Archive for January, 2012

Sex for the Middle Aged and Beyond: Don’t Read This if You Don’t Qualify. You May Be Shocked!

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

You’re getting “older” (a relative term to be sure).  Are you losing your interest in sex?  How do you compare to others of your age?  Do you even care?  How about your spouse/significant other?

What are the two most difficult topics for couples to discuss?  You’re right, sex and money. Some people get so defensive about this topic that they do not even want to read about it.  Are you still with me?

Making love, sex, is a topic that couples dance all around about. Why?  Try these labels:  vulnerability, rejection, embarrassment, anger, disappointment, capacity.  Any of these fit you?  Of course they do; you’re human and have sensitivities in these areas.

What do research studies indicate about seniors and sexual activity? Two reports are indicative of the findings:

1. NCOA (National Council on the Aging) “found that nearly half of all Americans age 60 or over have sex at least once a month and that nearly half wanted to have sex more frequently.”

2. AARP survey:“Among 45 to 59 year olds with sexual partners, some 63% said they had sexual intercourse once a week or more.  Among 60 to 74 year olds, 30% of men and 24% of women have sex at least once a week, as did more than a quarter of those 75 or older.

What are some of the experts in this area of research saying?  Dr. Stephanie A. Sanders of the Kinsey Institute, states, “There is no age limit on sexuality and sexual activity.” Dr. Walter M. Bortz, of Stanford Medical School encourages people to“use it or lose it”. … If you stay interested, stay healthy, stay off medications, and have a good mate, then you can have good sex all the way to the end of life. … People that have sex live longer…the more intimate the connection, the more powerful the effects.”

(Hot off the press is a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine: If you have twenty one orgasms a month you reduce the probability of prostate cancer by 30%!)  Dr. Pepper Schwartz adds this in regard to sexual activity and staying healthy: “You can almost tell who’s still having sex from the positive energy they project.”  (Look around you, people, what do you see?  For those of you not having sex, put on a smiley face. Fake it til you make it!)

So, what about those people who are not having sex?  There are legitimate reasons and there are excuse reasons.  Only you, dear reader, may know the true reason.

1. Health: thyroid disorders, diabetes, medications, libido strength and desire, menopause, testosterone loss, etc… can be serious deterrents to sexual ability. (Here it is particularly pertinent to remember that “it is the journey, not the destination that is important.”  Love-making not orgasm is what is most important.)

2. Psychological issues: depression, attitude, and capacity for intimacy factor into one’s sexual life. Oft times if your head is not into it, nor will your body be.

3. Relationship issues: being in a relationship and the emotional closeness involved directly affect one’s sexual activity.

4. Time:  having the time or prioritizing the time to be sure that this health benefit is a part of their regimen affects a couple getting together amorously.

The capacity for sex is an essential part of our being.  Mother Nature gave us this ability to nurture, procreate, and enjoy the pleasure of connecting sexually in a loving way. If this aspect of your life is not present enough for your liking (or your partner), explore options.  Examining your life, communicating with your spouse, seeking advice and remedies from a medical doctor and/or trained mental health professional could assist you in enjoying the health benefits that the majority of seniors experience.


An “Intimacy Test”: Can You Pass It?

Sunday, January 22nd, 2012

When I do relationship counseling I want to know right away just how close these people are to each other.  Since people often use the same words to express different realities I use numbers to gauge each person’s perception of how close s/he feels towards the other. I ask each to give me an answer between 0 (the pits) and 10 (heavenly bliss).  It is a good starting point. Also, there are various instruments and inventories to explore this closeness, intimacy, factor.

The following “test, or inventory was developed by R.S. Miller and H.M. Lefcourt and published in the Journal of Personality Assessment.  I offer it to you with the authors” description of what your scores may portray.  Are you willing to give it a go? With your partner?

1. How much of your leisure time do you spend with your partner?

a) not much   b) a little  c) a lot

2. How often do your feel it is important for your partner to show you physical affection?

a) not often   b) sometimes   c) often

3. Would you feel hurt if s/he didn’t share deep intimate feelings with you?

a) not much   b) a little   c) very much

4. Do you understand his/her innermost feelings?

a) not much   b) a little   c) very much

5. How encouraging and supportive are you when your partner is unhappy?

a) not much   b) a little    c) very much

6. How much do you show him/her affection?

a) not much   b) a little   c) very much

7. Do you feel close to your partner?

a) not much   b) a little  c) very much

8. When you disagree strongly, how much does it hurt your relationship?

a) not much   b) a little   c) very much

9. How much time do you spend alone with him/her?

a) not much   b) a little   c) a lot

10. How satisfying is your relationship with your partner?

a) not very satisfying  b) somewhat satisfying  c) very satisfying

11. When you quarrel heatedly, does it actually make you physically ill?

a) not much   b) a little   c) very much

12. Do your arguments last two days or longer?

a) often   b) sometimes    c) not often

To tally your score give yourself 1 point for each “a” response, 2 points for each “b) response, and 3 points for each “c” response.

A score of 27 points or less: Your intimacy level with your partner is fairly low.  One or both of you has intimacy challenges and counseling should be sought.

A score of 28-32 points: You have an average degree of intimacy compared with other couples.  You need to decide if it is satisfactory or not – and what, if anything should be done to increase it.

A score of 33 points or more: You have an intensely close relationship.

Your scores may be indicative of your intimacy reality, depending on your awareness and truthfulness, as well as your partner’s.  This “test” is offered as a vehicle to promote self reflection, dialogue, and improvement, where needed, in a relationship.  Hopefully it was enlightening to some degree and helpful in getting the love and intimacy you desire.


Your Relationship: Did You Wait Too Long? Are You Hesitant to Deal with It?

Sunday, January 15th, 2012

One of the most heartbreaking elements of my profession is to witness the end of a relationship and/or to see one that is in really bad shape. There is so much hurt present in each person.  And, it did not need to come to that in most cases.  Individuals in a relationship too often procrastinate and postpone working on the relationship, whereas in other areas of their lives they get right to it.

Most people if they feel a sharp pain in their stomach will quickly have it checked out by their physician.  They do not wait and wait hoping that it will get better while, in fact, it worsens.  Most people when they sense that their car is acting up and/or the warning light goes on, will have it checked out by a mechanic.  People don’t want to keel over and die or have their car die or leave them stranded.

But their relationship is different.  Most people passively sit and watch their relationship deteriorate and march down death’s row.  Why?  It doesn’t make sense.

A failing, or failed, relationship has incredible ramifications for mental health, children, finances, and life style. I reiterate, most relationships can flourish or at least get a lot better than what exists at the present time. Less you think I am naïve in this proclamation, let me note that certainly some relationships cannot be fixed, probably never should have been in the first place.  But those misfits are the minority.

One of the main reasons for this blog is to invite, beg, and cajole people to look at various facets of their life.  Hopefully an idea will strike a cord and a person will see the need to work on an area or two of his or her life.

In the world of relationships most often it is the female who will first recognize that something is amiss in the relationship and will see the need for professional assistance.  Over and over I hear stories from women who say that they asked their husbands to go to counseling only to be rebuffed.  Finally they came alone.  Together we look at ways to invite the husband to come in and share his perspective – to deal with it.  Too often the man runs away from the marriage emotionally by working harder, drinking more, having an affair, vegging out before the tube, or living in porn city on the internet.

All too frequently when the man refuses to come to counseling the woman will give up.  She goes to an attorney and papers are filed.  The husband then will get angry and threaten the wife with various off the wall comments or, sometimes, he will decide to be open to counseling. By that time it may be too late and/or the scars are so deep so that
limited remediation can take place.

The words of Carole King’s ominous song recounting the death of a relationship come to mind:
“There’s something wrong here, there can be no denying.  One of us is changing or maybe we both quit trying.  It’s too late, baby, now it’s too late…  Something inside has died and I can’t hide,  and I just can’t fake it …  It’s too late baby”

Relationship issues are complex and various conflicting perceptions and perspectives exist between a couple.  It is vitally important to get on the same page, as soon as possible.  Examining the past to get a look at the issues, recognize unfulfilled needs, enhance communication, set goals, compromise, be accountable all are factors that can move a couple forward toward an enhanced union.

Are you waiting too long?  Does the relationship still have a heartbeat? Have you missed an opportunity to fulfill your marriage’s potential?  “If the shoe fits” – please quit stalling and begin to work on one of the most important elements of your life.  You deserve that!  So does your partner.


It’s Winter: Do You Have the S.A.D. Syndrome? Loneliness Setting In? Do What?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

S.A.D. is Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is a condition that occurs during the cold dark days of winter.  People generally are more isolated, get less sunshine, and often have periods of sadness/depression during this time.  This condition exacerbates a person’s tendency toward loneliness. Together this type of existence is quite debilitating. It is important to be aware of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors should such an experience be yours.

Loneliness, via Wikipedia, “is a feeling in which people experience a strong sense of emptiness and solitude. Loneliness is often compared to feeling empty, unwanted, and unimportant.” Loneliness is not necessarily solitude as it can be experienced in crowds. A lonely person often is yearning for love or companionship. If these are absent you may feel rejected and suffer low self esteem. Loneliness can be situational or more of a chronic pervasive   condition.  In many cases there is a genetic pre-disposition toward this condition.

An example of situational loneliness would be the period after Christmas. The holidays, whether they were delightful or depressing, can be a trigger for loneliness.  Perhaps you had a great time with the family getting together over the holidays – and now they have left to go back to their homes. Thus, you may feel lonely while missing them.  Or perhaps the holidays were more isolated than usual.  You missed a loved one, family estrangement existed, certain family members were not able to be with you, etc… – loneliness may well have resulted.

Chronic loneliness, an ongoing feeling, does affect your health. It can even be life threatening. Studies have documented loneliness with increased risk of cancer, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. People that are lonely report poor sleep quality, diminished restorative processes, depression, and suicidal inclinations. Loneliness can lead to a
variety of addictive behaviors as you try to ameliorate this painful condition with excessive escapes into alcohol, drugs, pornography, eating, shopping, etc…

John Cacioppo, a neural scientist, writes in his book, LONELINESS: HUMAN NATURE AND THE NEED FOR SOCIAL CONNECTION, states that social isolation – loneliness – “is so profoundly disruptive to human physiology that it impairs cognition and will power, alters DNA transcription in immune cells, and leads over time to high
blood pressure.”

Respected Reader, let’s get a bit more personal and specific:

  1. Do you feel lonely, disconnected, not accepted or appreciated?
  2. Do you feel like sitting in the corner alone, rather than talking to someone, calling a friend, or socializing?
  3. Are you feeling like you are not worthy of other people’s love and attention?
  4. Do you avoid communicating with other people in order to avoid conflict?
  5. Do you feel like you lack energy (tough to get up, always too tired, etc…)?
  6. Do you blame and accuse yourself a lot?
  7. Do you generally have a negative attitude toward life?

If you can relate to some of these factors it’s time to take action.  Possible activities might include:  Start doing something every day that will cheer you up. Be grateful for what you have, write down your blessings. Do a better job of loving and caring for yourself – physically, emotionally, spiritually. Seek out positive social people to connect with.  Use my “last resort” recommendation: “fake it til you make it”.  It works!

If the above recommendations are unsatisfying or you do not have the “get up and go” energy to try them, then seek counseling.  Short term therapy will help you understand the cause of the problem, reverse negative thoughts/feelings/attitudes, and help you find ways to feel more connected with yourself and others.

Loneliness is an increasing phenomenon in our society.   If you suffer from it, do something about it.  You will be pleased and rewarded by such effort.

Detachment: Answer the Questionnaire to Determine if You Need to Develop This Talent

Saturday, January 7th, 2012

“Detachment” has many definitions and applications. How it may be used for your mental health will be demonstrated later in this article.  First, let’s determine whether you may need it?  The following questions should help you answer that question.

1. Are you a “nosey” person?

2. Do you tend to personalize situations? Everything is about you?

3. Do you get “hooked in” and later wish that you had not?

4. Has anyone told you lately to “mind your own business”?

5. Do you ever go overboard to help or “fix” someone of something?

6. Do you tend to obsess over something and have trouble “letting go”?

7. Do you get angry or hurt and have difficulty in getting over it?

8. Do you get stuck feeling sorry for yourself, being a “victim”?

Surely you were able to answer “yes” to at least one of the above.  If all the answers were “no”, put on some sunglasses because obviously your halo is blinding you.

Life is about boundaries – limits.  It is important to know with what, when, and how to be involved, and when to detach.  Many people have great difficulty in finding
that balance point using the appropriate boundary, both in their personal ruminations and in connection with others.

Detachment is a learned attribute.  It is not the same as “not giving a darn”, running away from responsibility, or fearful shutdown..  That is cowardice, emotional immaturity.

Detachment starts with emotional awareness. (As an aside, one of the nicest compliments I received recently was from a man who said he enjoyed my articles, because it “made me think” and “raised my awareness.”  He is a wise man! That is the objective of these articles). When one is aware s/he is attuned to what is going on in the particular instance. Then, using cognition to balance the initial emotional reaction, s/he assesses what behavior is called for.  Oftentimes, the best response is “less is more” – to move away emotionally and, sometimes, physically, from the thoughts or action going on.  If you are obsessing, “change the channel” by forcing yourself to think of something else, preferably something positive.

Over involvement can be just as harming as no involvement.  Sometimes the admonition “don’t go there” needs to be heeded.  A client of mine has given me, and himself,
the acronym “NOMB” (none of my business) as he struggles to detach from obsessing and over involvement with concern about his sister’s life. In following the NOMB advice he meddles less in her life and, thus, has more time and energy to devote to his own life.

Detachment is calming. It can have a meditative affect leading to less stress, lowered blood pressure, and greater serenity.

On that note perhaps it is appropriate to close with the “Serenity Prayer” as penned by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can;  and the wisdom to know the difference.