All posts by Erin Oldham

come out

Odious Online Dating: Learn to Love it!

The conversation

She plopped down on the couch: “I don’t think I can do this. Dating sucks.”  She spent the first five minute of our session lambasting Ok Cupid and men in general: “Are they all so terrible?!”  They are not so terrible; they are probably just like you.  When we step into the online arena, we are a mix of excited, depressed and terrified.  We are bummed that online dating seems the only way to meet people but we have all heard of some fun couple that met online successfully.  Usually the first perusal through profiles is a little jarring.  We live in Maine where there are only so many people and many of the men have ridiculous pics including their half-naked sad selfies in a mirror.  I assume there is an analogous female pic: maybe it includes cats.  But when we take a closer look (with an open mind), we realize (a) we are all just looking to connect with others and (b) there are plenty of good people in the mix.

The research

The Pew Research Center has been tracking opinions on online dating since 2005.  Overtime, more people think dating is a good way to meet others and that online dating can even help you find a better match.  And fewer people think online dating reflects desperation.  An important question Pew asked was whether online dating keeps people from settling down: a third of people think it does.  I have seen this in my practice: the candy shop problem.  Once people know there is a candy shop full of potential pals, it is tough to settle on the one you are with.  Relationships take dedication and energy – some people find it easier to keep going back and picking out a different type of candy. However, I find that people, both men and women, eventually tire of the dating madness and just want a more committed relationship.

pew research

Here are my suggestions for managing your online dating experience:

Set the pace

You get to decide how deep you want to jump in.  Do you want one or multiple dates per week?  Do you want to try one or many people at a time? (Be aware that most people are dating multiple people.)  I find many people, especially women, get overwhelmed by the dozens of emails coming at them (many with just the titillating message: “Hi”).  The recipient oftentimes feels burdened by having to respond to each email to be polite or can’t handle the inbox barrage and ignores them all (most people do the latter).  My advice:

  1. Come up with a standard message to send to people you are not interested in such as “Thank you for writing.  I don’t think we match.  Good luck on your search.”  I found that men were so happy to have someone respond to them that they graciously thanked me for my brief retort.
  2. Come up with a strategy for reaching out to the people you would like to date.  Email three people a week to see what response you get.  Try pithy messages that reflect your interest:  “I enjoyed reading about who you are.  Tell me more about where you like to travel (or ‘what you like to read’ or ‘your favorite place in Maine’). Or, if you want to get down to business (which I recommend): “I loved reading about who you are.  I would enjoy hearing more over coffee.”
  3. When you finally meet, keep it brief.  I recommend the 20 minute coffee/tea date with a planned “get the hell out of dodge” excuse ready.  You could be meeting a friend or taking your kid to the doctor’s or if things are go well, you could stay right where you are.
  4. Caution:  I don’t recommend emailing back and forth more than 4-5 times.  Many novice users of internet dating fall into the trap of emailing non-stop until they feel like they have found their best friend only to discover that they are repelled the instant she walks in the coffee shop door.

Set realistic expectations

Expect to be rejected.  That is just the reality of online dating.  We get to be picky in the online arena.  Just as a woman is not attracted to every single man, men are not attracted to every single women.  He/she may not want someone with kids or someone tall or someone who lives in Scarborough.  You never know.  People are not great at direct communication online.  Think about it: For every person you ignore, there is someone who will ignore you.

My advice: Allow the “NOs” to roll off of you.  Practice not taking it personally.  Know why you are doing online dating and that it generally takes TEN dates to find one you want to continue with (See my 10 to 1 rule here).

Caution: The anonymity of the internet encourages trolls in all arenas including online dating.  Scams are real.  The most recent one I heard about was a man who emailed and called two women (both happened to be widows) and treated them like princesses until a surprise trip came up where the man happened to need an influx of cash to “save him”.  In an article by Reviews.com, they found harassment happened to 12% of Match.com users, 17% of Plenty of Fish users, 20% of eHarmony users and a whopping 47% of OkCupid users.  So the female client who came to my office had reason to complain!

See the humor… and humanity in it all.

Find reasons to laugh amidst the travails of online dating.  The ten year old photos, the ridiculous emails, the awkward silences… it is all great fodder for your friends.  Learning how not to take the rejections to heart will help.  Generally, we are all looking for something similar: we are lonely and want to be fulfilled through a relationship. However, too few of us have perfect relationship skills so we tend to stumble and fall before we stand.  Give yourself a break and extend it to the person sitting across the table from you as well.

Do you want more?

For a well-researched article on the best online sites by Reviews.com, go here.

For an article on online dating when you are 50+, go here

For a glance at advice from men and women on the composition of your profile, go here

 

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. 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 well-being 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.  Email her here.

hand

How neuroscience saved my relationship

I have a shit track record with relationships.  I seemed to have gotten married twice and happened to have divorced both of them, getting rid of them with a snap of my fingers (and a small bribe to banish that second one from my life).  My current beau was reasonably nervous about getting involved with what some people might term a “runner”.   Ruiner is another name.  It is tempting to blame my was-bands for my divorces but I know perfectly well that my power to destroy relationships is equal to my ability to attract men.

I am an interesting mix of low maintenance with high expectations.  Camping and no showers for a week – no problem.  Dress up, dress down – all good.  But I require intense interest in life, ambition, progressive inclinations, a desire to volunteer and contribute to the community combined with a nuanced understanding of acceptable shoes (my definition, not your definition) and a butt that can fill out your jeans (which better not be from LL Bean).   I bring people in easily and can easily throw them away when I am done.  Not pretty, not nice.  But if you dig deeper, you might discover, I don’t do this to be mean, I do this to protect myself.

We all have our ways of protecting ourselves from getting too close and being too vulnerable with another human being.  One of my primary ways was to build up a negative story in my mind so I could cut loose at any time without it seeming like a loss.  But I want to keep this one – my new beau.  I want to make the relationship work this time.  I have been studying what works to change our patterns.  I discovered it all has to do with the brain, our neuronal infrastructure and how we form memories from our experiences.  This is what I discovered that might help me and might help you.

“One of my primary ways was to build up a negative story in my mind so I could cut loose at any time without it seeming like a loss.” 

 

We see what we want to see.

During my second marriage, I thought I was being clever by coming up with different pet names for #2, like “f@#king a&&hole”.   I would repeat this sentiment in my head each time he spoke.  As it turns out, this was not helpful!  It biased me against seeing anything good in him, regardless of what he did.  Our thoughts and past experiences dictate what we pull from our current experiences.   It is like we walk around with mesh made up of our past experiences hanging over our eyes, obscuring our vision.  #2 could bring me flowers but all I could focus on what the fact that he was 15 minutes late.  We see what we want to see.

Focus on the good.

In my current relationship, I focus on the good instead.  I purposely note in my mind when he has done something lovely (like listen to me, smile at me or come with me to my parent’s house).  I say it directly to him (Thank you so much for coming with me to my parents’ house.  It means a lot) and repeat it internally.  This is purposeful.  I am building up an argument to my body and brain to keep him.  Sure, I could pick out things I find annoying but I now know that noting those things, reinforcing them in my body will not do me nor him any good.  Our brain forms channels of thought that we can easily fall into and can easily reinforce if we aren’t careful (“He never comes with me to my parents”).  These negative stories can slowly destroy our relationships by tainting our perception and experiences.  By creating a positive story about him in my mind, when something negative does happen, it no longer has much of an impact.

“I purposely note in my mind when he has done something lovely.” 

 

Appreciate often and out-loud.

Another practice I have adopted is to compliment him on anything I see that I like (and even some behaviors I would like to see).   “I really appreciate how patient you were with me tonight.”  This lets him know patience is important to me (and that it is likely a requirement to adapt to my proclivities).  It also gives me inspiration to be patient with him when needed.  It makes him feel good (presumably) and provides a road map for him in future interactions.  Equally important, it again strengthens the neuronal pathway in my brain between him and good things.

We feel what we want to feel

In my 30’s, I bemoaned my lack of moaning.  I wasn’t consistently attracted to my husband and I was missing out on getting off.  I have thankfully moved past this awkward stage with a key life lesson.  You determine your own experience, not only of life and what you choose to see, but of intimacy, by what you choose to feel.  Much of the orgasmic experience comes from fully immersing oneself inside the sensations.  You can essentially create your own orgasm.  We feel what we choose to feel.

Associate him with good feelings.

I learned I could do much the same thing with my attraction for my beau.  By bringing full focus on how it feels when he touches my hand (or any other body part), I reinforce my brain’s association between the warm vibrations and his being.

There are two key practices I do.  I breathe in when he touches me, my breath marking the sensation he produces in me.  This practice forces me to slow down and appreciate him; it allows me to feel and note the intensity of my feeling for him.  I also intentionally note out-loud (and loudly inside my head) my attraction for him.  These two practices build a clear narrative for my ever-protective brain:  He is a keeper.

“I breathe in when he touches me, my breath marking the sensation he produces in me.”  

 

We can change our patterns, defeating our protectionist tendencies… if we are willing to practice.

This is the deal.  We are really good at repeating our patterns over time.  We are really good at protecting our hearts.  It takes practice, and courage, to open up, be vulnerable and create something different in your life.  This was my way of doing it: day by day, touch by touch, neuron by neuron.  By coupling positive thoughts with the sight, feel, and smell of him, I aim to ensure we remain a couple over the long term.  I hope you find your way too.

 

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. 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 well-being 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.  Email her here.

communication

The Clumsy Conundrum of Communication

I dread the phone call that I know will come before I am ready.  Her timeline is vastly different from mine.  She wants to know what I am thinking about making for Thanksgiving dinner… in September.  I generally get down to business about 24 hours before the celebration.  She wants to discuss what I am thinking about for summer plans in February.  I, on the other hand, hold off as long as possible from thinking about summer and the pain of no free education-based entertainment during those two incredibly long months.  For her, planning ahead calms.  For me, planning ahead hurts my head.  We have different motivations, different timelines, and different ways of dealing with the world.  Neither she nor I are in the right, per se.  We simply communicate differently.  If she were my partner instead of my mother, I would likely have some communication challenges ahead.

In the game of communication, one of the most important aspects is to understand your partners’ communication style and needs.  What do they need to know?  What level of detail do they prefer?  When do they like to know it?  When is the best time to talk with them productively?  Getting used to fine-tuning the way you communicate in the following ways can help you enjoy your relationship more.

What isn’t working?  Sometimes this is the easiest place to start in your search for good communication.  When do you not feel heard?  When does your partner seem not to be listening?  When does your subtle comment turn into a fight?  Ask yourself the following questions:

Was I clear in what I was trying to communicate?

Is there a better or ‘softer’ way to say what I was trying to say?

Did I use any blaming language that may have made my partner defensive?  (“You always…” “You made me angry”)

Did I give my partner time to respond?

Did I try and understand his/her position?

Was the environment conducive to a good conversation?

Are there certain words I use that tend to “trigger” my partner?

What triggers me?  What did he say that made me angry?

In a recent workshop, men and women talked about what is happening when conversations go awry. 

“I was rushed.”                 “We were late.”                 “I just got home from work.” 

“I felt disrespected.”       “She didn’t try to understand me.”          “He cut me off.” 

“He told me how I was feeling.”                 “She was telling me what to do.” 

What is working?  Think it through: when was the last time you had a really effective conversation meaning that you felt heard or you and your partner worked well together?   These are things you might recognize:

Calmness works. Being able to stay calm in your body and tone tends to keep the other person calm.  Think of it this way: people tend to mimic the body language and feelings of the one they are around.  If you are calm, she will be calm.

Environment matters.  Think “where” and “when”.  Don’t start a conversation when either of you is rushed.  Find a place that is quiet and a time when each party can relax into the conversation.  If he likes to have 30 minutes after he comes home to play video games, let him and ask him to let you know when he is ready to talk.  Sometimes I need to take a shower when I get home to wash off the day and then I am ready to face the world again.  Also, put your phones away and reduce any other distractions.  This goes a long way towards building an environment of respect.

Words matter.  We each have phrases that bug us.  Maybe it’s “you always” or “you never”.  Or maybe it’s a condescending tone that makes you feel belittled.  Notice the impact you are having on your partner.  Be willing to try different ways of speaking that build partnership rather than animosity.

Be a good listener.  This is the one to really pay attention to.  Be a good listener.  Being a good listener means not talking (at all!).  It means making eye contact and listening to understand your partner’s perspective.  If you are really listening, you are not be using the time to formulating your comeback.  You are not be planning your next move.  If you fear you will forget what you want to say, write it down.  A good practice to know whether you were listening is to repeat the words back to the talker and ask them if you got it correct.

This is what I think you were trying to say….. Did I hear you correctly?

Simply listening will go a long way to strengthening your communication with your partner.  If your partner feels heard and even better, understood, there is a lot less to complain about.

I fumble as much as I fly in communicating effectively.  It is a practice.  Allow your missteps to lead to you to being in step with your partner (or your mother), at least occasionally.  It is worth it.

 

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. 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 well-being 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.  Email her here.

fight

We fight, a lot. Are we doomed?

I dated my college boyfriend for 10 years and then dove into marriage with him for the next 7.  We rarely fought; we were best friends.  Yet, in the end, we divorced.  What happened?  Reading about the research on what makes marriages work, we probably should have been fighting more.

There was too much unsaid in our relationship. Our not-fighting was a sign of not sharing our feelings rather than of contentedness.  John Gottman, my favorite relationship researcher, points out that not fighting is a predictor of divorce!

Is marriage just about resolving conflicts?  No, most marital arguments can’t be fully resolved (69% of them aren’t resolved according to Gottman).   So it isn’t useful to cross your arms until things change.  He simply won’t always be on time and she simply can’t help but need the bedroom to be spotless.  We are generally so ingrained in our patterns, that while short-term changes may be possible, we are more likely to fall back into our patterns over the long term.

So if we can’t change each other or force the other person to be ‘perfect’ in our eyes, what can we do?  We can “manage” the conflict instead of trying to resolve it.  Here are a couple steps for you:

Fight better.  Research shows it is not whether couples argue but how they argue that makes the difference.  Focus your energy on learning more about what triggers you (what makes you really mad!).  Find ways of staying calm so you can effectively communicate.  You might want to practice breathing deeper or asking for a break when overwhelmed.  Practice effectively communicating your needs.  Two tips: (1) find ways of starting a conversation that doesn’t trigger your partner (e.g., make them defensive, or make them shut-down) and (2) research “non-violent communication” practices.

Accept him/her.  Find a couple things about your partner that you are willing to accept just as they are.  Maybe he is messy and maybe you just leave that alone.  Maybe she isn’t great at making small talk at a party and maybe you just learn to live with that and be the “small-talker” of the couple.  For each characteristic of your partner that you can “accept”, you just got rid of one cause of your fights!

Get curious.  Another way to reduce fighting is to gain a greater understanding of your partner.  Start asking (non-threatening) questions.  “I would really like to understand you better.  I noticed you don’t talk a lot at parties.  Do you enjoy the parties?”  Fights can easily arise when you start making assumptions about why your partner is like they are.  A greater understanding of your partner can lead to greater empathy and less fighting.

Shift yourself.  A huge key to shifting away from fighting with your partner is to understand yourself better.   Each fight is caused by the dynamic between the two people.  You are half of that dynamic and the problem is that you can’t control your partner’s behavior (as much as you would like to!).  But, you can control how you behave.  It is rather amazing but you can see big shifts in your dynamic by simply shifting yourself.  This may look like changing the language you use to communicate, finding better times to communicate when both partners are calm, or even integrating yoga or meditation into your world.  Yoga and meditation enable you to be less reactive to stressful situations.  When I go to yoga regularly, I am a much better partner as I am calmer and kinder.

Make up!  Most couples fight.  What is critical for the long-term health of a relationship is the recovery after a fight.  No recovery can lead to resentment and further anger.  Develop a way of coming down and connecting after a fight.  This can be a ritual of apologizing (“Wow, I am really sorry about how I acted.”) or maybe a ritual of appreciation (“I was really angry.  I am calmer now and I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate you coming back together to talk with me.”) or maybe a ritual of affection “I am sorry. <<hug>>”  Of course, offering regular affection, kindnesses, and positive statements about the relationship and each other forms the foundation that allows a couple to come down and connect following a fight.  85% of those who learn to effectively repair fights stay happily married.

So, no, your relationship isn’t doomed if you fight.  But if you fight nasty, it might be.  Learn to fight better, apologize sooner and make up sweetly.

 

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. 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 well-being 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.  Email her here.

Connect with her on her website or on Facebook.

yoga

A mean yoga teacher taught me a ton about relationships in the midst of my post-divorce confusion

I might have been looking for a little punishment in retrospect. I entered the way too hot room, looking down and intermittently around, to see what I should be doing. You see, I am a rule follower. Give me a rule, and I will stick within the lines. It appeared I should be lying down, preparing for what was about to happen, probably not a good sign. I unfurled my mat gently with nary a noise and laid my weary body down.

50% of us have been through it, but somehow the journey through your divorce is incredibly lonely. I was in the midst of experiencing new loneliness and confusion with all that surrounded me. I was less lonely in this place where I had to follow the rules and could do nothing but focus on the sweat beads dripping down my forearms as I stretched them out ahead and behind me in Warrior One stance. In times of trouble, we all become seekers and I was seeking redemption or clarity or suffering or something when I entered that studio.

The laser focus of the teacher seemed to land on me each time, offering corrections and adjustments, not in the gentle whispering way of some teachers, but in the bark your name with a stern admonishment manner. Apparently, although I was innately, supremely flexible, I couldn’t even do half-pigeon correctly. No matter how close I thought I was getting to getting it, there was always some minute adjustment I could have, should have incorporated.

Her voice was severe as it cut through the thick, heavy air. She actually broke into a screaming rant one day, losing her cool in the steamy room. My friends were electing to leave the studio, appalled by the intensity of our ‘yogic’ sessions. They were dropping like little sweaty flies. But something in her straightforward, no BS manner appealed to me. The angry, redundant thoughts swirling in my divorce-addled head were exhausting. I needed someone to inject some clear messages.

1. ‘Don’t leave the studio!’Translation: Stay in the discomfort.

This was the dictate for us, the new-bies who were unused to the sickly, suffocating heat of the room. The rumors of judgmental teachers following you into the bathroom if you dared leave the room kept us in check. This seemed cruel at first but over time this was one of the most powerful messages for me in my journey. I just had to translate it into “stay in your discomfort.” We run from the discomfort, of relationships, of friendships, of comments, of political issues, all the time.  Staying in the discomfort, learning to breathe through our anxieties, into how we want to be, is a good first step.

2. ‘Lower!’ Translation: Soften to strengthen yourself.

Chair pose, the dreaded chair pose. It strikes me in two ways every time I hear the teacher announce it’s name. I get excited that my thighs are about to be challenged and I cringe at the thought of the pain. My way throughout my first four decades was to throw up layers of steel in response to a challenge. I would make myself impenetrable, impervious to pain. In a challenging pose, with my breath jagged, my initial approach was to steel myself against the pose, muscling my way through it. A couple months in, her words directing me to soften into the pose finally broke through my preconceived notions of the best way forward. I relaxed my leg and arm muscles, unclenched my fingers and tried another way.  Amazingly, the poses became easier as I stopped fighting against them.

3. ‘Eyes open!’ Translation: Be aware

40 minutes into the hour long session, she led us to the ground. The ground rose up to catch us as we unfolded our bodies, vertebrae by vertebrae until our arms and legs flopped to the floor. Bridge pose, our next endeavor. This was the exact point when we were all dying to check out, assuming the ground would be our friend. Breathing heavily, my eyelids shuttered. ‘Eyes open!’ As she rattled off various counts from 6 to 12, never letting us know when the final bridge would fall, reminders to keep our eyes open were thrown at us. Annoying at the time, now I see where she was coming from. It is so easy to check out and ignore our discomfort or dull it with various food and beverages. Keeping our eyes open is one way to stay aware, of what we are feeling and what we are learning about ourselves.

Why did she feel the need to teach through yelling?

What I could see and hear clearly in the end, once I was no longer so enmeshed in my own pain, was the pain she was walking through. Her yelling was meant to pierce through me into herself.

Sometimes our guide to the other side is different than we imagined. Sometimes she is yelling, directly, in our ear, trying to get us to finally hear what she is saying. She didn’t teach me compassion but ironically, she taught me that the path to strength is through softness and vulnerability. She opened me to the skills I would need to enter into a healthy relationship.

Allow the guides in your life to be unexpected and unorthodox. Your guide may not resonate with anyone else but they may be just the perfect person at the perfect time for you.

I still yoga regularly, although at a different studio. I enjoy the quiet and pause it brings to my life. But I can still hear the mean teacher yelling in my head at times and I continue to appreciate the messages from her.

 

Erin Oldham, Ph.D. is a researcher and relationship & divorce coach. 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 well-being 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.  Email her here.

Connect with her on her website or on Facebook.

 

ponder

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”.

 

 

 

wherehouse

It took an earthquake to shake me into ending my relationship. What about you?

I have a hard time ending relationships.  I wait until big, insanely obvious events occur; I need someone to literally or figuratively hit me over the head.  In 1994, it took an earthquake with the ‘fastest ground velocity’ ever recorded to wake me up.   My bed, shaking so hard I couldn’t get off of it, was six miles from the epicenter of the 1994 Northridge earthquake in southern California.  Once the violent shaking gave us a reprieve, I did the only thing I knew to do in an earthquake: run for the door.  I placed myself between the frame, kowtowing to the ludicrous notion that a sloppily constructed building could ever support us.  He trailed after me, shoving himself in the doorframe, taking up my precious space.  Beeping car alarms and screaming neighbors permeated the thin stucco walls of the garden-style one-bedroom apartment we had moved in to rather recently after a rather short get-to-know-you phase.

Four months earlier, I had crossed the country with my dedicated medical school-bound boyfriend of five years.  A couple months later, I shacked up with the law student next door, trading in one honorable profession for another.  And then the trembling started again.  The earth lost its bearing and began to tear apart at the seams, destroying everything resting upon it.  These aftershocks were the most disturbing to me.  No one told me about that part.  I knew earthquakes happened in this part of the country and I knew books would fall off the shelves and picture frames from the walls, but I didn’t know the earth would keep reminding us, at random times over the next couple of weeks, that the solid ground beneath us was an illusion.

This jolt made me take action with the man taking up space in the doorway.  I met him when we were both swimming laps in the pool outside our UCLA-appointed apartments in West LA. He was a southern California surfing law student and I was a Washington D.C. fish out of water.  We moved in together shortly after we met for the most practical of reasons: saving rent money.  Of course, by the time we found our lemon and lime tree framed apartment in the valley, we had spent more money than we intended.  And, in the downgrade to the valley, we lost the pool that had brought us together.

Now that we were living together, I was actually getting to know him.  He was a military brat, his parents still living close to the base in San Diego. He was passionate and spoke with his hands cutting through the air as he explained that there was only one cause.  He believed that if you cared about one thing, you had to care about everything: there could be no deviation or nuanced beliefs.  I have never met anyone before or after him with such black and white thinking, which seems an odd ideology to take into law school.  He was also a “cutter” with inscriptions of pain lining his forearms.  I was obsessed with my abnormal psychology classes, which perhaps kept me intrigued with him, but I didn’t recognize the cutting for what it was because my textbooks were silent on the subject.  He was suffocating me with his pain; while lying in the bed we shared, he would hold up his hand up above his face and stare at it with tears streaming onto the pillow beneath him murmuring something about ‘small hands’.

I didn’t understand him or what he was experiencing but I did recognize that I couldn’t help him.  With the adrenaline fueled energy of our young relationship, we had cruised through the first couple of months with nary a purposeful or reflective thought.  I had lost that loving feeling and needed to figure a way to break my lease and break his hold over me.  I had been contemplating my path out when the earthquake struck.  While kneeling down to pick up hundreds of female folk artist CDs scattered across the living room floor, I looked up at him and said what the earthquake knocked out of me, “You need to find another apartment.  I’ll give you a month.”

how to know when to go

Parting is such sweet sorrow? How to know when to go.

We only know what we know.  We often have little ability to have a clear, objective perspective on our relationships.  How do we know when to go?  Turning to the research, there is clear information about what constitutes a healthy relationship and what characterizes a not-so-good one.  This may help us know when parting becomes the better option than staying.

A healthy relationship is characterized by joy, kindnesses, and ease.  These can be qualities that come into the relationship organically or can be ones that you nurture and grow intentionally.  Essentially, a healthy relationship creates an environment where you can take off the mask and be yourself.  It is a place where you feel heard and seen by your partner.  John Gottman tells us more in his book, “What Makes Love Last?”

John Gottman is one of my favorite relationship researchers.  I find him funny and real, grounded in rigorous research techniques and more importantly, grounded in the humbling experience of divorce as well as a second wife that brings her therapist background to bear.   Gottman is most well known for being able to predict which couples will de-couple with a 94% success rate (the 94% success rate emanated from a single study in 1994 and has been replicated with various groupings of couples in subsequent studies).  The key tool of prediction is the story of the couple’s relationship in their own words.  Gottman and his team start by asking each couple to relay the story of how they met and then ask a series of prompts to delve into the details of their partnership.  The researchers are able to rate the couple’s story along a number of dimensions to determine whether the couple is likely to stay together or to go their separate ways.  Couples that stay together express ‘fondness and admiration’ for each other and have taken the time to really get to know each other’s inner world.  They have asked the questions that give insight into how their partners feel and think; they have taken the time to know what is important to the other, what they hold dear.  The couple describes themselves as partners, and even when struggles rise to the surface, they figure it out together and revel in their togetherness.  There is an inherent satisfaction in the relationship; it meets the expectations that were laid down long ago.

A very different story is told in relationships that have gone astray.  The storyline and/or the punchline emphasizes the negative over the positive.  The like is gone.  Couples that are veering into dangerous waters no longer have fondness and admiration for each other, in fact, when they describe their stories, there is more “I” or “me” than “we”.  Tales of the past are rewritten for how they have impacted the individual rather than the couple.  The stories may focus on forgotten dreams, dashed hopes or deep dissatisfaction.  The sense of conquering life together is gone; the partnership has lost its partners.

If you need to measure and analyze your relationship, Gottman is the one for you.  He provides quizzes with scores to measure and to know when to go. Score less than 45% on his scale of dissatisfaction and disillusionment, and it is time for you to go. (See What Makes Love Last? by John Gottman for more.)

Another Gottman concept that can be brought to the table is the four warning signs of relationship breakdown.   He lays out four pillars of dis-ease that can sneak into your relationship: contempt, criticism, defensiveness, and stonewalling.  The surest sign of contempt is the eye-roll as your partner states his/her case.  Contempt escalates into insults and name calling or may be disguised in hostile sarcasm or mockery.  Criticism is exemplified by barbs that start with “you always”, “you never” or “why are you so…”  The intent is to attack the partner through insults.  Defensiveness is when a partners sees and describes herself/hisself as a victim to keep from being attacked.   Defensiveness may involve making excuses, whining, switching topics or ignoring what the partner is trying to communicate.  Stonewalling starts with the crossing of arms and ends with unbreakable silence.

How to know when to go?

Observe your relationship for a couple weeks.  Ask yourself…

  1. Does my relationship have more contempt than kindness?
  2. Does my relationship have more criticism than support?
  3. Does my relationship have more defensiveness than empathy and understanding?
  4. Does my relationship have more stonewalling than conversation?

If yes, look for a therapist or coach that can help you move towards healthier ways of relating to each other.

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 25 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

thats what she said

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.

Have some polite responses ready…  

“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.

http://blog.localflamesmaine.com/dating-as-adults/dating-world-later-6-important-questions-online/

http://blog.localflamesmaine.com/dating-as-adults/time-get-online-dating/

 

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

time to go online

It’s Time to Get Online

Yes, we all wish there was a better way but this is what we’ve got.  The ideal of meeting someone in a picturesque in-person way is simply against the odds in Maine, in part due to our lack of populace and in bigger part due to our tendency to look away from people as they walk towards us.  At this point, online dating is a relatively refined sport. Basically everyone ends up online at some point and usually at multiple points.  I was featured on the ‘necessary evil’ websites after each of my divorces and then again after a number of the break-ups from my post-divorce ramblings.  Hell, my ex was on there about 15 minutes after I asked for a divorce.  Take away #1: Online dating is super convenient!    Here are some facts and three simple tips that make it a more palatable experience.

Just the Facts, Ma’am

There are four major online dating sites in play.  I have chronicled the cost, number of unique visitors per month (across the country!) and the split of female to men on the sites.  Visit this site for more info: http://dating-websites.findthedata.com/

Match.com       $19.99/mo      4.29 mil unique visitors/mo                51% female/49% male

Plenty of Fish $12.75/mo      2.54 mil unique visitors/mo                45% female/55% male

Zoosk                 $12.49/mo      1.82 mil unique visitors/mo               66% female/34% male

OkCupid            $9.95/mo         2.88 mil unique visitors/mo                44% female/56% male

Where are the men?

Clients ask me whether I think there are intelligent, attractive men out there for them.  (My men clients are more assured of the availability of women.)  I believe there are, however, I also caution that we do happen to live in Maine where there are simply fewer people.  It will surely take patience and time to find a good man or woman.  It took me 8 years and one delusional rebound marriage.

Looking on Match.com this morning, this is who I found.  Now, I searched without logging on and had to catch the numbers before a pop-up popped-up trying to get me to sign up, so correct these numbers if I mis-read them.

Within 20 miles of 04101, there were the following number of men and women (who had photos):

Age 35 to 45                  287 men           235 women

Age 45 to 55                  215 men           215 women

Age 55 to 65                  127 men           156 women

Age 65 to 75                  46 men              47 women

Some Tantalizing Tips

It takes 10 to get 1.  If you are willing to accept most anyone, you can find a date tonight, easy.  If you are looking for substance, it is a numbers game.  You have to be willing to meet a good number of people to find someone you want to see a second or third time around.  Perhaps if you go in with realistic expectations, you will end up pleasantly surprised rather than frustrated.

Put your best foot forward.  Your picture is where it’s at.  For better or worse, we are all visual creatures.  We are all picky (it’s not just you!).   Your picture is the most important part of your profile.  Make it one with a good look at your smiling face (emphasis on the smile!).  Men told us they don’t need to see pictures of animals or sunsets; they just want to see you.  If you aren’t getting much response to one photo, try another one and see how that works.

Manage your experience.  Online dating can be hurtful if you don’t realize how it all works.  More people will ignore you than pay you the favor of a reply.  People will cancel your date an hour before you step into the restaurant because their date last night went well.  Most people are dating multiple people at the same time until they narrow in on one. This is not a place to build your self-esteem.  It is more of a place to steel yourself, get ready and dive in.  Treat people how you want to be treated (men were so thankful when I emailed them to say ‘no, thank you’) but don’t be surprised with the rude online culture.

Good luck on your search.  Contact me with additional questions on online dating at erin@localflamesmaine.com.

 

See other blogs on online dating here.

http://blog.localflamesmaine.com/dating-as-adults/dating-world-later-6-important-questions-online/

http://blog.localflamesmaine.com/dating-as-adults/she-said-online-dating/

 

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