How to Fix Your Relationship Without Talking About It

Dear Dr. Jed,

            My boyfriend and I have been together for just over four years and I’m noticing terrible mood shifts that are increasingly difficult to live with. He becomes extremely frustrated, irritable, angry, and depressed. I can tell that he is becoming more distant and I’m worried he’s thinking of leaving.

            Whenever I try and get him to talk about his unhappiness or what I can do to make things better, it seems to make him angry and he pulls away even more. I love him very much and I know he loves me, but I feel our relationship slipping away and I don’t know what to do. Please, can you help?  BL

I get calls and emails like these every day. A man is becoming irritated, angry, and depressed. The relationship is in trouble and both people are hurting. The woman wants to talk and the man reacts with anger and becomes more withdrawn.

For men, the five most off-putting words in the English language are, “Honey, we need to talk.” The words can be said with love or anger, compassion or disdain, with despair or hope. It seems no matter how they are presented, they are met with a resistance bordering on terror by most men.

“I feel caught in a horrible trap,” one woman told me. “If I let things alone and don’t say anything, our relationship continues to go downhill. “If I try and talk to him about ways we can fix things, he acts like I’m trying to kill him. He refuses to talk and our relationship continues to deteriorate. What do I do to save us?”

Why should a woman’s desire to talk be met with such resistance? The simple answer is this: While talking about their relationship usually helps a woman feel better, it usually makes a man feel worse. My wife, Carlin, and I got a glimpse into this dynamic while we were driving into town from our home on Shimmins Ridge. [Read more…]

The Woman’s Guide to Men: 6 Things Men Want Women to Know About Sex, Love, and Talking

For nearly 50 years I have been helping women understand the men in their lives and to have relationships that are more joyous and intimate. I’ve been in a men’s group that has been together for 38 years and my wife, Carlin, believe that our 37-year marriage owes a lot to the fact that I’ve been in a men’s group. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what men need and what we wish women knew about us.

I recently wrote, “The Man’s Guide to Women: 5 Things Women Want Men to Know About Fear, Sex, and Love.” Here are six things that men want women to know.

  1. Men do think about sex more often than women, but that’s not all we think about.

There’s a popular myth that men think about sex nearly constantly. This isn’t true. It goes along with another myth that men all men want is sex and that “sex” is synonymous with intercourse. In my article, “The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex,” I said that men want a Save Harbor. Sex isn’t just for making children and giving and receiving pleasure. It’s also for being fully seen, cared for, and nurtured.

Edward O. Laumann, PhD. is a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago and lead author of a major survey of sexual practices, “The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States.” He says, “The majority of adult men under 60 think about sex at least once a day. Only about one-quarter of women say they think about it that frequently. As men and women age, each fantasize less, but men still fantasize about twice as often.”

Sex is the reason all of us are here and sex is a source of great pleasure. But sex is more than just sex. For men, sex is our safe harbor, a place we can be taken in, loved, and cherished.

  1. There are important differences between males and females.

[Read more…]

The Man’s Guide to Women: 5 Things Women Want Men to Know About Fear, Sex, and Love

For more than 40 years, I’ve been helping men better understand women so they can have more sex and love and fewer fights and tensions. It’s said that we teach what we want to learn and I’ll admit I’m still learning about the wonderful creatures we call women and how to have passionate, peaceful, and joyful relationships with them.

Like many men with absent fathers, I grew up knowing more about women than I did about men. I remember playing in the kitchen while my mother and some of the neighbor ladies talked about their concerns about the men in their lives. They all expressed some degree of disappointment. Some were disappointed that there wasn’t enough closeness in the relationship. Others complained that the men weren’t as successful as they had hoped.

My father was one of the men who wasn’t emotionally close and also had trouble keeping a job. He was a playwright and actor. He and my mother moved to California from New York where he hoped to break into the newly emerging television industry. But jobs were hard to come by and he became more irritable, agitated, and angry. He would also become more withdrawn and depressed.

I’m sure some of the reasons that I became a therapist, specializing in helping men and the women who love them, was to better understand what women want and how men could be better husbands. I also wanted to know what men wanted and how women could become better partners. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years about what women want. [Read more…]

What Men Want More Than Sex But Are Terrified to Admit

My recent article, “The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex” has garnered more than 400,000 readers on the Good Men Project and my own site, MenAlive.com. Given the responses I received, it is a topic that resonates deeply with men and women. Since I only write about things that I’m interested in, I’ll say truthfully that I’ve been obsessed with sex since I was very young boy. I still remember our sex play with the little girl next door when I was 7 or 8 years old. It is innocent and exciting until we got caught and her parents wouldn’t let us play together.

So, sex always had a double edge of allure and danger. I suspect this duel aspect of desire and danger goes back to our ancient heritage where getting caught with your pants down could lead to getting eaten by the tiger that was stalking you. For women, getting pregnant could mean death for themselves, since many women died in childbirth.

But there are modern dangers as well. I still remember my first orgasm. I had found my mother’s vibrator (she called it her electric massager) when I was 10 or 11 years old and found that vibrating it around my genitals was not only stimulating, but highly arousing. My little penis was hard as a rock and my heart raced with excitement, when suddenly I had a massive release of energy and liquid flooded my hand and the vibrator.

My penis went from rock hard and large to wet, soft, and shrunken. I was terrified. I knew what had happened. I had been warned about the boy whose radio fell into the bathtub and he was electrocuted (it never occurred to me to wonder why anyone would have a radio plugged in above their bathtub). I was sure that’s what had happened to me. I had electrocuted my penis and had killed it.

I didn’t believe in God, but I prayed that if the almighty restored my penis to life, I would never vibrate it again. Well, God was good and my penis came back to life. But it took me years to overcome my fear of vibrators, despite my wife’s assurances that she would assume any risks if I joined her with her sex play. [Read more…]

The One Thing Women Want More Than Love Is The One Thing Men Find It Hard to Give

We’ve all heard that Women need to feel loved to have sex. Men need to have sex to feel loved. There seems to be some truth to here, but what does it really mean? In my article, The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex Is The One Thing Women Find It Hard to Give, I asked if it was true that, for men, sex was the most important thing in their lives.

When I was 17 years old I was sure it was true. When I was 37 years old, I suspected it might not be true. And now that I’m 73 years old, I know it’s not true. Now don’t get me wrong, sex can be wonderful at any age, but there’s something that is more important than sex, but it’s something that men have difficulty admitting and women have difficulty giving.

In this article, I want to explore the other side of the question. Is there something that women want more than love? And a broader set of questions including these. Do women want sex as much as men? Do men want love as much as women? Are there differences between women’s desires and men’s desires? Is the battle of the sexes inevitable or can there be peace and harmony between men and women, without losing our passionate connections?

In order to answer these questions, it helps to know a little bit about the field of evolutionary psychology. Evolutionary psychology seeks to reconstruct problems that our ancestors faced in their primitive environments, and the problem-solving behaviors they created to meet those challenges. Understanding our evolutionary roots helps us better understand why men and women are the way they are.

Biologists have a very simple and useful definition of what is male and what is female, whether we are fish, ferns, or human beings making our way in our African homeland. An individual can either produce many small gametes (sex cells) or fewer but larger gametes. The individuals that produce smaller gametes are called “males,” and the ones that make larger gametes are called “females.”

These obvious biological facts have huge implications for our lives. It’s easier to move the smaller gametes to the larger ones, than vice versa. As a result, males compete with other males to have access to the females. Females choose the male that she fancies the most to mate with. Female mammals, including humans, carry the baby inside their bodies, and nurse the newborn child.

To understand what women want more than love, you have to place yourself in the shoes of our female ancestors. Imagine that you live in East Africa 100,000 years ago. You are born and raised in a closely knit family and when you come of age, you hope to have a man who will be a good hunter and provider and a good protector. [Read more…]

The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex Is The One Thing Women Find It Hard to Give

How many times have we heard the phrase, “All men want is sex?” When I was 17 years old I was sure it was true. When I was 37 years old, I suspected it might not be true. And now that I’m 73 years old, I know it’s not true. Now don’t get me wrong, sex can be wonderful at any age, but there’s something that is more important than sex, but it’s something that men have difficulty admitting and women have difficulty giving.

This understanding has dawned on me slowly and became most evident to me in my men’s group. I’ve been meeting regularly with six other guys for thirty-eight years and sex has been a topic that has run through our discussions over the years. Like all guys we are somewhat competitive and we all want to be seen as successful, but we also have learned to be honest with each other. We not only talk about our sexual successes, but also our failures, fears, and confusions.

From the time I was a young I learned that wanting sex was synonymous with being a man. In high school I remember overhearing a girl I liked talking about a guy we both knew. She wasn’t complaining that he was preoccupied with sex, but that he “didn’t come on to me like other guys do.” She went on to tell her girlfriend, “He’s not being very manly.” The message was clear, “real men” want sex and if you don’t “come on” to a girl, you’re not a real man.

This early lesson was validated through the years: Always wanting sex is the mark of manliness for many. It’s better to be turned down again and again and be seen as a jerk who is totally preoccupied with sex than to want something more than sex and be seen as “less than a man.”

So, what do men want more than sex? We’ve all heard that women need to feel loved to have sex, but men need to have sex to feel loved. Let’s look more deeply at what it is exactly that men are getting when they get sex. Sure, there is the physical pleasure, but there is a deeper need that is being satisfied. I call it the need for a safe harbor.
[Read more…]

What Every Woman Needs to Know About Men

My wife, Carlin, invited me and my men’s group to share some of things about being a man with her women’s group. We’ve done this before and one of the things that helped women “get” men was the fishbowl process, where the men sit in the center and the women sit quietly around and just listen. It doesn’t take long for the men to engage each other and the female’s presence fades into the background as we talk “man-to-man.”

This reminded me of my first fishbowl experience nearly 50 years ago. I was at a conference for men and women and the leaders first had the women come into a circle with the men listening on the outside. I was entranced as I listened to the women talking about themselves and thought “they’re just like me and they’re oh, so different.”

When it was time to reverse roles, the women began moving out of the circle and the men moved in. The woman sitting in front of me smiled and patted the spot where she was sitting on the floor, a warm gesture of “your turn, have a seat.” I sat where she indicated, but it was like sitting on a hot stove. I literally jumped up and finally moved to another spot. All this took place in a matter of seconds as the women moved out of the circle and the men moved in.

I immediately burst into tears. As the men finally took their seats, here I was sobbing and nothing had happened yet, our sharing hadn’t even begun. The somewhat surprised leader asked, “So what’s happening with you?” Between my tears I was able to share what went on for me: [Read more…]

My Mother, My Wife, My Marriage: How Inherited Family Trauma Can Impact Our Relationships

y1a40z2ntru-tanja-heffnerOne of the greatest joys in my life is my 36-year marriage to Carlin. But it wasn’t easy for either of us getting to this time in our lives where we feel fully engaged in our relationship, feel loving and in love. Each of us was married twice before and have children from our previous marriages. Both of us wondered whether there was something in our lives that was preventing us from having the joyful, long-lasting, relationship we both wanted. Like all couples, we’ve had our ups and downs, deep connections and times where we felt estranged, periods of ease and periods where there was great deal of dis-ease.

One of the things that was very important in understanding the ups and downs in our marriage was looking honestly at the past and the impact of childhood trauma on our health, well-being, and marriage. As a therapist for more than forty years, I like to look ahead. I don’t want to get caught up in endless recriminations about what people didn’t get from their mothers or fathers or the trauma they may have experienced as children. Yet I’ve found we do need to heal the past if we’re going to have a healthy relationship that lasts. But we don’t have to take years mucking around in our troubled past. We can do it relatively quickly and easily and the effort is worth it.

Here’s why. According the new research on the science of love, understanding the wounds most of us experienced from the past is essential to having a truly healthy, loving marriage that lasts through time. I’ve found that most of the problems I have in my love life have roots that go back to unhealed wounds from my family life.

Marriage and family experts Harville Hendrix and his wife Helen LaKelly Hunt offer the following summary in their book, Making Marriage Simple: 10 Relationship-Saving Truths, “About 90 percent of the frustrations your partner has with you [and you have with your partner], are really about their [and your] issues from childhood…Love delivers us into the passionate arms of someone who will ultimately trigger the same frustrations we had with our parents, but for the best possible reason! Doing so brings our childhood wounds to the surface so they can be healed.” [Read more…]

The 5 Love Secrets Your Therapist Never Told You About

Love SecretsI’ll admit it. I’m a hopeless romantic. I cry at weddings and read Nicholas Sparks novels. I watch romantic movies and still get choked up remembering Titanic, Dirty Dancing, When Harry Met Sally, and Casablanca. I make up holidays so I can bring my wife flowers. But it’s taken me a long time to figure out how to have a romantic relationship that lasts. My first two marriages ended in divorce and Carlin and are still learning about love after being married for 36 years. Our book, The Enlightened Marriage: The 5 Transformative Stages of Relationships and Why the Best is Still to Come, is a guide for those who still believe in love, but don’t have a lot of time to waste.

We all pick our profession for a variety of reasons. I’m sure that part of the reason I wanted to become a marriage and family counselor was to better understand my family life—my parents divorced when I was five years old. My father was become increasingly more irritable, angry, and depressed. My mother was always anxious and worried and pre-occupied with death. I wanted to learn the secrets of love so that I could have a passionate, powerful, and satisfying relationship that lasted a lifetime. But to master the secrets of love, we must let go of some of our most cherished beliefs.

  • Love Secret #1: Love is not exclusive.

We all understand that we can have many “loved ones.” We can love our children, our parents, even friends and relatives we rarely see, in addition to our spouse or lover. But we believe that love is limited to a small group and that we can have only one “great love of our lives.” Often when we’re single we long for that special someone who we will fall madly in love with and love forever. [Read more…]

Third Time’s The Charm: One Man’s Love Story of His 36 Year Marriage

real-lasting-loveGrowing up I had a confused understanding of love and marriage. We had a cute little house in the San Fernando Valley, but my father was often away and my mother constantly worried. When he was home his emotions vacillated greatly (later I learned he suffered from bipolar or manic-depressive disorder). One minute he was joyful and rode me around on his shoulders. The next minute he was irritable, angry, and depressed.

I was an independent kid and during the summers I would take the bus into Hollywood and sit alone at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and watch romantic movies–Love is a Many Splendored Thing, Three Coins in a Foundation, The African Queen, and From Here to Eternity. I practiced love lines I heard in the movies like this one by Montgomery Clift to Elizabeth Taylor: “I guess I loved you before I ever saw you.”

I met my first wife at U.C. Santa Barbara. I was a senior and she was a freshman. She reminded me of Janis Joplin—Cute, wild, creative, edgy, dangerous. We went to Monterey on our honey-moon, not knowing the Monterey Pop Festival was going on. No rooms were to be had anywhere in Monterey, but we found a room in Carmel when I was able to talk the landlady into taking us in since we were newly married. She knew the organizers and was able to help get us tickets.

The music reflected our hopes, dreams, longings, craziness, and the times: [Read more…]