The first seven articles were written between October 2011 and June 2013. The posted date showing is the date they were migrated to the new website.

Sex and intimacy during and after menopause

posted 11 May 2018, 21:40 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 12 May 2018, 16:39 ]

If you are a woman experiencing perimenopause, menopause, or a partner of a woman at this life stage, read on. It's important to know what can be going on for women at this stage of life, so adjustments can be made.


Perimenopause begins as a woman's oestrogen reduces. It usually starts in a woman's 40s, but can start in the 30s as well. It can begin 8-10 years before menopause. In the last 1-2 years, the drop in oestrogen accelerates. This is most likely when women experience symptoms. Women are still having menstrual cycles during this time, and can get pregnant.

The average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women this stage may last only a few months. Perimenopause ends when a woman has gone 12 months without having her period.


Menopause is the point when the ovaries stop releasing eggs and women no longer have menstrual periods. At this stage, the ovaries have stopped releasing eggs and producing most of their oestrogen. Menopause is diagnosed when a woman has gone without a period for 12 consecutive months. Women can no longer get pregnant once they are fully in menopause.

Symptoms, sex and intimacy

Symptoms of perimenopause

Women may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
  • Hot flushes (a sudden feeling of warmth that spreads over the body)
  • Night sweats and/or cold flashes (this is highly disruptive to sleep, not only because of the full wakefulness that occurs, but also the difficulty getting back to sleep)
  • Vaginal dryness and discomfort during sex
  • Urinary urgency (a pressing need to urinate more frequently)
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • Emotional changes (irritability, mood swings, mild depression)
  • Dry skin, eyes or mouth
Women who are still in the menopause transition (perimenopause) may also experience:
  • Breast tenderness
  • Worsening of premenstrual symptoms (PMS)
  • Irregular periods or skipping periods
  • Periods that are heavier or lighter than usual

Symptoms of menopause & those worth getting checked out

Women may experience some or all of the first list above. Some women also experience the list below:
  • Racing heart
  • Headaches
  • Joint and muscle aches and pains
  • Changes in libido (sex drive)
  • Difficulty concentrating, memory lapses (often temporary)
  • Weight gain
  • Hair loss or thinning
These symptoms can be a sign that the ovaries are producing less oestrogen. Not all women get all of these symptoms. However, women affected with new symptoms of racing heart, urinary changes, headaches, or other new medical problems should see a doctor to make sure there is no other cause for these symptoms.


Women who are experiencing symptoms related to either stage, most predominantly perimenopause, may feel exhausted, irritated, less resilient, absent minded, unattractive, unimportant and have a severely reduced or absent libido. This is completely reasonable, given the impact of the symptoms they may be experiencing. It's really important for women experiencing these symptoms to have emotional intimacy with their partner. Without feeling emotionally connected, the desire to make steps towards physical intimacy is likely to be very compromised.

Sex & libido

If a woman's libido previously came about from having sexual feelings, this may no longer be the case. Sexual feelings can disappear entirely at this stage. This also affects a women's self image, as she may no longer feel attractive. 

Women at this stage of life cannot expect to feel like sex, then initiate or respond to sexual overtures. If you have no libido, you need to make a decision that you want to feel close to your partner. You can then initiate sexual contact, and desire/arousal will come about after you start a sexual connection with your partner. This will be severely compromised if your relationship doesn't have emotional intimacy, if there is disconnection, or high conflict.

One of the other things that happens at this life stage, is that the vaginal skin thins, and becomes more vulnerable to damage through intercourse. It's really important to use a lubricant during intercourse, even if you feel aroused, to prevent any abrasions or mini tears. The vaginal tissue is similar to that between the webs of our fingers. If you have ever had a wound or cut to that part of your body, you will remember how painful it was. Some organic lubes on the market include Bonk, FlowMotion, Intimate Earth, LoveSliquid, SytemJo, and Yes.

Sexual position will also be important, as some positions could work against lubrication being where it's needed. A woman on top of her partner can help natural lubrication to move down the vagina, which in turn, helps to facilitate intercourse. Experiment with different positions, and most importantly, take your time.

What do partners of perimenopausal and menopausal women need to know/do?

Your partner is going through a transition. She may feel unattractive, both to you, and out in the world. She may be seriously sleep-deprived, foggy in her thinking, and in pain. She needs your patience, love and consistent support, as you both navigate this time.

Ask her what she needs from you. Ensure there is lots of non-sexual affection between you. Compliment her on her efforts, and the things you admire about her. Reassure her that you are in this life stage together. Emotional intimacy is especially important at this time - knowing what is going on for each other, and being able to navigate each other's internal worlds. Take time out of your day to really find out how she is, without the interruptions of technology, tv, or other demands. 

If you have lost your confidence about sex

Ladies, if you have been experimenting with sex, and have had negative experiences, or you don't feel like trying with no desire, read on.

This is a meaningful time of life, and deserves to be honoured. You can experiment on your own, to reassure yourself that you can have sexual feelings, and that your body is still a source of pleasure. Read some erotic literature, buy clothes that you feel attractive wearing, change your perfume to one that feels more sensual, have candles and low lights in your home, purchase a dildo or vibrator, purchase some good lube, and communicate with your sexual partner/s! Even if your partner has gone through this life stage themselves, it will be a unique experience for you. You need to talk, laugh, and have some lightness about this topic, until you both feel comfortable. 

Most women's partners will not be expecting them to lose interest in them or sex. Keep them in the loop about where you're at. Ask them to be patient. Talk about what your turn ons and turn offs are - they may have changed since you first got together. Keep trying to connect sexually. Unless you have negotiated a non-sexual relationship, this issue can cause much conflict and disconnection in relationships. It can be very confusing for your partner to find that you no longer respond to them in the way you once did. They may feel unattractive and unwanted too.

I wish you well in your experimenting and play. You are still you, even though aspects of your body are changing. You deserve to feel pleasure, to feel safe and loved. You are a big part of co-creating an environment for you and those who share your life, that works for you all.

Suzi Wallis | May 2018

How are you telling your story?

posted 24 Jul 2017, 19:06 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 24 Jul 2017, 19:18 ]

The way you tell the story of your trauma/pain/past experiences/current difficult circumstances will have a huge impact on how empowered you feel. You could say "I suffer from [an illness]". How does that statement affect you? What about "I am a victim of [an experience]"? 

How do you feel when you say instead "I experience [an illness]" or "I have a relationship with [an illness]" - do you feel more or less empowered? The words you use have a powerful impact on your internal strength, and ability to handle future difficulties.

Imagine the story you would like to write about your experiences - if you are the victor in the end (you didn't get beaten as such, you learned some new things from your experiences), your resilience will increase. An example I sometimes give in sessions is:

Story 1
"I was riding a horse and it bucked me off. I broke my leg, and I'll have pain in that leg for as long as I live. I wish I'd never got on a horse that day."

Story 2
"I was riding a horse, and it must have got spooked. It bucked me off, and I got injured. I was a really good patient; I did my rehab just the way it was recommended, and I will always appreciate the care I got from the medical staff. I have been to visit the horse since, and made peace with it - fear can make us all do things we don't think about. I now appreciate and respect horses more than ever."

Which version above feels more empowering? Which would you prefer.

Our stories carry different feelings and energy with them - they affect both the orator and the audience. Have a think about how you want to feel about your current or past stories. If you are struggling to come up with an alternative to your current narrative, consider getting some therapeutic help. You could get a very different result in just one or two sessions.

It's important to tell your difficult stories in therapy or with trusted confidantes, so that you can hear what they sound like, and consider how they affect you. Telling the story over time will hopefully encourage stronger parts to be highlighted, and the tough parts to lose their power over your present.

Another technique is writing down or typing your story. You can tweak it and change it as you create it. Experiment with different ways of portraying difficult situations. Be creative. Include super heroes (in addition to your super hero status) and fantasy. Your mind is unlimited in its ability to help you to see the world differently. Go forth and create.

Suzi Wallis | Jul 2017

How to support someone with a different or opposing point of view

posted 17 Jul 2017, 16:41 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 17 Jul 2017, 16:57 ]

Imagine you have been approached by a friend, family member or colleague. They are distressed about something that is directly related to a belief they have. This belief or view is not one you share. You believe that your point of view might help ease their suffering. What do you do?

Firstly, ask yourself what is going to be most helpful initially here? The majority of the time, the answer is empathy or compassion. Many people in distress just want to be heard - they don't actually want to hear what you think, at least at first. Empathy, acknowledging how they feel, and naming what you see ("you seem sad", "that really sucks", "I can see you're distressed") is a fantastic first step. Many people will then expand on what's going on, and feel better as a result. If they already know you don't share their point of view, they have shown extreme courage to approach you in the first place, and this action is a reflection of the desperation they are likely to be feeling.

The gentle pause from the listener is a powerful technique for opening someone up and helping them to feel safe in your presence. If you interrupt with your own words too quickly, they may feel shut down. Non verbal indicators that you are listening like eye contact, nodding or "hmmm", and minimal verbal encouragement like  "yes" or "carry on", all help someone process their emotions and potentially find their own solutions to feeling better.

One of the worst things you can do is share your opinion when it hasn't been asked for. This has the impact of minimising the other person's feelings, and can potentially create a disconnection between you and them. It's like saying "your feelings aren't important" or "my opinion is superior to yours". If your opinion is an opposing one to theirs, this effect is magnified. It is up to you to fight your internal battle - if you think their belief is hurting them, it's not actually your responsibility to change it. 

If they do ask what you think, that's a different story, and one that still needs to be approached with care. Gently share your view with a starting statement like "This is what I've found helpful to believe in this kind of situation" or "I see this differently to you, and I respect your opinion" or "We have what might appear to be opposing views on this, and both are valid."

The other benefit of not sharing your point of view unless it's asked for, is that the distressed person might get to a different belief place in time, if they are given the space to talk about their own perspective first. They might be able to hold your ideas in their mind for a while (the ones they already know about you) and mull them over. If someone else's beliefs (yours in particular) have been imposed on them, especially while they are upset, the chance of them defending their own view internally and/or externally is stronger. Most people don't like being told what to think or what to do - we all want autonomy in our lives and minds.

Remember this article applies to some of the most controversial topics - politics, health/medicine, religion, environmental issues - and also to any belief that is different from our own. You have the choice to be a supporter or an opposer - which one will bring more harmony to your world?

Suzi Wallis | Aug 2017

Do therapists need to be optimists?

posted 7 Apr 2017, 21:19 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 7 Apr 2017, 22:48 ]

You will meet some counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists and psychiatrists who come across as positive and perpetually cheerful. Chances are, like any other segment of the population, this is not true for them all of the time. There are many factors that influence a person's ability to maintain optimism in the face of challenging and painful circumstances.

Therapists, through their work, encounter proportionally greater numbers of people in pain - whether this be physical, emotional or spiritual. It takes awareness, emotional intelligence and the correct type and amount of support to maintain emotional resilience in the helping professions.

I believe that good therapists can maintain a mixture of optimism (after all, if they don't believe people are capable of change, it would be very difficult to be effective) and realism. As you can see from the Wikipedia link on realism, there are many interpretations of this term. What you don't want from your therapist is unrealistic optimism (defined as believing that you are more likely to experience pleasant events than is actually the case, and less likely than others to experience negative ones), because it can minimise clients' experiences. Unrealistic optimism can keep you from being able to change direction when you are unable to see the trouble that lies ahead. More realistic optimism itself, can offer hope to a client who is struggling to find it. Unconditional positive regard (see below), is a process where a therapist can hold a space for growth and understanding on the client's behalf, until they are able to do this for themselves.

I once heard a supervisor describe a therapist's story of their own optimism changing due to burnout as a "Pollyanna" way of thinking. This refers to a story from 1960 where the main protagonist maintains a highly positive attitude in the face of much hardship and negativity. I think the supervisor in question was highly disrespectful of the therapist, as they were showing emotional intelligence and self observation - the "symptom" of negativity or pessimism was informing them of a serious resilience issue that had arisen. Labelling in this manner (of any kind) can create disconnection and even a backwards pattern in relation to progress.

You could say that optimism and pessimism operate on a continuum, and realism is in the middle. Unfortunately, this is a very subjective statement, and each person's perception would most likely place realism in a different place on the continuum.

I've outlined some of the terms below for clarification.


Optimism, according to Wikipedia, is a mental attitude. A common idiom used to illustrate optimism versus pessimism is a glass with water at the halfway point, where the optimist is said to see the glass as half full and the pessimist sees the glass as half empty.

The term is originally derived from the Latin optimum, meaning "best". Being optimistic, in the typical sense of the word, is defined as expecting the best possible outcome from any given situation. This is usually referred to in psychology as dispositional optimism. It thus reflects a belief that future conditions will work out for the best.

Variation in optimism and pessimism is somewhat heritable and reflects biological trait systems to some degree. It is also influenced by environmental factors, including family environment, with some suggesting it can be learned. Optimism may also be linked to health.


Pessimism is a mental attitude. Pessimists anticipate undesirable outcomes from a given situation which is generally referred to as situational pessimism, or believe that undesirable things are going to happen to them in life more than desirable ones. Pessimists also tend to focus on the negatives of life in general or a given situation. The most common example of this phenomenon is the "Is the glass half empty or half full?" situation. In this situation a pessimist is said to see the glass as half empty while an optimist is said to see the glass as half full. 


Perhaps the best definition of realism is actually from the definition of logic:

Logic (from the Ancient Greekλογική, logikḗ), originally meaning "the word" or "what is spoken" (but coming to mean "thought" or "reason"), is generally held to consist of the systematic study of the form of arguments. A valid argument is one where there is a specific relation of logical support between the assumptions of the argument and its conclusion. (In ordinary discourse, the conclusion of such an argument may be signified by words like therefore, hence, ergo and so on.)

In my experience, realists tend more towards a pessimistic view of life than an optimistic view. They may plan for the worst, so that they are not disappointed or unprepared. This can sometimes lead to a compulsion to plan for the worst, and can reduce people's ability to enjoy what is happening for them in any given moment, or to anticipate a future event that will be pleasant.

Unconditional positive regard

Unconditional positive regard, a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does, especially in the context of client-centered therapy. Its founder, Carl Rogers, writes:

The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behavior—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided.

Rogers believed that unconditional positive regard is essential for healthy development and tried to establish it as a therapeutic component. Through providing unconditional positive regard, humanistic therapists seek to help their clients accept and take responsibility for themselves. Humanistic therapists believe that by showing the client unconditional positive regard and acceptance, the therapist is providing the best possible conditions for personal growth to the client.

By definition, it is essential in any helping relationship to have an anticipation for change. In the counselling relationship, that anticipation presents as hope—an optimism that something good and positive will develop to bring about constructive change in the client's personality. Thus, unconditional positive regard means that the therapist has and shows overall acceptance of the client by setting aside their own personal opinions and biases. The main factor in unconditional positive regard is the ability to isolate behaviors from the person who displays them.

In summary

Therapists, to be effective, need to be able to maintain their own resilience and strength. Separating their internal reactions from the therapeutic work is essential, so that they can hold a neutral, safe space for clients to gain understanding and realisations. A combination of positive and realistic attitudes on the therapist's part will best serve both them and their clients. Negative or pessimistic views are likely to be counter-productive for the therapeutic process.

Prioritising self care is essential for therapists to maintain their equilibrium. This can include meditation, exercise, massage, creative endeavours and maintaining boundaries. It needs to include professional supervision - a place where they can discuss their client load, experiences, triggers and self care. If you have a friend who is a therapist, you can contribute to their self care by pausing before asking them to hear your problems - they may already have a brain full of such information.

Suzi Wallis | Apr 2017

Why sex is so important in a long term relationship

posted 2 Jan 2017, 19:08 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 3 Jan 2017, 15:47 ]

Sex is the glue that can hold a relationship together, and when it is exclusive, it is a symbol representing/honouring who you have chosen to spend your life with.

If you are in an exclusive/monogamous relationship, sex is one of the few activities you can participate in only with your chosen partner. Most other needs can be met to some extent outside the relationship:
  • quality time spent with others
  • physical affection
  • kind words received and given
  • hobbies/activities with others
  • having your problems listened to
  • trouble shooting work/life/parenting/family challenges
So it automatically becomes a connecting experience for both of you - a physical and emotional demonstration of "I choose you."

There is lots of research about the benefits of sex. This article from outlines just 11 of the physical benefits (there are explanations included):
  1. Improved immunity
  2. Heart health
  3. Lower blood pressure
  4. It's a form of exercise
  5. Pain relief
  6. May help reduce risk of prostate cancer
  7. Improve sleep
  8. Stress relief
  9. Boost your libido
  10. Improved bladder control in women
  11. Increase intimacy and improve your relationship
This article from has 21 reasons:
  1. Look younger 
  2. Boost your fertility 
  3. Fight colds and flu 
  4. Disease-proof your body 
  5. Lengthen your life 
  6. Shift your middle-age spread and keep fit 
  7. Ease those nasty period cramps 
  8. Helps lower your risk of incontinence 
  9. Prevent a heart attack 
  10. Increase your attractiveness to others 
  11. Smooth out your wrinkles 
  12. Give yourself an all-over healthy glow 
  13. Improve your self-esteem 
  14. Lower your blood pressure 
  15. Banish depression 
  16. Cure that headache (yes, really!) 
  17. Slash stress 
  18. Kick your insomnia into touch 
  19. Strengthen your bones 
  20. Cut your risk of prostate cancer 
  21. Feel better all day
In a long term relationship, sex isn't about feeling horny and acting on it. It's about wanting to feel close to your partner, and then making steps towards physical intimacy. Become aware of your inner talk about sex - if you have had an unhappy relationship in the past or traumatic sexual experiences, your mind may automatically reject the idea of intimacy. Have a listen to that voice in your head. Coach it to consider the possibility of some physical loving, and then take action to make it happen.

Turn offs

It's important not to discount the non--physical turn offs. We can all imagine we're likely to be reluctant if our partner:
  • has bad breath
  • has unpleasant body odour
  • is dirty from some physical activity
  • you prefer genitals that are recently cleaned (can be particularly important for partners of non-circumcised men)
  • doesn't kiss us or touch us the way we like (it's very important to put some time aside to talk about this is if it's an issue)
  • has a physical condition that is unpleasant to us
  • has flatulence
  • has just been eating a food we don't enjoy
  • is not looking after themselves (with a medical condition or generally in life)
There are lots of emotional turn offs that can interfere with your sex life:
  • contempt
  • disrespect
  • shouting
  • swearing
  • put downs
  • criticism
  • patronising behaviour
  • doesn't validate you or minimises your contributions to the relationship
  • spends a lot of time away from you when quality time is a love language
  • gambles, drinks heavily or uses drugs
  • emasculates you
  • says they're more important than you
  • doesn't help around the house
  • doesn't help with parenting
  • is controlling
  • puts down your faith/life choices/beliefs
and many others that may be unique to your situation. If these are occurring, I suggest getting yourself to couples therapy asap.

Getting what you want in your sex life

There's no point aiming towards having more sex if you don't enjoy it. You may have been with your partner for a long time, and not communicated what you like and don't like. One exercise that can reset your sex life uses the baseball/softball analogy (it can also used when recovering from sexual trauma). Each phase lasts for the agreed time frame - 2-4 weeks is a good minimum time period for each stage.
  1. First base: you agree with your partner that all you are going to do is kiss and touch with your clothes on. Tell your partner how you like to be kissed - where, how, how long for, and what you don't like (for example, they may have been sucking your earlobe your entire relationship, which actually turns you off).
  2. Second base: you agree that you will kiss and touch with only your top halves bare. Anything that is possible with this restriction is allowed.
  3. Third base: you agree that you will be naked, and oral sex is ok, but no intercourse as yet. Talk about all the ways you like to be touched, scratched, tickled, nibbled and licked, and with which body parts of your partner. 
  4. Home run: intercourse is now ok (hopefully with lots of foreplay from what you've learned in the first three stages).
Take your time in each phase, talking gently about what you want more of, and what you want less of. This can be a precious opportunity to really educate each other about your body and how you want it treated. Have a signal that says "pause, I need to breathe/think/process" so that you don't end up engaging in any activities that are turn offs or traumatising.

Don't worry if you end up having intercourse before you have reached the fourth phase, as long as you both consent. 


Another important conversation to have as a sexually active couple is to identify your individual signals. Some couples may have a code word, others may use an arse grab, others may deepen their usual kiss - if you don't know what your partner's signals are, you may miss many opportunities to be intimate. Sex usually needs to work around women's menstrual cycles, so communication about timing of these is important too.

Libidos vary between genders and individuals - talk about what your "normal" is versus your partner's. There's no right or wrong number, as such, however I am encouraging you to have sex at least monthly if possible. If you connect physically less frequently than this, you're more like "friends with benefits" than a couple. Couple relationships are more resilient when we feel loved, appreciated and connected, both physically and emotionally.

Suzi Wallis | Jan 2017

Are you using your super powers for good?

posted 4 Jul 2016, 17:34 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 2 Jan 2017, 19:09 ]

All of us have things we are particularly good at, and when used in a positive light, they can be very powerful (and empowering) for others. You may:
  • Have an exceptional grasp of grammar: if this is the case, using this super power for good would involve helping others who ask for your help with phrasing and sentence construction. Using this super power negatively would be correcting people who don't ask for help - this can cause great embarrassment and shame.
  • Be highly intelligent with a fantastic memory: being a resource for others who are having difficulty remembering information can be very useful. If you correct others' "facts" (or what they believe to be facts), particularly in a public setting (even one witness can feel public in this context), your super power is being used negatively.
  • Be a fast runner: if someone is interested in running with you, you can encourage them, and run at their pace. Racing ahead and leaving your running companion behind is using this particular super power in a way that is likely to create a negative outcome. 
  • Be comfortable speaking in crowds: keeping a conversation going with an introvert in the circle can be supportive of them. Taking up all the space, and not allowing them to speak, or interrupting them when they pause to think is using this super power negatively.
  • Be physically strong and large: this can help others feel safe in potentially volatile situations. If you stand over people, or too close to others, invading their personal space, this is a negative use of this trait.
  • Love giving and receiving affection: Receiving a hug from someone who we trust and are comfortable with is heart warming and pleasurable. Being forced to hug someone (because consent isn't considered) is unpleasant and potentially violating - this applies to all ages (kids too).
  • Be able to hold a tune really well: entertaining your friends with your lovely singing voice will bring smiles to their faces. Competing against them at karaoke will not.
This article invites you to be aware of your impact on the world. The saying "any strength used to excess can become a weakness" springs to mind here. Leave space for others to ask for your help/input. Offer help with healthy limits (for you both). Listen at least as much as you talk. Practice kindness, compassion and support, even to those who don't seem to need it (we all do in reality). Go out there and be awesome.

Suzi Wallis | Jul 2016

Caregivers need care too

posted 10 Jul 2015, 20:31 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 10 Jul 2015, 20:33 ]

You may be caring for, or supporting someone with a number of conditions:
  • physical deterioration with age
  • a mental health issue, such as depression
  • autism or severe aspergers
  • dementia or Alzheimer's
  • someone who has been unemployed long term
  • someone who has experienced a major loss or change
  • a physical disability
It is vital that you practice self care during the time period you are carrying a heavier load than normal (and permanently if the situation is permanent).

Because the other person's "symptoms" may be more obvious, your needs may be lost in the myriad of commitments, challenges and obligations that are presented to you on a regular basis. If you are noticing any of the following:
  • brain fog
  • trouble making decisions
  • higher emotional reactivity
  • a feeling of emotional numbness
  • physical discomfort such as headaches, sore stomach or breathing imbalances
  • inability to tolerate your usual stresses
  • sleep changes
  • appetite changes
you need to take some time out, and have some downtime (whatever that means for you). You are no good to the person you are supporting if you are spread too thin. If you encounter a serious illness or accident, those who are reliant on you will be helpless. Prevention is better than cure. Ensure you:
  • get a good amount of sleep (this could be anywhere from 7-9 hours per night)
  • exercise regularly
  • spend time with people who nourish your soul
  • spend time alone if that's your recharge style
  • eat good quality food
  • reduce alcohol consumption
  • avoid recreational drugs
  • spend time in nature
  • take vitamin D supplements if you are not able to get good access to sunlight
Self care is not selfish, even if you don't have additional commitments to your normal load. It is a vital element of a healthy life. When you do have additional responsibilities, it is even more essential, and will ensure that you are more present and available when you are around the person you are supporting. A few hours to yourself could generate an extra day's energy - which will lighten your load in the short and medium term.

Suzi Wallis | Jul 2015

Is sexual monogamy realistic?

posted 25 May 2015, 19:32 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 29 May 2016, 22:54 ]

The subject of sexual monogamy has been very present in my counselling room lately. There seems to be a general expectation in the Western world, that everyone who enters into a long term relationship will be sexually faithful to their partner. This is something that is often assumed, and not discussed.

With the variety of culture, ethnicity, religion, family expectations, schooling and education, is it unrealistic to expect everyone who lives in a particular area to conform to any behaviours (apart from those that the law defines as illegal)? Isn't that like expecting everyone who lives in a particular area to have the same hair, skin and eye colour too? 

From a biological perspective, sexual attraction (also known as limerance and lust) are designed to bond a male and female to reproduce, and ensure that the male remains present for long enough to ensure the child's survival. Historically, the expectation of sexual fidelity has long been expected from women almost exclusively, particularly when they were perceived as chattels through marriage. Sexual fidelity created assurance of children's paternity, which is important when it comes to inheritance of title or goods. 

The effect that sexual infidelity has on relationship partners is varied and complicated, and suitable for another article at another time. What I want to stimulate discussion about is the expectation of fidelity, and why it is so often not discussed in relationships. Attraction to other people is a natural by-product of being a sexual being, and the decision to act on attraction is one that we can all make, or not make, countless times in our lives. Expecting yourself or your partner to never find another person attractive is unrealistic, and can lead to unnecessary disappointment and pain. In a strong relationship (and ideal relationship in my book), an attraction would be discussed with your partner, and their support obtained to turn your focus back onto your primary relationship.

If you are very tempted to act on a sexual or emotional attraction to someone outside your relationship, it may be time to ask yourself some important questions:
  • Is there something that I'm needing from my partner that I'm not currently getting?
  • Is there a lack of emotional or physical intimacy in my relationship?
  • Am I holding resentment towards my partner that I need to express, in an adult and respectful way?
  • Am I feeling under pressure somewhere other than my relationship (work/family/hobbies/other commitments) that I am trying to avoid?
  • Is there an area of my life that needs change, that I am currently in denial about?
  • Am I projecting my partner's attraction/flirting/inappropriate behaviour onto myself?
  • Do I feel respected, appreciated and loved by my partner?
It's also worth defining with your partner what your boundaries are with regards to infidelity - for some, flirting or talking about your relationship with another feels like just as big a violation as sexual contact might. Knowing what your partner's boundaries are means that you are more likely to respect them.

There may be many more questions that will come up for you as you read this. I encourage you to discuss this topic with your partner, friends and family. The more you discuss it, the more you will be aware of your own behaviour and boundaries, and have the opportunity to become a more conscious relationship partner yourself.

Further reading

  1. For further reading, this article in Psychology Today refers to a concept called Mate Ejection, which is a process by which a partner ends a relationship - the genders can do this very differently. 
  2. This book takes you through a process about whether to stay or leave your relationship - I recommend reading it in its entirety before making a decision.
  3. If you have already acted on an emotional or physical attraction, this book may be worth reading - it provides information for both partners, and helps you to make short, medium and long term decisions about the future of your relationship.

Suzi Wallis | May 2015

Are good relationships hard work?

posted 14 Aug 2014, 20:59 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 14 Aug 2014, 21:00 ]

There seems to be this saying that does the rounds that "relationships are hard work." I don't agree. Bad relationships are certainly hard work - a good relationship takes commitment and attention, but it doesn't feel like "hard work" to the participants. If you have these ingredients in your relationship:
  • love
  • trust
  • respect
  • kindness
  • acceptance
  • friendship
then doing things for the other person will come naturally. It won't feel like an obligation or a chore because you get just as much goodness back from your partner as you give to them (and there's never a scoreboard).

Think about couples you know that have what you would describe as a "good" or "solid" relationship. You will probably witness things like:
  • lots of affection
  • thank you being said, even for the repetitive everyday things
  • robust discussions where the other person's perspective is considered
  • fun and laughter
  • time taken to be together, rather than just "fitting in" each other when the other tasks are done
  • time spent apart from each other, then discussed when they return
  • high trust, especially when they are apart
  • kindness paramount in their interactions
  • listening to each other about what interests the other person (even if it's not a subject that interests the listener)
If your relationship feels like "hard work", there are probably dynamics below the surface that need some attention. Your partner may need to know what respect feels like for you. You may need to know what kindness feels like for them. If your discussions don't go the way you intend, or you are having trouble being understood, consider getting some counselling - the investment could pay off hugely in relationship satisfaction.

Suzi Wallis | Aug 2014

What is trust?

posted 12 Mar 2014, 22:09 by Suzi Wallis   [ updated 12 Mar 2014, 23:16 ]

Trust is a decision you make. Some of us are led to believe that it's magic - when you meet the right person, are in the right job, live in the right home, all will fall into place, and you won't have insecurities any more. For people who believe this, trust can be elusive.

Trust is a decision that you make internally. When you decide to trust, "evidence" presents itself to prove that your decision has merit. The converse is true - if you decide not to trust someone/something, you will see reasons for that decision too. If you've ever heard the saying "what you focus on gets bigger", trust is a great example of that. 

For some people, mistrust comes about because of their own inability to control their impulsiveness. Maybe they have some compulsive behaviours that they are ashamed of, or intrusive thoughts that they know others would disapprove of. Perhaps they think of cheating in their job or relationship, and suddenly they see "suspicious" behaviours in others. This is projection - and it applies to many emotions. What we don't own in ourselves we see reflected in others. It's our way of being given the opportunity to fight our demons, and grow in the process.

Wikipedia has a social sciences definition of trust:
  • In a social context, trust has several connotations. Definitions of trust typically refer to a situation characterised by the following aspects: One party (trustor) is willing to rely on the actions of another party (trustee); the situation is directed to the future. In addition, the trustor (voluntarily or forcedly) abandons control over the actions performed by the trustee. As a consequence, the trustor is uncertain about the outcome of the other's actions; they can only develop and evaluate expectations. The uncertainty involves the risk of failure or harm to the trustor if the trustee will not behave as desired.
  • Trust can be attributed to relationships between people. It can be demonstrated that humans have a natural disposition to trust and to judge trustworthiness that can be traced to the neurobiological structure and activity of a human brain. Some studies indicate that trust can be altered e.g. by the application of oxytocin.
  • Conceptually, trust is also attributable to relationships within and between social groups (families, friends, communities, organisations, companies, nations etc.). It is a popular approach to frame the dynamics of inter-group and intra-group interactions in terms of trust.
  • When it comes to the relationship between people and technology, the attribution of trust is a matter of dispute. The intentional stance demonstrates that trust can be validly attributed to human relationships with complex technologies. However, rational reflection leads to the rejection of an ability to trust technological artefacts.[7]
  • One of the key current challenges in the social sciences is to re-think how the rapid progress of technology has impacted constructs such as trust. This is specifically true for information technology that dramatically alters causation in social systems.
  • In the social sciences, the subtleties of trust are a subject of ongoing research. In sociology and psychology the degree to which one party trusts another is a measure of belief in the honesty, fairness, or benevolence of another party. The term "confidence" is more appropriate for a belief in the competence of the other party. Based on the most recent research, a failure in trust may be forgiven more easily if it is interpreted as a failure of competence rather than a lack of benevolence or honesty. In economics, trust is often conceptualized as reliability in transactions. In all cases trust is a heuristic decision rule, allowing the human to deal with complexities that would require unrealistic effort in rational reasoning.
Trust is in part, a leap of faith. Those who live life not trusting until it's "proven" lead a draining life indeed. To do this, you must be hypervigilant - looking out for danger constantly. Apart from being tiring, it's hard work! People who trust as a default behaviour lead happier, more productive lives.

If someone has betrayed your trust in the past, take the knowledge that you have gained and put it through the logical part of your brain (or someone else's if you need an objective view). You can then decide if forgiveness is an option, or if it is an indication of a character that you no longer wish to interact with. You can then vote with your feet.

One exercise I have given couples who have difficulty trusting each other is to "try it on for size." It's a self reinforcing thing - once you behave "as if" you trust the other person, evidence presents itself, your confidence grows, and you trust the other person more.

I hope you have enjoyed the concepts above, and at the very least, it gives you food for thought.

Suzi Wallis | Mar 2014

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