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The monogamy myth?

monogamy, gay news, Washington Blade

‘We’re wondering if we should just accept that this is how things are supposed to be and stop feeling bad? ‘

Hi Michael,

 

Can two gay men really have a monogamous relationship?

 

My boyfriend and I have wanted to be monogamous, but neither of us has been able to totally stop the occasional hookup. It’s taken a toll on our relationship in terms of hurt feelings, trust and closeness.  Lately, Jim isn’t even trying to hide it and I really don’t like seeing him on Grindr out of the corner of my eye or having him suddenly disappear for two hours.

 

We’re wondering if we should just accept that this is how things are supposed to be and stop feeling bad? For what it’s worth, none of the gay couples we know are really monogamous, either (though sometimes one of the partners thinks they are).

 

Michael replies:

 

I think that gay men are capable of having monogamous relationships. But there are some powerful reasons why so many gay men endlessly chase sex, even when they would rather not.

Most of us grew up feeling bad and hiding our true selves from our closest family and friends, fearing rejection. When children and young people don’t get the sense of being loved for whom they really are, they aren’t able to develop their own sense of self worth. As a result, they keep looking for that love as adults. I think a lot of gay men are still seeking the validation they never really got. Finding another man who wants to have sex with us can seem like a great way to get it, although once we’re adults, validation from others doesn’t actually have much lasting impact on our self-esteem.

Another reason why monogamy seems so scarce among gay men is because of the heavy stigma around being gay, most of us didn’t have opportunities to date and romance other guys early in life.  Instead, we had sex when, where and with whomever we could, often in shame and secrecy, learning how to be sexual before we learned how to be close. As a result, it’s hard for many of us to connect sex and emotional intimacy. That combination can be unfamiliar and even uncomfortable, so we often seek out the familiarity of anonymous hookups instead.

Gay male culture also tends to put sex and hooking on a pedestal, for the reasons I mentioned above, and as a reaction against gay sex having been so taboo and forbidden to us, growing up. And men in general are socialized to have few qualms about pursuing sex. The emphasis on sex in our community puts a lot of pressure on us to define our success by our desirability and conquests. Keep in mind that all of these factors meld together in a seductive and addictive swirl, so that many of us wind up using sex (and porn) like a drug to soothe and feel good about ourselves.

All of this is doesn’t make it easy to be a monogamous gay couple, much less an emotionally healthy gay man. And I haven’t even delved into the reasons why monogamy is hard for just about everyone, including non-gays.

If you’re a gay man who wants to be monogamous but find that you can’t stop hooking up, or if you simply want to feel better about yourself and have a healthier relationship to sex, you’ve got some important work to do. It is absolutely possible to move beyond the negative messages and self-damaging behaviors that most of us learned as we grew up. And it’s also possible to move beyond other people’s definitions of what it means for you to be a successful gay man.

All of this is hard work and can be lonely. A lot of my clients tell me how isolated and different they feel for wanting to buck the hypersexual norm. Most of us grew up without a real peer group, so we aren’t eager to repeat the experience of feeling like we don’t fit in. Just like coming out, you have to decide whether it’s worth pretending to be someone you’re really not in order to not feel alone.

If you decide that you want to work on these issues, I strongly suggest that you seek out a therapist who has an expertise in working with gay men. This stuff is not easy to untangle. I wish you and Jim good luck going forward.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in gay couples counseling and individual therapy in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

03
Jun
2014

Harmless lie?

lies, gay news, Washington Blade

What’s the point of sharing something so hurtful and potentially damaging?

Michael,

 

 

The guy who wrote you wondering whether gay men can have monogamous relationships criticized his friends for having sex on the side without letting their boyfriends know. Is this really so terrible?

 

I love my boyfriend and he only wants a monogamous relationship. However, over the years in my opinion things have gotten a little tired between us. I don’t want to criticize Rick or make him feel bad, but I am not ready to be done with hot sex, so I hook up from time to time. I think it’s the best of both worlds because Rick and I have a very close and warm relationship and I also get to have some pretty erotic adventures with other guys who don’t mean anything to me emotionally.

 

If I told Rick, he would be very hurt, he would definitely stop trusting me and it could destroy our relationship, which would be devastating to both of us. What’s the point of sharing something so hurtful and potentially damaging?

 

 

Michael replies:

 

Right now your boyfriend trusts you, but from what you tell me, he shouldn’t. And you don’t really have a close and warm relationship with him, because he doesn’t really know you.

If Rick wants a monogamous relationship and you love him as you say, how do you justify taking away his opportunity to have what’s important to him, if not with you then with someone else?

You’re facing three crucial choice points here:

Would you rather be honest or not? I cannot overestimate the importance of this question. We determine who we really are by our actions, not by how we describe ourselves or what kind of person we aspire to be. Do you want to simply give the appearance of being trustworthy or actually be a trustworthy person? If you have high standards for yourself, there’s a lot riding on how you answer this question.

Would you rather be in a monogamous relationship with your current boyfriend or not be in a relationship with him at all? You say that Rick has set a bottom line for being in relationship with you; he wants to be exclusive. You don’t need to be in an exclusive relationship with Rick, but staying with him and having sex with others is not an option that he is offering. If you decide to be honest, you may have to choose.

Would you rather speak up about tough issues or avoid confrontation? Most of us don’t like confronting people we love about problems we’re having with them because we don’t want to shake up or even threaten our relationship. When we talk about what’s bothering us, our partner may disagree, get angry or be profoundly disappointed. On the other hand, if we don’t speak up, we don’t have much chance of resolving the problem, and are likely to get increasingly unhappy and disappointed in the other person and in the relationship.

Rather than sneaking around on the side, you could address with Rick your dissatisfaction about your sex life. Maybe the two of you might find ways to improve things or maybe you would conclude together that it is time for some sort of change in your relationship. By choosing to be silent, you’re missing an opportunity to get better at difficult conversations and you’re also missing an opportunity to collaborate with your boyfriend on finding a solution to a problem that concerns you both. Hard work, yes, but also a great opportunity to grow.

People lie to their partners all the time, not just about sex, but about everything from credit card debt to drug use to binge eating. Lies easily become complicated, lead to suspicion, create distance and have the potential to erode your self-esteem. Beyond all these problems, maybe the saddest part of building your relationship on pretense is that you miss the spiritual experience of knowing someone intimately and being deeply known for whom you really are.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in gay couples counseling and individual therapy in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

17
Jun
2014

Pandora’s box?

open relationship, gay news, Washington Blade

Whether you choose an open relationship or monogamy, you inevitably face great opportunities to figure out what’s most important to you and how you want to behave.

Michael,

 

Your recent letter from the guys who say they want a monogamous relationship but were upset because they can’t stop cheating on each other made me wonder about my own relationship. I’ve been with Doug for eight years and we’ve had an open relationship from the beginning. Our motto is, “life is short, don’t miss out.”

 

Things seem fine between us but is it inherently problematic to pursue an open relationship if we’re both OK with it?

 

Michael replies:

If your outside hookups aren’t having a negative impact on your relationship with Doug, you have your answer.

But if you are pursuing sex with others even when it hurts your relationship, impacts your life negatively or feels like a compulsion, then you’ve got a problem.

Keep in mind that open relationships and monogamous relationships both might seem easier than they are. Each has its specific challenges.

In an open relationship, it can be difficult to:

• Stay emotionally connected to your partner. You don’t say whether or not you and Doug tell each other about your hookups. When couples have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, they often become distant because they’re keeping a veil around a pretty central matters in their lives. And when couples do agree to talk about the other men they see, they may still grow distant as a way to avoid being too hurt by their partner‘s sexual adventures. Even if you have an agreement to be open, it can still sting when your partner is having fun with someone else.

 Make sex with your partner a priority. Newness is often an aphrodisiac and familiarity with your partner can lead to sex becoming less interesting. So, if you have an open relationship and are looking for a hot sexual experience, it’s often easier to seek an outside partner than it is to put some erotic effort into creating a sexy rendezvous with your spouse.

• Be honest with each other. Partners may decide not to tell each other about liaisons, either because they worry about hurting their partner’s feelings or because they have violated a rule of the open relationship, like having sex multiple times with the same person or having sex with someone else in the couple’s bed. Lies complicate relationships in many destructive ways.

• Not fall for someone else. When you meet a gorgeous, charming guy and start sleeping with him, it’s easy to develop all sorts of feelings. In the meantime, your partner of eight years may seem pretty stale by comparison.

In a monogamous relationship, it can be difficult to:

• Keep sex interesting. A healthy long-term sex life doesn’t just happen on its own. Sleeping with the same person for years isn’t likely to stay exciting unless you put forth plenty of ongoing effort and imagination.

• Resist outside temptations. When you’re with just one guy long-term, other men can seem increasingly alluring. Your task is to get clear about why you want to have a monogamous relationship and then figure out how to honor your own commitment to this goal.

• Tolerate emotional intensity. A monogamous relationship has an inherent intensity. When your partner is the only person you turn to for sex, romance and closeness, you have the opportunity to get to know each other intimately. You also have the opportunity to more regularly be disappointed, because so much is riding on one relationship. Some people embrace this challenge, but others don’t like the vulnerability and risk that come with intense connection. If you want to be exclusive, you’ll be pushed to develop your ability to tolerate some pretty intense feeling states.

Whether you choose an open relationship or monogamy, you inevitably face great opportunities to figure out what’s most important to you and how you want to behave. I encourage you and Doug to keep your eyes open to potential problems and carefully consider how you will handle the tough parts.  As you say, life is short. Don’t miss out on the chances to grow.

 

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in gay couples counseling and individual therapy in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

02
Jul
2014

The risk factor

fisting, fist, gloves, gay news, Washington Blade

If you are determined to fist and your partner isn’t interested and he does not want to open the relationship, you are indeed facing a dealbreaker issue. (Photo by Bigstock)

Michael,

 

Your recent advice to the fisting top whose boyfriend wasn’t interested left me with mixed feelings.

On one hand, I like your drawing a line between saying, “This is important to me” as a way to make a request of your partner versus “you are obligated to participate.” But your seeming to lay down an ultimatum of “if your partner isn’t willing to join you, you have to either do without or end the relationship” perplexed me.

What about trying to negotiate an arrangement like “we’re an exclusive couple, except you can go to fisting parties every month or so, with the following ground rules”?

This might not be a workable solution for everybody — it does require a lot of time, communication and trust — but I’d hate to see an otherwise rewarding relationship fail because the parties didn’t have the tools or skills to think outside the box with regard to negotiation. Fisting is a fairly niche activity (and one that’s incredibly low-risk for a knowledgeable and responsible top) that there’s a world of difference between “I want to do this activity in a way we can both be OK with, which might involve casual outside partners” and “let’s go crazy and have an open relationship.”

 

Michael replies:

 

If you are determined to fist and your partner isn’t interested and he does not want to open the relationship, you are indeed facing a dealbreaker issue. If he does agree to your fisting other people, then of course you can go for it. But be aware that you might run into some hazards. Here are three big ones that people who open their relationships frequently encounter:

First, no matter how casual the sex you are having outside of your relationship or how unconnected you plan to be with outside sex partners, you may get interested in guys other than your boyfriend. It’s usually exciting to have sex in ways that you don’t have it at home and new sex partners are often a big turn-on. The result: sex with your long-term guy may start to seem bland, leading your thoughts and fantasies elsewhere. Where might that take you?

Second, although it may seem logical to both you and your partner that he shouldn’t feel threatened or jealous of your having sex with other people, especially if you are pursuing some sort of sexual activity that he doesn’t want to engage in with you, he may still ultimately get upset. Our feelings aren’t logical and if you’re spending time hooking up with others, your partner may wind up feeling hurt and angry, no matter what your agreement.

Third, even if you set limits on how often you are having outside sex, you’re still going to be putting energy and excitement into encounters with other guys rather than into life with your partner. This is usually not a recipe for maintaining a hot sex life or a strong relationship at home.

I get your point that a person in this situation might have a limited interaction with the guys he’s fisting, but it’s also true that fisting — just like negotiating with one’s primary partner — requires time, communication and trust, three main ingredients of bonding. So you may wind up developing a powerful bond with one of these guys. And then what?

Opening your relationship can seem like a fantastic way to have great sex that you aren’t having with your partner. But no matter how many rules you have in place, outside sex may put your relationship in a vulnerable spot. Before making such a move, I suggest you discuss two questions with your partner: Is hot sex with someone else worth the risk?  And can we have sex with other people while still nurturing and strengthening our relationship?

Finally, keep in mind that no matter how much planning or thinking you do beforehand, you can’t know in advance how things will turn out.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

15
Jan
2014

Too soon to settle down?

settle down, gay news, Washington Blade

Feeling trapped?

Dear Michael,

 

My partner Craig and I have been inseparable since middle school and came out together as a proud gay couple in high school. Our parents are overwhelmingly supportive as are our friends. They all have so much invested in our relationship and it’s getting to be so much pressure! What nobody knows is that I have been feeling trapped over the last year or so, as though I don’t ever remember actually making a decision to spend my life with Craig.

 

Craig is a great guy and I love him. However, he’s now talking marriage and kids. I realize that’s the next logical step and I don’t know why I’m so hesitant. We mostly have a great time together with many shared interests. We are both good about household chores and encourage each other in fitness/health goals. We are still great in the bedroom and try new things with each other to keep it interesting.  I find him more physically attractive than ever, but neither of us has ever had another sexual partner.

 

Am I missing out? Everyone else I know has dated many people before settling down. I don’t want to end our relationship or our lifelong friendship, but I can’t shake the feeling that when I am 50 I will regret not having dated other people. Should I put my life up to the vote of well-meaning friends and family? Craig and I usually have great communication, but this issue has me too terrified to openly discuss it with him because I’m afraid of what this means.

 

Michael replies:

You are wise to be trying to decide for yourself what’s right for you rather than responding to pressure from others. Before you get married or have a child, you definitely want to have both feet in.  I’d like to offer a few ideas to help you move forward.

You say that you’re terrified to be on a different page from Craig, but I want to reassure you that nothing is wrong. People often arrive at different life stages at different times and now that is happening to the two of you. It makes sense that you might be hesitant to marry your first and only boyfriend whom you’ve been with since middle school, just as it makes sense that Craig might be ready to tie the knot after so many years together.

If you keep all this to yourself, you’re likely to continue to feel trapped. But if you talk, you’ll be taking a risk because you don’t know how Craig will respond. Maybe he’ll recognize that you’re making a brave and intimate move to let him know you better and the two of you will have the opportunity to learn how to be a strong couple despite having some differences. But he may also be hurt by your revelation.

You face a similar dilemma if you choose to date other guys.  While you may get the clarity and life experience that you’re seeking, you may also put your relationship with Craig at risk.  Again, you will have to take a chance.

I understand your concerns about missing out by not dating other people, given that you met so young and Craig is the only person you’ve ever been with. Know that there are many couples who meet when they are young and happily spend their lives together, even if they haven’t been with others. Also keep in mind that there probably is no “best” partner out there; everyone has some pros and some cons and a relationship that pushes you to take risks in order to grow, just as is happening now with Craig, is a good thing.

Life forces all of us to make big decisions without knowing the outcome. You can only do your best to determine what is most important to you and accept that it is impossible to get everything you want in one person. You and Craig have a lot going for you. I encourage you to see your situation as an opportunity to become stronger by learning out how to navigate some difficult challenges. And please remember that part of your growth will come from tolerating a fair amount of tension as you take the time to figure this out.

Finally, if you get stuck, a therapist who is skilled in relationship issues can help you find your own direction. I wish you and Craig the best.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in gay couples counseling and individual therapy in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

17
Jul
2014

The elusive search

life partner, holding hands, love, same-sex, gay, gay news, Washington Blade

It’s difficult to stop wanting something that you want. The best you can do is strive to create a rich and satisfying life, while accepting the existential reality that none of us will get everything we would like, no matter how much we might yearn. (Photo by Till Krech; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Dear Michael:

 

I’m a well-educated man in my 50s, successful, healthy and active, with a handful of good friends. I’ve always wanted a life partner and it hasn’t happened. It hasn’t even come close to happening.

Looking back, there are two guys with whom I wish things might have worked out. My most successful romantic relationship was with a man who lived in another country, so I could only see him a few times a year for short periods. He said up-front that he was basically straight and that I was one of only two guys in his whole life he’d ever been with. He was a workaholic, so it didn’t seem to bother him that I wasn’t around.  I saw him under those conditions for a decade until he met a woman he wanted to marry, a few years back. Now there isn’t even anyone on the horizon.

How do I stop wanting to have a life partner? I can’t make it happen. I’ve spent decades trying to “let it happen” and frankly, I know it’s just not going to happen. But I still want it. I’ve done the “friends of friends” route, the ad in the newspaper route, the dating site route, the chatting someone up in the gay bookstore route, etc. If there’s a way to try that I haven’t attempted, I don’t know what that way is.

Maybe I’m just fooling myself, but I think I’d have everything if I had a special someone in my life. How do I stop wanting something I know isn’t going to happen?

 

Michael replies:

 

It’s difficult to stop wanting something that you want. The best you can do is strive to create a rich and satisfying life, as you’ve done, while accepting the existential reality that none of us will get everything we would like, no matter how much we might yearn.

Regarding your yearning for a close romantic relationship, my educated guess is that you actually have mixed feelings about letting that happen. You chose to spend about a third of your adult life in a quasi-relationship with a workaholic guy who lived in another country and told you he was straight.

Before you give up on the possibility of having a relationship, it is well worth your taking a close look at what may be getting in your way. If you were my client, I would want to know:

• By being alone, what might you be protecting yourself from?

• Who may have let you down in a big way earlier in life, leaving you unwilling to risk being hurt again?

• How might it serve you to think that situations and people may become something they’re not?

• What might be appealing about pining for something you don’t have, although you say that you wish to stop doing so?

If you want a shot at a future relationship, also look at how you think about yourself and potential romantic partners. Notwithstanding all you say you’ve tried in order to find a mate, you spent 10 years on an unavailable guy’s back burner. So, I encourage you to wonder:

• How do you feel about yourself?

• What do you think you have to offer as a partner?

• Do you believe that you really deserve to have what you say you want?

• Is it possible that you are rejecting men who are interested in you? That you are drawn to men who reject you?

I also suggest you consider whether you have a special affinity for supposedly straight men. Although I have data on only one of your significant relationships, I wonder if you may be harboring some less-than-positive feelings toward openly gay men, at least as potential romantic/sexual partners. If so, you’re vastly increasing your odds of winding up without a mate.

None of these questions have easy or quick answers. Therefore, if any of them resonate with you, please look for a good therapist to help you figure out how to increase the likelihood of finding a special guy for your future. I wish you the best.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

29
Jan
2014

Baby or bust?

baby, gay news, Washington Blade

Sometimes when two partners disagree about a big issue, appreciating the importance of one partner’s wish can help the spouse agree to the request, even if she has a different preference.

Michael,

 

Marcy and I met when we were both 22, right after college when we were new to D.C. We’ve been together for seven years and got married three years ago. We have all the good stuff in place — shared interests, close connection, rewarding jobs, friends, family support, decent home, a cat. In my view, all that’s missing is the baby.

 

I have always wanted to become a mother and we were on the same page about having a child from the time we met until about two years ago when I wanted to look into getting pregnant. At the time, Marcy said she was on board but nervous and I agreed to wait a little. But whenever I have brought it up since then she seems less excited about us becoming moms.

 

We talked recently and now she tells me that she’s questioning if she really has a strong desire to be a mother. Also, she’s concerned that if we had a baby she would get sidelined in her career, which she loves. She says she wants to get a little higher up at work before considering taking the motherhood plunge and also says she’s hopeful that she’ll feel more like doing this when her career is in a better place.

 

In the meantime, my biological clock is ticking and I don’t know what to do. I love Marcy but I’m starting to get angry and pull away. I’m afraid that if I stay with her she may never want to parent with me, and I know that it would break my heart not to become a mother.

 

Michael Replies:

 

Facing a potential deal breaker, avoid the temptation to retreat into your own corner. Instead, you and Marcy should figure out your next steps collaboratively.  Doing so will honor your loving relationship and may lead to a solution that you both can accept.

Have you done your best to help Marcy really understand why it means so much for you to have a child? Sometimes when two partners disagree about a big issue, appreciating the importance of one partner’s wish can help the spouse agree to the request, even if she has a different preference.

Supporting a partner’s desire to realize a cherished dream may generate a lot of warmth and goodwill in the relationship. However, if a spouse drops her own wishes and goes along with her partner out of fear or with resentment, the relationship will suffer. So be careful not to try to guilt or subtly threaten Marcy into having a child with you.

Because you say you’re committed to becoming a mom, Marcy does need to decide if she is willing to parent wholeheartedly even if she is not as enthusiastic as you. Given the tremendous responsibilities and costs of parenthood, it makes sense to be apprehensive about having a baby. Please speak with couples that have kids about how they made the decision. Both Marcy and you may get some clarity and reassurance, and will certainly learn a lot.

Questions for both of you: How did you determine which one of you should become pregnant? Does Marcy worry about where she would fit into the picture if you were the biological mother? I sense that you don’t have the whole story about her concerns. Do what you can to encourage her to share more with you. This may help both of you move forward.

If Marcy says yes to parenting, the two of you will have work together to ensure that she can continue advancing in her career after becoming a mother. If she decides that she does not want to have a baby with you, you will have to make plans to pursue your dream without her — unless you change your own mind and decide that you would rather stay in a childless relationship with Marcy than parent without her.

One of the toughest things about being in a committed relationship is that you won’t always see eye to eye. While differences over direction may sometimes be significant enough for a couple to part ways, remember that in any relationship you aren’t going to get everything that you want and that honoring your partner’s important request can benefit you both.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in LGBTQ couples counseling and individual therapy in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

29
Jul
2014

Dwindling desire

relationship, gay news, Washington Blade

How about sex for emotional connection? Sex for attachment? Sex for closeness? Sex to celebrate just being together?

Dear Michael,

 

Valentine’s Day is here and I’m going to be celebrating with my partner of 15 years. We’ll go out for an intimate dinner and then … nothing. While our friends see us as the perfect couple — and in many ways we are — we never have sex anymore. We have a beautiful home, a garden, two children and a dog; enjoy snuggling on the couch while we watch a movie and cooking together; have lots to talk about, and are best friends; but the spark has been gone for some time.

Is there any way around this? We’re not eager to open our relationship because we’re fearful of how it might affect our marriage and our family. We both miss sex and certainly find other people attractive. In fact, we find each other attractive — we’re both in great shape. But having sex somehow clashes with our relationship. I know this may sound crazy, but it seems strange to even think about being sexual with someone I love so much and feel so close to.

Any ideas?

 

Michael replies:

 

The big message we get from our culture is that sex should stay as hot as it was when we initially got together with our partner. The implicit lesson is that something is wrong if we stop feeling that huge thrill.

But sex does change after you’ve been with your partner for a while. You can’t keep feeling the same sizzling excitement that you felt when you first met, because the newness is gone. Newness is what generates a lot of the sexual heat at the outset of a relationship.

This does seem like a major design flaw in our brains, if we’re interested in forming a long-term relationship. It’s almost cosmically funny that the more we invest in a relationship, the closer we get, and the more we love each other, the less spontaneous sexual attraction we may feel toward our partner.

Whatever the biological reasons for this, it’s up to each of us to figure out some way to generate long-term excitement around sex with our partner if we want to stay together, long term.

The first step is to accept reality: sex is not going to naturally be as steamy and irresistible as it was at the beginning. We all might take some time to mourn that loss, because easy steamy irresistibility is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it is totally glorified in our culture as the gold standard of sex.

But it is just one way to have sex. And if you want a lasting monogamous relationship that includes sex, as opposed to having affairs, or a career of serial monogamy, you are going to have to discover a new way to have sex and a new meaning for sex in your relationship.

How about sex for emotional connection? Sex for attachment? Sex for closeness?  Sex to celebrate just being together?

Not to say that sex in a long-term relationship cannot be recreational or high-intensity. But expecting that the sex must always be hot in order to be worthwhile will lead you to be contemptuous of much of the sex that you have in your LTR. Not a helpful stance!

Another point for you to consider: as couples get closer, sex may start to feel like too much closeness, and avoiding sex may be a way to keep some useful distance. If I were working with you both, I would want to explore how much each of you are really standing on your own as two separate individuals who are in a relationship with each other, versus being enmeshed, with your feelings and reactions all tangled up with each other. While enmeshment may sound appealing, and is easy to fall into when you are building a life and a family together, it takes the oxygen out of a relationship, leaving people feeling smothered and wanting their space. One likely outcome: no sex. An experienced couples therapist can help you sort this out.

Finally, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, resurrecting a sex life with your partner is bound to seem awkward. But it’s a damaging myth that great sex should just happen. There is nothing odd or unromantic about planning to have sex. I encourage you both to make this effort, and to expect things to be uncomfortable at the outset.

Good luck to the two of you. Thanks for writing about this important and very common issue and happy Valentine’s Day!

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

12
Feb
2014

The alcohol question

alcohol, gay news, Washington Blade

You can’t get someone else to stop drinking.

Hi Michael,

 

My girlfriend’s drinking is ruining our relationship. Is there some way to get her to cut back?

 

This is an escalating problem. At first it seemed mostly that Lisa would drink a lot when we were out with our friends. I didn’t think much of it because all of us can drink a fair amount when we’re together. But then she began to get a little too buzzed — she’d flirt overtly with other women or have trouble walking. One night she lost her laptop at the bar.

 

This started getting on my nerves and I began noticing that she was also drinking more and more at home. It’s not much fun to spend the evening with her when her speech is slurred, her eyes are glazed (when they’re open) and she passes out as soon as her head hits the pillow.

 

Lately I cringe whenever I hear a beer can open or ice cubes drop into a glass.

 

I feel like she’s not in control of her drinking and that it’s taking over our life. I don’t want to be with someone whose main relationship is with alcohol. When I try to talk with her, all she’ll say is that she doesn’t drink more than our friends do and if she didn’t drink when we go out, she would have a bad time and our friends would think she’s boring. Also, she thinks I’m exaggerating about how unavailable she is at home due to being wasted.

 

What can I do?

 

Michael replies:

You can’t get someone else to stop drinking. Lisa will stop if and when she’s ready to stop on her own.

What you can do is figure out your own bottom line. Are you willing to stay in a relationship with Lisa as she is? Or would you rather be alone?

If you decide to stay, you will have a better life if you can find a way to enjoy what is good in your relationship and give up trying to change what you can’t.  Figuring out how to not be driven crazy by your partner’s substance abuse is really hard work. Like many people in your shoes, you might get some help by attending Al-Anon meetings, the support fellowship for families and friends based on the principles of Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you decide that you don’t want to stay if Lisa continues to drink, you need to let her know. But only take this step if you mean it. Avoid making threats as a tool to try to get what you want. That strategy erodes any good feeling between two people and once you introduce it into a relationship, it’s hard to eradicate.

It’s possible Lisa will decide she’d rather get sober than lose you. However, keep in mind that people abuse drugs and alcohol for complex, deep-seated reasons; this is especially true in the LGBT community, where substance abuse rates are estimated at 20 to 30 percent. Lisa might not be willing or able to look at underlying problems and make changes right now, so that might seem like she is choosing alcohol over staying with you.

No matter what you ultimately decide about your future, can you let Lisa know you’re concerned about how she might be hurting, and encourage her to find ways to address what may be bothering her?

You didn’t say anything positive about your relationship with Lisa. I am sure there are some good parts, but I still wonder about your motives for wanting to stay if your connection is as bad as you say. Do you enjoy being miserable or ignored? Is there anything appealing about being the long-suffering spouse? Or about feeling superior to your girlfriend? These are important things for you to figure out about yourself.

Looking at your own unexplored issues isn’t easy, so please find a therapist who isn’t going to baby you or pity your predicament, to help you understand what might be keeping you where you are.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D, licensed psychologist, specializes in LGBT couples counseling and individual therapy in Washington. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

14
Aug
2014

Don’t sweat the small stuff?

dirty dishes, chores, cleaning, gay news, Washington Blade

How do you get out of constantly fighting over the dishes?

Hi Michael,

 

My husband and I are having a horrible ongoing fight. Its epicenter is the ever-present pile of dirty dishes sitting in the kitchen sink or partially loaded into the dishwasher.

We are both busy professionals and often have different schedules so we can’t always eat together. When I’m in a hurry to make some breakfast or dinner, it’s exasperating to discover that the pan I need is soaking, or that there are no clean spoons or forks.

I’ve asked Bill repeatedly to be more considerate of me. He makes promises but they don’t materialize. Although this may seem like a small issue, I feel he is constantly disrespecting me by not keeping his word and so there are a lot of bad feelings.

I’m not even going to get into the laundry situation, but it’s similar.

We agreed to write you together, so here’s his version:

I can’t believe that David is so bent out of shape by this. I think he’s exaggerating when he says there are no clean utensils and also when he says I don’t keep my promises.  I do ultimately get the dishes into the dishwasher and run it. But like David, I have an extremely demanding job and some important extracurricular obligations. And sometimes I have to get out before I have time to finish cleaning up to his specifications by his deadline.

David has way stricter standards than I do — he is really a neat freak — and I think he should learn to compromise. I certainly have become way more attentive to cleaning up since we first moved in together. I may not be on his exact timeframe, but I do a pretty good job. How we do chores seems like an absurd reason to have tension in a relationship, much less consider divorce, but his constant carping is getting to me and the bad days are starting to outnumber the good.

Obviously, we see things very differently.  How do we settle this?

 

Michael replies:

 

You’re not alone. In my practice, I see couples go at it all the time over dishes, laundry, vacuuming and cleaning. And I tell them what I will now tell you: While you may have your preferred way of keeping the house and your preferred timeframe for doing so, your husband isn’t going to simply agree with you. Arguing about it will get you nowhere except further into a state of war.

So how do you get out of constantly fighting over the dishes?

First, the big picture. If you want to have a relationship that is generally loving, respectful and peaceful, keep these points at the forefront of your mind at all times:

• You and your partner will often have different ways of thinking, acting and seeing things. That’s life. There’s nothing to be gained by seeing your way as right and his way as wrong.

• Your spouse will regularly push your buttons, big time, simply by having a different point of view. Find a way to have a sense of humor about this if you want a better shot at enjoying your relationship, including the challenging parts. You may also find it useful to remember that people grow when they learn to live with things that are not perfect!

Now, about those dishes. If you want to go forward in your marriage with good feelings rather than bitterness, both of you have to find a way to negotiate around chores and other disagreements in good faith. The key components to doing so: strive to always be honest and respectful; work to influence your partner by explaining why you want what you want, rather than by strong-arming him or shaming him over his preferences; and keep your word when you commit to doing something, even if you don’t want to do it. These are simple concepts, but hard to practice consistently. It’s hard work to live up-close with someone who is profoundly different from you.

I do wonder if you are each holding fast to your position simply because you want to be the guy calling the shots rather than the guy being told what to do. If so, make it your practice to remind yourself that you have committed to building a life together.  Regularly ask yourself: how can I be collaborative? What am I willing to tolerate living with, or without, in order to share my life with my husband?

It can be quite difficult to turn your critical lens from your spouse to yourself, to go from thinking he is the problem to wondering what you can do to work together. If you remain stuck, please find a skilled couples therapist. Dirty dishes are no reason to have a miserable relationship.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

25
Feb
2014