# Will you have sex tonight?

Mathematical predictors of your sex life.

I love this guy, John Gottman.  I mean he comes up with mathematical formulas to figure out how often you are going to have sex this year.  He measures his approach to your bedroom with game theory.  The basic idea of game theory is that the decisions people make relate to the the payoffs they will receive as a result of that decision.   I generally find his books really easy to read but when he goes into explanations of game theory, he enters serious geek land.  He actually has sentences like this in the chapter:

EP for Ianamy agrees = 5 σagree + (-1)(1- σagree)

So I am here to translate his formulas for your pleasure, or future pleasures.  He postulates that most bedrooms are pretty darn quiet according to research.   Just a quarter of adults over 45 are having sex weekly and another 40% are having sex at least monthly which means that about 35% of adults are having sex less than once a month (AARP, 2010).  Another recent study found a relationship between having sex about once a week and levels of happiness, regardless of age, gender or how long the relationship had been going on (Muise, 2016).  So many couples are probably having sex less than they want to and less often than is related to happiness.  Maybe the woman has been rebuffed in their sexual advances one too many times, and she has each stopped asking.  Or, the man isn’t sure when the right time is to ask and has stopped as well.

Gottman suggests that the key factor in determining how often you have sex is how you react when your partner says “not tonight” to you.  If you react with any kind of rejecting behavior – sulking, sighing, complaining, criticizing, frustration or anger, you just set in motion a cascade of negative emotions that will lead to less sex.

If you react negatively to her refusal of sex … you get less sex in the future

Using game theory, Gottman estimates that sex gets as low as 15 times a year when both partners react negatively to a refusal of sex.  However, if the man, for instance, reacts positively when his partner says “not tonight” with understanding, kind words or affection, her payoff increases (she got treated nicely) and his payoff increases (she is more likely to feel positive feelings towards him for understanding and is more likely to say yes in the future).   Using mathematical formulas, Gottman suggests you could be getting it up to four times a week (233 days a year!) if you start rewarding your partner when she refuses sex.

If you react positively when she refuses sex … you get more sex in the future

A client recently lamented that he wasn’t having sex with his wife very often and wanted to know how to increase the frequency of sex.  I asked him about his thoughts on strengthening the relationship but he wanted to know how to increase the frequency of sex first, as that would make him feel satisfied enough to continue to work on the relationship.  I explained the following to him:

For men, sex leads to intimacy and for woman, intimacy leads to sex.

And thus, for both parties to want sex, there has to be intimacy.

If you work on your relationship by building intimacy, trust and ease, you will surely move towards intimate, trusting (read: fun) sex that has a sense of ease to it.   Bringing intimacy into your relationship comes from sharing secrets, small kindnesses, little kisses, frequent caresses, quick fixes around the house, loving words and so many other wise moves.

These small kindnesses are not done for the purpose of “getting some”, but for the purpose of expressing your appreciation.  By expressing your appreciation without expectation or coercion, you are building a foundation of intimacy from which intimate, satisfying sex will flourish.

p.s. Another recent study explicated that men are more likely to want to have sex in the morning and women are more likely to want to have sex at night.  This research makes all those refusals make more sense.  We don’t necessarily want less sex, we just want it at a different time than you!

For more on this topic, come to my workshop starting on April 4th.   The Secrets to Making Love Last is a four-part series focused on how to build and maintain a healthy, fun relationship.  You can come to one session or all four.  We will work through predictors of happy relationships and divorce, building trust, dealing with betrayals, understanding your patterns and enhancing your communication skills.  More information at localflamesmaine.com.  Register Here.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works withpeople as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching how children and adults form healthy relationships for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  This is an excerpt from her forthcoming book.  Contact her at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  She facilitates fun, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Localflamesmaine.com

For more from John Gottman, I recommend his book, “What Makes Love Last”.

# That’s What She Said… About Online Dating

In the fall, I held a workshop at Local Flames on online dating.  It drew about 20 people, men and women, who wanted to know more about how it all works. Here is some insight from the crowd that may help you as you journey online.

1. How long do you wait to email back?

“I write back whenever it feels right”.  The crowd felt it was fine to email back within the hour or whenever you have time.  Only one person waited a day or two to respond.

My advice: Email back when you have a break in your day and time to really think about what you are writing.  It is really easy to get a bit ‘addicted’ to the sight of a new email arriving in your inbox.  Your best emails will come out when you are relaxed and present.

2. What are the rules of the game?

“Don’t be too eager or aloof.  Don’t go “all in” too quick.  Take it slow.”

“Be respectful”

“Don’t exchange numbers.  Meet in a public place.  Give a friend the details of your date.”

“Be positive, truthful, and careful”

My advice: Keep it simple.  Use online dating as a tool to meet people.  So in that vein, there is little reason to engage in long overly intimate emails.  Within the first couple of emails, or even in the first one, arrange to meet in person.

4. For the Men… What catches your attention?

“The photos pulls me in… The smile does it!  Passion makes me stay”

“A good smile, common interests”

“Good pictures – not flowers and dogs and sunsets”

My advice: Get a good picture of yourself that shows you face and smile.  Ask an honest friend if it is a good likeness of you.  Even though none of the men were overly focused on the profile, I would suggest a medium length profile (3 paragraphs) focusing on things you love to do and what you are looking for in a partner.  This gives the guy something to ask you about and hopefully will dissuade inappropriate men from contacting you (although probably not).

5. For the Women… What catches your attention?

“Humor in the profile and a nice smile in pictures.”

“Nice up-to-date photo.  I like when it looks like effort was put into the profile.  Funny is good.”

“Photo and a well-written profile”

“More than 2 good photos.  Smiles with teeth.  No spelling mistakes”

“Good writing. Articulate. Some self-expression”

My advice: Include a good photo but also pay attention to what you write.  Women will be reading your profile closely.  They want to see ‘you’ in there and don’t want to see spelling mistakes.  Write at least two paragraphs talking about what is important to you in life.

6. What do you leave out or “lie” about in your profile?

“I leave out Past relationship stuff”

“If anything, I’m too honest”

“Situation with my daughter”

“I don’t lie”

“Nothing; it will burn you in the long run”

“I have used overly flattering photos to hide my weight”

7. What have you been lied to about?

“Old pictures; height”

“Level of activity; 10 year old picture”

“Body type; smoking”

“The way they look; their living situation; drug use; financial situation”

“Age; smoking; job status; intent; divorced”

What can make online dating fun and successful?

1. Use the settings.  Check out the settings on the online sites.  On some sites, you can feature your profile which may get you more attention (the “top spot”).  On other sites, you can pay to look at other people’s profiles without them knowing.  This may come in handy if you don’t want certain people to know you are perusing their information.

2. Don’t take it personally or too seriously.  View online dating sites as a tool to meet people.  Understand that everyone is looking and trying to find someone.  Also understand that we all have different tastes.  You may find someone attractive who doesn’t not find you attractive (things have not changed much since middle school).  Try approaching different people.  If you see it just as a way to meet interesting people, and not necessarily the love of your life, it becomes much more fun.  People recoil from desperation or neediness.

3. Be active. Online dating can work best when you take an active approach.   Approach a variety of men/women.  Invite people to have a quick 20 minute tea or coffee pre-date just to see if either of you wants to go on a date.

4. Be compassionate.  Have some set lines to communicate with those online.

“Thank you so much for contacting me.  I don’t think our interests line up so I am going to say no at this time.  Good luck in your search.’

“Thank you so much for the date.  I don’t see us as a match but good luck in your search.”

“It has been great getting to know you over the last three dates.  I don’t see things coming together for us but I wish you well on your search.”

5. Own it/be yourself.  It is tempting to write a profile to try and please the reader.  However, if your intention is a healthy long term relationship, it is best to stick with a more honest approach.  Presenting a couple paragraphs about your interests with a good photo is the key.

And…some other mantras from the group…

Be positive   …   Be patient   …   Meet early   …   Use it as a tool   …   Be forgiving   …   Be compassionate   …   Use it as a way to increase your self awareness   …   Keep an open mind   …   Think outside the box   …   Meet for common interests   …   Be open   …   Just meet   …   See it as a community   …   See it as a practice   …   Get a friend to do it with you.

Offline! At the end of the session, a number of people were even more convinced they didn’t want to go online.  Here are some ways to meet people offline. There are two good ways to meet people in real time, in-person.

1. Meet Up Groups

A Touch of Grey Meet-Up: http://www.meetup.com/A-ray-a-group-for-babyboomers/  For people born between 1946 and 1964.

Why Am I Single Meet-Up: http://www.meetup.com/Why-Am-I-Single-Portland/  For 30-50’s.

Find True Love Meet-Up: http://www.meetup.com/Find-True-Love-Meetup/ “For all people desiring to be in a loving relationship. Singles and Couples welcomed.”

1. Singles Groups

Single Hearts in Maine. Single adults ages 45 – 70 in Midcoast Maine looking to spend time with others.  https://www.facebook.com/singleheartsinmaine?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

My Single Friends.  A group for 45 – 65 in Portland.  Email mysinglefriends15@gmail.com for details.

Good luck on your search.  Contact me if you have additional questions at erin@localflamesmaine.com.  See other blogs on online dating here.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

# What I gave up when I destroyed happily ever after

(A cautionary tale for those considering divorce)

If I knew how much I would give up, I might not have done it.  My empowered move to move out of a stifling relationship ironically forces me to give away power on a daily basis.  My ego is decimated, traditions are upended and any possibility of control is a joke.  I decided to give away 50% of my children for the possibility of ‘lightness of being’ in the aftermath.  I didn’t calculate the loss at the time and didn’t fully appreciate what I was stepping into or running away from.  I just wanted out.  I didn’t want ‘out’ of my children’s lives but that is what I inadvertently ‘accomplished’.

At the time of my divorce, the visions dancing in my head were most heavily steeped in freedom and justice and… actual dancing.  I was going to discover the perfect man, have perfect fun, and rediscover perfect joy.  Nine years later, my reality veers close to and away from my ideal, depending on the day.  This is what real looks like today.

Perfection? Not so much.  Yes, I did find a lovely relationship, after far too many painful, confusing ones.  No, he isn’t perfect.  I’m not either.  But, I like so much about him and he brings me heretofore unparalleled joy.  But it isn’t he who changed me.  It is I who changed.   I have discovered that all human beings are wildly imperfect, rather unpredictable but imminently improvable.  We can learn new tricks.    We have to do the work, not to reach perfection, but to realize there is no perfection and that a healthy, fun relationship requires your calm presence and undivided attention each and every day.

Friends with the ex? Not so much.  I had delusions, like many who make the call, that my ex and I would be friends.  I envisioned that I could take what I liked about us and give back the rest.   Extended family vacations, huge Thanksgivings with new partners and progeny in tow, the more the merrier in my rainbow-tinged book.  The reality is that we don’t get to dump someone and expect him to still be a friend.  It isn’t fair; it isn’t nice.  Be careful and fair about what you wish for.

Ease in my life? Eh, sorta.  At 45, I feel grown up for the first time in my life.  I feel calm and grounded, on some days at least.  So that is lovely.  But there is an important part of my life that never reaches ‘ease’; the non-stop requirement to negotiate my children’s lives.  Every decision now runs through two families: the sports they play, the weekend activities they sign up for, and the age at which they can date.  This fall, my son ripped his ACL playing football, the sport I didn’t want him to play, but I was overruled because I control only 50% of my children’s lives.   If you think about it, in a game where everyone controls 50%, no one can ever win.  Compromise is literally the name of the game.

This is what I realize now, nine years post-divorce.  I implore you to read and understand and really think through your separation or divorce.  Is it worth it?

When you blow up your vows, what are you really blowing up?

1. You will put your ego away.   With kids, it is rarely about you anyway, but now there will be even less of you in the equation.  When they cry for their dad in the middle of the night, you will simply call him.  When they tell you how much fun they had with their new step-sister, you will simply smile and say, “That’s great.”  You will feel pangs of jealousy clawing at you, threatening to thwart your promises to never say a bad word about their lives with the others.  You will remember that this isn’t about you; you will smile away the pain in your gut.

2. You will choose your battles.  Now, you control only 50%. This means that when your children are not with you, someone else is in charge, someone who sees him or herself as an extra parent but someone who you do not know.  In the beginning, I used to send over the chore chart to my ex just in case he wanted to implement the same dictates in his house.  I used to tell him what the kids ate in my house just in case he also wanted to reduce gluten, and red meat.  Now, I set rules for my household that go no further than my doorstep.  I ask my children if the different rules in the two households, both alike in dignity, bother them.  As long as they say “no”, I move on and leave the other household alone.

3. You will let it go.  In this new world of split time, you will have no choice but to let it go, lest your anger eat you alive.   On a day like today, a gorgeous autumn day, I have let go of my plans to go apple picking with my children next weekend.  Why would I do this?  My daughter just texted that her other family went today, yet again beating me to the punch, not in malice, but in happenstance.  This happens all the time with bowling, movies, and vacation destinations.  You will let it go and move on.

We seek freedom, we get it, but we lose some as well.  There is measurable good in this alternative configuration of our lives.  My children now know I will fight for what I believe in, and that I will persevere even when the cards are stacked against me.  They see me in a different light, as one who considers and makes choices, many of them hard.  By observing my interactions with their father, my children are learning to negotiate and to acknowledge themselves and others.  They understand that there are times when you speak up and times when it is just as well to remain silent.  They know that many people can love them, from all angles, in their own ways.  So, in the end, my ‘ever after’ is different and a bit more challenging than what I imagined, and, I am sure, from what my children imagined as well.  Divorce leads to compromise, and less control over your children’s lives, but if you can reach a place of peace with this altered ‘ever after’, your children will likely reach that place too.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

# First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes… divorce and dating.

## How do I date wisely after divorce when I have kids?

The first thing we have to deal with as divorced people is… how to set up the perfect online dating profile.  This is written a bit facetiously.  But honestly, the major thing on the minds of the recently split is how to find someone new, and better.  Drafting your first dating profile usually happens about two weeks to two months before the divorce is finalized.  Not too long after that we are dealing with the question of when to introduce our new dating partner to our kids.  This happens anywhere from one week (not recommended!) to one month to six months after we meet someone.  And way too soon after that, we are deciding how to merge our family with another in, yikes, the same house!

All of this can happen during the time of ‘unreason’, that time when we are post-divorced and pre-sane.  During this period the concept of time is elusive and the hormones from meeting and touching someone new are in serious overdrive.  We believe we can see the future! And it involves lots of sex!  Once you take a breath, you start to realize that the relationship before you is a relationship just like any other, where we make mistakes, missteps, and misfires. Now however, there are lots of other people involved in our mistakes, namely our children.  So take a breath, and think about these three suggestions as you date post-divorce.

### 1. Have the conversation with your kids.

Ideally, a newly-dating adult has prepared their children prior to getting online and dating.  (See “What can I say to my children?” for ideas.)  That is what the experts, including myself, recommend.  From much experience, however, I know most of us start dating before having this conversation.  That’s okay.  Just have it as soon as possible.

### 3. Observe yourself as you date.

Don’t do things you wouldn’t advise for your kids when they start dating.  You are now a serious role model for your children.  You were before too, but now you are going to show them what it is like to meet people, date, build relationships, and sustain those relationships.  And you are doing it during a time when emotions and challenging situations are circling around you.  Be easy on yourself, be honest with yourself, and be honest with your children.

### What are my children concerned about?

– Will my dad still be my dad? Do I have to have a new mom?

– Will I have to move? Will I have to go to a new school?

– Will I have new brothers and sisters? Will my mom/dad love them better than me?

– What is going to happen to me? Are things going to change?

### What can I say to my children?

Keep it simple, straightforward and honest.  Keep their developmental level in mind.  What words and concepts will make sense to them?  Don’t bring the hurt and the pain, or your feelings about your ex into it.  Have the talk at a time when you can be calm and measured.  These are some refrains you can use.

- As your dad and I form new lives, we will both be meeting and dating new people. It is nice to go through life with someone and that is why I will be meeting new people.

- You will not be expected to be a part of it unless you want to be.

- It is natural for adults to want to live their lives with other people.

- It takes time to really get to know people, so I may date a couple people before I find a person I want to date over the long term.

- You all come first and I will make decisions about my dating life with you in my mind. I will look for someone who is good for me and who is good for you all too.

- There won’t be any big changes in your life that you don’t know about. I will let you know ahead of time about anything that impacts your life.

- Do you have any questions?

### Do I have to tell them??

Yes, you do.  This is one of those hard moments as a parent where you would love not to have adult responsibilities.  It may seem easier to just keep on keeping on, or to think that you are protecting your children by keeping them in the dark, or that they are too young to be in the know.  Let me clue you in… kids know whether you tell them or not.  They see you texting, they hear your phone pinging with the latest OkCupid notification, they notice you laughing more, and going out more.  If you don’t tell them, they will come up with a story and the story will be much more dramatic, dire, and fanciful than reality.  So suck it up, sit down, breath, and be honest with your children about what life is like for you in this new reality.

### The last word…

This is a hard time.  You are finding someone new while finding yourself at the same time.  The best you can do is to be aware of the choices you are making and to give yourself permission to begin each day anew.  We all make mistakes during this time.  Apologize, be honest with yourself and your children, and start again.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

# Show and Tell: How much to share during those first encounters.

It’s a conundrum.  As touted by Brene Brown, we are supposed to be in the new age of vulnerability.   Yet, if we share too much of our vulnerability too early, we may scare away the person we are trying to attract.  Every turn of phrase is being judged for adequacy on that first and second date.  So how much should we really share, and when?  In other words, what is the tipping point when a person moves from intrigued to uninterested?

In my dating days, I considered my three children (triplets no less!) and my two ex-husbands to be my biggest liabilities.  I mean, really, who in their right mind would choose to step into a world where three teenagers ruled?  And, that was just the liabilities on the surface.  What about my dirty car, my orange plaid pajamas, my ridiculous bed head and all the real secrets I harbor?  What do you share and what do you save for later?  Think of it like this.  Everyone likes a good story; you are going to tell a story over time, laying down one chapter at a time.  Lay down a chapter per date.

5 steps to sharing just the right amount on your date

1. Give a little.

A date without any of yourself is bound to be boring.  We all have intense stories of tragedies and triumphs.  So, be real.  Share lots of fun, upbeat stories and maybe one or two reality-check stories to give a sense of the full package.   Just, don’t dive too deep right away.

2. Listen and Relate.

Stop for a moment.  Listen to what your date is sharing.  Is she sticking to work and family, or favorite vacations?  Or, is she going deeper into her life philosophy?  Match your date.  If she want to keep it light, keep it light.  There will be time enough for late night sharing if the relationship progresses.   People tend to be overly judgmental in that first date or two.  She is looking for red flags or anything off-putting.  Don’t give her a reason to jump ship.

3. Look on the bright side of life.

Stick to positive stories that emphasize your strengths.  When your date bids you adieu, he will take away, maybe, 50% of what you were laying down during the date.  And, many people walk away having heard more of the negative than the positive (triplets! 13 year old triplets!) so don’t give him any bait for doubt.

4. Know when to hold ‘em

An acquaintance I had for a brief while (read: misguided Match.com date) used to lay out his sexual history and STD status on the first date and then wonder why the girls ran.  He considered it his duty, his responsibility to inform them.  People are not usually sticking anything where the sun don’t shine for a couple hours into a date, so take it easy on the early disclosure.

5. Be aware of what is compelling you to share.

Are you an over-sharer?  Do you find yourself continually motoring your mouth when across the table from a potential partner?  Explore why that might be.  Are you trying to get out your whole story on the first date?  Do you talk too much when you are nervous?  Do you feel like you are trying to prove yourself?  From personal experience, when I am talking too much, I am trying to justify something in my life, something I feel some shame around (like, my second divorce).   I have also observed that I like to challenge others with my overt honesty.   I want to know upfront if someone likes me despite all my faults.  I want him to know the full me so he can make an informed decision about whether to jump in.   Once you are aware of why you are talking, you can make good choices about whether to continue the monologue.

The Take-Away

You know that saying – if it is meant to be, it will be.  And, in the adult world of dating, where we are all a little gun shy, you want to stay on the positive side to see if the simmering heats up to a boil.   Carefully lay one piece of your story down at a time so the listener can pick it up.   I make sure more of my charm is on the table than my ex-husbands or my many children.  I make light so they can make light.   I don’t treat my children like a burden so they won’t.  Share what you want them to know about you.

Think about the structure of a well written tale.   Desire to turn the page to ingest the next chapter comes from mystery and intrigue.   In the screen writing world, they say you want to reveal yourself like an intravenous drip – let little bits of you seep into their soul.  Tell your story one chapter at a time.  Leave your listener enraptured; leave a little mystery for next time.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

# Killer Self Esteem: 5 Steps to Stop Sabotaging Your Relationships

Killer abs and killer legs… people work hard to get them. Killer self-esteem, on the other hand, is not a desired trait, yet, incredibly prevalent in the dating world.  As an adult dater, our insecurities, gain clarity and sometimes, strength as we continue to date. We have seen love and loss and are aware of our foibles and faults. Awareness is good. And, verbalizing your discomforts is a smart strategy in a relationship. However, insecurities that seep into the cracks and crevices of our relationships may expand over time, causing riffs that wreak havoc. It is a slippery slope as they say, emanating from a seemingly innocent question that when repeated enough times has the exact opposite effect that we intend it to have.

“Do you like me?” This common refrain reflects our insecurities and is behind many of our actions in the early months of a relationship.  Check out what happens when you continually prod your partner for an answer.

The Needy Scenario

 Take 1…“Do you like me?” “Of course!” Take 2… “Do you like me?” “Yes” Take 3… “Do you like me?” (eye-roll) “Yes” Take 4… “Do you like me? Are you sure?” (Am I sure? Do I like him?) “Um, yes, of course” Take 5… “Do you like me? Seriously?” (Do I? He really is a little much, sometimes) “Actually, I have been meaning to talk to you about something…”

The Jealousy Scenario

Jealousy is another way to quickly sabotage your relationship.  Jealousy emanates directly from insecurity and low self-esteem.  This is a conversation from a former relationship that started at the same time that I began to run Local Flames workshops on healthy relationship skills (irony times 10!).

Take 1…

 “Who was there tonight?” “Oh, it was a great crowd, really good people.” “Any men in the room?” “Sure, this really nice guy Mark and another great guy, John” “Were you attracted to them?” “Uh, I was running a workshop so it wasn’t really relevant.”

Now, repeat this conversation every week, sometimes multiple times a week, after each event.

 “Who was there tonight?” “Lots of people” “Any men in the room?” “Yes” (note the reduction in detail over time) “Who?” “It is not relevant. I am not going to tell you because you continually accuse me of ridiculousness.” “Were you attracted to them?” “Oh my god!! No!!”

If this were to keep going, if I hadn’t left him at the doorstep of his insecurity which I did, eventually my thoughts may have meandered down this road: “Fuck it. He has been accusing me of cheating on him for months. Maybe i’ll just try it out.   These other men look better and better every time he opens his mouth.” As I have seen with my clients, one person’s jealousy can contribute to another person cheating, which thereby reinforces the first person’s insecurity and belief that people cheat on him (or her)!

Why do we do this? We have beliefs about ourselves that we look to reinforce. We feel badly about ourselves from things our parents told us, from experiences we have had, or from shame related to something that happened to us.  Then, we behave in ways that reinforce that we are right to feel badly about ourselves. She may be looking for him to prove she is unlikable by continually asking if he likes her. Her low self-esteem is killing any potential the relationship had. I have seen this equally in men and women, whether in different or same gender relationships. People are usually not completely aware that they are causing their own downfall. It is easier to blame others for how we feel rather than to face ourselves and our faults head on.

5 Steps to Stop Sabotaging.

It takes courage to start believing in yourself by understanding that we all have faults, big and small. Here are five steps to stop sabotaging yourself and your relationships.

1: Catch yourself in the act. While it may be worthwhile to ask your insecurity question once or twice to check in, it is important to recognize when you are asking the same question of someone over and over.   Ponder why you are asking the question. Do you really need to know the answer? Is that because you didn’t believe the answer the first time, or has something happened that you feel you need to ask it again? Is it your anxiety/insecurity asking or are you asking?

2: Explain yourself. The best gift you can give your partner is a greater understanding of you. Tell them explicitly what makes you feel insecure and what you makes you feel loved. There is nothing wrong with having insecurities because we all have them.  Assuming your partner can read your mind and know what you need is a bad bet.  Communicate what you need from your partner to feel calm and good in the relationship. For example, “I tend to get sort of uptight and insecure in the beginning of a relationship. It helps me to know how you are feeling about the relationship.”

3: Recognize it in others. When someone is peppering you with questions that give you pause, consider what is really going on. It can be helpful to gently state your position clearly to reassure your partner of how you feel. “Yes, I truly like you and am enjoying our relationship. I will tell you if I have a problem.” “I enjoy doing workshops. I am not interested in seeing anyone but you.” Pay attention to whether you are doing anything that may be contributing to your partner’s discomfort and insecurities. For example, are you showing up late without explanation? Are you moody and you don’t tell your partner why?

4: Believe in yourself. This is hard. When you believe in yourself, your need for reassurance from others will reduce and you won’t feel the need to ask the insecurity questions as much. Maybe develop a mantra to say when you are feeling insecure: “I trust this relationship and that she will tell me if there is a problem.” Needy is not sexy.

5: Trust the other. Very often, our insecurities relate to a lack of trust in others. Think about whether your questions of, and behaviors towards, others relates to your lack of trust of them. Did the person actually do something to lose your trust or do you just have a hard time trusting others? Ask yourself what you can do to work on trusting the other person and then communicate that to your partner. For example, “It really helps me when you volunteer information about what you are doing at night” or “I really appreciate when you compliment me.”

As you walk through this world, you will determine your experience. The one common refrain that people repeat to me in relationship coaching sessions again and again is “I can’t stand needy men/women!” Needy is not sexy. Neediness is someone that needs to be reassured and who can’t stop asking those insecurity questions. Don’t let your self-esteem destroy the potential of your relationship. When you find yourself blaming someone else for your current state, I have a suggestion for you… stop, look inwards, and start there.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

# Is he a Grower or a Shower? A case for slow dating

There are the guys who excel at first impressions and dates, and then there are the guys that may not shine at first glance, but who grow on you over time. These are the guys who slowly wow you with their opinions, tastes, and knowledge revealed with each passing encounter. The first group of men are the showers; the second group of men are the growers. Wait, what did you think I meant by growers and showers?

When we were in college we could encounter these types in equal measure as we strolled through night-long parties. You could choose the dance floor with the showers or saddle up to the guy on the couch for an awesomely awkward conversation about life. The showers kept you dancing all night long with their self-assuredness while the growers were the guys you confided in and gradually developed an attraction for as they revealed their depth.

In the online world, the growers fall behind. One date is all you get in a world where we administer judgment before someone even opens his mouth to say hello. You have a max of 1 hour and 15 minutes to impress her or you will be thrown to the curb for the next most qualified guy.  My experience with this was an encounter about 8 years ago with a lovely, quiet man that didn’t lead to a second date. I now know this gentleman as a friend, having spent many hours discussing, conversing and pondering the world. He is the real deal. I see many pass him up, not realizing what they are missing. How could they? There are too many people to choose from online and people rarely want to settle into actually getting to know someone the way we used to. It is wham, bam, his nose isn’t perfect and I don’t like his shoes, no thank you ma’am.

What to do?

1. Give love a chance

Slow it down, man. Love takes time to develop. The idea that in the first two seconds you know he is the one is short-sighted. This might be true if we were walking around truly open to all experiences with no pre-conceived notions borne of past relationships. However, because we are so influenced by our pasts as we search for our future, it is wise to give more than two seconds consideration.

2. Listen a little

When you stop talking, you can start taking in what she is saying. This allows you to notice her laugh, her level of vocabulary, and her views of the world. In listening, you learn.

3. Give a second date

Some people definitely rub you the wrong way, and they can be pushed to the wayside. However, if you are intrigued but unsure, give them a second chance. Growers warm up over time. You won’t get to see his true stuff until after 4 or 5 interactions.

4. Interact briefly

A strategy to get to really know someone is to date small. Break up that 4 hour, 3 martini date into 4 small dates instead. Take a walk, search BullMoose for cds, drink tea, and visit a wine tasting at MJ’s. These smaller, less intense interactions will allow you to ease into the knowing of her.

5. Try some offline options. Growers, introverts, and the more introspective are often easier to meet in small group settings. Try these offline options:

Meetup.com (pick a topic, any topic). Get into writing or bird watching or skeet shooting. Try “Am I still single”, a group for single Mainers who want to meet people offline.

Wine wise, a group that provides wine tours in and around Portland.

Running or biking groups (check out meetup.com or bike shops to find them)

Take Action Portland (TAP) is a volunteer-run organization that coordinates monthly commitment-free community action projects and is a fantastic way to meet people.

6. Pay attention to people in your real world. The ultimate offline experience is right around the corner, at Coffee by Design, Rising Tide Brewery, or the produce section of Trader Joes, for example.  Connect with the person standing next to you in line through a smile or a hello. Take a chance; make a connection. You never know what will happen.

Note: I addressed this article mainly to women because, in my experience, men are a bit better at this. In my dating phase, almost every single man I went on a date with was up for the second date. It was my choice to turn them on or turn them down.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

# Dating a World Later: The 6 most important questions to ask when jumping online.

It’s been 25 years since you dated. The last “date” you remember was in high school or college. Maybe you were a child of the 50s or 60s when dating was less “dating” and more dancing, smoking, and listening to Pink Floyd or the Grateful Dead. Or perhaps you were a child of the 70s when you weren’t quite as free but still retained some sweetness in double dates and seeing movies for the 10th time. Wherever you were, we now find ourselves in a rule-less world of online dating where clearly a lot has changed.  A mid-50s female relationship-coaching client asked me, “What do I need to know about online dating?” The advice I gave in response may prove helpful to you.

1. Men and women may be online for different reasons

There are lots of reasons to be online dating: to meet new people, to develop long-term relationships, or to have lots of sex.  Online dating provides some anonymity and allows people to market themselves in a particular way. It also allows one to hone in on what they want (activesingles.com; greensingles.com).  Be clear about why you are online.

Ask these 2 questions before you get in too far:

- Why did you decide to date online?

- What are you looking for from people you meet online?

2. You need to know the difference between dating and a relationship

The implication of “dating” is that you are trying things out and potentially dating multiple people. A relationship implies that only two people are involved and there is a presumption that there may be a future together. As a rule, men date and women relate.

Ask these questions once you have passed date #3.

- Are you more into dating or relationships?

- How many people do you like to date at once?

3. Sex is forefront in the mind of everyone (yes, everyone)

Most people coming out of divorce have had unsatisfying sex lives for quite some time and are looking to rectify the situation. The pleasure and risks of sex are much different today. The openness is fun; the STDs are not. Don’t be afraid to wait, always use a condom, get tested and ask questions.

Ask these questions cautiously and clearly.

- What are your thoughts on having sex with more than one person at a time?

- Is there anything I need to know about your sexual health before we have sex? (Basically, do you have any STDs I should be aware of?)  Have you been tested recently?

You need to know what you want. People may ask you the same questions. Be prepared.

Start by asking yourself all the questions above.  And, come to the workshop on online dating on May 20th at 7pm at Local Flames.  Register by clicking here.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

# Three months in? Five Ways to get to Four

There is a classic story amongst dating adults. It was depicted in 9 ½ Weeks, with a little pizazz and lot of soft-core bondage. It is the story of the rapid rise and fall of the steamy adult relationship. It starts with a bang and fizzles out with one last confusing text.

January

Oh my god! I haven’t seen you in forever! I have to tell you about Josh. Holy shit, he is the best. No seriously, I think he’s the one. I mean, it’s just this feeling I get when I’m around him. It’s totally perfect. And you’ll never believe this. Our mothers have the same name. Seriously, and get this. He got married on the same date as my birthday. How weird is that! And wait for it… it is literally the best sex of my life!!

February

No… yeah, no, I mean it is going really well. We went to a really good concert last night. I met his kids last weekend; that was weird. A little reality check but I really, really like him. He lives in Yarmouth and wants to stay there. There is no way in hell I am moving out of Portland. But it’s way too early to think about all that, so no biggie.

Mid-February

I do, I really enjoy our time together. I don’t quite get why I need to hear about his ex so much but whatever.   I definitely don’t want to deal with another crazy ex. Get this, he left his toothbrush at my house. It just sits there staring at me in the morning. What’s up with that? What? No, definitely, the sex is still pretty good.

Early-March

We’re on a break, I mean, just a short one. We really like each other and really want this to work. It was just feeling like too much work. Should it be that much work? He was weirdly defensive the other day and I still don’t know what he was mad about. I felt like I was right back in my last relationship! I might have to get out of this.

Late-March

We broke up. No, this time for good. I miss him, but I love being alone.

48 hours later

Well, we’re trying it again. No really, I’m feeling good about it. We had a really good talk. Well, and a little sex too. He said everything I was waiting to hear. I’m really excited that we’re back.

April

Oh, right, we broke up a week ago. I meant to tell you. I mean, we tried as hard as we could but it just wasn’t working. I loved that first month we spent together. We just couldn’t get back there.

What’s up with that?

Month 3 is when the mask we wear is no longer comfortable and starts to break off. We have an innate knowledge that to feel truly safe in a relationship we must be known and be vulnerable. In trying to reach that place of safety, we have to go through the field of fear. Fear pushes us back to our core emotional patterns learned oh so long ago. Automatic pilot kicks in. If we are a runner, this is when we run. If we are a fighter, this is when we fight. So how do we get through the field, with the relationship, and ourselves, intact?

Pay attention to yourself. What do you do when you feel backed against a wall? And, what puts you there? Is it the mere mention of commitment or a vacation together that gives you cold sweats?   Does talk of wanting to merge families put you on edge? And how do you react when you feel uncomfortable: do you turn off emotionally, back away from the relationship physically, return to former girlfriends, feel anxious, and/or begin to cling and text overly long sentiments? Does jealousy or anger creep in?

2. Learn to be vulnerable.

Your patterns are your defense. They keep you from having to feel real feelings, which emanate from that sense of vulnerability. Step 1 to being vulnerable is believing in yourself and understanding that we all, every single one of us, have (many!) beautiful imperfections. Being vulnerable takes an act of courage. It is believing in yourself, not clinging to past stories, past beliefs or things past partners said about you. Start by taking a breath and repeating “I’m okay, no, not just okay, but good. I’m good”.

3. Know that discomfort is a good thing.

You may have heard the suggestion to “lean into your discomfort”. Leaning in is a signal that you are open to doing things differently this time, that you know that learning new emotional patterns takes work. When you feel uncomfortable, it is a signal to your brain that you are on the precipice of learning something new. When you feel the discomfort in your body, stop, breathe, and stay with that discomfort. Do something differently. Instead of turning away from the person in front of you, turn towards her and say, out loud, “Wow, I am glad we got to this point. I feel uncomfortable. My usual tendency would be to back away from this relationship and start acting weird, but I am choosing not to. I am happy to be here with you.”

4. Stop trying to get back to the first month.

A long term relationship has a different feel to it than the early, dopamine-laden days of that first month. The trick to the longer term relationship is to aspire to feelings of attachment rather than the quick hit of cocaine (cocaine has the same impact on the brain that touch, love, and sex have during that first month). Attachment, the feeling in a longer term relationship, feels like a comfortable blanket wrapping around you while you sit in front of a fire with your favorite book. You don’t have to give up the quick rush when you are striving for a longer relationship. Picture sex on the couch before you grab your book!  But know that aspiring only for the quick rush will not result in sustained joy or a sustainable relationship.

5. Or just break up.

Because you are showing your true self around the three month mark, you should recognize the other person is too. You are getting new insight into what she is like, how she deals with conflict, and how she feels about herself. This is an ideal time to step back, ask lots of questions of the other person, and assess the relationship with a calm, objective eye. It is always possible that the person in front of you is not a good match. Breaking up and trying again with someone else is always an option. If you decide you want to stay in the relationship, take a breath, and get ready for the ride.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com

# The Secret Truth About Lying

He is such a dick. I can’t believe he lied to me! We have all sputtered or spit this refrain. The akin phrase from the men: What a crazy bitch! How is it that we view as liars those who have scorned or left us because all those sweet nothings whispered in the middle of the night evaporated into words of vitriol?

I have a theory that some of our craziest, most delusional declarations may not be lies per se, but hopes, dreams and wishes instead. I also believe those statements are heavily influenced by the chemicals in our brains.

Now, I am not making an argument that people don’t ever lie. I was married to a chronic liar, which he copped to, in a letter, that he said he wrote to me, that his post-divorce girlfriend told me he said he wrote for her, that he posted on Facebook. (He had an attention deficit disorder of a different sort.) So I understand malicious liars. This isn’t about them. This is about the things we say during relationships and how they may not qualify as lies.

Four Proclamations Said in the Heat of the Moment: Are They Lies?

Try these four on for size.

1. I want to be with you forever.

When we are falling in love, our brains are awash in dopamine and norepinephrine. Those chemicals send us into a land of extremes (picture snorting cocaine and the immediate aftereffects and you may understand why everything in love is so very). Falling in love is like we are in a tunnel with tunnel vision only hearing the reverberations that emanate from the tunnel echoing back at us. She is all you think about. She seems perfect! She is like no one you have ever met. Your brain ruminates on her all the time. You are staying up late talking and touching and looking into each other’s eyes. Your brain is convincing you that she is a unique being on this planet, unlike anyone you have ever experienced, ever! So, of course, you throw out words like “forever”, “best” and “perfect”. You believe it when you say it.

2. Let’s make a baby.

This is an interesting one to me. Having had triplets, I felt completely over-done with babies soon after their birth when I was 30. My plan was for one and done and I ended up with half a hockey team. But during my rebound marriage, delusional ramblings came out of my mouth and his in those first six months. Lets have a baby together. My sex education when growing up was a book called “Where do babies come from?” which suggested it is natural to want to be as close as we can to the one we love, and there is nothing closer than having a baby together. The chemicals flowing through our brains make us think we can take on anything. I also believe there is a strong evolutionary pull towards wanting to procreate together.   Luckily, we were able to step back and see that the existing 5 kids between the two sides was too many and 6 would have been perfectly disastrous. No one was lying when they proclaimed a brief desire for children; we were just in love.

3. That was the best sex ever.

This is one of those statements that is not worth questioning too much. I mean, really, who cares to dissect their entire sexual past to determine whether that last 20-minute session was truly the best ever?  When you get to a certain age, like mine, you will have made the statement to five, ten or twenty different people. In doing research on the brain’s reactions during lust, sex, and love, I realized that it is the intense hit of endorphins in the build-up to and following orgasm that forces “oh my god” over and over out of your mouth, regardless of your religious beliefs.  It is the same force that allows you to clearly and sincerely state your fervent ardor. So, if someone tells you are the best ever, smile and say thank you.

4. I love you.

This is the big one. How could he say he loved me and then walk away from me? He never loved me! My worst divorce #1 moment came when the inept therapist I was going to said, “It seems like you never loved you husband.” This was my love of the last 18 years that he was dissing with a single harmful sentence. I repeated the sentence to my soon-to-be ex and he was completely destroyed. What a ridiculous waste of emotional energy to turn what had been an important and enduring relationship into a waste of time. We can lose that loving feeling, but a moment in time doesn’t erase the past. We can also feel fully in love, yet a month later move on to someone else. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that there are different brain systems at work for lusting after someone, falling in love with someone, and having a long term attachment to another person. Another part is that we all feel love and express love differently from one another. Some of us move on quickly from one love to the next; others need longer to heal. But those are different articles. For now, suffice to say, believe him when he says “I love you” but accept it if he moves on.

The truth

We want people to be perfect, to know themselves perfectly, and to speak their truths all the time. The older I get, the more I realize truth is relative, impermanent, and transitory at best. Sometimes I have to try a statement out loud before I know if it is true or not. I told my last boy that I was totally up for taking care of his 3 year old child, and I felt completely sincere in my proclamation at the time. Trying out that statement now, I can see there is no way I can step back 10 years in time after I have hit the golden years with my own 13 year-old triplets.   So it was my truth at the time, but it is not my truth. Get it?

In the throes of love anything seems possible.   Wrap your last love-lost story in some perspective. Remember that as we say bold and big statements, we are influenced by our past patterns, our recent experiences, and the chemicals flowing in our brains.

Authored by Erin Oldham, Ph.D.

Erin is a researcher, relationship & divorce coach, and mediator.  Erin works with people as they navigate getting into, sustaining and getting out of relationships.  She also works with people as they negotiate divorce and the post-divorce world.  Erin has a Ph.D. in Psychology and has been researching child wellbeing and the formation of healthy relationships among children and adults for 20 years.  She is approachable, pragmatic, empathic and effective.  She facilitates intriguing, engaging workshops on these topics as well.  Contact her now at erin@localflamesmaine.com or 207-200-3970.  More information here.  localflamesmaine.com