Relationship Goals - Cluff Counseling - Lewisville TherapistDid you know that people who set goals are ten times more likely to succeed than those who do not? I know you want your relationship to make it, so let’s talk about goals you can set as a couple that will improve your relationship in 2018!

While the new year can be a great time to kick-start personal resolutions and habits, embarking on resolutions with a partner can also be a wise move.  Two weeks ago, I posted on my blog about New Year’s Resolutions and the power behind mindfully setting well-rounded goals to help you improve in all aspects of your life. This week I want to focus on applying that logic exclusively to relationships.

Do you and your partner set resolutions or goals for your relationship? This might include things you both need to improve, leave behind, or want to learn–like arguing less, listening more, or learning your salmon grilling techniques. Many of my clients only set individual goals, and not couple goals for things they would like to achieve as a unit. The following are nine simple suggestions that you can personalize and include in your 2018 couple resolutions:

  • Do stuff together. Yes, this sounds obvious, but often couples slip into monotony that leads to lack of connection. So my advice is to do things together–it can be simple things like paying the bills, cleaning your house, or running errands…just do it together. I also recommend doing meaningful things together–like worshipping, learning a new skill, participating in service, or visiting travel destinations. And do not forget to have fun together–be goofy, joke around, and remember that laughing together does wonders for a relationship.
  • Be present with each other. I understand that between school, work, kids, etc, your schedules appear full and you do not have much time to spare. Make whatever time you do have together COUNT. Make a goal to stop scrolling so much in your partner’s presence; put your phones down, and focus on each other! Take technology breaks and spend undistracted time with each other. When you and your partner are together, make sure ALL of you is there.
  • Do not turn a molehill into a mountain. This year resolve to not let little upsets grow into big ones. Remember that every conflict in your relationship is not personal.
  • Be respectful, even when you are upset. Although it can be easy to flare up in the face of contention and say angry things to your partner, it is harder to come back and apologize. Instead, try the Time Out technique and say, “I love you and because I love you, I don’t want to say or do anything that would hurt you or our relationship and so I need some time to calm down before I can continue this conversation.” Imagine what a difference this could make!
  • Speak up about what you want! Your partner is not a mindreader. He or she cannot magically know what you want or need. Use your words and tell him or her what you want–whether it is where you want to eat out, what is going on in bed, or how you communicate throughout the day. Set your partner up for success by telling him or her what you want so it can be delivered.
  • Speak your partner’s love language. Many of you are familiar with love languages (if not, click here to read more). To boil it down, each of us has a primary love language: acts of service, words of affirmation, receiving gifts, quality time, and physical touch. Both you and your partner receive love through one of those primary love languages. It is your job to know what is most meaningful to your partner. The majority of my clients often feel disconnected and butt heads because each partner is speaking with his or her own preferred love language, rather than how what his/her partner receives love.
  • Ask your partner how (not if) you can help. Ana Aluisy, a couples therapist from Florida, says that simply being direct and asking your partner how you can help improves your connection and intimacy immensely. Aluisy says, “Many times we place immense amounts of efforts into being supportive towards our partner, but they may not notice. Knowing specifically how they need us to be there for them is key.”
  • Catch your partner doing good. More often than not, we overlook what our partner does well and only see that he/she loaded the dishwasher wrong. We must intentionally look for the good and express it often to cultivate a loving attitude within the relationship. Here is a simple exercise that I recommend to my couples: over the next seven days, catch your partner doing good and tell them what you see. At the end of the week, reflect on how you feel about your partner. You will be surprised how such a simple thing can make a big difference in your view of your partner.
  • Have regularly scheduled check-ins. Jeffrey Sumber, Psychotherapist and Author says. “I encourage couples to check in with each other on a regular basis, typically weekly. It’s not only an opportunity to see whether things are going amazingly or if someone’s struggling, but it’s also an opportunity to offer appreciation for one another on a regular basis and express what you each need.” Whether you have a nightly, weekly, or monthly “check-in,” it is important to have a time you both plan on discussing your relationship.

Making relationship resolutions in and of itself shows you are prioritizing the relationship. Couples benefit from constantly reevaluating their relationships and finding ways to strengthen them. Setting couple New Year’s resolutions can be a great way to increase your connection, strengthen your relationship, and improve your overall relationship satisfaction.

The above resolutions are just a few examples of goals you can choose for your relationship. I encourage you to pick 2 or 3, from the list or on your own, that you would like to focus on this year and discuss with your partner how you two will implement them in your relationship. If you feel like you need some assistance creating measurable or implementable couple goals, please feel free to contact me or schedule a session. Let 2018 be the best year so far in your relationship!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.


Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part III: Communication in the Bedroom

Communication in the Bedroom - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy

Part 1: Benefits of Sex” and “Part 2: Hindrances to Sex” have laid the foundation for this third and final blog post in our series on reclaiming the bedroom. We all know that sex is good for us–both individually and as a couple–and we also know that life sometimes gets in the way of healthy, consistent sexual activity. We hear chatter about sex everywhere…except where we need it most. Here are practical suggestions to get you and partner talking about sex.

As with most things in life and relationships, communication is key, but it is not easy. Talking about sex is hard. It makes us feel uncomfortable. Perhaps sexual communication is so difficult because we grow up with the myth that it is unnecessary. Maybe, as a society, we believe that great sex comes naturally…your partner should know intuitively what you want and like, and good sex must be spontaneous! When, in reality, more often than not, great sex is much like a great meal–it does not just magically happen. It needs to be planned for, and then carried out with skill and thoughtfulness. People’s tastes, preferences and values with regard to sex—much like food—differ greatly. You need to know what your mate likes and dislikes before you cook for him or her; the same holds true for intimacy.

There is really no way around it: you must communicate with your partner about sex. It is nearly impossible for your sexual relationship to improve without some dialogue. Because many couples struggle in this area, a couple’s sexual relationship is a common topic in my office. Here are some suggestions that my client’s have found to be helpful to help them communicate in the bedroom:

Possibly the least intimidating option is to write a letter. The goal is to communicate what you like, need, or want, while not shutting your partner down. Refrain from saying things like, “I don’t like when you…”  or “I wish you wouldn’t…” or “you always/never…” and instead use positive feedback. With this exercise, it is beneficial for both partners to write and exchange letters. Keep it simple and short but 100% clear. Follow up with verbal or written clarifying questions (“Did you mean this?” or “Tell more about that…”). If you are not sure what to say or how to say it in a way that your partner will hear it, a therapist can be a helpful resource.

Now this combines sex communication with a potentially fun date idea. Head off to Barnes and Noble–or some place with a discrete adult book section–and read away. Once you find something that strikes your fancy, give it to your partner to read. And vice versa. There is so much sex education literature out there and some will be more helpful than others, so be careful. You may want to establish some guidelines, as a couple, about the type of literature you are seeking (an example could be books with nude drawings are okay, but not nude photographs).  If you are new to communicating about sex, this can be overwhelming. Instead, you could look on Amazon and together pick a book to buy and read together. You could also ask close family members or trusted friends for some recommendations. As a therapist, I get this question a lot. Click here to visit my website and see my list of book suggestions to help you get started.

This one is pretty self-explanatory. Simply take turns showing each other what feels good for you. Demonstrate what you enjoy and what helps to arouse you. You may take your partner’s hand and guide them over your body. Then switch and listen and watch your partner, and follow their lead. Sensate focus exercises are a safe way to start! This is one of the best techniques I have found. Stay tuned for a future post solely dedicated to this technique!

My next suggestion is to simply just talk it through. Use your words. Although talking may seem the most obvious method of communicating sexual needs, it can be the hardest. Take courage, you can do it! Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

  • Next time you have sex, with your partner, have a post-coital pillow-talk share. Discuss what you enjoyed, hope to repeat next time and want to try in the future.
  • Don’t save all the talking for post-coital, talk about your preferences throughout your sexual interaction.
  • Be careful to not criticize your partner’s performance.
  • Brainstorm possible solutions to common barriers to sex in your relationship (e.g. having kids barge in on you or being exhausted at the end of a work-day).
  • Practice breathing exercises and meditation to help calm your jittery nerves. Remember, your partner is unable to read your mind. Tell him or her what turns you on, what turns you off, what “gets” you, etc. Since you know your preferences, be prepared with dialogue!
  • State both what you like and do not like ( “Here are 3 things that really turn me on…”).
  • Be specific: “I like it when you touch me here…”
  • Ask clarifying questions (“not sure what you meant by ‘be more gentle’”), while not making defensive statements (“I didn’t do that”, “You didn’t…”).
  • Take turns sharing.
  • Spend a few moments, before talking to your partner, thinking about what you want to share so that you are able to say everything you want to when the time comes.

I have counseled couples who have been together for years, yet have never had an in-depth conversation about sex. It can be hard to know how or where to start. Most people are more likely to have fought about sex than to have had a thoughtful, constructive conversation about it. Here are a few ideas from Psychology Today to get you started:

  • My favorite thing about our sex life is…
  • If I were to write wedding vows for our sex life, this is what I would want to promise you…
  • I think you look best when you’re wearing…
  • The thing that I love about our sex life most is…
  • My favorite memories of being intimate with you include…
  • My favorite way to pleasure you is…
  • One time you surprised me (in a good way), by…
  • I feel the most turned on when…
  • I feel the most desired by you when…
  • I would describe my sexual style as…
  • I love when you initiate sex in this way…
  • My favorite sexual position is…
  • One thing I would like to explore with you is…
  • The part of your body that turns me on the most is…

Get help
Not only can your sex life be difficult to discuss with your partner, but it can also be hard to know where to turn for help in this area. A therapist can help you communicate your sexual concerns with your partner in a safe and structured setting. They can be your advocate, your cheerleader, your confidant. As your therapist, I will keep the intimate details of your life within the four walls of my office, and only between you, your partner, and me. At the end of the day, relationships are all about being honest, sensitive, and brave enough to say what needs to be said. Being sexually involved with someone is to be vulnerable and open. So take those attitudes with you outside of the bedroom, and talk about what you really need inside the bedroom. Set up your first session with me today and together we can overcome the barriers and help you reclaim the bedroom.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part 1: Benefits of Sex”
Cluff Counseling: “Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part II: Hindrances to Sex”
Psychology Today: “5 Ways to Communicate about Sex”
Psychology Today: “14 Prompts to Help You Start Communicating About Sex”
Psychology Today: “Why Aren’t We Talking to Our Partners About Sex?”
USA Today: “How often should you have sex with your partner?”

Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part II: Hindrances to Sex

Hindrances to Sex - Cluff Counseling, Denton Marriage Family TherapistIn last month’s post on relationships, I wrote about the many personal and relational benefits of sex. Sexual intimacy is important and even necessary to a healthy romantic relationship. In the early days of most relationships, creating chemistry is easy and the sex drive is strong. But it does not always last and it requires a consistent effort to keep the flame alive. Why? What happens? What gets in the way? In this post I will focus on a few of the most common hindrances to sex that I hear from my clients.

Not knowing partner’s sexual needs.
My advice to this one may seem silly… but the simple answer is to ask. In most relationships one partner has a higher sex drive than the other. If this is true in your relationship, know that you are not alone. Take some time to process your needs, before communicating them to your partner. Then patiently listen to their needs, without becoming defensive. Once you each have shared and listened, work together to come up with possible solutions.

Too busy for sex.
It is easy to get busy and let other things get in the way of our relationships.  If you are a planner or a to-do list person, try scheduling time for sex. Literally put it on your to-do list or schedule so you can plan on it and prepare for it. If having a healthy sexual relationship is important to you and your partner, prioritize it. If you are the type of person that feels overwhelmed by to-do lists and sex seems like one more thing you have to do, focus on the benefits of sex (refer to Part I of this series). Think of being with your spouse as a stress-reliever, a fun activity that you can share with your partner, a hobby, something important that you make time for because it helps you face the demands of life better.

Too tired for sex.
I hear ya! Your days are long and all you want to do as it nears bedtime is hop in bed…to sleep. My advice here is simple: mix it up. Be spontaneous right after dinner, first thing in the morning, or during your lunch break. Do not wait until you are too tired to be intimate. You need energy for sex, too, so plan accordingly. (An interesting fact here is that during ejaculation men release a cocktail of brain chemicals, including the hormone prolactin…which is tied to feeling sleepy. After women orgasm, they want to be close, connect, and cuddle. In short, both men and women will likely sleep better after sex!)

Too plugged in for sex.
It is possible that you have never used this as an up-front excuse for not having sex before, but many of us are guilty of it. So often I hear clients spending their time gaming, cruising Instagram, or tweeting, while their partner sits mere feet away on their electric device. Put your phone down, set aside technology and connect with your partner. Leave your phones outside your bedroom, schedule times to turn them off, or simply put them away. Do not be so focused on your screens that you miss prime time together!

Physiological issue.
The literal physical inability to have sex can quickly snowball into an emotional roadblock. If your husband experiences impotency, it is very likely he feels inadequate–and that thought can invoke fear and anxiety during sexual intimacy. (And just in case you are thinking this issue is uncommon…according to the Cleveland Clinic, as many as 52 percent of men experience erectile dysfunction!)

Unrealistic expectations.
Society and the media overemphasizes physical appearance. You cannot expect your husband to have a chiseled six pack, or your wife to have a perfectly flat tummy in order to be attracted to him or her. Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, live a healthy lifestyle, and find the natural attractiveness in your spouse. Your sexual relationship with your partner will NOT always look like what you see in Hollywood–and that is okay!

Disconnected from your spouse.
When you feel emotionally disconnected from your partner, it is often difficult to connect sexually with him or her. Couples, I work with, often observe that connected sex is better than just physical sex. Once couples are in a place that they are experiencing connected sex more regularly, they often tell me that they only want to have sex when they feel connected with each other. Although we can not fully cover emotional connection in this post,  (please stay tuned for a future blog post on this important topic), communicating clearly and assertively that you feel disconnected and desire to be more connected is a powerful start to reconnecting. This is a common reason couples come see me, so please feel free to contact me!

A couple’s sex life is commonly seen as a private matter and not only can it be difficult to discuss with your partner,  it can also be hard to know where to turn for help. Therapists are trained, licensed individuals who can help you communicate your concerns about your sex life with your partner, in a safe and structured setting. Set up your first session with me today and together we can overcome the barriers and help you reclaim the bedroom.

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Bustle: “What Happens To The Body After Orgasm? How Women & Men Experience Post-Coital Bliss Differently, According To Science”
Cluff Counseling: “Are You Addicted to Your Phone?”
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
Cluff Counseling: “Outdoor Therapy: Nature’s Cure”
Cluff Counseling: “Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part 1: Benefits of Sex”
Focus on the Family: “Emotional and Relational Barriers to Sex”
Huffington Post: “Erectile Dysfunction May Affect 1 In 4 Men Under 40 Seeking Treatment, Study Suggests”
Live Science: “Why Do Guys Get Sleepy After Sex?”
Marriage Today: “Physical Barriers to Healthy Sex”
USA Today: “How often should you have sex with your partner?”

People image created by Nensuria – Freepik.com

Reclaiming the Bedroom, Part I: Benefits of Sex

Benefits of Sex - Cluff Counseling, Marriage & Family Therapy**This will be the first post in a blog series on sex; this particular segment will focus on the benefits of sex. Stay tuned for my future posts on the common excuses/hindrances to sex, as well as how to communicate to overcome those barriers.

Life can and will get in the way of your sex life. Although some view sex mostly as a pleasure-inducing activity, physical intimacy can be an incredibly powerful force for good in your relationship. Read on to see what I have coined as the top nine emotional, physical, mental, and relational benefits to sex.

When you and your spouse or partner first started seeing each other, the sparks flew and the attraction was strong. Chances are that your sex drive was extremely heightened. Then slowly things started slowing down… intervals between sexy encounters grew longer and longer, until you could not even remember when you were last intimate. What happened? Work, bills, kids, arguments…reality happened, and your euphoria dissipated. First and foremost, I want you to know that this is okay and completely normal. At the start of most relationships, attraction and physical intimacy seem to come easily.  Just because it is harder after 3, 7, 10 years of union/marriage, does not mean that it always has to stay that way!

Sex has many benefits, both to your physical, emotional, and relational health. Here are a few:

  1. Sex improves immunity. People who have sex 1-2 times a week have significantly higher levels of immunoglobulin A–which is the first line of defense in our bodies. Some studies are finding that sexually active men and women are actually taking less sick days!
  2. Sex improves heart health. Studies have found that men who engaged in sexual activity twice a week were 45 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who did so once a month or less.
  3. Sex reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. There is a direct correlation between sex and improved stress response.
  4. Sex helps women with bladder control and helps lower the risk of prostate cancer for men. For women, intercourse strengthens pelvic floor muscles, which contract during orgasm, which improves bladder control and helps avoid incontinence! For men, research is finding that men who ejaculate at least 21 times a month have a lower risk of prostate cancer!
  5. Sex is great exercise. Did you know that sex literally burns calories? Men burn around 100, and women expend 69. This statistic varies depending on the length of your session (these numbers were gathered based on an average of 25 minutes from start of foreplay to finish). If you are interested in calculating how many calories you burn the next time you have sex, multiply the time in minutes by 4.2 for men or 3.1 for women. Sex also helps maintain flexibility and balance!
  6. Sex can clear the mind. If you have a “noisy brain,” sex reallocates your blood flow to your genitals and can help clear your thoughts.
  7. Sex releases endorphins that make you feel good. These “feel-good chemicals” ease stress, increase pleasure, invite calm, and boost self-esteem.
  8. Sex improves sleep. During orgasm, oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone”, is released, which promotes sleep.

The greatest benefit of all is 9. Sex increases intimacy and improves relationships. Of course, this is only accomplished when your love making is done with mutual interest and respect. Sex and orgasms result in increased levels of the hormone oxytocin (that “love hormone” I mentioned earlier), which helps you feel bonded to your partner. A study was published in 2015 that surveyed 30,000 Americans over 40 years; the results were that couples who have sex at least once a week are happiest. Intercourse is the highest expression of love, and it does wonders for a marriage. Plus, the more often you have sex, the more probable it is that you will want to keep doing it (yet another benefit of sex–increased libido)!

Although sex has many benefits, most of us seem to engage in intimacy less than we should or would like to. My upcoming posts will address the barriers to a healthy sex life, as well as how to overcome them. Communication with your spouse is key. If your relationship with your spouse is strained, or you need help communicating about this sensitive subject, please come talk to me. It is often difficult for many people to talk to their spouse, if they feel their sex life needs improvement, let alone a therapist. Please remember that therapists are trained, licensed individuals who have heard it all before; I know how to help.  Set up your first session with me today and together we can help you reclaim the bedroom.

**Tune in next month for the upcoming installments in this series on reclaiming the bedroom. I will be talking about some of the most common sex-stoppers I hear from clients, as well as my advice for how to overcome these obstacles.

American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists
The American Journal of Cardiology: “Sexual Activity, Erectile Dysfunction, and Incident Cardiovascular Events”
Cluff Counseling: “Choosing the Right Therapist for You”
EurekAlert: “Couples who have sex weekly are happiest”
Men’s Health: “How Many Calories Do You Burn During Sex?”
Mercola: “The Top 11 Benefits of Sex”
PubMed: “Blood pressure reactivity to stress is better for people who recently had penile-vaginal intercourse than for people who had other or no sexual activity.”
USA Today: “How often should you have sex with your partner?”

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