Christmas-proof your relationship

“Advent is the perfect time to clear and prepare the Way. Advent is a winter training camp for those who desire peace.” – Edward Hays

xmasdisasterTomorrow is the start of December, and it’s so easy at this very special time of year to get caught up with the chores of Christmas: the cards, the gifts, the cooking .. and put our couple relationship on the back burner until the New Year.

Christmas is a wonderful time, but sometimes the stress can take its toll on our relationships, with many couples seeking counselling from me after the holiday season, when stress, the family, disappointed expectations (and one too many Baileys) have resulted in relationship melt-down.

December is a great time to take stock of our relationships, and to make sure loving each other is part of the run up to Christmas. Those of you who read my posts regularly will know I’m a firm believer in the power of small sustained actions to build and sustain loving relationships.

So for the third year in a row I invite you to follow my new and improved Relationship Advent Calendar Challenge, a great way to build acts of love into each day from December 1st, as my seasonal gift to you.

And if you haven’t met your sweetie yet ..  you’re still warmly invited to take part .. use this time to practise the actions I suggest on your friends and family.

So, what’s a “Relationship Advent Calendar?

A lot of advent calendars are about getting, but this one’s all about giving, because in a relationship we give to receive. Every day in December until Christmas, I’ll reveal a new action to build and sustain your couple relationship.

Subscribe to the blog, follow me on Twitter or Facebook and & get 25 acts of love delivered to your inbox each day, starting tomorrow December 1!

I’ll be doing all of these right along with you .. I’d love to hear how you get on ..

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Are you excited about this advent project? Do get in touch using the Comments box below or my Contacts details to the right of your screen .. happy adventing!

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If You Want Great Sex with a Woman Read This!

zoey-kneesAs a relationship coach and counsellor I think about sex A LOT. I talk about sex all the time with my clients, my colleagues and also (excruciatingly for some) with random people in my life.

Research shows that couples who are constantly exploring ways to make sex more pleasurable are five times more likely to be happier in their relationship and 12 times
more likely to be sexually satisfied.

I can’t speak for my generation but my sex education in the 1980s was poor: what little information there was came with a large side of shame, and (no wonder) by Year 11 I heard reports of girls being sexually assaulted and girls disappearing from class due to teen pregnancies.

So my sexual education came from family, my sexual partners, peers, books and magazines, as well as A LOT of studying academic research papers since I became a relationship therapist. BTW if you fancy a bit of light relief or a cheeky gift for a loved one I’d recommend Bonk, by Mary Roach, a hilarious look at how awful a lot of sex research has been.

And I read about and saw the ‘pornification’ of culture and I worried about how our kids, with no coherent national sex education strategy, are learning about sex from porn. Girls and boys are being told sex isn’t about mutual communication and trust, but about male pleasure, thrusting and violence. And both sexes are suffering. In my practice I speak with couples where ‘normal’ sex means 5 minutes with the lights off, and with young couples where use of porn from an early age has caused premature ejaculation or porn addiction.

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And then along came OMGYES, a sexual pleasure research website. After hearing about the site I was dying to have a good look and I was lucky enough to be offered a preview.

The team behind the site carried out research with more than 2,000 women, aged 18-95, and created a website where real-life women – not actors – share their stories and demonstrate their techniques. Then, users get the chance to practice through touchable simulations.

Because .. different strokes suit different folks ..

The topic has been so taboo that even scientists hadn’t studied the specific, various ways of touching that feel good for different women. I can actually vouch for how taboo because none of the four people I asked to anonymously comment on the website for this article felt comfortable doing so .. just wow!

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OMGYES is for women and the people who love them (approximately 50% of users are female/male). Women can use the site to explore more ways to touch themselves and guide their partners, while partners are adding new, research-based tools to their toolbox.

Fifty videos are organised in 12 sections (pictured above) and for a one off payment you can access the site as often as you like, watching videos in any order and at your own pace. The site also uses tech to the max, with touchable demos where users can practise what they’ve learned (useful if you don’t have a vulva guys!). I found the site ran a bit slow on my (very old) tablet, but on the laptop it was fine.

I was expection the site to be purely about technique, and it was a pleasant surprise to find sections on ‘Framing‘ and ‘Signalling‘ .. those hugely important bits of sex that happen in our brains and come out of our mouths.

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I’ve been recommending this site to clients and colleagues, in fact I might have become a bit of an OMGYes bore, but beauties like this don’t come along every day. I’d recommend it for single women as well as women in a relationship, and when the time comes I’ll be recommending it to my daughter as part of an ongoing conversation about what she should expect from sexual maturity.

To learn more, visit the website at omgyes or follow them on Facebook and Twitter. And tell me what you thought of OMGYes .. email me or contact me through the website.

Fighting for your relationship ..

“If peace cannot be maintained with honour, it is no longer peace”

Lord John Russell (1792-1878)

The most common problem that couples report when coming to me for relationship counselling is arguments that they find difficult to successfully resolve. In other words they’re stuck in a pattern and they need some help to  find alternative ways to deal with it. This might seem daunting, but is usually straightforward enough, with both partners’ effort, to quickly resolve.

The second most common problem, and one which has usually been going on longer than the ‘conflict style’ above, is when a couple come to me and say “We never fight; I just don’t love him / her any more”.

The second style can often be more damaging because it becomes invisible .. couples pride themselves on keeping the peace when in actual fact levels of resentment are rising and both partners are compromising their personal integrity in the interests of “the relationship”. The partner who has an affair because ‘my husband / wife doesn’t understand me’ is often guilty of not opening up enough to allow their partner to understand them because of a fear of conflict.

Contrary to what people with both these conflict styles believe, conflict is actually necessary and healthy for two people in a relationship (and of course within families) in order that individuals be able to express their true selves and to be understood, to maintain clear personal boundaries and to enable growth.

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Something to keep in mind is that both of these conflict styles have an effect on children living around these patterns of behaviour. Research by the Gottman Institute suggests that

” .. parents whose conflicts are characterized by mutual hostility often produce children who are unable to wait their turn, tend to disobey or break rules, or expect others to conform to their wishes.”

While couples whose conflict style involve withdrawal can produce children who are shy, depressed, or anxious.

And of course your children will learn and repeat your conflict style in their own relationships.

To put this learning into practice in your relationship ask yourself which conflict style tends to dominate between you?

If it’s the first practise spotting when you feel the temperature rising in your exchanges (faster breathing, tension, heightened temperature) and taking time out, at least 20 minutes, to let your breathing slow to normal and resume the conversation using only “I” statements, eg I believe / think / feel that ..

If you tend to withdraw from conflict practise spotting when this happens. Again take at least 20 minutes time out to work out what your position is on the issue at hand and return to your partner. Find a good time for both of you to discuss it, explain your position briefly, and calmly, thank them for listening, tell them you would love to hear their side and give your partner some time to process before they get back to you. This will avoid their tendency to ‘cave in’ to avoid the anxiety of conflict.

Both these strategies will feel unnatural at first, but with time and practise will become second nature as you experience the benefits of being understood.

Sometimes getting your relationships moving forward needs an outside perspective. If that’s what you need get in touch with a well qualified and experienced relationship coach who should be able to work together with you to achieve your relationship goals.