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Whether your relationship is just beginning, in great shape, or going through a rough time, you can Ask Barbara for the truth about all the intimate, important issues of life and love, including:
How do you convince a workaholic partner to put more time and energy into a marriage?
Why am I attracted to the wrong "bad boy" type of man, and feel no chemistry with the nice guys?
How can I get my partner to express his feelings to me?
What can I do to really please my partner in bed?
Do one-night stands mean anything?
Is there such a thing as a soul mate? And how will I know when I have found mine?
My husband and I have been married for ten years, and have three small children, but I feel like I have four kids--including him. I find myself treating him like a child because he acts like one. He's always misplacing things, forgetting appointments, and leaving his stuff all over the house. I hate feeling this way, and I know it turns him off, because our sex life is practically nonexistent. How can I stop acting like his mother?
Boy, am I glad you asked. Mothering our men is one of the biggest mistakes women make in relationships. The more we treat them like little boys, the more they act like it. They end up resenting us and, eventually, rebelling against us just like they did against Mom at some point. And what's worse, mothering your mate is the quickest and deadliest way to kill the passion in your love life. After all--no man wants to sleep with his mother, so if you're acting like her, it's going to be just about impossible to turn him on, unless he has a strange fetish for nagging and scolding.
Now, as a woman, I know how natural it is to mother someone you love. We're trained to do it from the time we are children ourselves. After all, your first and most predominant experience of love was probably associated with your mother, who carried you inside her for nine months, fed you, bathed you, burped you, and powdered your behind. Once you realized you, too, were a female, it was just a mental hop, skip, and jump to treating people you love with a "mothering, nurturing" attitude. There's only one problem--it drives men crazy, reminds them of you know who, and makes them want to leave home all over again.
There are six :"Mommy-No-No's" that we do as women:
1. We act overly helpful by doing things for men that they should be doing for themselves (choosing his clothes, picking up after him, finding his keys).
2. We play verbal guessing games with men to try and pull information out of them. ("You're hungry...how about some cereal? No? What about pretzels? Not pretzels? Okay, what if I make you some nice soup?")
3. We assume men will be absentminded or forgetful and remind them of information they should remember by themselves. ("Don't forget it's trash night..." "Don't forget to pick up milk...")
4. We scold men as if they were children. ("How many times do I have to tell you to turn off the kitchen lights?")
5. We take charge of activities that we assume they can't do right. (Planning trips, taking the kids out to buy clothing.)
6. We correct and direct them when they don't ask for our help. (Correcting their memory, offering the "right way" to cook something.)
I know what you're thinking..."But he always forgets where he put his keys"..."But if I don't do it, it won't get done..." Believe me, I've been there. All I can say is that you have much more to lose by behaving motherly than you do by waiting for him to find the keys once in a while. So here are my rules for you to follow if you want to transform yourself from a mother back into a lover:
Rule #1: Stop doing things for your mate that he can do for himself.
Rule #2: Treat him like a competent, reliable person.
Rule #3: Don't speak to him in "Mommy-talk."
Rule #4: Agree on what responsibilities are his in the relationship, and don't take over even if he makes a mistake.
Rule #5: Make a list: "The ways I play Mommy..." Read it every day, and give him a copy so he can bust you when you fall off the wagon.
Hang in there, and remember--when you break the mothering habit, you will feel and act more like a woman, and he will feel and act more like a man.
How can a couple learn to trust love when they've both been badly hurt in past relationships?
After surviving a very bitter divorce and custody battle for my children, I finally met a wonderful man who is everything my ex-husband wasn't. He's kind, open, and willing to talk about everything. Our problem is that his ex-wife left him for his best friend, so he's afraid to trust love again, and so am I. How can we leave the past behind us and make this new relationship work?
First of all, congratulations!! You are faced with what I call a "high-class problem," a problem that looks like a problem, but is really a great situation with some challenges attached to it. In essence, what you're asking is, "How can my partner and I get rid of the fear in our relationship so we can love fully?" That's a wonderful question to be able to ask. So the first step is for you and your sweetie to remind yourselves that you've worked very hard to get to this place. Before you get too intense about climbing your next mountain, take a moment to stop and really celebrate how far you've both come to finally have found a healthy relationship.
Okay, now, back to the fear. I'm going to say something that might sound strange--a little fear isn't such a bad thing for you and your boyfriend to feel...it will keep you on your toes and force you to pay attention. I'll bet if you and he look back on your failed marriages, you will notice that you didn't pay attention to warning signs, problems, conflicts, unmet needs, and all kinds of stuff. Eventually, it was precisely what you weren't paying attention to that sabotaged your relationships, right? You didn't treat those relationships carefully enough. So here you are with a new, wonderful partner, and you're both scared of making mistakes again, and a little reluctant to just blindly trust. I say, that's great! It's about time! You should be afraid of making mistakes, all of us should. You should be careful to make sure your needs get met. You should be paying very close attention, because the more you pay attention to your relationship, the better it will be.
Do you get my point? It's like someone who carelessly used a sharp knife and cut herself badly. The next time you pick up the knife to use it, you are afraid. You respect its power much more, as well you should. A relationship is like that--a powerful tool that can be used to help us or hurt us, and I feel not enough people respect that tool.
Here's something practical you can do to help. Each of you should make a Relationship Mistake List. Go back and honestly assess your former relationship from the very beginning to the end. Write down every mistake you made. Examples: "Let my ex-husband talk me out of my feelings, and then pushed down my resentment." "Didn't ask for what I wanted in bed, and felt dissatisfied." Don't be surprised at how long these lists are. Share yours with your partner, and have him share his. Talk about each item. Then, together, come up with a new Relationship Rule for each old mistake, and write these down. Example: "When I disagree with something my partner does or says, I will express my feelings, even if it causes tension between us," or "I will let my partner know what I enjoy sexually so he doesn't have to guess."
The point of this exercise is twofold: First, it will help you understand that your prior relationships didn't just go bad. There were specific unhealthy behaviors and love habits that caused the relationships to fail. Second, by paying attention to these unhealthy love habits, and committing on paper to new, healthy behavioral choices, you have a great chance of avoiding the old mistakes that would hurt you again. Throw in some good books, tapes, or seminars on making relationships work, and you will have a great foundation to go forward into this new romance with excitement, enthusiasm, and high hopes.
Is there such a thing as being too "picky" when choosing partners?
I'm single, in my thirties, and having a hard time finding the right person to spend my life with. All of my friends accuse me of being too picky, and warn me that I'll never find anyone if I don't compromise more. I'm afraid if I'm less careful, I'll end up settling for someone who isn't right for me. What's the answer?
Here's what "too picky" means: You meet a potential mate who has all of the qualities you've been looking for...except you love tennis and he doesn't, so you disqualify him immediately; or you get to know someone who seems to be just what you've always wanted...except she could lose about ten pounds, so you end the relationship. See what I mean? A person is too picky when he finds small things about a potential partner that probably won't affect the core of the relationship, and uses those missing items as excuses to avoid intimacy and cover up his fear of not being good enough himself--"I'll reject you before you have a chance to reject me." So perhaps this describes you, and if it does, take a look at the fear that underlies your hypercritical attitude.
I have a sense, however, that in your case, you are simply being choosy, not picky. You are holding out for the kind of person you truly want to spend the rest of your life with, one with whom you are highly compatible in all the important areas of your life. I talk about ten areas of compatibility that you should look for in a mate:
1) Physical style: appearance, personal and eating habits, etc.
2) Emotional style: attitude toward relationships and affection, ability to express feelings
3) Social style: personality traits, how he interacts with others
4) Intellectual style: educational background, attitude toward learning creative expressions, cultural experience
5) Sexual style: sexual experience and skill, ability to enjoy sex, attitude
6) Communication style: how he communicates, attitude toward communication
7) Professional/Financial style: relationship with money, attitude toward success, work and organizational habits
8) Personal Growth style: attitude toward self-improvement, willingness to work on relationship, ability to change self
9) Spiritual style: attitude toward Higher Power, spiritual practices, philosophy of life, moral views
10) Hobbies and interests
You don't have to have total compatibility in all these areas, but in the ones that are most important to you, you should have very strong compatibility. (For an extensive discussion of compatibility and how to determine it, pick up my book "Are You the One for Me?")
The truth is, I wish more people were as "choosy" as you. There would be fewer divorces and dysfunctional relationships. So don't let yourself be pressured by your family or friends to compromise what you know in your heart is important. And don't give in to the artificially manufactured social time-clock that says you "must" be married before a certain age. Remember, your soul mate is waiting for you out there. He (or she) doesn't want you to give up looking before you find him. "Hang in there!" he's whispering. And when you find him, I know it will have been worth the wait, and you won't care how long it took.
What signs should I look for in the beginning of a relationship to make sure I don't end up with someone who's bad for me?
I recently ended a really unhealthy relationship that took me years to get out of. I want to start dating again, but I'm so scared that I'll pick another person who will hurt me, and will end up going through the same cycle all over again. How can I tell when I first meet someone if he will be bad for me or not?
I'm so glad you asked! In working with thousands of men and women over the years, I've learned that so much of the hurt, heartache, and disappointment we experience in love could be avoided if we just paid more attention at the beginning of the relationship. You need to ask lots of questions, look for the warning signs of potential problems, and stay focused on what you're looking for in a partner and what you are trying to avoid.
As you already know, there are people out there who have what I call "Fatal Flaws," characteristics that can cause severe problems in a relationship. None of us is perfect, and it's obvious that we each have flaws or imperfections that affect our love life. However, some of these characteristics are much more dangerous and destructive than others, and those are the "Fatal Flaws" you need to watch for in a potential partner. Here they are:
As I've already mentioned, relationships with people who have an addiction (drugs, alcohol, pills, gambling, etc.) are guaranteed to hurt you. Look for signs that there may be problems in this area, and don't minimize what you suspect may be an issue in order to have a relationship with this person, no matter how lonely you are.
Living with an angry person is like living with a time bomb: you never know when it's going to go off. Anger is a terrorist--it holds the people it comes in contact with hostage. Spotting someone who has potential problems with anger is one of the easier Fatal Flaws to detect. No one turns into a rage-a-holic overnight. You'll see warning signs: he gets angry when little things don't go his way; he has little patience, and becomes easily annoyed; he has extreme mood swings; he is defensive; he raises his voice often. If you spot these signs, get out before you become the object of his pent-up rage.
3. Victim Consciousness
It's often difficult to spot a victim because none of us really minds hearing our partner complain to us about his or her past relationships. But if your partner has a habit of blaming others for his circumstances and not taking responsibility for his part in problems, watch out: you will be the next person whose fault everything is. Victims see life as an adversarial situation--"it's the world against me." They ask "Why is this happening to ME?" instead of "Why is this happening and how can I change it?" If you find yourself feeling sorry for a potential mate and getting sucked into his complaints about his life, relationships, health, etc., it's time to leave.
4. Control Freak
A control freak is the opposite of a victim--someone who must make all decisions himself, avoids asking for help, and needs to be in control of his life, and eventually, yours. Don't mistake this Fatal Flaw for the qualities of self-esteem and confidence. Ask yourself if your potential mate's tendency to "take charge" of everything, which may make you temporarily feel taken care of, is really how you want to live. Control freaks will try to talk you out of leaving them, so don't do too much explaining!
5. Sexual Dysfunction
Sexual dysfunction doesn't mean problems only with sexual performance, such as impotence, or inability to have an orgasm. It can also mean sexual obsession, or lack of sexual integrity. This Fatal Flaw is much more difficult to spot at first since (hopefully) you're not having sex on the first few dates, but it can be deadly once you encounter it. You're going to need to have some frank discussion in order to discover whether or not your partner is addicted to fantasy; pornography; compulsive sexual behaviors; throws his sexual energy all over the place; has an aversion to sex due to molestation, rape, or childhood abuse. I know this sounds uncomfortable, but believe me, it's better than finding out about this Fatal Flaw in the middle of a relationship. Some sexual problems aren't necessarily fatal, but they will be if your partner won't deal with them.
6. Your Partner Hasn't Grown Up
Watch out for the charming, childlike person who makes you feel you want to take care of him or her--they may not have grown up enough to have a healthy relationship. Look for signs of financial irresponsibility, someone who is unmotivated, undependable, and avoids taking life seriously. Unless you want to feel like a parent, find someone else.
7 . Your Partner Is Emotionally Unavailable
I could write an entire book on this Fatal Flaw. All you need to know is: STAY AWAY FROM PARTNERS WHO ARE EMOTIONALLY SHUT DOWN! There are so many people in the world eager to love. Why choose someone who has a hard time opening up and spend your time trying to pry open that person's heart? Some people just aren't ready to have a relationship because they are too emotionally blocked. They will have a difficult time talking about or showing emotions, and will resist opening up and trusting. Find out through frank conversation how comfortable your potential mate is with loving, observe his behavior, and as the relationship progresses, make sure he's capable of giving you what you want before you decide to commit.
8. Your Partner Hasn't Recovered from Past Relationship(s)
We all carry emotional baggage from our past relationships into each new one. But sometimes that baggage can be so overwhelming that it's fatal to your love affair. Watch out for someone who still carries tremendous anger and resentment toward his previous mate, someone who feels guilty and responsible for his previous mate, or someone who is still traumatized from being hurt or abused in his past relationships. It may be that this person hasn't healed enough to be ready to love again. Rescuers beware! You will find these kinds of mates very attractive.
9. Emotional Damage from Childhood
All of us have some emotional issues originating in our childhood. But some people have emotional damage that is so severe they will have a difficult time having a healthy relationship. This is especially the case when a potential mate isn't aware of the emotional damage and isn't working on himself to repair it. If you meet someone with one of the following issues, that doesn't necessarily mean it will be a Fatal Flaw. It does mean you should be cautious, talk openly about your concerns, and assess how well your partner is dealing with the past or present problems. Here are some of the more dramatic childhood issues that may be warning signs, and should be dealt with:
Sexual abuse and sexual trauma
Physical or verbal abuse
Parental abandonment: divorce, death, adoption, suicide, emotional distance
Parental addiction to alcohol, drugs, etc.
Why can't my wife just have spontaneous sex sometimes?
I love making love to my wife, but feel kind of resentful about the "ordeal" I have to go through before we can have sex. First, my wife has to take a long bath, put on her favorite body lotion and who knows what else. Then, she has to set up the bedroom with candles all over the place, and the stereo has to be playing the perfect music. Finally, we have to go through this slow process of extended foreplay before we have intercourse. It's not that I'm against planning or romance, but it would be such a relief to just "do it" for a change. How can I get my wife to be more spontaneous?
I hear you loud and clear, and by the way, you're not alone in your request for spontaneous sex. This is one of the most common complaints men have about women, and a big sexual turnoff. Ladies, are you listening? Let me explain why our insisting lovemaking always be a romantic ritual drives men crazy:
1. When women prepare for sex as a major undertaking, it makes sex a project and puts performance pressure on men. And men hate performance pressure--they already feel pressured to perform twenty-four hours a day. By the time you get out of the bathroom, or finish decorating the room, he feels as if the spotlight has shifted onto him and he must live up to your anticipation.
2. Men feel controlled when sex always has to be on your terms. Look at it from his point of view. Your partner is turned on and wants to make love to you. You agree, and disappear into the bathroom for twenty minutes, making him wait. How does he feel? Controlled! And guess what? He's right! It's as if you're saying "I'll make love to you, but only if these conditions are met...."
3. When a woman never allows herself to have spontaneous sex, her partner concludes that she must not like sex very much since she can exert so much self-control. He feels she must sanitize, idealize, and romanticize it in order to even enjoy
Now, in our defense, we often use the "romantic set-up" to get ourselves in the mood when our partner hasn't done the job for us. So guys, if you have neglected your wife's emotional needs all week, maybe she needs the bath and the candles to get herself ready because you didn't. And for those women brought up to feel having sex in itself is a little nasty, they may feel uncomfortable and out of control just giving in to their lust and "doing it." In fact, we often misinterpret our partner's just wanting to have sex with us, wrongly assuming that this means he doesn't feel as much for us as the other night when he did want to make more romantic love.
The truth is that men would be better lovers when they do make love to us if we gave them permission to not always have to make love each time we have sex. There is a certain kind of spontaneity, surrender, and passion that men experience when they allow themselves just to have sex with their mate, which is often lost in a more conscious, slow, step-by-step lovemaking process. Men actually crave this lustful surrender to us as intensely as we women crave the safety and tenderness of lovemaking. (I'm not saying that, if your mate never makes love to you and always wants to just have quick sex, you should accept it. On the contrary, this is the kind of mistreatment you should never put up with.)
For women, giving ourselves permission to have sex with our partner once in a while without doing it perfectly can be very liberating. So many of us try to "take the sex out of sex" in order to allow ourselves to have sex at all, and end up suppressing our natural sensuality. You may be surprised to find that, by the pure act of surrendering physically to your desire to unite with your partner, you become very aroused without the usual rituals. All of this advice, of course, is based on the assumption that the two of you have a healthy, loving relationship with no other obvious problems that could be causing conflict in your sex life.
As for you who asked the question, share this information with your wife. Ask her if she would be willing to try an experiment--you promise to be the one to set up the romantic environment and initiate the extensive foreplay on one occasion if she's willing to just spontaneously grab you and say "I want you now" on the next occasion. Sounds like a great deal to me ...!
Should you give a cheating partner another chance?
My boyfriend of nine months just confessed that he had a brief affair with an old flame a few months ago. He promised me he would never do it again and begged me to take him back. We've been having a lot of problems lately, but I really love him. Would I be stupid to give him another chance?
Well, let's give the guy credit for being honest with you. At least he feels remorse, knows what he did was wrong, and doesn't want to lose you. You said it yourself--you've been having problems lately, so you know that the affair is just a reflection of underlying issues you can no longer ignore.
No, you wouldn't be stupid to give your boyfriend another chance. An affair doesn't have to signify the end of a relationship. In fact, in some cases, if both partners are willing to work hard, an affair can bring problems that were lurking in the depths of the relationship up to the surface for the purpose of healing. Since your relationship is relatively new, it's likely that you are both still settling into your commitment to one another, or at least he is! And it sounds like he may be having some difficulty letting go completely of his former lover. So if he is sincere, and you feel he's worth it, and you can let go of what happened (not easy!), it's possible that you could both use this crisis to stop, evaluate the relationship, and go forward differently.
You still to need to follow the guidelines in Question 70. His saying "I'm sorry" isn't enough. Just because he's not cheating on you anymore doesn't mean the problem has disappeared--it hasn't. It's still there, but it's in remission. Don't delude yourself into believing the coast is clear now that he's apparently being faithful again. Stand your ground, and insist on going through a modified version of my Cheating Recovery Program outlined earlier. If this guy really loves you and truly doesn't want to lose you, he'll thank his lucky stars that you're willing to give him another chance, and will work his butt off to get to the bottom of the situation.
Posted January 14, 2010
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Posted September 21, 2010
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Posted January 1, 2011
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