Recently, I was watching a YouTube video and my favorite take-away was the idea that the opposite of LOVE is FEAR (not hate). This idea has stayed with me and I have found that I want to incorporate that LOVE-FEAR concept into my work with couples. It is an interesting concept that has the potential to change how we see our differences.

In this theory, fear is, in part, a result of feeling vulnerable. When a loved one has a different point of view, our idea of truth is challenged. We fear that our connection to the truth and our connection with our loved one will be lost. This is one of the most common experiences of couples, especially in the early stages of their relationship.  During these times, it is difficult to accept that our beloved one thinks differently from us about any or many subjects.  We try to convince them to think more like us.

When we experience that fear we try to convince the other person that they are wrong (and our truth is right). This seldom goes well. Many arguments can be boiled down to this issue: how do we deal with differences between us?  When these differences are revealed, we feel threatened because our truth is challenged.  If we don’t recognize that differences are just that—differences, not bad or good, just different, then we may turn that fear into contempt or “hate”.

An example of this phenomenon that is familiar to many of us is during discussions about politics or religion with someone (maybe even our spouse) who has a different viewpoint, or “truth”. There are few, if any, instances when the discussion results in actually changing the other person’s mind. The end result of these discussions is usually that both people become angry and have many negative thoughts about the other person.

In a marriage, there are many differences between partners, including different viewpoints that each holds as the “truth”. If, instead of engaging in an argument about whose “truth” is more correct we get curious about the other person’s reasoning, we can actually feel closer to our spouse because we understand them better. It turns out that self-awareness surrounding fear actually reduces our tendency to fight for our viewpoint and “win” an argument. Instead, we can recognize our fear and reduce it, manage it, and listen.  Powerful!


Would you like to see where your relationship is strong and where it could use some improvement?  I have created the Relationship Review Quiz to do just that!  Here’s the link: 


When we identify something in our relationship that needs to change, it’s easy to say to yourself, “Yes, I will make that change”.  However, if you are like most of us, after the first few days of making the change, you tend to slip back into old patterns.  In fact, our brains are wired to make it likely that we’ll slip back, at least sometimes.

Now, that might sound hopeless, since our brains are wired to make us slip back. However, since our brains also have a huge capacity to be flexible—to learn and unlearn–we have a chance to re-wire ourselves, if we truly commit to that change.

Let’s say your partner tells you about a disappointment, pain, or other trouble in your relationship that makes them sad or angry. And it’s something you are doing or not doing. What could you do next?

Maybe you could decide to be “resigned” to living with the troubles and just keep on doing what you’re doing, while thinking, “That’s just the way I am”.  Of course, we all know that if we keep doing the same things, we are destined to get the same result. Or, maybe because you care about your partner’s feelings and don’t want to be a source of pain to them, you think that you would like to change your behavior.  That step is huge, but it is just part of the solution. Now, you need to get committed to making that change or you won’t be successful.

When any of us want to (or must) change something about ourselves, we go through several stages:

Getting to Commitment: A Three-Step Process

Pre-contemplation. In this stage, we begin to think about a problem that we have identified or that has been identified for us.

Contemplation. Here, we weigh the benefits and costs of the change to ourselves, our spouse and to our relationship.  If we decide “it’s worth it” to us, then we move to the next stage.

Commitment. If you think you can do what it takes, you also have to decide if you want to do it, and if so, how will I make this change.

In relationships, it may be difficult to be patient as we make our way through this process, one step at a time. However, as we have all experienced, learning new behaviors takes time, effort and involves many missteps.  (If you doubt this, think about learning to ski, swim, ride a bike, stop swearing, etc.).  We can be very committed and still need to take time to learn the skill or behavior.

Real-life example of this process in action:

Amy’s husband Joel told her that he needs more physical affection from her. As Joel saw Amy being physically affectionate with their children and with the dog, he didn’t feel like he was a priority for Amy and thought she wasn’t in love with him anymore. This made him very distressed.

Pre-Contemplation: As Amy thought about this feedback she realized that Joel was right about the lack of touching.  He was definitely not correct in thinking she didn’t love him. She did love him very much.

Contemplation:  Physical affection was not present in the family that Amy grew up in.  She thought it would be awkward to reach out to Joel. She worried that she would be embarrassed and maybe not do it well enough.  Because she loved Joel though, she decided that she was going to be more physically affectionate despite her “beginner” status.

Commitment:  Amy wanted Joel to feel loved, so she decided she could do what he asked for. Then she figured out a several-step process that enabled her to overcome her awkwardness and embarrassment and to become more “natural” in her reaching out.  With each step, she figured that she would feel more confident and competent at being affectionate. Amy started with brief hugs and progressed to sitting on the couch with Joel’s feet on her lap, to holding hands while watching movies or TV.

How it turned out: Amy became comfortable with the physical contact and began enjoying it herself.  And Joel felt loved and appreciated that Amy had listened to his request and worked to fulfill it.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you usually reflect on your spouse’s requests/complaints with compassion?
  • How could you improve your relationship by making time for each step?

Please comment below about what these ideas bring up for you.

Would you like to see where your relationship is strong and where it could use some improvement?  I have created the Relationship Review Quiz to do just that!  Here’s the link:


To Improve your SEX Life BE NICE Could it Really Be That Simple?

Many of the couples, over 1000 to be exact, I have worked with over the years report that their sex life is very far from ideal. Some couples haven’t made love in months or maybe they have very different ideas of what they would like their sexual life to look like.  They often report that their sex life has just gradually disappeared and they want it back.

These couples are mystified as to WHY their desire has cooled off and what that means about their relationship and themselves.  Am I still attractive?  Does she still love me?  Does it have to be this way going forward?  How can we fix it?

This is such an important and prevalent issue that hundreds of articles are written about it, in journals, books and newspapers.  Advice about our sex lives is all around us.  Some people giving advice advocate sex toys, others suggest confrontation of your partner… others recommend “open” relationships. There is so much advice swirling around, but little of it is based on anything but the opinion of the writer.

Then, along came a recent article in The Wall Street Journal.  The reporter reviewed several large research studies on relationships that found that BEING NICE is the key to having a good sex life!  Is it true that “being nice” is what sustains sexual desire in a long-term relationship?  These studies say, YES!

A key feature of being “nice”, according to the studies, is responsiveness to your partner’s needs, in things other than just love-making.  The elements of responsiveness, include good communication –listening without judging or interrupting and validating his or her feelings and goals.  Also important are expressing warmth and caring about your partner, checking in on the details of your partner’s life and talking about your sexual desires.  Together, these convey that you really know and understand your partner and that you care deeply about him or her.

The Journal article reveals that both men and women who saw their partner as responsive to them felt more sexual desire for the partner.  They also noted that women are especially sensitive to the emotional climate in their relationship.  The nicer and more responsive their partner is, the more sexual desire the woman feels.

These studies validate what I have learned from the couples I have worked with in my psychology practice over the past 30 years.  The more emotionally close they feel to their partner, the more sexual satisfaction they report.  This is most noticeable after the first year or two, when the initial chemical part of passionate love has diminished.  After that, the closeness, niceness and responsiveness make for a good sex life.

When a long-term couple wants to revive their sex life they can be successful if they look deeper into their interactions. They need to pay attention to all of the aspects of their relationship, especially how they treat each other, how they attempt to recover from arguments, how they manage chores, finances and the other components of their relationship.  A good and loving sexual relationship in a long-term couple is achieved by taking excellent care of the other elements of the relationship, not just sex.

A side note:  Maintaining a sex life is so important to the well-being of people in relationships that the Wall Street Journal is writing about it.  It gives some research basis for the adage:  Happy Wife, Happy Life.  We can now add:  Happy Spouse, Happy Life!

I would love to hear your comments on these ideas!  How could you use this information?  What specific actions could you begin now?  How do you feel when your partner is “nice” to you in the ways mentioned above?

With love and gratitude, Carol

Would you like to see where your relationship is strong and where it could use some improvement?  I have created the Relationship Review Quiz to do just that!  Here’s the link:  http://RelationshipReviewQuiz/