Welcome to Ask Dr. Victoria--your source for affordable professional advice. Write me about sexuality, relationships, death and dying--whatever is on your mind. In 25+ years of experience, I have developed exertise on many kind of issues. Sex and relationship issues are the primary areas people ask about.
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My Wife Is Having An Affair
I found out by accident that my wife has been having an affair. She's known the other man for a long time, and eventually things got physical. She admitted it when I first confronted her, and said she was sorry. I don't think she's been happy with our sexual relationship since our 3rd child was born two years ago. For a long time before that, things were very good between us. She won't tell me any details about what she has or has not done with her lover, though she says they "haven't gone all the way." That sounds like high school talk to me, and doesn't help the anger and pain and sadness I feel about this. She hasn't promised to stop seeing him, which is what I want. Mostly, I want to save my marriage. I love her and I don't want my children to have to go through divorce like both of us did. What can I do?
Affairs Can Be Healed
First of all, find a good couple's therapist if you can. Though they always cause pain, affairs can be healed. It's important to find out what made her vulnerable to someone else in the first place. It's probably more than feeling unsatisfied with the sexual relationship you and she have, though you both need to understand that part of it too. A skilled therapist can help you did deep on both sides and start to communicate more completely. It may take a long time to rebuild the trust that was compromised by the affair. She needs to understand that, and not expect you to just get over it easily.
The most challenging issue is whether or not both of you are willing to commit to building the kind of marriage which is based on profound trust, abiding love, sexual pleasure, forgiveness, and creating a solid family for your children to grow up in. Acccomplishing all that is the journey of a lifetime, and one which can bring both of you more joy than anything else in your lives. Blessings to you both!
I've just learned that the husband of my college roommate is about to die. Both of them are only in their mid-40's! "Linda" and I were once very close, but she never told me that "Jimmy" had a heart condition, and that he struggled with alcohol addiction over many years. I don't know exactly what the medical situation is, but a mutual friend told me that Jimmy literally has only a few days to live. I'm in shock! They have four kids! Will they survive this? What kind of support can I offer? We live in the same city now, but I don't know how to help.
Death Is No Respector of Age
There are no easy answers for how to help people facing such a tragic ordeal. Do let Linda know that you've heard and that you care. Then take your lead from her. Often, people receive a lot of support from family during the time of a death like this, and in the days or weeks right afterward. After that, and especially after a few months, some people assume that the bereaved ones are better now, and that bringing things up will only remind them of their pain. That's a mistake. It's safe to say these events will be fresh in the minds of Linda and her kids for many months or years to come. Check in with her regularly and ask her how she's doing.
The fate of the four kids will probably be her major concern. If you can find ways to connect with them and offer them support, that will mean everything to her. Giving her an occasional break could also be a gift, as in "let me come over and stay with the kids, so you can go out to dinner."
Ultimately, death at any age reveals the spiritual resources of those who face it. If they are fortunate enough to have developed these resources, it will be easier for them. If people believe that there is nothing to fear in death--the message of almost every religion or spiritual path--coming to peace about events like this is more possible, though still never easy. It is human nature to resist death, and to feel great sadness at leaving those you love. Of course this sadness is greater when someone dies at a young age.
The pain of children who lose a parent to death is very real and must be addressed. It forces a child to learn that nothing is certain in this life--a hard lesson even for adults. Ideally, children in this situation experience an outpouring of love and support from their family and friends, so that they learn they can count on that no matter what. Grandparents , other relatives and friends can make a huge difference in this.
You are the kind of friend that the family needs now. Thanks for being that.
"I've lost my libido."
I'm 53, married, and the mother of two teenagers. While I've been getting through menopause, my libido seems to have gotten lost. My husband and I used to both enjoy my strong interest in sex. Not any more! What's wrong with me? Is it all downhill from here? Now it is true that once my husband and I get going, things are fine, but if he never brought up sex, I don't know if I'd ever even think of it. The old urges just don't happen much. I don't sit around thinking about sex all day like I used to. Is there any light at the end of this tunnel?
Things do change, but it's definitely not over.
Sometime after 50 (or 60 or 70) the sense of urgency of sexual need often diminishes. For many women, though not all, this happens around menopause. Some women give up on sex at that point. They say "I'm just not interested any more," and they think this is the new normal, for them at least. It's not! Barring major health issues and treatments, and certain medications, most people don't really loose their libido, even at quite advanced ages. As your question shows, what changes is the sense of urgency about sex--the overwhelming "I want sex!" feeling many people have often when young.
It's very important to know that your sexuality is built into your cells--your skin, your eyes, all of your organs, and your whole body. The pleasure you found in loving touch at age 1, age 10, age 20, and whatever age you are now is a permanent part of you. So is your ability to be aroused and to reach orgasm. In your 50's, you are just entering the stage of sexual life which can be far more enjoyable--even thrilling--than anything you've experienced before. What's important is to maintain (or resume) some kind of sexual contact with your partner. Learn to enlarge your ideas about what "sex" is; it can be so many, many different things, and the path to exploring those is to start; accept your husband's invitations, and do your share of inviting him to touch and be touched. Be assertive about the kind of touching you want. Intercourse does not need to be the only--or even the main--thing on the menu for lovers who are past wanting to make babies.
A good book that develops these themes very nicely is Better Than I Ever Expected, by Joan Price. Another valuable one is She Comes First by Ian Kerner. You might also be interested in my book Ecstatic Lovemaking. All are available on Amazon.
My husband is losing interest in sex!
My husband of 25 years has suddenly lost interest in sex. Sex has always been so important to both of us, and it's been so great! I'm afraid he's losing interest in me because I'm aging and my body is not everything it was. He says he's just tired and he wonders if the new medication he's taking is causing this. We are in our 60's now, and I'm really worried that we may be losing our sexual relationship altogether. Do you have any advice for us?
New sexual practices are wise after 50
Certain medications do affect sexual desire and sexual ability. Seeing a sexually literate physician to explore this issue would be a good first step.
Few couples seem prepared for the fact that sexual needs and abilities change with age; there's no getting around it. In men arousal takes longer and requires more direct stimulation to the penis. Erections may become less hard and less reliable. In women, there can be many changes including feeling less desire, more concern about her level of attractiveness, and needing longer and more direct foreplay.
Many couples make the mistake of thinking that these and other changes mean that their sex life is over. That is a terribly wrong conclusion! What's really over is the early phase of their sexual journey--the phase that was designed for the purpose of making babies and satisfying men. Intercourse-centered lovemaking becomes problematic for many people sometime after 50 (or 60 or 70). What works is lovemaking where female pleasure is the centerpiece. When momma is happy everyone is happy, and when a man finds out that he can provide an endless sequence of intense orgasms just by knowing how to stimulate the clitoris with his finger or his mouth, he feels empowered and relieved of performance fears. She Comes First by Ian Kerner offers a good discussion of this principle.
Couples who have learned to enjoy the traditional approach, and who have learned how to include female orgasm in it, may think they have nothing more to learn. They are wrong. There is a practice of structured, sustained clitoral stroking, which gives women experiences of their capacity to reach orgasm very quickly and very frequently, regardless of age and fitness and initial desire. Nicole Daedone's book Slow Sex explains just how to do this.
None of this means that intercourse is undesirable or obsolete; intercourse should be one item on the menu, not the main course every time. Most of the time, things work out best if the focus is on female pleasure and orgasm first. I've mentioned just a few of the changes in traditional sex that open up new realms of pleasure and adventure to people at every stage of life.
This has been a long way of answering your question. My advice is to seek out a path to lovingly communicate to your husband how much you want to be with him in an intimate way, and see if he will join you in the adventure of designing a whole new, customized way of lovemaking for this stage of your life.
My Request for Forgiveness Was Denied
Last year, I wrote a sincere letter of apology to a friend. I had realized that I had hurt her feelings badly, by voicing an opinion about a personal matter of hers that was really none of my business. I knew then that she doesn't find it easy to forgive, because I had seen her go through a lengthy miserable process with her sister. The sister hurt her feelings and my friend was not about to forgive her, not ever. (I don't think the sister apologized like I did, though.) I'm trying to say that maybe I should have been prepared for what happened, which was that she didn't respond at all for a long time. When she did, she didn't express any appreciation for my letter. She criticized it instead. She didn't care for my statement that everything had been my fault, and that I was truly sorry. She found my letter "demanding," and had nothing good to say about it. She certainly didn't take any responsibility for the falling out between us. She expressed several criticisms and made some demands of me. I don't see anything good happening between us now. I've really done everything I know how to do. I never like to loose a friend. Quite the opposite--I keep my friends for decades, and am still in touch with my long ago high school classmates and teachers. Do you think I should do more?
Sometimes wisdom means letting go.
Your "friend" doesn't sound like much of a friend. Friends want to repair problems in the friendship, and they take some responsibility for accomplishing that. Friends respond with kindness if you take the risk of apologizing. You sound like a person who wants to maintain and nurture all of your relationships. That's a good quality, but remember that you cannot do that unilaterally. We all encounter people who prefer holding grudges to working things out. We can extend compassion to them, but it's not a good idea to invest too much in them. You didn't mention her age or yours. Maybe when she's older she will learn that holding grudges does not serve her. Unless she lets you know that she's had a change of heart about that, it's probably best to silently bless her and let her go.
Divorce Ruined My Life
My parents always said they cared so much about family. Last year, when I was just starting college, they suddenly said their marriage was over and got a divorce. My brother and I are still in shock! They seem to think that because we're "almost launched," it doesn't matter to us that they have destroyed our family. Each one of them seems to blame the other one, and they say things had been bad for a long time, but they were keeping things together for us. Well, thanks for nothing. My brother thinks it's more my mom's fault, and I think it's more my dad's fault, but my brother and I agree that the whole thing is awful, and we'll never forgive them for lying to us. I feel like I can never trust either one of them again. For that matter, I don't know it I can trust anyone except my brother. Do you thing seeing a shrink could help?
Forgiveness Is the Answer
I can appreciate your feelings. Having our parents disappoint us in such a major way hurts. There are a few points you might want to consider, though:
1) When we decide to forgive, we do it for ourselves. I forgive in order to become a better person, and a happier one. Until I forgive, the person I'm holding a grudge against has power over me--power to change my moods, and power to interfere with my present life. I miss a major opportunity to grow when I cling to the idea the any situation was entirely the other person's fault
2) Forgiving people who have changed for the better and who apologize sincerely when they hurt us is relatively easy. What's hard--and important--is to forgive the ones we think don't deserve it. When we have forgiven everyone, we experience true freedom, and the ability to fully forgive ourselves. Not before.
3) Figuring out which of your parents is more to blame will not help you. All divorces involve mistakes made by two people. In many sub-cultures, people still believe that divorce is an evil act which must have villain; it has to be someone's fault. In trying to avoid being that villain, people who think this way go to great lengths to tell themselves and others that the fault was entirely the other person's. It's safe that divorce is never completely the fault of one partner. Maybe it will help you to realize that when either of your parents gives you that story, what they really mean to say is that "I never wanted things to turn out like this for you."
4) Learning to forgive can be a lifelong journey. Nothing could be more worthwhile. And yes, seeing a supportive therapist could definitely make a difference. If you can learn to trust the therapist, that person can help you mourn your family and give yourself the gift of forgiveness toward both your parents. How fortunate that you and your brother have each other.
Some of these ideas originally came from a similar question that came into my blog: rumisecret.wordpress.com. Forgiveness is a lifelong challenge for people of all ages and walks of life.
Family Healing: Is It possible?
My first wife and I divorced over 30 years ago. All four of the children we had together are grown now and doing well in their marriages and careers. Between them, they have produced 7 precious grandchildren. How lucky could we get??
Both my ex-wife and I stopped drinking after we split up, and later, we both remarried. Both of us feel our 2nd marriages have been better than the first one. Over the years, though, our four children have let us know that they suffered greatly over the break-up of their original family. Although we were never vicious toward each other, and tried to carry out our divorce in ways that would be less terrible than a lot of other divorces, apparently it wasn't good enough. Our two daughters have been especially vocal about how we disappointed them, how hurt they were, and how they will never, ever get divorced no matter what, because they don't want their children to suffer the way they did.
Now my ex-wife and I are thinking about getting together for a kind of meeting that will include our current spouses and as many of our children as want to come. Her husband and my wife are okay with the plan. There's no operating manual for this, but the goal is to bring some peace and healing to everyone if we can. What do you think of this idea? My sister says it's crazy and might blow up in our faces. She says what's done is done, and everyone needs to accept it. What do you say?
Healing can happen but there can be issues.
As a culture, we still have rather primitive ideas about divorce. No matter how long it's been, some people prefer to hold on to their anger and their grudges, rather than do the sometimes intimidating work of healing. Being able to acknowledge your mistakes and apologize for pain you've caused is not common. Many people would rather not think about the past or talk about pain they've suffered. Congratulations to you and your ex and your current spouses for trying to do something that could be tremendously valuable to all of you, especially your grown children.
I would suggest that all of you attend some Al-Anon meetings as preparation for your gathering. People who are active participants in a 12-step program learn what it means to make amends: it means fully accepting responsibility for harm you've done while saying nothing at all about what you think the other person's part in some old problem was. You and your ex-wife probably need to offer to make amends with your children. Acknowledge their pain and loss, and apologize without making excuses. If they don't want to talk about it, or don't accept your apologies, that's their privilege as adults.
Those of us who have been through divorce tend to grossly underestimate the pain our choices caused our kids. Back in the day, we had a stack of rationalizations about why it was okay to break promises, break up families and change partners, and somehow expect our kids to be happy about it all. As a couples' therapist who has been through this process with countless couples (as well as in my own life), I can say for sure that in the huge of majority cases, children are decidedly not happy about having their families broken up. They miss their missing parents when they are little, and they still mourn the loss when they are middle-aged or older. When their parents insist on holding on to old grudges and blame, their children suffer more, and they are left with no role model for something every adult needs to be able to do--forgive. Forgiveness of others and forgiveness of self is fundamental for emotional and spirtual growth as we age.
If--even in the long run--your meeting eventually leads to more forgiveness than there has been, it will have been a success. I wish you well.
Mom won't accept that I'm gay
Although I came out 6 years ago, my mother still hasn't accepted the fact that I'm gay. I've been in love for two years now with the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with. As soon as we can afford it, we're planning to move to a state where we can get married and have our marriage recognized. My mother says that she won't come to our wedding, and that the person I love will never be welcome in her home for any reason. My mother goes to a very conservative church, and she's gotten more and more involved in it in the past few years. They believe that being gay is a choice and a terrible sin. Anytime I let her bring it up, she tells me I could "change and be forgiven." My dad is less religious and more accepting, but he refuses to stand up for me with my mom. The whole situation makes me really sad and angry too, and I haven't been able to come up with any way to change it. Can you help?
You are not alone
Although our society is moving toward social and marital equality, LGBT people everywhere agree that the pace is painfully slow. Families like yours where a parent is influenced by anti-gay prejudice being advocated by a religious group can be very resistant. Fortunately, many religious leaders and groups are beginning to advocate a loving, non-judgmental attitude. The Presbyterian Church is now ordaining gay clergy. Leaders as different as Rick Warren and the Pope have come out on the side of a loving attitude toward for gay people. Political leaders like President Obama are advocating for equality at last. In my own practice, I 've found that parents who are stuck in old ways of thinking can learn that such prejudice does not really represent the message of any faith. Parents like these need to connect with peers who share their world view, but who have made the shift toward loving acceptance of their children. Getting involved with PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) can really help with this. They provide support, education, resources and a chance to be part of a community that accepts gay people fully. Here's the link to their website: http://community.pflag.org/Page.aspx?pid=194&srcid=-2.
If your parents are unwilling to use this resource now, you and your fiance' can get a lot of help from them yourselves. Also, welcoming churches will accept you with open arms, and being part of a community that affirms the value of all human beings and all human love can mean a lot. Having a helpful therapist to assist you in difficult times can make a difference too.
Blessings to you both and thanks for writing.
My daughter is growing up too fast
My 15-year-old daughter has the body of a fully mature 25-year-old. After a slow start, she matured so quickly last year. Suddenly, our little girl is voluptuous in a way neither I nor my mother ever was. Men wink at her on the street, and they come on to her in any public place--even restaurants and movies. She has no idea how to respond, and I worry constantly that she'll get hurt, or find herself in a situation she doesn't know how to handle. Even my husband and I don't know what to make of her large breasts. I've always been a pretty confident mom, but parenting a cute 11-year-old Brownie is a lot different from this. What should my role be now?
Normal Adolescence Is Challenging
The changes that adolescents go through can be confusing to everyone. The little girl or boy disappears forever, and is replaced by a new, at first unrecognizable person who looks like an adult, and soon enough becomes one. A girl's journey may be especially challenging because of our culture's obsession with the female body. Take your cues from your daughter about how to support her. Most adolescents prefer not to have a lot of verbalized attention to their bodies. Instead, watch for opportunities to give subtle, but positive messages. Help her to understand that breasts of any size are lovely; they are part of the exciting process of becoming a woman--a person capable of giving birth. Similarly, menstruation is something to be welcomed and affirmed as part of that same process.
Help your daughter to learn that how she dresses can affect how men respond to her. There are times to wear jeans and a big shirt; there are times to wear a party dress. Even if she chooses well, some men will make inappropriate comments; help her to understand that she is not responsible for that.
Daughters may not admit it, but they care how both their parents respond to their bodily development. If you can let your daughter know that you welcome and appreciate her growing womanliness, it will make the transition easier for her. Mothers and fathers have their own transition to make at this time. I'll make some comments on that at another time.
A Loving Friendship, But No Sex
Although we still have a loving friendship, my husband and I seem to have lost our sexual connection. That used to be a strong part of our relationship, but now, it's non-existent. I don't know what to do. I feel lonely and unconnected to anyone in that special, intimate way sex provides. I don't understand how or why this happened. He's older than me, but he's always said he would never be one of those people who gives up on sex. As for me, I'm definitely someone who planned to never give up on that wonderful part of life, but here I am anyway. I'm really upset about it, and determined to change things. I've told him I don't plan to live a celibate life much longer. I always have opportunities for on the side relationships, but so far I've turned them down. We did a few sessions with a counselor, but nothing changed. My husband brought up the idea of an open marriage in one of the sessions. Do you have any wisdom for us?
Communication is Needed
Finding out what's underneath such a significant change in your marriage seems like the first thing to do. Both older men and older women often experience pretty big changes in their sexual desires and/or abilities, and there's so little information available to help people with the transitions they may need to make. Both men and women may decide it's easier to withdraw from sex completely than to face or expose their new realities. Bodies change. Wrinkles happen. Muscles weaken. The woman who loved being on top may find that her aging knees demand some new positions. The man whose erections were always strong and reliable may find that neither is true any more. If he or his partner buy into the idea that being a good lover is all about erections, he may keep his distance to avoid feeling that he's failing. A sensitive woman can reassure him that his ability to express emotion is more important than producing erections on demand.
You don't give your age or his, but you too will face some of these issues at some point. A woman who believes she can't be a good lover without the body of a 30-year-old may also withdraw. A sensitive man will make clear that he's more interested in the heart and soul than in bodily perfection.
Eventually, both genders need to learn that later life intimacy can be joyful--even ecstatic--but couples need to reinvent their lovemaking as they age.
If you're both willing, start talking and start touching again. If you need help, you may need to interview several therapists to find the right one for you.
If the will to reconnect just isn't there, open marriage is an option which some people prefer to divorce. Like any lifestyle, open marriage has its risks and benefits, and its and pros and cons. It works for some, but what makes it work or fail has not been adequately studied.
Suicide Seems Like the Only Way Out
I was deployed three times in Afghanistan. On my last tour, my best friend was blown up 20 feet away from me. He was 19. He always said he was "positive" he would make it back home to the girl he was going to marry. He was one of 15 guys killed on that mission. I've had to walk over body parts, and once I turned over a soldier I thought might need help, and found his whole face and chest blown off. Once I was part of the clean-up team that went to a village where 9 little kids had been mistakenly killed along with people who looked like their mothers and grandparents. Blood, bodies, and body parts everywhere. I can't stop thinking about it.
One buddy of mine didn't die. He "just" went home missing both legs and his right arm. Too many other guys to count have gone home with brain injuries and the effects of seeing things no one should ever have to see. Now that I'm back home, I can't sleep, and I get spooked by any loud noise day or night. I have no interest in socializing, dating or even sex. I don't like to be around my family too much because they keep asking questions I don't want to answer. If my mom and dad knew everything I've been through, they'd be as depressed as I am.
I think suicide is the only way out. I'm 23 years old. Living another fifty or sixty years with these memories torturning me every day and every night is more than I can face. Have you ever heard of someone like me really getting better, and becoming able to live some kind of decent life?
--no name in Ohio
DON'T GIVE UP!
First of all, if you are feeling suicidal right now, please go right now to any hospital, and ask for help. Otherwise, call 911 or information and ask for Suicide Prevention; call them today.
And yes, I absolutely have seen people come back from unbeiievable trauma, and you can be one of them. Our God-given resilience allows human beings to come back from torture, abuse, rape, the loss of precious loved ones, and even the loss of body parts and functions. There are quadraplegics that have found ways to be happy. There are concentration camp and torture victims who recover and go on to meaningful lives. Most relevant, there are veterans who have seen all the things you've seen, and have found their way back to a life that includes meaning and joy. You need contact with people like that. Your letter is unsigned, but if you email me, I will send you some names of people who are willing to share their experiences with you, I INVITE OTHER VETS TO CONTACT ME IF YOU ARE WILLING TO BEFRIEND SOLDIERS LIKE THIS.
I cannot offer you personal experience with your military journey, but I can offer the experience of working with people who've experienced many different kinds of loss and trauma. The summary of it all is that recovery is possible no matter how severe the wounds. I also want to offer you my heartfelt thanks for your service. In saying that, I represent millions of Americans.
Healing from deep trauma such as you've faced is a profound spiritual and emotional journey. You need and deserve a team which includes clergy, psychotherapists, and life strategists. You need support from those who know what you've been through, and you need support of people who love you even if they don't know all about where you've been. If you have or have ever had any religious faith or affiliation, I'd suggest starting with a pastor, priest or rabbi who might be willing to form the team you need. Even one you don't know will be likely to try to help you. Most mental health professionals will also offer you at least one complimentary session if you ask for it.
Don't hesitate to write again, and God bless you.
I am a Vietnam vet, and I'm writing you on Memorial Day. It's a hard day for me every year. I have terrible memories of my time in Vietnam. When I was 18 years old, I had a job bringing back bodies by boat on the Mekong Delta. Three different times, the body turned out to be one of my buddies. The oldest one was 24 years old. Eventually, I got hit myself. I guess I was lucky, because I only got hit in the leg, and I didn't lose the leg. I did lose my hearing in one ear when a bomb exploded too close to me. In a way, the worst thing was when another guy took a bullet for me. I didn't know him too well, but I knew he had just gotten married before he was sent over, and his wife was pregnant. We were standing on the boat, and he pushed me out of the way when a sniper started on us. He died in the helicopter on his way back to base. I've thought of him every day since then. I ask myself why he had to die, and I didn't. So many guys died who deserved to live. I've never been sure I deserved it, and I don't know why it worked out that way. When I got back, a lot of people at home acted like the whole war was my fault.
By now you can probably see why the VA shrink says I have PTSD. I guess I do, but you'd think I'd be over it after all these years. The VA in my town says I have to wait 90 days before I can see a shrink again. They have a lot of people waiting for help there. I doubt you can do anything for me this way, but I thought I'd see if just writing about this stuff helps me.
You Can Recover
First of all, thank you for your service! I don't think that can be said often enough. I agree with President Obama when he says that the way many Vietnam vets were treated is a national shame. We have to make absolutely sure it never happens again.
The survivor's guilt you describe often comes along with the PTSD. There is no certain answer to why one lives and another dies in war. Almost all who serve struggle with that.
Having to deal with the dead bodies of your fellow soldiers at age 18 is unimaginable and would cause almost anyone reactions like the ones you describe. Post traumatic stress disorder does not have a time line unfortunately. For most people, it takes skilled treatment--not just time--to fix it.
The thing is, you can get better. You can even get over it, if you get enough of the right help. Sometimes it's a long and painful process. You do need to talk about it all in a safe situation. You need a totally trustworthy person who will help you express all of your feelings in an intense emotional way. Eventually, you can develop profound compassion for that 18-year-old boy who faced more misery and fear than most people ever even imagine.
That boy survived, and now he helps others as a paramedic; that is a very, very good thing.
Here's a suggestion. I believe most private pracitce psychologists and other mental health professionals would assist you regardless of your ability to pay. I've been trying for awhile to start a movement in which every therapist agrees to provide free or very low cost services to one veteran and his or her family. I do this myself, and many of my colleagues are also willing.
If you have someone you trust at the VA, do anything you can to get more time with that person. Write your congressman; write the President. But if you don't have that kind of established professional relationship, call one of the following organizations and ask for referrals in your area. You can also ask a doctor or member of the clergy for suggestions. Try Google; put in "PTSD psychotherapist" and your city.
The organizations to check out in your area include:
California Psychological Association
California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists
California Clinical Social Workers
You have carried this burden long enough, dear friend. Don't stop until you find the help you need. If it's not happening, email me again or call me. God bless you and thank you.
I've just figured out that i'm a sugar addict. I thought cigarettes, alcohol and drugs would be the end of it. If you include prescription drugs, I've been addicted to all three, and I've been feeling sort of smug for the last two years since I stopped smoking and drinking in the same year. Now I'm hearing doctors with good reputations say that sugar is just as addictive. When I heard that, I felt like they were talking about me. I have to have my sweets every day, and every night too. I convinced my wife to make desserts every night years ago. A lot of times I have cake or pie after dinner, and then I have some later at night when I'm by myself watching my favorite late night comedy shows.
Once I start eating sweets, it's hard for me to stop. it's pretty similar to the way I used to be about beer or whiskey or cigarettes. Once I got started, I wanted more and more, regardless of the results.
I asked my doctor about sugar as an addiction, and he seemed to think the idea was ridiculous. He said thinking that chocolate cake and cocaine are the same doesn't make sense. Then he started talking about all the sweets he likes. Unlike me, he's not overweight. He said "moderation in everything works best," and then he walked out of the room. Time for the next patient I guess.
I'm fat. I get tired easily. I don't exercise even though I know heart disease runs in my family. Now I have something new to worry about--sugar! It's always been my friend. What do you think?
--Overweight in Madison
New Research On Sugar As Addictive
First of all, I'm not a physician. I can't give you the best information about the effects of sugar on your cholesterol or your risk for diabetes. However, I have worked with many addicts, and have been a 12-step member for many years myself. Like you, I had to work hard to get cigarettes and alcohol out of my life. One thing I learned along the way is that freeing yourself from an addiction greatly increases your sense of joy and satisfaction with your life. The process starts with a feeling of deprivation, and ends with a wonderful sense of freedom.
Major Health Risks
There is new research supporting the idea that sugar is addictive and that it's a major health risk. Dr. Robert Lustig can be found on YouTube giving a lecture called "Sugar: the Bitter Truth." He and other doctors and scientists believe that heart disease, cancer, diabetes and other major health problems are linked to the widespread use of sugar. And sugar is everywhere--not just in the obvious places like candy, cakes, cookies and ice cream. Sugar or the equivalent high fructose corn syrup are in almost every food that comes from a box or can or bottle. Check labels on cereal, bread, canned vegetables, and fruit juices. Sodas are among the worst examples of concentrated sugar, while "diet" sodas and all artificial sweetners except stevia pose other potential risks.
On a scientific level,we have a lot to learn about sugar. But those of us who have issues with it know who we are. For us, it's best to think of sugar as a great thing to get out of our lives. Alcoholics in recovery learn that the fine cabernet we used to think made dinner special is an illusion. Happiness and and freedom come from leaving it alone. The sooner we learn to think of sugar in the same way, the better.
Losing weight and getting healthy takes an inner decision and a strategy you're willing to follow. You can find some great resources for that process in Kitty Rosati's books such as The Rice Diet Renewal. Blessings on your journey!
Aging Is Hard!
I don't know what to do about the steady decline of my energy, my looks and sometimes my memory. I reached 65 last October, and I feel like I'm sinking faster than some friends I've known ever since high school. Some of them have had facelifts, and gotten new, baby-faced partners. One of them travels constantly almost as if he'd die if he stayed home for awhile.
I don't want to divorce my husband or get a facelift, or spend all my time on the road. But I can see why people do things like that because getting older is so scary. Heads used to turn when I walked into a party, and even until somewhere in my 50's, men were always trying to proposition me or propose to me. Now, they look past me at parties, and even my husband seems to have lost interest in me romantically speaking. We used to have a really hot intimate life, so that really hurts.
In a way, I live a fortunate life. I'm healthy, and I get along with my grown daughters. I I love my two grandkids completely. I was an art major back in college, and I've been doing some painting and sculpture now. My husband and I have to live modestly, because we both lost our jobs last year. Between social security and our savings, we're doing okay.
Sometimes I think I'm depressed, because all the good things I just mentioned don't seem to add up to being happy at this stage of my life. Can a psychologist offer any help with this? You look too young to be worrying about these things, and that's another problem--I don't have anyone to talk to about this. My husband is quite a bit older than I am, and he thinks I should "enjoy your good luck," I wish I could.
---Feeling down in Portland
Aging Is Hard for Everyone
The bottom line about aging is that we are getting closer to the end of our lives each day, and all the things you mentioned deprive us of the ability to deny that challenging fact. Even if you are at peace with death--as I feel I am--the prospect of losing everything and everyone is formidable for all human beings. This fundamental fact calls on all of us to seek or strenthen our spiritual resources in every way possible. Consider beginning or deepening your involvment in a spiritual community; ritual, tradition and community support can be comforting. Explore poetry, music, art, mediation, nature and silence as possible paths.
Some of the challenges of being an older person in our youth obsessed society come from the culture, and some are self-inflicted. It is a fact that 99% of 65-year-old women get less male attention at 65 than they did at 40. (The 1% is reserved for our Tina Turners, Goldie Hawns and Jane Fondas). Our power lies is how we choose to react. We can learn to satisfy our needs for closeness and sweetness in other relationships--those with female and male friends, and with children, grandchildren and other loved ones.
Relationships with partners can deepen in surprising ways if they are given the right kind of attention. Breakthroughs are available any day that we shift from trying to remake our partners to giving them acceptance that's as unconditional as we can manage. Get help if you need it to get this process moving in the right direction.
Whether or not you have a partner, moving beyond the pursuit and conquest games of youth can be a blessing. LIke women, men of every age respond to kindness, humor and sincere interest in them as human beings. Lovely friendships can emerge when the game-playing is put away.
Your interest in painting and sculpture may take off if you give it attention. I myself have been blessed with a passionate and profound interest in music. I always had it, but now music is central to my life, and it fills me with joy. I sing and practice guitar everyday, and can't get enough of it. Try everything you can think of to develop and deepen your artistic skills and interest. Did you know that YouTube has endless lessons in painting, sculpture, music and almost everything else? Did you know that you can come close to getting a free college education on YouTube at khan academy?
The spiritual components of aging, again, are the most important of all. Seeking support, community and spiritual practices that touch you is so valuable. Don't forget reading the works of wise teachers. There is a reason thet holy books have retained their value over countless years.
Thank you for writing about this important subject. You speak for many!
Dear Dr. Lee,
My husband's daughters seem to hate me! They're both teenagers, and they're furious at me because their parents aren't together any more. That's pretty unfair, because I didn't know either one of their parents until two years after their divorce. Just the same, both girls love to tell me things like "You're not my mom, and I don't have to do what you say!" Other favorites are "My mom would never do that," and "My mom cooks so much better than you do!"
My husband and I have been married for 5 years, and we have a three year old son. I will say my stepdaughters are nice to our little boy, and i do appreciate that. They're not nice to me, though--hardly ever--and I've tried everything I can think of to reach them.
Do stepfamilies ever work out?
---Distressed in Toronto
Stepfamilies can work out, but it often takes a long time. Few people understand the complicated nature of families which begin with what amounts to a death--the death of a family. Almost all stepfamilies face huge challenges because of this, and few of them have good tools.
Your first (very difficult) task is not to take your stepdaughters too personally. They probably have a tremendous amount of grief, anger and confusion about their parents' divorce. You may be the only person they can afford to use as an object for those feelings; they've already lost their family, and probably feel anxious that they could lose either their mom or their dad.
I strongly recommend classes, books and support groups to learn about how others face and cope with similar challenges. Since you live in Toronto, you could start by contacting the Ontario Stepfamily Association to see what resources they can recommend. It would be good if your stepdaughters could know other teenagers in similar situations. Don't hesitate to consult a therapist or couples' counselor to get support.
Concentrate on keeping your relationship with your husband and son strong. Affirm your stepdaughters for being good to your little boy; you may be able to build upon that. They see that he is not responsible for their troubles. Eventually, they may come to see that you also are not.
Finally, try to arrange some times when your stepdaughters can be with their father alone. That kind of generosity can help with healing.
All the best to you and your family.
Q. Unsatisfying "pretty good" Sex
My wife and I have been together 14 years. Sex was great at first, and is still pretty good after all these years. I think I must be the one who's changed in a way that's causing a problem. I want more depth in our lovemaking now. Everything works fine mechanically, but a lot of times, I don't feel that good about her or our lovemaking during or after. I don't know what to do, or what to say to her about this. Am I weird? I guess a lot of guys would be happy just to have regular sex with a mostly willing partner. Can you help?
A. Why Sacred Sex Makes the Difference
It's all about going deeper. Our cultural messages about sex are very narrow at best and destructive at worst. So many sources teach us to think about sex in terms of numbers, sizes of body parts and comparisons. I call it "report card sex" when couples make love while worrying if they're doing it "right," and ask each other afterward for a grade. ("How was it for you this time, Honey?")
In sacred sex, you stay aware that this time together is a precious opportunity to express your loving essence. You teach each other that there is no way to do it wrong, because there's no blueprint that has to be followed. This does not mean you can't be bawdy or outrageous at times. Instead, it means accepting a much wider range of possibilities and outcomes. My book, Ecstatic Lovemaking explores the sacred sexuality approach in depth, and shows you how to apply it to specific issues in your intimate life. It's available on our Books and Reports page.
You can also learn a lot by just following this Advice Blog, and emailing us your own questions.
Wishing you and your wife more and more joy as you grow!
Q. My Marriage Is So Disappointing!
My husband and I have been married for 19 years. It was sweet and passionate when we started out--I guess that's everyone's story. Now we can hardly stand each other. The smallest interaction bring up major anger on both sides.
We've had awful money problems for a few years now, and I almost hate him because he hasn't done anything about it. I know this isn't fair, but I have not been able to make myself feel something "fair." I do what I can to earn money, but it's never very much, never enough. He does the same, but it makes me completely furious that we're on the verge of going bankrupt and our kids have to wear shoes with holes in them. I think he's furious at me too because I used to have a full time job until I got laid off. I haven't been able to find a new one in a year and a half of looking. Being 55 doesn't help with that.
When I was growing up, my dad supported our family. My mom worked just as hard making a profession out of cleaning, cooking, shopping and managing the household budget. If we had been even close to going bankrupt, my dad would have taken a second job or whatever it took. I guess my sister and I were very lucky that we never knew anything but the consistency of a modest but clean home and a secure life.
I realize that was a different time and place, but the tradition seems to be ingrained in me. I never thought I could be as angry as I am at my husband as I feel almost every day. If it weren't for my kids, I probably would have already left because feeling this miserable most of the time seems worse than being divorced.
Is there any hope for us?
A. You Are One of Millions
These are terrible times for millions of families! More than ten million U.S. homes are under water and in danger of foreclosure. This unprecedented stress is taking its toll on marriages and families. In my work as a couples counselor, I hear stories like yours regularly.
Unfortunately, very few couples have the skills to deal with the turbulent feelings that come up when your entire financial life is threatened. Blaming each other is a default emotion for most couples. It's the same phenomenon that causes fighting in the ghetto--unbearable stress gets taken out on whoever is handy. I mention that by way of an invitation to both of you to rethink that hair trigger response. And yes, clearer thinking can help in this situation.
Start with the fact that neither you nor your husband is responsible for the economic mess our country is in. Letting those who are responsible eviscerate your family too would be a real shame. New skills are needed--new skills for communication, for dissolving blame, and for earning more money in these troubled times.
Help is available in all these areas. One option is to call a university psychology training program in your area to arrange an appointment with a low-fee intern. Sometimes they are very talented, and they are always supervised by licensed mental health professionals. Another option is to work with someone like me who may work with you by Skype or phone at a lower cost, no matter where you live. For financial help, do a Google search for the kind of help you need. Some of the possibilities are Legal Aid, the Small Business Administration, the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NAC), and more Planned Parenthood for free or low cost medical help.
Finding a group of other people facing similar issues can be very helpful in learning that you are most definitely not alone and not to blame in your situation. It can also be empowering to learn what others are finding helpful.
Finally, use this time as encouragement to go deeper individiually and in your relationtionship. Look for ways to develop your spiritual life, whether through a traditional place of worship or through meditation, poetry, music or extra time in nature. It's best not to make any irrevocable decisions about your marriage while you are in such a stressful time. You may end up looking back with pride that your relationship survived such a difficult time. If you do end up divorcing, as a gift to yourselves and your children, get professional help to do it kindly and respectfully. If there is such a thing as a good divorce, it certainly involves forgiveness and mutual acceptance of responsibility.
Q. My husband and I stayed together!
Dear Dr. Lee,
I so appreciate your wisdom, especially as you show it on your blog at The Rumi Secret. My husband and I had such a long struggle to find each other again, as you put it in your free report. Good job, by the way. I'm not writing for advice, but just to complement you on your work and to say that I agree from own experience that sticking with a relationship pays off over time. My husband and I even separated for a year at one point. We were just so discouraged, and we both had lots of romantic ideas about how it was supposed to be. The ideas and the actual relationship seemed to be completely different! We had a lot of conflict, and not much fun and not much passion for several years. We were going through financial problems and family problems at the time.
My husband and I got back together five years ago, and it's been kind of like a new relationship since then. We still have challenges of course, but our love and our bond is really deep, and we both know it. It's wonderful! Now I think my mom was right when she told me that once I married, I should never give up on my husband no matter what.
Why do you think more people don't understand how this works?
A. The Value of Commitment
I think it takes most of us a long time to realize that the real issue in relationship happiness is often within ourselves, not the other person. In other words, if I feel that I don't love my partner, I need to understand that it's my failure to love that is the problem. So when couples come to see me wondering if they'd be happier with someone else, I tell them that my bias is to encourage them to do everything they can to heal and save the relationship they have. I've had the joy of facilitating truly moving breakthroughs when couples finally surrender their agendas for their partner and allow themselves to experience the sometimes humbling sweetness in the person they wake up with every morning.
On the other hand, if divorce and remarriage have already taken place, I encourage total forgiveness and full release of the past. Acceptance of change --whether chosen or not--is key to all forms of lasting happiness.
Whatever our age and stage of life, we all have the opportunity to begin to learn the lesson of looking in the mirror to see where changes need to occur, and where we have the ability to make them. Your experience shows that those who have the courage to stay committed over time rarely regret it.
Congratulations on your success and thanks for writing
Q. I can't perform!
I used to be an insatiable lover, but since I got into my mid-50's things have changed.
I've had some problems with my prostate, and I've lost my erection a few times. This never used to happen. Never! Now I find myself more and more reluctant to even approach my wife because I'm afraid of a humiliating outcome. I've never even thought of seeing a sex therapist, and I'm not comfortable talking about this with my doctor who I've known for years, and sometimes see in social situations. My big question to you is this: Is it all downhill from here? By the way, I don't smoke or drink and I'm not overweight. I thought all this clean living would give me better results.
Very worried in El Cerrito, CA
A. Prepare for Change, But Don't Panic
Your sex life is definitely not over. Saying that at 55, you've never lost an erection means that you've been unusual. Most men do experience erection loss from time to time, even in their 20's. Often too much alcohol or the cumulative effects of smoking are the culprits. (I often think that if men understood clearly that smoking and impotence are linked, they would loose interest in smoking very quickly.) With alcohol, it's important to know that any more than a minimal amount can interfere with erections. Depending on your size and tolerance, that might mean one small glass of wine; none would be better.
Any major changes in sexual functioning should be evaluated by a knowledgeable physician such as a urologist. Since you're not comfortable seeing your regular doc, it would be a good idea to make an appointment with another one, and have yourself checked out. Tell him about any medications you take, as well as the whole the whole story of erections past and recent. Blood pressure meds, some anti-depressants, and other meds and conditions can cause reduced libido or erection problems.
Once that's done, it's time to work with your partner about new ways to make love. Did you know that you can satisfy a woman really well without an erection at all? She may not know this either, or she may be one of those women who quietly prefers other ways of reaching orgasm; this is a good time to experiment with oral loving, sex toys, new positions and other ways to play. The idea is not to give up on erections, but to take the pressure off. Creating safety is the first goal. That means restructuring your sex life so that there's no way to fail.
Please write again, if you want clarification of any of these points, or contact me to set up telephone email help. You can also find details in my book Ecstatic Lovemaking: An Intimate Guide to Soulful Sex.
Take heart. This is just part of the journey.
Q. The Value of Persistence In Healing a Marriage
My Husband and myself just celebrated 27 years of marriage.. I must say we have faced many a challenge over the years including separating for almost a year; during our time apart from one another we sought counseling 2 times a week and just kept going back until I believe we resolved our issues, either that, or we became so exhausted from all the therapy...ahhaahaa... Today, we're more in love with one another than ever before.
Finally Happy in Austin
A. Thank you for sharing your example of the wisdom of hanging in there over time. I;m so glad that you both are enjoying the fruits of your hard work at last!
In their extremely valuable book I Will Never Leave You, Hugh and Gayle Prather present a compelling case for accepting this partner, this situation, this challenge. "This partner will do," they say, before showing that the real work of marriage is learning to practice kindness, gentleness and friendship with the one you've promised to cherish. It's also about working on yourself--sometimes for a long period--until your partner catches up.
It's a hard road at times, and there can be situations where hanging in there is not the best choice. For example where violence is threatened or where there is sustained verbal or emotional abuse, getting support in leaving may be best. Affairs and addiction are complex; getting professional help with these is a good idea.
Although exceptions like those above exist, those of us who counsel couples over many years get a chance to see that healing of even the most difficult problems can and does occur.
Q. Why Does My Husband's Ex-wife Keep Calling Him?
My husband and I have been married for 18 years. He says I'm the first woman he's ever been really committed to. I believe him, but what bothers me is that his ex-wife has never really disappeared from his life like I wish she would. She keeps in touch with his kids (who are grown now) and even with his parents. She's told him in the past she wanted to keep in touch with him too by phone and email. I asked him not to do that, and he hasn't. But it annoys me that she calls his parents when they're sick, and in other ways keeps acting like they're all still a family.
Twenty years ago, after they split up, she asked him if he'd consider getting back together. I always worry that that might be her secret agenda. She's told him that she's happily married now, and that they're all too old to hold on to old grudges. I don't trust her though. Shouldn't people who are divorced keep their distance?
A. Don't Be A Barrier to Family Healing
The wounds divorce causes are long and deep. I believe that those of us who have put children through such pain, owe it to those children to model forgiveness and letting go of the past. You could help your husband give this gift to his children by moving beyond your old fears. Since he's fully committed to you, and since the ex-wife is happily married, I don't think you have anything to worry about. Being a barrier to family healing might be something you'll regret in the long run.
In the bad old days, people who got divorced felt so guilty they had to justify their actions by telling themselves and everyone else that the former partner was a bad person; the truth is that in the huge majority of cases both parties share the responsibility for a marriage that didn't work out. Maturity should involve recognizing this and taking responsibility for it. One thing that means is letting children of any age know that the other party is a good person who cares for them, and that they don't have to feel guilty about having an on-going relationship with a parent, step-parent or new partner.
While showing adult children that their parents and stepparents are friendly now does not fix everything for the kids, it does teach them the value of forgiveness and letting go of the past. That lesson will stand them in good stead in their own lives.
Look deeply into your own heart, and see if you really want to stand for keeping old grudges alive forever. You might even make contact with the ex-wife yourself. Some former and current spouses forge friendships that make a powerful statement on the value of forgiving the past and living in the present.
Fair Weather Friend?
A few months ago, one of my women friends ("Carey") told me she didn't want to be friends anymore. I was really shocked, hurt, and confused.
The thing is, Carey and I had not had any kind of argument; nothing bad had happened between us. We've been friends for several years, have had hundreds of conversations about almost everything. We've spent holidays together, and our husband are friends too.
The only new thing was that Carey was going through some hard times with depression and [some medical and medicine issues]. She's been through these things before, but apparently there was some extra problem with one of her medicines, She was feeling rotten and said talking to "someone like you" wasn't helping. I felt really bad about that. I wanted to help her, but I didn't know how.
To me, women friends are one of the great gifts of life. I always say, "How would we get through life without our women friends?" and most of the women I know agree. I've never had a girlfriend "break-up" with me before, and it's not something I could ever imagine doing to any of my friends. It would take some really terrible behavior like harming one of my kids for me to even consider dropping a friend cold, instead of trying to work things out.
I'm writing to you now because I heard that Carey is still having trouble with her medical situation, and still not feeling like herself. I feel bad for her. I know she isolates herself sometimes when she's feeling this way, and then she feels worse. I like to help, but I don't feel welcome to try, and I certainly don't want to make things worse.
Can you suggest anything?
Uncertain in L.A.
You are not the cause of Carey's situation, and you can't solve it either. The medical and medicine issues you describe in the part of your email I did not print require competent management by a skilled physician which I hope your friend has.
Give Carey as much time and space as she needs to work things out, and let her know you're willing (if you are) to resume the friendship later on if she wants to. Meanwhile, do your best to forgive her for hurting you, and realize that it was never about you.
One powerful spiritual practice in situations like this is to hold the other person in love in your heart for as long as it takes. Whenever she comes to mind, send her love and support at a heart level. Don't criticize yourself for any feelings you may have ("How could she treat me that way?"), but don't linger there either. Just gently bring yourself back to a place of love and acceptance toward her.
Eventually, you'll be in touch again, and your loving attitude will be the best gift you can give her. Carey has her reasons for her choices. Let her know you respect those choices even if you don't understand them.
If your friendship with Carey never really heals, offer more of yourself to others. You are sure to find other friends who want support, gentleness and kindness.
He Wants Sex Every Day!
My fiance and I are struggling over sexual frequency. When we first got together a year ago, we had sex every day. I was so in love and in lust with him, that I just couldn't get enough. He's a wonderful lover, and maybe my soul mate. He told me then that he had almost given up looking for a woman who loved sex as much as he did and wanted to have it just as often. When he said that, we both thought I was that woman.
Things changed when we got back home. We both have jobs and friends and responsibilities. We kept on having sex a lot, but the frequency gradually got a little less.
After a year, I realize that three times a week is about right for me. I love him just as much and I love our sex life. But I have a full life, lots of friends, and a demanding job. I need my sleep, and I guess I don't really want to spend as much emotional and physical energy on sex as my fiance does.
I'm sad because he's disappointed in me now. He hints about finding other lovers; he even "joked" that two women who each wanted sex twice a week would "almost" be enough for him. I didn't think that was funny at all. What to do? Can you help?
------Berkeley graduate student
Frequency Issues Are Nearly Universal
In my 22 years as a psychologist specializing in couples counseling, I've found no long-term couples who have exactly the same frequency preferences. That's just as normal as the fact that no two people want exactly the same things to eat and the same quantity of food every day. Also, food and sex preferences are not static. As the writer shows, anyone may prefer more or less sex according to life circumstances, health, medications, hormones, state of the relationship and other factors.
What determines the effect of the inevitable difference in preferences is the story you tell yourselves. The whole relationship can be threatened if the story is "I don't think this person can or wants to meet my deepest needs." A much more helpful story focuses on the positive, such as "We have a great sexual relationship. Let's work on negotiating our differences."
The second story acknowledges basic principles such as these:
1) Differences are inevitable.
2) Lasting relationships involve learning to love a real person, not demanding that our partners fit our preconceived ideas of what we want.
3) A great sex life is more about quality than quantity, though quantity can usually be increased by mutual choice when partners learn certain skills and attitudes.
4) Redefining "sex" to include more of the vast number of ways to be physically intimate provides a foundation for the new skill set.
Living Like Brother and Sister
Dear Dr. Victoria,
My wife and I live like brother and sister most of the time, and I'm really steamed about it. I never signed up for a sexless marriage, and frankly I feel like I'm living half a life because of it. I'm 52 years old, and far from ready to give up sex. We used to do it at least a couple of times a week (and that was never enough for me), but since my wife started going through menopause, she says she's lost her desire. The funny thing is that when we do make love, it's great for me and it seems great for her. She'll say things like "I'd almost forgotten how good we are together in bed." But then it will be weeks till she shows interest again. Can you help me understand what's going on and what I can do about it?
Unsatisfied, Washington, D.C.
How to Bring Back Passion
Your problem exists in countless households across the nation. It absolutely can be fixed. Most likely, you're going to need the intervention of a skilled third party to help you reverse things and get going again in the direction of more frequent lovemaking. Consult a skilled local couples counselor who's experienced with sexual issues if you can. Another option is to work with me via Skype, phone and email.
When sexual frequency declines so much, we start with some detective work. I'd ask your wife to talk to her gynecologist about hormones, thyroid, depression and menopause. I'd want to know if she's experiencing any pain with sex; simple vaginal dryness can be corrected by using a lubricant like Astroglide, but there can be more complex reasons. If you were experiencing a significant drop in desire too, I'd suggest medical evaluation for you as well.
Once medical issues have been ruled out or addressed, I'd begin to work with the two of you together. I'd want to know that you have all the information you need at this new stage of your life. One example is the fact that both men and women often need significantly more foreplay as they age. Many people experience less of the old sense of urgency for sex as they age. This rarely means that sexual ability has been lost. It just takes longer to awaken them. This can be interpreted as "not in the mood." With practice, she may learn a new interpretation: "It takes me awhile to warm up to sex. Let's set aside some time to cuddle and play, and see what develops." If you strive to create periods of sweet closeness, these can be valuable in themselves, and they can also open the door to more times when passion develops.,
This is just the beginning. Please write again if you have more questions.
He Won't Take Time for Sex
Dear Dr. Victoria,
My husband just won't make time for sex. He claims to be eager to rebuild our sex life, which has gone down hill since our second daughter was born 9 months ago. But he fills all our available time with kids, dogs, TV, computer stuff and exercise. When it gets close to bedtime, he's "burnt," or, believe it or not, he has a headache.
This is not the man I married 10 years ago. In those days, he'd gladly give up sleep, eating or anything else for sex. I'm still trim and hungry for him, and I love him. So what could be the problem? A couple of times, he's lost his erection, which upset him a lot more than it upset me. Could this have anything to do with it?
----Unsatisfied in Manhattan
Erections and Time Issues:
Most couples experience time issues around sex, especially if they are parents. Everyone needs some down time, and some time for themselves. As these get harder to arrange, sex may get pushed aside; negotiation and accepting the fact that dates of all kinds must be scheduled rather than spontaneous can help.
Lost erections can be devastating for a man if he tells himself the wrong kind of story. "I'm over the hill," or "Something's wrong with me; I'm losing it," are examples of this.
The best response to a lost erection is this true statement: "This happens to every man, and it's not lost forever." Just as a woman's passion ebbs and flows, so does a man's. The easiest course of action is to enjoy one of the many possibilities that don't require an erection. Come back later or on another occasion and see what happens.
Another possibility is that he's reached the point where he needs more direct stimulation to his penis. You can provide this or he can do it himself.
Try to take an overnight together, or make the time to share your feelings about this. Let him know that you want him, and that you're open to various ways to enjoy lovemaking. Don't allow this to become a big "sex problem." It's a normal and almost universal variation in a long relationship.
Thanks for having the courage to write. You've spoken for countless other couples as well as yourselves.
My Husband Doesn't Want Me
I'm 50 and my husband is 54. He seems to need much less sex than I do, which is strange because it used to be the other way around with my ex and me. Now that I've finally found a man who seems just right for me, everything works except sex. He's had some medical and emotional hard times, and he thinks that's why he just doesn't have much interest anymore. I know he loves me, and he's good to me in every other way, but I hate the thought that my sex life is more or less over. I was hoping to keep going indefinitely like my grandmother and my mom did. What to do?
--Discouraged in San Diego
Have the Courage to Get Help
Most people assume that sex will be a regular thing up through their 40's, but after 50 there are physical and emotional changes that lead a lot of people to give up on sex much earlier than they need to. It 's actually quite reasonable to think of continuing to have an enjoyable intimate life well into your 80's or even 90's. It takes openness and flexibility, because sex at 75 will not be the same as sex at 55, just as sex at 50 won't be the same as at 30. Different does not need to mean less enjoyable or less wonderful.
A friend of mine who is a cancer survivor said "I found out that you can have orgasms even if you have cancer!" An 82-year-old I know said "I'm just as interested in being with a naked woman as I ever was, but since my wife died I don't get many chances." What most people don't seem to realize is that the ability to enjoy loving touch is built into our DNA. Even a paralyzed person can express this with a cooperative partner.
Your husband's emotional and medical history suggest a need for healing of wounds that may be deep. Seeking out that healing is something he probably fears, but would greatly benefit from. Encourage him to see a caring, supportive therapist alone or with you. He can also use the tools available here at coupleswisdom.com. Order the reports, watch the videos and sign up for our classes and webinars. It's never too late for healing or for sexual joy.
Blessings to you both!
My Boyfriend is Pressuring Me
I'm 18, and I feel I'm not ready for sex. I am in love though, and my boyfriend has been waiting more or less patiently for almost a year. I do love him, and I'm very attracted to him. I love making out and doing a lot of different things with him. He's a virgin too, so I'm not worried about getting a disease or anything.
I don't really know what I'm worried about. I just don't want to feel rushed into anything so important. What's your advice?
Trust Your Instincts
Trust your feelings. They are meant to guide you. If you have doubts about sexual activity, you should pay attention to them. When you are really ready for sex, you will know it, and you won't doubt it.
There's more than sexually transmitted disease to be concerned about. The most obvious is unplanned pregnancy. Unless you are using a more or less foolproof method like the pill, pregnancy is always a possibility especially when you are young and very fertile.
Condoms can break. Diaphragms can become dislodged. Foam and sponges are not totally reliable. So responsible sexual choices include knowing how you will prevent pregnancy, and what you will do if your methods fail.
Hopefully you know that the "I'll-pull-out-in-time" method is totally unreliable. Don't even think about that one. There's a pre-ejaculate fluid that comes out of the penis before the man's orgasm. The sperm in that fluid can make you pregnant even if he "pulls out" before his climax.
But let's assume you have the birth control issue handled. A more subtle concern for a young woman is that early sexual experiences like this are very likely to mean something different to him and to you. To him, it will be an enjoyable initiation into becoming a man. Even if he finds out that he has a lot to learn about being a good lover, he will be glad about having sex, and will feel good about himself.
For you, the outcome is less certain. He probably won't know how to satisfy you, unless you have studied that matter, and can teach him what he needs to know. He won't know how to make sure you have a good experience. Also, he won't necessarily feel closer and more in love with you afterward, but you will likely feel that way toward him. It's just the nature of things. So if you feel more in love, but that's not reciprocated, you may be very hurt.
I'm sorry that your boyfriend probably won't like my answer. I don't mean to diminish him in any way when I tell you these things. I believe that he's a good person, and that he loves you. It's just that males and females are different.
Some women need a real commitment before opening themselves up in this profound way. Almost all women need to feel safe and confident that that they can handle whatever develops. Get to know yourself still more, and you'll discover what your truth is about this.
Blessings to both of you!
Single, Lonely and Old
Dear Dr. Victoria,
I'm single, male, and lonely, and I've sort of given up finding a partner. My kids are grown, and my ex is remarried. I can't face going to singles dances at this stage of the game. The match.com crowd seems weird; other men my age (63) say they want to date women in their 40's. Not me--those kids don't remember JFK!
I've thought of myself as a young radical ever since I marched against the Vietnam war. I was in the Peace Corps too. I remember exactly where I was when JFK was shot, and I know the lyrics to every song the Beetles and Joan Baez, James Taylor ever sang. I've written a few poems myself, but they've never seen the light of day. The guys at my firm would find them laughable, I'm sure.
I guess my real problem is I don't know how to get old. I'll never be rich (though I have enough to get by), and I have bad knees and no hair. It's too late for the stuff I dreamed of when I was young--becoming a famous guitar player, adopting kids from ten countries, writing a great novel, helping people with HIV in Africa, or playing tennis professionally.
Since you're brave enough to say you can give advice--I thought shrinks didn't give advice--tell me this: How can I make some sense out of my life at this late date?
San Francisco lawyer who meant to be a poet
It's not too late to find a partner, write a novel, or put a video of yourself playing the guitar on YouTube. Most of all, it's not too late to serve, and that's the true path to joy.
60 really is the new 40 in terms of the opportunities that are open to you now, especially if you're mostly healthy and have enough money. I love to help people like you find the passion they've been missing; it's really a delight to be part of that process. A big part of what I do is to hold the vision for you until you can believe in it yourself. I mean the vision of you finding yourself in this new way--finding out that you can use this season of your life to discover amazing ways to contribute and have the joy of that.
You have a point about "shrinks" and advice. When I'm doing psychotherapy, I avoid advice giving almost all the time. That's because the purpose of therapy is for the patient to find their own truth--not mine. In this Advice Blog though, my purpose is to provide some insight and wisdom to people who may never have the chance to go on the journey therapy provides.
Thanks for writing and may you find the courage to discover more of yourself.
What Happened to My Libido?
Questions about libido are one the main subjects both men and women email to this advice blog. Here are 4 examples:
Q. (39 year-old man):
I've lost my libido! My wife and I had great sex for the first few years we were married. Two kids and 11 years later, we're sexually bored. We make love once a month now if we're lucky. She says she wants more sex too, but when I try to get something going, she's not interested. I don't try that often because I don't feel that turned on myself most of the time. Why is that? I'm a healthy middle-aged guy with a pretty wife I love, but when I have free time, I'd rather watch sports. What's wrong with me?
Q. (32 year-old woman):
Ever since my second daughter was born, my interest in sex has almost disappeared. My husband is very upset about this, and he never lets me forget it. He says he didn't sign up to "give up sex when we decide to become parents." He says we should be able to have both. I agree, but I just don't have the urge anymore.
Q. (55 year-old woman):
When I went through menopause, I lost my interest in sex. I feel awful about it, because sex was always important to me. Now it hurts sometimes, and I don't feel much desire anyway. Some of my friends say their sex life got better than ever after menopause. What's wrong with me? what happened to my libido?
Q. (60 year old man):
I don't know why I can't keep my erections anymore, but it makes not want to have sex. It's too humiliating. A man should be able to perform when he has a willing wife like I do. You say in your home page video that you can get your sex life back. Can I get my libido back?
A. This answer is for all of the 4 letters above.
You Can't Lose Your Ability to Enjoy Loving Touch
Feelings of sexual desire vary like the weather in most people. They're affected by physical and emotional and cultural factors. One thing to know is that your ability to enjoy loving touch is built into your DNA. You can't lose it.
Desire and erections and orgasms, though, can be affected by hormonal changes, medications, and general health and energy levels. That's the physical part, and that's why I recommend seeing a knowledgeable physician who can evaluate those physical factors. Sometimes, additional testosterone or changing a blood pressure medicine can have dramatic results. Some women may receive a prescription for testosterone cream. It can make a big difference.
Having a lubricant like Astroglide or Probe on your bedside table is important. Use it freely. Sex should not hurt!
Emotional factors are crucial too. Unresolved anger is probably the biggest sexual barrier here. Undiagnosed depression is another. Poor communication between partners is still another. You can learn better communication skills here on this site.
Cultural factors can affect you in subtle ways. If you grew up believing that great sex is only for the young before having kids, you'll tend to think you're over the hill later on when you're actually just experiencing one of the low points in your cycle of desire.
Make a plan with your partner to spend 3 short periods this week touching with each other with no goal. Agree in advance not to go on to intercourse. Just allow yourselves to enjoy nurturing mutual touch. This is a classic exercise from sex therapy. It can open new doors!
How to Seduce a Man
Dear Dr. Victoria,
Last night around 3 AM I tried to seduce my husband. It's been weeks since we've made love, and this really bothers me. I took off my clothes and started touching him in an intimate way. I'm pretty sure he woke up, but he didn't say anything, and he didn't respond. I've read that most women aren't willing to initiate, but I'm not one of them. It doesn't seem to get me anywhere though. Ever since he lost his job last year, he seems to have lost his sex drive too. I'm worried about our marriage. What can I do?
-----Discouraged in San Diego
Seducing a man is easiest if you take the direct, visual approach. Take some of your clothes off in front of him while he's wide awake. Remind him in words of how exciting you find him as a lover. Let him know he doesn't have to fear rejection if responds or if he initiates himself. Then take the risk of initiating not once but as many times as it takes. If you do that with love and kindness, he'll respond eventually. On the other hand, a "you owe me this" approach from either side of the bed is a big turn-off.
Many of the couples I'm seeing during our current economic downturn are finding that financial problems are often lethal in the bedroom. Loss of libido can be a miserable side effect of worries about job loss, foreclosure, large debts or even bankruptcy. This is especially true for men, who often value themselves in direct proportion to how successful they are as providers.
Getting Your Sex Life Back
Since lovemaking is an absolutely free source of joy and pleasure for couples, it's a shame to give up sexual delight during hard times. A good way to start getting your sex life back is to ask your husband to agree to a daily connection time together. This can be only 5 minutes, but make it consistent and completely positive. Sit together quietly, or meditate, or pray, or touch each other with no goal. This practice alone can get the juices running again. Once they are, expressing caring and kindness through touch will always build your marriage.
A Bad lover
My wife thinks I'm a "C+ lover!" Last week, I heard her talking to her best friend about me. It really bothered me, but I haven't said anything to her because I don't know what to say. I'm pretty sure part of my lousy grade is that she hardly ever comes when we have sex. We had been married more than 10 years when I found that out. She always told me she enjoyed sex, so I thought she was satisfied too. When she finally told me, she said she has orgasms by herself, "but pretty much never with you." Wow! That was awful to hear.
I guess I don't know what I should be doing. I'm not one of those guy who comes in two minutes. I can last awhile, and I try to touch her in the places she likes before we start intercourse. So what is it I don't know?
---Confused husband in Phoenix
Female Orgasm Unlocked
Take a look at the video on our Sexual Solutions page. It explains that in order to reach orgasm, many women need around 15 minutes or more of clitoral touching that's just the right pressure and angle and rhythm for her that time. That 15 minutes can include any kind of stimulation she likes--oral, your hand, her hand, intercourse or toys. Many couples find that the woman on top position makes this a lot easier, because she can control the angle and pressure and rhythm more easily.
Being a skillful lover includes being able to help your partner reach orgasm, but that's just part of it. The ability to connect heart energy to the body is what really makes the difference. That means learning to express loving emotions through both words and actions during sex. Most women (and many men) need to feel emotionally close to their partners in order to really enjoy lovemaking. Having some "foretalk" before lovemaking is a good idea. Telling each other what you're feeling right now in the moment opens the door to closeness.
Report on female orgasm:
To learn everything you need to know about female orgasm, order Female Orgasm Unlocked from our Books, Reports and Products page.
You are not alone. Millions of couples struggle with these very issues. Thanks for speaking for them.
My Husband Wants Out
Dear Dr. Victoria:
My husband says he wants a divorce! He told me yesterday he doesn't see any reason to stay married. He says we're not attracted to each other anymore, we fight or ignore each other most of the time, and he didn't get married to be bored like this! He says there's no one else, but I'm not sure I believe him.
I told him there are three reasons to stay married--our two daughters, and his son. He says staying married for the kids is something people don't do anymore, and kids with divorced parents have plenty of company. He's not from a broken home like I am, so he doesn't know what kids go through when their parents split.
We sleep in the same bed, but I go to sleep early and he goes to sleep late. We gave up on sex months ago after he complained that I've gained weight, and I told him not to touch me then if I'm so repulsive to him. He tried to take it back and apologize, but I was too mad and hurt to let him. I've always found a lot to dislike about my body, so knowing that my own husband was thinking critical thoughts about me when we made love was something I couldn't stand.
We can't afford to see a marriage counselor, and he wouldn't go anyway. How can I convince him that we need to try to save our marriage? We used to be in love, but I don't know if we can ever get that back.
--Anxious in Newark
Coming Back to Love
As long as the problems don't involve violence, abuse, or untreated disabling addiction, saving a marriage is almost always better than throwing it away. I can personally attest that couples can and do come back to love again after facing every kind of challenge: sickness, affairs, problem kids, feelings of lost libido, every kind of sexual problem, years of not communicating, anger, resentments, boredom, feelings of attraction to others, financial problems, war injuries, and much more.
It's harder to do without professional help, but it can be done. One of the reasons I created coupleswisdom.com was so that couples like you could have a source of the tools and information most people get only if they are able to see a skilled professional.
Here are two steps anyone can use to start improving their relationship today:
1. Seek deep guidance. While professional counselors have a lot to offer you, there are deeper, spiritual sources of wisdom. If you are religious, or have done meditation or other spiritual practices, seek out those ways to get in touch with the most loving parts of yourself. If you are not religious, reading sacred poetry and prose can begin to open your heart. Two examples are Stephen Mitchell's translations called The Enlightened Heart, and The Enlightened MInd. Reflecting on the deeper part of your relationship can deepen your closeness.
2. Ask your partner to do apologies and appreciations with you. Tell him this can help you have a better day today, regardless of what decision you ultimately make about the marriage.
In this simple exercise, each of you speaks without interruption for five minutes. First you make any apologies you think are needed. Then ask him if there's anything else he'd like you to apologize for. Do your best to meet his requests. Then take several minutes to voice your appreciations for him; include the things you appreciate, but forget to mention. Then ask if there's anything else he'd like you to acknowledge, and add those. If he's willing, now reverse the process.
Using the tools on this site can make a big difference. Be sure to sign up for the free report on the home page.
If your husband sticks to his "I want out" position, though, don't give up on marriage counseling. Most professionals do some low fee work, and many have skilled interns whose fees are lower. Many clergy are trained in counseling and provide low cost services. Professionals choose this work because they want to help, so don't hesitate to ask for it.
Go alone if your husband won't go. One partner can start making changes in a way that soon draws the other in.
I wish you courage and persistence; these are always the keys to marital success!