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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

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

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

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

Is poly a relationship cracker?

poly, polyamory, gay news, Washington Blade

Sweeping potential deal-breaker issues under the rug will haunt you later.

Dear Michael,

 

I’ve been with my wife Carol for seven years and she told me from the start that she considered herself polyamorous. This was a little outside my comfort zone but given that she wasn’t involved with anyone else, I didn’t really worry about it and kept dating her. We fell in love and ultimately got married.

We now have a 2-year old daughter. Carol has been seeing her new girlfriend Julie with increasing frequency for the past six months and now she wants to start spending one night a week at Julie’s place.

I’m unhappy for a few reasons. I think it’s presumptuous that I should regularly have to take care of our daughter alone. We’re supposed to be a family unit and I don’t know how I’d explain to my daughter where “Mommy Carol” is one night a week. And Carol’s regular absence from my life — because she’s dating another woman — is already damaging our relationship and making me jealous.

Carol says I came into this relationship with my eyes open. True, but I didn’t imagine the potential problems when I said “yes.” She also says that I should be happy that she’s having a wonderful connection with Julie and that if I would stop being bitter, her greater fulfillment in life would enrich our relationship. I think this is major self-serving B.S. Finally, she offers to give me a regular “night off” where I can leave all the childcare to her. But I like being home with our daughter and don’t want a “night off” — I just don’t want to be left alone with all the responsibility once a week while she is off having sex with another woman.

Is there some way to compromise? Because right now it’s hard to see myself staying in this marriage, and I strongly suspect that Carol feels the same way.

 

Michael replies:

 

The two of you have some difficult territory ahead.

It sounds as if you both have gotten into a “my-way-or-the-highway” situation.  What’s needed is for you and Carol to take a serious look at what’s important to each of you and to have a frank discussion where you listen to your spouse with curiosity.

Given that you and Carol had very different feelings about polyamory from the get-go, it would have been useful to have spoken in depth about what a poly lifestyle might mean to both of you before you married and certainly before you had your daughter. However, it’s not too late to talk together about what you each value most, as a first step toward figuring out how to go forward.

You may ultimately decide that you cannot stay in a relationship where your spouse is involved with another woman. But divorce is not a decision to be made impulsively just because you’ve hit gridlock. Especially because you have a young child together, there’s an awful lot at stake in finding a way to preserve your marriage if this is possible. Divorce is usually very tough on children.

Some questions for you to consider: What would it take for you to want to stay in this marriage? Can you tolerate Carol’s other relationship if she foregoes her sleepovers?  Or do you really only want a monogamous relationship?

Another question: Have you and Carol ever considered any rules or boundaries that might allow both of you to be content in your marriage? Such agreements are sometimes helpful, although they are not a guarantee of anything, and people often change their minds about what they are willing to tolerate.

From your description, neither of you is going to get everything you want. But that’s always the case. Marriage pushes us to figure out what’s most important to us. Try to find a way to be open minded and respectful of each other’s preferences for how you want to live your lives. Remember that blaming your partner for inflexibility isn’t going to lead her to shift in your direction.

Because you have some complex work to do, consider working with a skilled couples therapist who can help you and Carol to figure out how to do your best here and to see if it is possible to collaborate on your future. Good luck in finding a way forward.

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.

26
Mar
2014

Paths to pleasure

pleasure, men, gay news, Washington Blade

“I feel like I’m getting old and missing out if I’m not taking advantage of all the pleasure that I could enjoy. You only live once.”

Dear Michael,

 

I was intrigued by your Valentine’s Day column featuring the long-term couple who aren’t having sex anymore. I’m in a similar boat with my husband of 12 years, where we don’t have much sex and don’t do much when we do have sex (porn movies and mutual masturbation). To be honest, I hook up with other guys from time to time at the gym and I’m pretty sure Mark does too.  It’s far hotter and more exciting than the same old same old.

 

You suggest that couples should accept that sex with the same person loses some of its steaminess as time goes by and that we should focus on enjoying the other aspects of sex, like emotional connection and closeness.

 

My problem with this is when I don’t hook up, I’m jealous of the hotter sex that I hear my single (and some partnered) friends are having. There are so many gorgeous guys out there and life is short. I feel like I’m getting old and missing out if I’m not taking advantage of all the pleasure that I could enjoy. You only live once. It’s hard to just enjoy the warmth and coziness of ho-hum sex in my marriage when I could be out there screwing my brains out with some amazing guy, like I constantly hear my friends are doing. And yet, I love Mark and want to stay with him.

 

I feel like I’m going crazy over this and sometimes I’m really bummed about not getting the good stuff that others are enjoying.

 

Michael replies:

 

You are facing a few tough, inter-related dilemmas.

First, the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) factor: Many gay men place a heavy emphasis on sex (think Grindr and similar apps). There’s nothing wrong with pursuing or enjoying sex, but when lots of sex/multiple partners is the standard of success in your circle and you believe you’re not meeting that standard, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out. Even a guy who isn’t interested in pursuing high-volume sex may feel like a loser for following his own path.

Second, our entire culture glorifies youth and disparages aging and gay men are not immune to this outlook. The white-hot sex of a new connection is associated with youth, just as the inevitable decrease of this sort of sex in an ongoing relationship is associated with aging. Most of us don’t like the idea of getting older and letting go of youthful abilities and pleasures, so we glorify and chase intense sex while looking down on the less scorching sex that we’re more likely to have with a long-term mate. Who wants to give up on the prospect of hot sex?

Third, if you make the choice to be in a monogamous relationship, you are definitely going to miss out on possibly steamy sex with other guys. But if you are in a relationship and have outside sex, jealousy may sour your marriage, one of you may leave for a seemingly hotter prospect, the time and attention you spend on hookups may erode your connection with your spouse and the secrecy, if you are not open about what you are doing, may create distance. Also the quality and quantity of sex at home may decline as you put in less effort.

The truth is, aging is inevitable and we can’t have everything. What we can do is decide what’s most important to us and go for it.

Toward this end, figure out whether you want to keep looking for outside encounters so that you don’t miss out or whether you want to really make the best of the relationship you are in. I don’t think you can do both. Should you choose the latter, here’s a question: If you’re so bored sexually, why are you and Mark settling for merely jerking off together to porn? Couldn’t you find something more exciting to do together?

People have all kinds of reasons why they stop having good sex with their partners. The one that I hear most often in my practice is, “It shouldn’t take work.  Something must be wrong if we don’t spontaneously want to have sex.” But the truth is, nothing is wrong. It’s inevitable that the excitement of newness fades, but it is not inevitable that you have to stop having sex when it does. Nor does long-term sex have to be dull, unless you believe that it does and put no effort into making it worth having.

If you and Mark stay together and stay bored, please find a skilled couples therapist to help you find a way to have more cozy, intimate, connected sex that is even occasionally hot! Good luck.

 

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.

08
Apr
2014

What she doesn’t know …

married, wedding rings, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Dear Michael,

I met my wife, Kim, in college eight years ago and she was my first girlfriend.  We have a very good marriage, but sex has gotten to be less exciting than it once was.

Through my work, I’ve met Margo. I like her as a friend, but even more than that, I’ve been feeling increasingly attracted to her. I thought she was straight, but a few weeks ago she told me that she thinks I’m hot, which was pretty cool to hear.

I want to stay married to Kim: we have a lot in common, great friends, a home, two dogs and dreams for our future. But I’m really tempted to sleep with Margo. On the plus side, I think it would be very exciting and add some badly needed spice to my life.  Kim is the only woman I’ve ever been with. On the minus side, Kim is very clear that she wants a monogamous relationship. But I don’t see how my sleeping with Margo would be some big detriment to my life with Kim, and in fact I think I would be happier (and therefore a better wife) if I had better sex.

I haven’t discussed any of this with Kim because I don’t want to hurt her or worry her. She might think I was going to leave and that’s really not my agenda. Or she might get mad at me, which I would rather not deal with. I’m seriously considering starting a sexual relationship with Margo. I know Kim wouldn’t like it, but if she didn’t know, I’m not sure what the problem would be.

What’s so great about monogamy?

Michael replies:

A better question: What’s so great about honesty in a relationship?

If you begin a secret affair with Margo, you might be happier or more sexually fulfilled in some ways, but you certainly would not be improving your marriage.

Aside from creating a more distant relationship with Kim through keeping an important secret from her, you would be changing the basic structure of the relationship without telling her. Kim should know if her wife is having sex with someone else, so that she can decide if she wants to stay in such a marriage. Not telling her would be disrespectful both to Kim and to your relationship. While you state that you don’t want to hurt, worry or anger Kim, consider the possibility that you’re trying to figure out how to have your cake and eat it, too, given that you want to stay married to a woman who doesn’t want an open relationship and you want to have sex with another woman.

You say nothing of how Kim feels about your sex life and your relationship so I gather that the two of you haven’t talked about these important topics. If you do decide that you’d like to improve your marriage, you should speak with Kim about your boredom. You would be taking a step toward a more intimate relationship and perhaps toward a spicier sex life, as you and Kim would have the opportunity to figure out, together, what you might do about the doldrums you are in. But, given that you don’t mention wanting to have a better sex life with Kim, is it possible that you aren’t interested in that possibility? Or that both of you are avoiding this topic because neither of you believe that there is hope a better sex life with each other?

Which brings us to monogamy: While our cultural norm is that couples have monogamous relationships, it is difficult and there are disadvantages. The main one, which you are experiencing, is that sex with the same partner can become rote and dull, while seemingly more exciting potential partners beckon.

Yet a monogamous relationship offers some advantages. It will give you the possibility of a closer relationship, because when you step out for sex, you put your focus and fantasy on someone other than your partner, endangering your commitment. It will push you to find ways to make sex interesting and satisfying with one partner — precisely what you are having difficulty doing as you consider seeking sex elsewhere.  And, of course, because we humans are usually wired for feelings such as jealousy and heartbreak, when you commit to monogamy you will reduce the likelihood of wounding your partner in a certain grave way.

There are advantages and disadvantages to either route; you get to decide how you want to play it. But no matter what you decide, please move forward with honesty. It is your best shot for better relationships and for self-respect.

20
Jun
2013

Option vs. ultimatum

stop sign, ultimatum, gay news, Washington Blade, relationship

At what point do sexual practices become deal breakers? (Photo by Bidgee; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Dear Michael,

I’m having an ongoing argument with my boyfriend of eight months, David.  Simply put, I enjoy being a fisting top but David is not interested.

While we share many other sexual interests, this is something I really want to do with David. We met in a dungeon where I was pretty dominant, so it’s not like he didn’t have some sense of what he might be getting into with me.

I’m a pretty devoted boyfriend, supportive, show him a great time, etc., and I don’t ask for much. Given how important this is to me, I think he should be willing to at least try it. But he says that it’s a line he won’t cross. I tell him that if he wants to keep dating me, he has to be open to this, yet he still won’t agree.

Outside of this one big issue we have a pretty good relationship, so I think I speak for both of us when I say we’d like to stay together.

How do we resolve this situation where we have very different ideas about what we want to do and what we’re willing to do?

 

Michael replies:

First, I urge you to stop threatening David as a way to get him to do what you want.

Even if you want to dominate David, threatening to end the relationship so that he will go along with you is not the way to do it. Doing so will only serve to replace the warm feelings between the two of you with bitter ones. When you use threats to get your way, you’re holding your partner hostage. He cooperates with you out of fear, not because he wants to.

Keep in mind that once this tactic gets introduced in a relationship, its use by both partners tends to escalate. And you really don’t want to be in a relationship where you both use threats against each other to get your own way.

Here’s an alternate approach. Advocate for what you want by talking with David about why it is so important to you. And then let go of the outcome. It’s up to David to decide if he wants to participate.

I strongly suggest that you get clear about whether this is truly a deal-breaker issue for you. If you would prefer to look for a boyfriend who will be a willing participant in all the kinds of sex that you want to have, rather than continuing to be with David if he isn’t willing to join you, then you should let David know this. But don’t tell him it’s a deal breaker unless you’re certain that it is, or you’ll simply be using empty threats to get your way.

Telling David what is most important to you is very different from telling him that he has to do what you want. The words may be similar, but if your intent is to yank your partner’s chain rather than to let him know where you solidly stand, you aren’t playing fair.

If David says no, then you’re free to leave this relationship and look for a new partner — someone you care for as much as David, but whose sexual interests are a closer match to yours. Of course, there are no guarantees that you’ll find this combination.

If you’d rather be with David than leave him, even if he won’t acquiesce, then of course you should stay. But remember that you have made this choice; so griping to David about what you’re missing going forward is foul play.

Sometimes we get what we want from our partners and sometimes we don’t.  That’s just how it goes when we pair up with another person who has his own desires and interests. Expecting otherwise, believing that our partner should do what we want when he has a different wish, simply isn’t realistic. While you absolutely can ask for what you’d like, trying to force the outcome will certainly give you 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.

26
Nov
2013

Feeling smothered

Michael Radkowsky, advice, gay news, Washington Blade

Michael Radkowsky

Dear Michael,

My girlfriend Rachel recently proposed to me. Although I answered “yes,” I’m really not sure if I should marry her. She’s very sweet, is always considerate, gets along great with my friends and family and makes me laugh. But I constantly feel like she wants more from me than I want to give her. I don’t just mean sex and affection, although that’s part of it. She always wants to be together, she always wants me to confide in her and she always wants to share everything with me. As a result, I sometimes feel smothered. I want to tell her to back off but I don’t want to hurt her.

Rachel always says that she wants us to be best friends, lovers and soul mates. I love her but also need my own space, my own identity and time with other people. Is there something wrong with me for wanting this? And is it possible to have a great relationship without being glued to my partner?

Michael replies:

One big question: Do you think your discomfort is just about Rachel’s behavior or is this also about your own uneasiness with closeness in a relationship? Consider whether you’ve had this feeling in previous relationships and how close the other person can get before you to want to back off. If this is a familiar experience, you may have some work to do on yourself.

In any case, you and Rachel are in the same boat: You each have one idea for how close you should be, while your partner has another, and both of you are trying to get your way. Rachel moves toward you and expresses the hope that you are soul mates, while you feel smothered and back off.  But neither of you is speaking directly about the real dilemma you are facing: How to be both a couple and two individuals with two different ways of being.

For a relationship to work well, you need to find a balance. How much do you lean on your partner and how much do you rely on yourself? How much do the two of you function as a single unit versus pursuing your own interests and friendships? There is no one right answer to questions such as these and your own answer is likely to shift depending on what is going on in your life. For example, when you’re in a tough situation, you may lean more on your partner — or pull away. And of course, your girlfriend will certainly have different ideas about such matters, because she is a different person.

Too much togetherness does not allow space for individuals to be individuals. Because no two people always think or want to act alike, pressure to be close all the time leads to tension and strife. Similarly, ongoing dependence or neediness can become a weight on the relationship, resulting in resentment and distance between the partners.

I’m not suggesting that you and Rachel should not be close and connected, of course; without closeness and connection, there can be no solid relationship. I am saying that relationships work best when both partners usually are strong, don’t lean too much on each other and can take care of themselves.

Why not break the gridlock and talk with Rachel about what is going on?  Keeping silent will not give you a chance to address and deal with your feeling smothered. And wanting not to hurt Rachel is a futile endeavor. It simply is not possible to have an intimate relationship without ever hurting your partner or being hurt by her.  Because the two of you, like any two people in a relationship, are different, it’s inevitable that you will have strong differences that at times will gravely upset each other. If you want your partner to really know you, you will have to tell her things that may hurt her.  And vice-versa.

If you decide to start a discussion with Rachel, remember that there is no one right way to be in a relationship. You each have your own preferences, so you each will have to develop the clarity to know what you are willing to live with and what you are not willing to live without. And please keep in mind that conversations about differing desires are tough. So if you get stuck or scared, consider seeking out a skilled couples therapist who can help you to have some difficult and clarifying talks.

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.

06
Jul
2013

Too young to get hitched?

gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, New York City Pride, gay news, Washington Blade, right person

Rather than looking for the best possible partner, how about picking a person who is imperfectly wonderful? (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Dear Michael,

 

Is there a way to know when you’ve met the right person?

I’m 23 and have been with my girlfriend for five years, since our first week of college, and she recently proposed to me. I’m really excited, but am also scared to say yes. She’s the only woman I’ve ever dated or really had sex with. I’m afraid that if I get married to her, I’ll always wonder what it would be like to be with someone else, and if I might have an even better relationship with someone else.

We really love each other, have a lot to talk about, enjoy the same things and have really good sex. Still, it seems kind of crazy to marry the first gal I’ve been with.

There are so many possibilities out there. Sometimes I meet a really cool woman through my work or socially and wonder what it would be like to be with her. But because I met Beth before anyone else, I am with Beth.

How can I know if she’s the best possible partner for me? And if I am not sure of that, how can I marry her?

 

Michael replies:

 

Rather than looking for the best possible partner, how about picking a person who is imperfectly wonderful?

Relationships are complicated and never perfect. The same is true for our spouses.  The person with many great qualities is bound to have some not-so-great qualities as well, most likely noticed after you have been with her long enough.  And keep in mind that your wife will have the same experience of you.

Instead of trying to find a relationship that will give you the loveliest ride possible through life, think of a relationship as an adventure that is going to give you ongoing opportunities to become a stronger and therefore more interesting person. When you’re picking the person to take this journey with, your ideal candidate is not a flawless person or someone with whom you mesh perfectly. There actually is no such person, of course; and part of the fun, heartache, and growth that relationships offer is figuring out how to live with someone who is different from you in important ways, sometimes irritatingly so. While we all hope that our relationship will give us many wonderful times, relationships are also great laboratories for learning how to deal with adversity and disappointment.

I’m certainly not saying you should pick someone who will make you miserable.  I’m saying it’s unavoidable that anyone you pick will seem like a less-than-ideal match at times. Part of what will actually make her a good match is that being married to her will give you the opportunity to figure out how to have a great marriage with a person who isn’t a perfect fit (as no one is).

If reading this makes marriage sound difficult, keep in mind that struggling to live with an imperfect partner is unavoidable if you choose to be in a long-term relationship.  The good news: Doing so, over the course of your lifetime, will help you grow into a strong, resilient adult.

Back to the idea of picking a wonderful — though not perfect — partner: If you want to have a shot at a happy marriage, I suggest that in addition to physical attraction, you look for shared values, some shared interests and a shared vision of the future. You want a fair amount of agreement in these areas, because it’s important that the two of you are seeking to go in the same overall direction as you move forward in life. Rest assured that even if you are a great match in all of these realms, you will inevitably run into some major differences, going forward, that will challenge you to figure out how to stay married to each other. And, keep in mind that major differences need not stand in the way of your being happily married.

You may or may not decide to be with Beth. From what you describe, the two of you certainly have a lot going for your relationship. If you do look for someone else, you may find that she is even more wonderful than Beth is, in some ways.

But then again, you cannot have a guarantee that she will be as wonderful as Beth is, in other ways.

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.

04
Dec
2013