing, massaging, etc.) As odd as it may seem, the fighting (at the gym or at home) we do causes us to feel a closer bond with each other due to the physical contact.
  • It gives us something to do. Let's face it- finding new activities to do as a couple can be tough. You can only go out to dinner and the movies so many times.
Fighting may seem like an unusual couples activity, but we've found it to be an awesome relationship-builder. These ten reasons cover many of the benefits. If you're in a relationship and want to get closer to your partner, give this a shot!