Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sex and Stress

Does this work for you?
The slipstream between sex and stress often moves in opposite directions for men and women.

Men feel (or maybe notice) more of a physical tension with stress that they know from experience will go away if they have sex. Sure, if see that their website's been hacked and their webmaster won't answer her damn phone they might get a release from chucking said phone against the wall. But they usually control their aggressive instincts at work, and go home tense, and when their partner asks if he's okay says "Honestly? I could really use a (common sexual favor)."

If his partner's a man, his chances are decent because men tend to get this.
If his partner's his wife and they have children and competing demands? Long shot.

"Have you ever felt like
 bait during shark week?"
Not because she minds doing the sex act in theory, but because sex of any type is the last thing she wants when she's had a bad day, and any day when her partner comes home stressed has automatically, because she's empathic, become her bad day too. Plus dinner's on the stove and the kids are fighting.

And women usually feel less of a physical tension than an emotional one from stress (like the infamous headache), and fear this will increase from sex. That they'll resent being asked, be tense and not into it, feel used and unappreciated. Embarassed that the kids will hear, or downstairs neighbors will know what they're up to. This is totally understandable, and a set-up for domestic disaster. Because once he admits he's tense, she asks what would help, he tells her, and she turns him down (or stalls), things go downhill fast.

Father to son: Didn't I ask you to get some pajamas? About a dozen times in a row?"
Son to father: I tried. I'm all out.
Father to son: Go get a t-shirt then, and some sweats.
Son to father: Mom says no. They're not fire-proof.
Father to son: Do I look like your mother? Get the sweats.
Wife to husband (from next room): Never mind. I'll do it. I know there are pajamas in the laundry pile.

Or is this more your style? 
She stomps off to fold laundry for an hour. Husband follows and clarifies that he doesn't care about laundry. Wife says that's obvious, or the pile wouldn't be so high. He falls asleep, tense hours and a few drinks later, still feeling the need for something to hit the wall. Settles for a pillow. It doesn't help. Dreams of a wife who wants him, bad. She dreams of a husband who understands her and does what it takes to get her in the mood and doesn't just throw down and say "Come on, baby. Bring it."

But desire shouldn't be the deal-breaker. Women have the same autonomic responses that men do to good sex--intense pleasure, bonding, relaxation, happiness--once it starts. Low desire is the hurdle that gets in the way of a lot of women having more sex, but it doesn't have to be. One partner has to be gung-ho and desirous to get sex going, but waiting until the other feels the exact same way is going to lead to lots of frustration on both sides. It's like ballroom dancing. Only one person needs to lead at a time, the other to follow and enjoy the moves.

From Men's Health
Sex with a committed partner is good for your health in a bunch of ways that aren't evident from doing other activities together, or from sex without the relationship. It's a reliable way to stay in a good mood and recover quickly from stress, and rejection of a partner who's asking for sex can be devastating to a relationship. And once both men and women close in on middle-age, sexual function moves into a "use it or lose it" phase. Men have medications to help with erection problems, and now women have a pill for vaginal atrophy, but some of these problems can be prevented by more of a focus on sexual health before trouble begins. So why don't women just get with the program and agree to--or even initiate-more sex not just for enjoyment, but for their health, relationships and stress management?

Because sex, for many women, is a cause of stress.
by Leo Bucard
While sex, for most men, is stress relief.

You could say it has to do with modern kinds of pressures, but this dynamic that puts men and women at odds over sex has been in play a lot longer than modern times. It's complicated,  biological, individualized, and self-perpetuating. What to do?

If you are motivated to change this part of your relationship, then start by reversing lenses.

  • If you are the "sex causes stress" partner, then focus on the opposite--all the ways it relieves your stress, makes you feel better about yourself, sexier, more relaxed, more adult, more connected, and happier. If there's something about the sex that's not working for you, figure that out too but the focus is on what does work. Get yourself to a place where at least you can fairly say there's pros and cons.
  • If you are the "sex relieves stress" partner, then focus on the opposite--all the ways it causes your partner emotional distress. Get yourself to a place where at least you can fairly say why your partner resists, restricts or needs elaborate preparation and wooing to be willing. Prepare yourself: there will be emotions and communication involved. Talk of self image, low desire, exhaustion, guilt, anger, a mental "to do" ticker tape, being out of touch with their body. You will want to debate. Don't. You are simply on a fact-finding mission. The goal is understanding, and empathy.

Guaranteed, if both do this well, solutions will be obvious, and the rewards well-worth the effort.

Good luck :) and have fun.

Love, Lisa

Sunday, November 3, 2013


from wikipedia
Jeff Bridges is an interesting guy and I've loved watching him act since Starman came out in 1986, not the least because I believed my name should have been Jenny Hayden and fantastical things should be happening to me. I did get married, and my name became Hayden, but the most surreal thing I experienced that year was listening to the Boston Red Sox almost win the World Series (the curse was so close to being over that year).

The next Jeff Bridges movie I loved was Fearless , which came out the year I finished my clinical psych master's and was studying families and trauma and mental illness. Jeff says his own personal favorite is probably Dude in The Big Lebowski, not my taste but I'm a drama girl. He's a lot like Dude, if you read the latest interview in GQ, which is very entertaining and also very real.

And Dude is surprisingly deep.

Jeff dodges questions when he wants to, but recently stopped dodging every question about his relationship with his wife. Every marriage has secrets and Jeff kept his, for the most part, but expressed a few regrets:

Jeff Bridges in GQ October 2013

"My wife and I have been married for 36 years. I'm deeply in love with her, but every once in a while we'll get into what I like to refer to as our 'deep, ancient battle.' It's always very elusive and it's hard to find the real kernel of it, but basically it is about this: 'You don't get it. You don't get what it's like to be me.' Neither of us really understands what it's like to be that other person." 
I think this is almost universally true in relationships of any type--workmates, parents and children, friends, siblings, or partners--and kind of profound. When you spend years together, as you almost always do with those you're close to, you imagine that in all that time, they will have latched onto the essence of you and appreciate you and forgive you in that context. Every time.

But each of us is to complicated. Contradictory, and ever-changing. Last week you were laughing at your messy house but this week you're embarrassed. What changed? You went to your neighbors' and hers was warm and colorfully decorated for the holidays. You didn't want to leave. It felt so homey. The next day your house is clean and you're on HGTV looking for ideas.

Who are you?
Hard for others to tell. Hard even for ourselves to know. But we're still convinced others should know what makes us happy or aggravated, sentimental or flustered. And that because they don't know, they don't care.

But I remember when I was six or seven, and first discovered the flip side of being misunderstood, which is the power of being unknown. It might have been a time I lied, or hid something from my parents. Possibly it was when they were forcing me to eat something I didn't want to (for smart people, they did that a lot) or say something apologetic (ditto). And in one of my first "aha" moments, I realized they couldn't do it. No one could make me say or do anything--and best yet--they had no idea what was going on in my mind.

Or at least not all of it. Took me a while to get a bland "poker face" down.

So I try to remember this is one of the really cool things about everyone on earth being different. No one will think or write or talk or act exactly like I do, or know how I'll do any of those things in advance. This may cause friction with my husband because I want him to conveniently anticipate my needs and understand my frustrations without my having to express them. I may then be shocked at the flip way he misinterprets and minimizes, trying to jolly me out of something I'm intent on having a hissy over. But in the end, I say:
Magical Mystery Tour of 100 Beatles Songs

Small price for being our own private magical mystery tour.

Enjoy your secrets with yourself this week :).

Love, Lisa