Category Archives: Relationships

Fifty Shades of Grey: Sexual & Pornography Addictions Hurt Everyone

50-shades
Thanks to Danielle Adams of Lifestar Therapy for this guest post, which explains from a therapist’s perspective how this popular book/movie series affects the larger society.

We’ve probably all heard of Fifty Shades of Grey by now, the popular erotica book series and its accompanying films. The story follows the two main characters, Ana and Christian, and their unhealthy relationship revolving around Christian’s obsession with BDSM. And so it goes.

People’s opinions swing back and forth between extremes: it’s trashy – it’s just dirty fun –  it empowers women – it objectifies women. From a purely objective standpoint, the books are not great. The writing is sophomoric, the sex scenes are ridiculous, and the message is a fairly unhealthy one.

So why is it so popular? We could debate the question for hours and still not reach a consensus, but the fact of the matter remains: Ana and Christian’s abnormal relationship feeds into the idea that sexual addictions are easily overcome with merely the right motivation (i.e., the right partner), and millions of women are eating this up.

The Problem

Sexual addictions are primarily thought to develop because of a chemical imbalance in the brain, much like depression or other mental disorders, and the fact that antidepressants make a difference for some sex addicts suggests that this is correct. Studies have shown that food, drugs, and sexual interests share a common location within the brain’s circuitry. So in the same way that food sounds good when we’re hungry, abnormal sexual activity sounds good to a sex addict when they feel that urge. The addicted brain tricks the body with powerful chemical rewards when the sexual urge is fulfilled. In this way, self-destructive behavior is rewarded and therefore continued, even though the rational mind knows that it’s a problem.

This brain chemistry explanation especially helps to make sense of why accomplished, successful, rational people, men and women, can be just as susceptible to sex addictions as anyone else. A chemical imbalance in your brain is every bit as real as a broken arm or a gash in your leg.

There are many negative consequences of sexual addictions, including greater risk of STDs, low self-esteem, lack of intimacy, inability to maintain healthy relationships, and sometimes even legal trouble. And the harm doesn’t stop with the addicted person; there is often collateral damage. Partners discover the affairs and feel betrayed, family members become aware of the lying and sneaking around and find themselves overwhelmingly disillusioned.

The Fifty Shades Effect

One of the problems with Fifty Shades of Grey is the happy ending. Sexual addictions take years of struggle to overcome. Much of the time they are never really cured; coping mechanisms are put in place and practiced, the behaviors may stop, and the person can resume normal life and pursue healthy relationships, but sometimes it’s a lifelong battle.

Christian and Ana are able to work through his issues and emerge stronger for it, but in the real world, addictions are not resolved so neatly.

Oftentimes, the addict will not get the help he or she needs, or the relationship cannot survive the effects of the betrayal.

If you have someone with a sexual addiction in your life, try to remember that it has nothing to do with you. There is nothing you did or could do to cause it, and it is not your responsibility to “cure” them. Be supportive and encouraging as they seek help, but don’t neglect to look after yourself. For spouses of sex addicts, it can be helpful to attend a support group. It takes immense commitment and consistent hard work every day, but with the right tools, relationships can be repaired and addictions can become a thing of the past.

About the Author: Danielle Adams is a freelance writer who works with Lifestar Therapy. She is committed to helping people practice open communication and build healthy relationships.

 

Can a math formula offer secret to lasting love?

I’m a “word person” more than a “math person”, so I was surprised that a mathematical formula can help us be successful in love.

The brains behind the formula is mathematician Dr. Hannah Fry who works at the UCL Center for Advanced Spacial Analysis in London. She used her unique expertise to explain in a TED Talk and book of the same name “The Mathematics of Love.” In short, Fry explains that the best predictor of long-lasting relationships is the level of positive and negative experiences with one another. She analyzed data from psychologist marriage expert John Gottman, who observed couples for many years in conversations with their partners.

As many of us know through our own experiences, happier couples have more positive interactions with one another. Couples who are less happy and at higher risk of breakup have fewer positive interactions. But there’s more to it. One of the reasons how they deal with negative situations is important is that couples with lots of positivity give one another the benefit of the doubt when their partner is negative. They dismiss a negative comment or action as unusual and may attribute it to fatigue or stress at work. Those in more negative relationships tend to do the reverse. A negative comment is considered “typical” or “normal” and the actions are attributed to the person. For example, a grumpy comment may reinforce the thought that the partner is selfish or unkind. The negativity then can spiral downward.

We may not realize our daily reactions and interactions with our spouse can influence our relationship so much. A spouse who agrees or encourages in response to a comment is likely to receive a positive response back. A spouse who interrupts, dismisses or ignores is likely to receive a negative response back, and perhaps start a spiral down to more frustration or anger. One of the largest predictors of divorce was therefore related to positive or negative reactions, with more positive couples having a low risk of divorce and more negative couples having a high risk of divorce.

The surprising twist is that Fry surmised that the best relationships would have a “high negativity threshold” bringing up issues only if they were very important. The opposite was true. “The most successful relationships are the ones with really low negativity threshold,” Fry writes. They constantly repair the tiny issues between them, not allowing any to grow and fester. So while they have more positive interactions, they are not afraid to have a negative interaction if it means repairing part of the relationship that needs to be fixed. Perhaps they have a more positive or gentler way of addressing those issues if positivity is their more frequent pattern.

Fry’s formula also factors in the wife’s or husband’s mood when alone and with their spouse. If you want the formula and its explanation, check out her Ted Talk. It’s in the last third of the talk, following math tips for online dating and how to pick the perfect partner. Incidentally, she says the formula works the same for two spouses as it does for two countries in an arms race.

Divorce Booms in January

shadow couple morguefile
The holidays can be a stressful time for marriages that are already  having difficulties. In fact, January is the month when most divorces are filed. The following post has some interesting thoughts and advice for those who may find themselves considering what you once thought was unthinkable. Are you 100% certain that you have thought about every angle of this decision? Read “Thinking of filing for divorce in January? Read this first.” I highly recommend it.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Monthly Date Night May be Marriage-Saving

1401775545unb46 A new study indicates regular date nights can have a significant impact on making your marriage last. The time commitment isn’t terribly difficult to achieve; monthly dates lowered the odds of splitting up by 14 percent over 10 years. Because date nights can be boring or hard to schedule, I’ll include links to plenty of ideas to refresh your regular dates.

Interestingly, the monthly date night effect only applied to married couples in the study. The University of Lincoln’s Professor Steve McKay used data from 10,000 mothers in the UK who were either married or cohabitating. Cohabiting couples who dated did no better than those who did not go on dates.

The researchers suggest regular date nights reinforce the importance of the relationship. Because their relationship is founded on a public commitment, the date night reinforces this commitment. “The date has a meaning and a purpose,” they say. For cohabitating couples who may have an element of ambiguity in their relationship, “a night out is a night out.”

The bottom line is that occasional date nights “bring added stability to the relationship between new parents.” While married couples without children were not included in the study, researchers say it is plausible that the result will reinforce commitment at any stage of marriage.

Schedule those monthly date nights, and consider trying a new activity or location for your dates. Are there seasonal activities you enjoy, such as apple picking, apple pie eating, or pumpkin carving for the fall, decorating your Christmas tree or going sledding/skiing in the winter? Taking a walk or bike ride may help those who don’t want to spend money or splurge on calories for big dinners. Cooking a themed dinner at home can help you manage budget and healthfulness.

The following list of 50 date ideas was so popular that the author wrote 50 more date night ideas. So, I’ll include links to all 100 date ideas. If none of them suits you, make your own list to choose from. The important thing is to spend time together (not staring at a screen). Read The Benefits of Monthly Date Nights for Married Couples for more info.

50 Things to Do (Other than Movies)

50 More Things to Do Together

What are your favorite date ideas with your spouse? Do you prefer going to your favorite restaurant or trying something new? Whatever your preferences, put it on the calendar for a long-lasting marriage.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

How Does Media Use Affect Your Marriage?

LADY HOLDING PHONE morguefile
Does gaming or social media use affect marriage satisfaction? Sometimes.

A study by Utah State University researchers assessed how social media, television watching and gaming affects marital conflict, perceived instability and marital satisfaction. Researchers Jeffrey Dew and Sarah Tulane surveyed 3,455 people for this study. There were some interesting gender differences and similarities depending on which area of media was studied. TV use did not appear to have much of an effect of marriage quality. However, they found some interesting correlations with social media and gaming.

Social Media

They found wives often used social media more than their husbands, but that this difference didn’t correlate with more marital dissatisfaction. However, when husbands spent more time on social networking than their wives, they and their wives were more likely to report marital conflict.

The researchers surmised that husbands who perceived their marriage to be unstable might have been using social media to strengthen other relationships or develop new relationships (including romantic ones).

Gaming

When both partners spent the same amount of time gaming, it did not appear to affect marriage quality. However, if either the wife or the husband spent more time playing, this was associated with higher conflict, lower satisfaction and higher perceived instability for their marriage. Researchers were surprised there were not more gender differences with gaming.

Bottom Line

The researchers warn that it is difficult to draw clear cause-and-effect conclusions from their data, but they advise talking to your spouse about expectations as a couple, including how much media use is acceptable for you both.

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

New Research Reveals How Porn Affects Relationships

man on computer2 morguefile

Couples who believe that viewing pornography is morally acceptable, and who have even heard experts say limited porn use can be “fine” may now be interested in research showing how porn use negatively affects intimate relationships. The research is causing experts to change their recommendations and advise couples (and individuals) that pornography is harmful.

Laissez-fair attitudes about porn are changing, and some heavy hitters have recently voiced their concerns with how widespread porn use has affected modern culture. Following are a few summaries of these changing views and a brief explanation of what experts are learning about what they call “arousal addiction.”

Time Magazine’s April 2016 cover story “Porn and the Threat to Virility” is one mainstream example of how a culture that used to be accepting of porn use is now highlighting how its use can be harmful. Men who grew up using porn as teens have started a movement to expose the harm it has caused in their lives, starting with decreased virility and libido.

For a fairly entertaining explanation of the brain changes that occur with porn viewing, view this TED Talk by Gary Wilson called “The great porn experiment. Wilson explains the physical changes that occur in the brain with porn viewing and how they lead to “arousal addiction.” He also shares experiences from the new control group of men who have become ex-users as a result of widespread erectile dysfunction, depression, social anxiety and memory/focus problems that disappeared once they gave up porn. Pornography use can be more detrimental to teens because of the increased plasticity of their brains, says Wilson. In fact, older men improve their symptoms faster than younger men, but both of them can reverse the negative effects and often feel a “rebirth” after giving up porn, Wilson says.

Relationship experts Drs. John and Julie Gottman released an “Open Letter on Porn” in April that changes their stance on the acceptability of porn use. “Research on the effects of pornography use, especially one person viewing pornographic images online, shows that pornography can hurt a couple’s relationship,” say the Gottmans. Research suggests pornography can be a “supernormal stimulus” that causes interest to decrease in their normal sexual partner.

“Pornography poses a serious threat to couple intimacy and relationship harmony,” the Gottmans conclude. Read their letter for further details; I will merely highlight a few points they make here:

  1. Use of pornography by one partner leads the couple to have far less sex and ultimately reduces relationship satisfaction.
  2. Porn use threatens a relationship’s intimacy by causing the partner using it to turn away from intimate interaction with their partner.
  3. Because the person watching porn is in total control of his or her sexual experience, that person may form the unrealistic expectation that sex with their partner will also be totally under their control.
  4. Porn sites often include violence toward women and perpetuate ideas that violence is acceptable.
  5. Porn use can become an addiction causing the same brain mechanism changes that occur with other addictions, such as gambling or drug use.
  6. Porn use can lead to a decrease in relationship trust and an increase in affairs.

In other (not as recent) research, a Journal of Neurosurgery and Neurosciences (Surgical Neurology International) published an article entitled “Pornography addiction: A neuroscience perspective” by Donald Hilton and Clark Watts, who outline the chemical changes and anatomical changes that occur in the brain with various types of addictions, including addiction to pornography use. They studied the physical changes that occur with porn use as compared with eating addictions, cocaine and opioid addiction, and others.

Some conclusions made in this scientific paper:

“In 2006 world pornography revenue was 97 billion dollars, more than Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Apple and Netflix combined. This is no casual, inconsequential phenomenon, yet there is a tendency to trivialize the possible social and biologic effects of pornography. The sex industry has successfully characterized any objection to pornography as being from the religious/moral perspective; they then dismiss these objections and First Amendment infringements. If pornography addiction is viewed objectively, evidence indicates that it does indeed cause harm in humans with regard to pair bonding.”

As with the conclusions by the Gottmans, Hilton and Watts also express concern that data demonstrates a strong correlation with regard to pornography inducing violent attitudes against women. They say it is irresponsible not to address this issue considering the current patterns of porn use. (In 2001 87% of college age men viewed porn, 50% weekly and 20% every day or two, 31% women viewing as well.)

The bottom line is that experts are now realizing porn use interferes with healthy intimacy between partners, changes the brain chemistry, negatively affects sexual performance, and can negatively affect performance in other areas of life.

Does this research change your views on pornography?

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

Spouses need to feel their partner “gets” them

couple talking morguefileWhen having a fight, couples who can still see where their partner is coming from bounce back better after the fight, and view the fight as a “healthy one.” Bottom line:  we need to feel that our partner “gets us” even when we are not in agreement.

Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, conducted experiments with 85 people in relationships and studied the couples’ arguments, as well as how happy they were in the relationship and whether they felt their partner understood them. When couples did not feel understood by their partner, they felt less satisfied with the relationship after a fight, and visa versa.

But partners didn’t have to be completely understood, they had to feel understood. The key was whether their partner expressed empathy with their position.

To say it differently, whether you agree or not isn’t the issue. Expressing empathy and understanding is. If you want your partner to feel happy with your relationship, it’s important to convey that you still appreciate your partner and where they are coming from, regardless of whether you agree.

“Feeling understood, regardless of whether it’s grounded in reality, can be enormously good for general well-being,” said researcher Serena Chen. “Conveying that you understand but don’t agree can go a long way. We know this, but we don’t often do it.”

Expressing empathy is not pretending to agree. Instead, partners who vocalize empathy are bridging the divide, avoiding accusatory “you” statements, and helping the other person feel their views are valued.

“I get you,” is the message we need to convey, even in a fight.

Next time you disagree on politics, chores, or anything else, see if you can take the time to let you partner know you hear what they are saying, and that you “get” them.

 

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.