Good sex for the long haul

February 14, 2017

I often share articles by Elizabeth Bernstein of the Wall Street Journal. Last fall she wrote about new research on what keeps sexual desire alive in long-term relationships. It was based on research from psychologists in Israel. As a former journalist, I appreciate Elizabeth’s “lead,” the quick hit:

“How can a couple keep their sexual desire going for the long haul?

Be nice to each other.

New research shows one way to keep desire strong is to be responsive to your partner’s needs out of the bedroom.”

This corresponds to the work of Dr. John Gottman who advises that couple maintain a strong Fondness and Admiration System by which couples encourage each other with kind words. When Marilyn Varcoe and I wrote our book “Toxic Stress: 7 Steps to Recovery,” we included a light-hearted segment called “Words to Stay Married By.” Thank you. You look fantastic tonight. That was sweet. I understand.

Elizabeth writes: “People who are responsive do three things: They understand what their partner is really saying, validate what is important to their partner, such as his or her attitudes, goals and desires, and care for or express warmth and affection toward their partner.”

See, we’re all on the same page.

Citing the researchers, the WSJ article advised this:

  • “Start now. It is better to prevent a decline in desire than to try to revive it when it is lost.”
  • Listen without judging. Don’t interrupt.
  • Pay attention to details. Look for ways to show your understanding and support.
  • Talk about your desire. Share your fantasies. Watch a sexy movie and talk about parts you like best.”

For my part, I suggest you and your partner write your own “Words To Stay Married By” and post them in your bedroom. A visual reminder to be sweet to your sweetie.

It’s healthy to forgive

March 21, 2016

My husband is very supportive of my career, and this morning he spotted a story in the Wall Street Journal and cut it out for me. “Here’s something for your clients,” he said. And for anyone reading this blog.

This is what the real experts — the Mayo Clinic, researchers at the University of Missouri and Dr. Janis Abrams Spring — say about forgiveness. I bought Spring’s latest book a few months ago, and I have recommended it to several clients. The title is “How Can I Forgive You? The Courage to Forgive, The Freedom Not To.”

Everyone knows that hanging on to anger and resentment and negative thoughts is unhealthy and unhappy. So the consensus has been, You need to forgive. Period. Well, Spring says what should have been obvious all along. There are some actions that are so grievous that there can be no forgiving. Rape, incest, murder, cruelty, sabotage. She posits that the person on the receiving end of those terrible things cannot truly, totally forgive. But that person may be able to come to what Spring calls “acceptance.”

I particularly like one line in the WSJ article, not from Spring, but from a Mayo Clinic expert: Forgiveness . . . allows one to focus on more positive thoughts and relationships. It allows you to free up the real estate in your brain taken up by negative thinking.

That aligns perfectly with the base of cognitive behavioral thinking, which I teach to most of my clients.

I like that: Free up the real estate in your brain taken up by negative thinking. Good image.

Here’s the article:


The best temperature for sleep

February 23, 2016

I’ve been saying this to clients for years: You need to sleep in a room that is 68 degrees or lower. Take a warm bath before bedtime and cool down your body temperature, which is a evolutionary signal that it’s time to go to sleep.

So imagine my pleasure when the Wall Street Journal cites new research that validates my position.

Here it is for your reading pleasure:

Amazingly Awesome

February 19, 2016

A dear client today said she had found a sticky note she had written some long months ago; it said “Something amazingly awesome is going to happen to me today.” It was a scribbling from an interview she had heard with Pam Grout, the author of “E-Squared, 9 Do-It-Yourself Energy Experiments that Prove Your Thoughts Create Your Reality.”

The serendipitous discovery caused my client to recommit to that phrase at the start of each day. Joyful attraction! And, I thought, what a lovely idea! I will too.

Here is an article by Pam Grout from the Huffington Post, explaining Amazingly Awesome”:

My name is Pam G. and, as of today, I am launching a brand new chapter of A.A. Unlike Version 1.0, my A.A. stands for Amazing Awesomeness and it only has two steps.

Step #1: Admit that… “something amazingly awesome is going to happen to me today.” First thing every morning, before throwing off your covers, before leaping out of bed (and it doesn’t take long in this program before participants do leap out of bed with joy and expectation), before firing up the old Mr. Coffee, proclaim to the world that something unexpected, exciting and amazingly awesome is going to happen to you today. It takes what, three, four seconds? Yet it’s one of the most important things you will ever do. The first few minutes of every morning pre-paves the next 24 hours with positive expectations. It sets up a powerful intention, a forecast on which you can focus.

And it never fails to come true.

Step #2: Come to believe… in blessings and miracles. Pretend you’re a private investigator assigned the task of finding all the beauty and largesse in the world. The dominant paradigm might suggest otherwise, but practiced with regularity, this ritual will force you to see things in a whole different way. Instead of looking for problems, be on the hunt for new blessings. Take on the mission each day of reporting back with at least three pieces of amazing awesomeness, three blessings that are different than the day before. I often liken myself to Lewis or Clark, scouting important new territory.

Because we get out of life whatever we focus on, practicing these two simple steps has the power to override and overturn the accepted paradigm.

Like Bill W.’s A.A, that has reformed the lives of millions, this new program (A.A. 2.0) can transform a “nameless squad of empty glass thinkers.”

I invite others to join me in tweeting their blessings (only rule is it has to be different each day) to my Twitter feed. Or feel free to leave your blessings here. By expecting and looking for a different, more kinder reality, we can, together in one jubilantly mighty whoop, uplift and lighten this tired old world.

Don’t you think it’s time?

Find out more at

New traditions for 2016

January 15, 2016

The “Masters of Marriage,” as Dr. John Gottman calls them, celebrate each other with traditions and rituals. My husband and I have a very special one for our anniversary, which is Jan. 1. Because the last thing we need a week after Christmas is more presents, we buy engraved champagne flutes and toast our anniversary and the new year.

Each flute has my name and his name, the date and the number of years. On one, my name is first, and on the other, his name is first. Because we’ve been doing this for about 15 years, we can throw a heckuva champagne party! We’ve had the champagne tradition for about 15 years, though we have been married 38.

For many years on the anniversary of our first date, which was Valentine’s Day, we would eat at the Heidelberg restaurant. The original was in Kansas, but since then we have lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, Denver, Colorado Springs and Naples, Florida. We rarely had a problem finding a Heidelberg, though last year we dined at Helga’s in Aurora.

Another tradition I often share with my clients is from the wonderful marriage of our friends Phyliss and Dave. When their children were young, and their evenings were full of basketball practice or karate, they had an unusual birthday tradition. When a birthday rolled around, they celebrated with birthday cake at BREAKFAST! It was fun, and funny, and a little naughty.

I share these traditions because I encourage you to create your own. Be Masters of Marriage, and create some memorable traditions.


Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

January 11, 2016


For at least five years in conducting marriage counseling, I have taught my clients about “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalpyse,” as described by Dr. John Gottman, the pre-eminent researcher on relationships. His Four Horsemen are: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling. For Gottman, these are the four bad things that happen in couples communication. I find that they resonate with almost all couples. I’ll ask, Does this sound like you? Would either of you own this Horseman or that Horseman? I get a lot of nods and knowing glances.

As I introduce this to my clients, I usually offer that the term “Four Horsemen” comes the Book of Revelation in the Bible. But I actually had never looked that up. Until today. Thank you, Wikipedia.

I have to say that I haven’t spent much time in my life in the Book of Revelation, nor was I aware of the multiple interpretations of the Horsemen. For my couples, though, it really is sufficient to say: bad things that happen in communication.

My research today led me to the fabulous the painting by Victor Vasnetsov (1887) on this Wikipedia site, but there is a more famous wood cut by 15th century artist Albrecht Durer. Artists across the ages have drawn, painted and sculpted the Horsemen in beautiful ways.

Here’s the wiki link:

My secret of a great marriage

January 8, 2016

Bob and I just celebrated our 38th wedding anniversary. Often, clients who are struggling in their relationships ask me, What’s your secret?

My answer is always the same: picking right.

I picked a great partner, who is smart, loving, generous, supportive, and so much more. One reason we are good together is because we share so many core values. I talk to my clients a lot about recognizing their own core values and where they align, or not, with those of their partner.

Core values are things like

  • Family. Do you each value your own families, and do  you each value and nurture your relationship and own children.
  • Career. Are you on the same page about your careers (do you love what you do?) and career tracks (will you change jobs often?).
  • Home life. Do you share a vision of a home and how it operates?
  • Money. This is always a hard one, but it surely helps if you agree on how to spend and how to save.
  • Religion. It’s helpful to share spiritual beliefs, but if not, it’s essential to respect your partner’s right to be different.
  • Politics. OK, I confess that my husband and I cancel out each other’s vote for president every four years, but we don’t disparage each other for our differences.

Just as with the Politics item, you can have some difference in core values with your partner, but it’s surely easier if you align. When they don’t align, counseling can help you mediate how you will cope. A misalignment would be what Dr. John Gottman, the pre-eminent couples researcher and theorist, calls a “perpetual problem.” Marriages have a lot of perpetual problems, and the way you deal with them is what I call “around the edges.”

So if the problem is dueling in-laws who each want/demand you and the kids for Thanksgiving,  working around the edges might be a solution in which you spend Thanksgiving in the Bahamas. Or take charge and get clear expectations for everyone on how a rotation will work for the next two years.

So the secret to a great marriage is, first, picking right, and second, respectful problem-solving. There you have it!


Perfect timing for resolutions. . .

January 5, 2016

New York Times columnist Sara Parker-Pope (one of my favorites) writes about “design thinking,” which I will characterize as a new approach to goal-setting. I have felt a little “stuck” myself lately, and I plan to spend some reflection time on “design thinking.” I hope it is helpful to you, as well. Happy New Year!

Meditation Apps

November 17, 2015

Meditation apps are really helpful to motivate you to get to that Zen spot or to practice the mindfulness that keeps you centered. The New York Times today reviewed a variety of these apps. See if one if right for you.

My 4 Favorite Get-Organized Tips

September 7, 2015

My life has been multi-channel in the last six months — my home channel, my work channel, my nonprofit channel, my Mother channel (she has been ill, and I have taken over her finances). So yesterday while sitting on the passenger side of a long car trip, I vowed to get myself better organized and start ticking off a major To Do List. This led me to remind myself of my 4 Favorite Get-Organized Tips, and I’m sharing:

  • The Best To Do List: I have a To Do Today List and a To Do Some Other Day List. The Today List obviously consists of highest priorities. It has to be a realistic, achievable List, though. I want to get to the end of the day with Check! Check! Check! All done. I don’t want to set myself up for failure.
  • An Alternative: If there are no obvious high priorities on my To Do Today List, I will assign myself Two-A-Day Duty. I will accomplish any two that I feel like tackling, but I absolutely will end the day with two done. Check! Check!
  • The 15-Minute Fling: I have been telling clients about this de-cluttering technique for years. (And, boy, do I have stuff to de-clutter after closing down my mother’s apartment.) I “borrowed” it from, a fun website with many motivating and practical ideas for getting organized and de-cluttered. It’s based on her concept that Anyone Can Do Anything for 15 Minutes. So I will be scheduling myself for a daily 15-Minute Fling to put away some of Mother’s belongings that are in my spare bedroom.
  • Chunking. This is a basic of time management — “chunk” the things you need to do into smaller parts, so the task is less intimidating. For clients with overwhelming clutter, I have reduced their chunks down to very small parts — a corner, one half of the dining room table, the sink. For me, this will be a closet, a pile in the garage, paperwork.

I hope you’ll join me in getting organized. It has a “back-to-school” feel to me. Best of luck!