Sexual Desires in Men and Women; What Are the Real Differences?

Sexual Desires in Men and Women; What Are the Real Differences?

Julie Hart interviews Stephen Synder, New York Sex Therapist and Psychiatrist –  February 2020


Stephen: Men’s needs are very, very simple. They want a partner who attracts them; that is to say, they like her body. She smells nice; she attracts them. You don’t hear guys saying “It’s the same thing every time.”  but you hear women saying that all the time. So, I think part of the difference between Esther Perel and myself is she’s a woman and I’m a man.


Julie: Very interesting. Let’s talk some more about the differences between men and women. You were saying that, and I agree, most women have a fundamental need to be desired by men. Men do too, but for women, it’s more of a thing.


Stephen: Absolutely. It is huge. It is like oxygen for women. The most unhappy people I see are men who can’t get an erection, and women who don’t feel desired. Would you say that would fit with your practice?


Julie: Yes. Absolutely.


Stephen: Yes. A man who can’t get an erection does not feel fully like a man. And I think it might be a stretch to say that a woman who doesn’t feel desired doesn’t feel fully like a woman. But it’s close. I think it’s like oxygen. Women have to have it. And you see all sorts of mischief in a relationship if a woman doesn’t feel desired.


Julie: Absolutely. And you were saying in your book that you’ve had plenty of straight women who tell you that they’re going half-crazy waiting for the day that their partner will show them some real passion.


Stephen: Oh, my God. Yeah. And they’re furious. They’re so furious. This is what I call a sex knot. So the man doesn’t show her desire for whatever reason, and she becomes furious. And that makes him withdraw from her. And now he really doesn’t show her desire because she’s even more furious, and they could go on like this for years and never have sex. So very, very tough. Have you seen that? I’m sure.


Julie: Oh, absolutely. Yes. So, what’s happening here to start that off do you think? Is it that the man, once he’s caught her, feels he’s in a secure relationship? He doesn’t feel like he needs to chase her, pursue her, feel passionate towards her?


Stephen: It’s a good question. I think there are two things that are most often going on. The first is (and this is unfortunate about us men and it’s unfortunate for heterosexual women) that our needs are really very, very simple.

You know, Freud ask his famous question in a letter to Princess Marie Bonaparte a hundred years ago. He said, “I’ve never been able to figure out what does a woman want?”

You know, nobody ever asked, “What does a man want?” Okay. Everybody knows what a man wants.

A man wants a nice meal and a good round of sex and then go watch the ballgame. Very, very simple. And he could do that forever. It’s like I could wear the same suit to a party forever. And I wouldn’t mind at all. We’re very, very simple. Our minds are extremely simple.

And women…… Women want all sorts of things. I remember when I got married, one of my senior colleagues said, “You’re not going to believe how many things your wife wants. All sorts of things.” And most women, obviously, are mature enough to know they’re not going to get everything they want. But that doesn’t stop them wanting everything.

And so, as I said, she wants the resort. A woman wants the beauty, they want the pleasure, they want the excitement. They want the variety. They want all these things. Half the time, the man wouldn’t even notice. A woman wants a room with a view. She wants to be able to see interesting things. Her mind is going all the time.

The guy is fine. You know, just let me order a hamburger and let me turn on the ballgame. It’s very, very simple with guys.

So, one of the reasons men stop chasing women is because they feel when they’re married to them, they feel they don’t have to. You know, they’re getting sex. It’s good. They’re fine. They’re not suffering,………. but she’s suffering.

So that’s reason number one. Does that make sense?


Julie: Yes, sure.


Stephen: OK. I’m speaking as a man. Does it fit with your observations or am I missing something?


Julie: I think yes, absolutely. OK.


Stephen: And the second reason is that something very difficult for men happens when they settle into a committed relationship with a woman.

They see her unhappy at times.

That’s extraordinarily stressful for men because they’re not used to having intimate relationships.

And they don’t know that in an intimate relationship, sometimes your partner is going to be unhappy and that’s OK.

Women practice this. It’s a generalization, so there are exceptions. But women practice this from the age of seven. They have friends and the friend has a misunderstanding. You don’t talk to each other for a day and then you get together, you figure it out and you’re friends again. And they’re constantly maintaining relationships through the ups and downs emotionally.

Men don’t do that. They don’t have that kind of relationship. It’s usually not how it goes. So very often, a man’s first truly intimate relationship is with the woman that he settles in with and he sees her unhappy. And it’s very stressful for him. He doesn’t know what to do with it.

Let me modify that. It’s his second intimate relationship. The first intimate relationship was with his mother. And when his mother was unhappy, it was very, very stressful for him. And when he sees his partner unhappy, it gives him the same kind of stress.

You remember Playboy magazine, the magazine with the centerfolds. And I hope at least some of your listeners are old enough to remember that. And the centerfold girl….. she always had this rocking hot body and beautiful makeup and hair and teeth and everything. But the real winner, the anchovy in the Caesar salad here was she had this welcoming smile. She had this big smile from ear to ear and it said, “’Oh, it’s you. I’m so happy to see you. Come on in”.

And that’s what most guys rely on to let them know that it’s safe to come on in and it’s all right and welcome.


Julie: That welcoming smile.


Stephen: And so for most men, that’s the go ahead. That’s the signal. Because, you know, sex takes place at the women’s body. It doesn’t really take place at the man’s body.  If it was a sports thing, she’s got the home field advantage.  And, you know, obviously, for gay and lesbian people, it’s different. But for heterosexual people, it’s a whole thing, the man is a visitor there. He’s in unfamiliar territory.

He’s also in unfamiliar territory when it comes to the intimacy, you know, the exchange of personal feelings. That’s very, very foreign territory for him. For her, she’s been doing this since she was 7 years old.

So, her smile initially and the relationship lets them know that it’s safe to come in and he relies on it. But then he sees her unhappy and he doesn’t know what to do with it.

And most men under those circumstances will withdraw a bit. And women don’t understand this at all. What’s he withdrawing for, they think?

He’s withdrawing because it felt dangerous. And he doesn’t have the words for it. And he can’t tell you exactly what he’s experiencing.

But he withdraws…….. and that makes her unhappy.

And when she gets unhappy, she’s definitely not smiling. Now she’s unhappy with him because he’s withdrawing from her,………. and now he withdraws even more because she’s really unhappy.

And you get another one of these sex knots that I’m talking about, where each person’s natural response just makes the thing tighter and tighter and tighter until it’s impossible.


Julie: Yes. So, what you just described is a very, very common sex knot. That’s probably one of the most common sex notes of all, isn’t it?


Stephen: You probably see that in your work every day?


Julie:  Sure do. So, what do you suggest for a couple who is in that sex knot?


Stephen: If you’re in the sex knot, the first thing is to realize which knot you’re in. And most couples that read that can go “Yes, yes, that’s definitely us”.

So, to recognize that so you can see when it’s happening so you can kind of stand outside of it and go “Oh, okay, I see”. That’s helpful. But the main thing is not to get into it in the first place.

And I have a script that I give to women when they’re entering into relationships, which is the following.

“Look, you’re going to see me unhappy sometimes. I know you don’t have a lot of experience being with a partner who may not be feeling totally happy. I want you to know it’s okay. We’re going to be okay. You don’t have to worry. And you’ll even see me disappointed sometimes. But that’s OK. It’s not going to be dangerous if I’m feeling disappointed. I can tolerate it. I’m really good with that. I don’t have to get everything I want”.

Men hate to disappoint women. That’s one of the reasons single men ghost women on Tinder because they hate to disappoint them. But, of course, they end up driving them crazy. Ghosting is totally even worse! If they would just text them and saying, “”Look, I really like you, but I don’t think it’s going to work out for us as a couple”, the woman would think, “thank God”. But, they just run away because they’re so terrified of disappointing the woman.


Julie: Yeah, so that’s the most important thing – the understanding…


Stephen: It’s important for the woman to say “I still love you. We’re still okay. I still respect you. I just happen to be upset about something. It’s all right.”

Otherwise, they end up with the Heterosexual Woman’s Dilemma, which is a huge dilemma for heterosexual women.

So, something’s bothering you, and you know that if you mention it to your partner, he’s going to feel threatened. And he’s going to feel like you’re disappointed and he’ll withdraw.

And if you don’t mention it, YOU’RE  going to explode, eventually. You’re going to scream at him because you just kept all the stuff inside you for months.

So, it’s a real dilemma.


Julie: So what do you suggest?


Stephen: Well, you have to use the meta communication. You have to say, “I need to talk to you. I’m really OK. We’re really OK. I’m in a dilemma here”. And you talk about your dilemma.

And, you know, a lot of it depends on the guy. There are some guys who are like this masculinity 1.0 who just can’t hear it. But a good masculinity 2.0 guy (which is most guys these days) may be able to do this if you just kind of work with them a little bit. Unfortunately, it’s a lot of work. And unfortunately, heterosexual women end up having to do a lot of this work, which is really unfair.


Julie: Yes, so, the man we really want is a man who is secure in the love and can take on some of the things that she might be suggesting?


Stephen: Suggesting or feeling. David Deida, says one very poetic passage. He says a woman’s like the ocean. A man should be like the shore. You know, the ocean just goes, whoosh, and the shore is fine.  So, the woman wants a man who’s durable that way.


Julie: Yes she does.


Stephen: And incidentally, a man wants a woman who’s durable that way, too. So that’s it. That’s an important secret. We both should be durable. It’s OK. You can work on neither of you being so fragile.


Julie: Great Steve. So, more men and women differences. You were saying that for a man, basically, he needs to find his woman attractive, physically attractive. And as long as she’s physically attractive and got a lovely smile, a welcoming smile, she doesn’t really have to do much other than that.


Stephen: She is good. I mean, you look at the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition. Do they have it in Australia? So, what are the women in this magazine doing? They’re doing absolutely nothing at all!


Julie: Nothing. Yes.


Stephen: Nothing. They’re doing absolutely nothing at all. They’re just sitting there in a state of relaxation for a heterosexual man. A woman in a state of relaxation is a turn on. She didn’t have to do anything. All right!


Julie: Yes. You just need to have a welcoming smile. But for a woman, we don’t feel the same way about our men though, do we?


Stephen: Few women feel that way. You know, there was a magazine in the 70s and 80s called Playgirl. Are you familiar with it?


Julie: No, I’m not.


Stephen: OK. So anyhow, I’m dating myself. There was a magazine called Playgirl in the 70s and 80s, and it had a naked man sitting in a state of relaxation in a beach chair or, in bed, you know, with their schlongs hanging out and everything. And it did OK. It was in circulation. But the open secret about Playgirl magazine was that its circulation was almost entirely gay men. Only a gay man wanted to see another man relaxing.

Women don’t like to see men relax. They’d like to see men doing things like, you know, 50 Shades of Gray. You know, she sees him in the morning. He’s not relaxing, he’s doing dips and chin ups and stuff and is exercising. She has to see what he can do.


Julie: Yeah, I agree.


Stephen: The women in my office, they get panicked when their husbands are retiring. They go “What’s he going to do all day?” I say “He’s going to relax”. “I don’t like it. I just don’t like it, it’s a turn off”. It’s really not fair to us guys. You know, there’s a joke around the Upper West Side, “What’s the best way to get your wife’s attention?” Sit in a chair and look comfortable. She’s not going to like it. She’s going to do something.

I don’t know what this is, but I talk to my wife, I say, “Do you feel that way?” She goes, “Yes, absolutely”. I say “I work very long hours. Do you mind me working long hours?”, “No, I like it, like you being productive, doing something.” She says.

So, it’s one of those things that’s just unfair to the male species. But that’s the way it is.


Julie: Yeah. It is interesting, isn’t it, because we live in a time now where women have never done so much. I mean both of us.


Stephen: Totally. Yes.


Julie: Women often feel that they end up doing more than their partner does in terms of overall workload when it comes to work plus our duties at home.


Stephen: The second shift, yes.


Julie: That’s right. So, we can get resentful if our man is not pulling his weight at home. If he’s hanging around, you know, relaxing when we’re having to work. So, do you know whether it comes from that partly?


Stephen: I don’t think so. I think it’s more primal. Did you ever read the book Sex at Dawn?


Julie:  No.


Stephen: Oh, it’s a wonderful book. Its about the prehistoric origins of human sexuality. And he describes what sex was like for hunter gatherers. His big thesis is that hunter gatherers had sex in groups because there were no bedroom doors. So, they were naturally promiscuous and everybody slept with everybody else.

And he also describes one hunter gatherer society where they would they do this ritual called “The Meat” where all the women of the tribe would go wake the men up in the morning and say, “The meat, the meat, we want the meat.” And each woman would choose a man who was not her husband, to get the meat for her. And the men would each be given the assignment by these particular women.

So the men would all get up, go out into the jungle and hunt meat. And then they would come home from the hunt and say “The meat, the meat. We’ve got the meat.”

And they would throw down the meat and they would do a little dance. And the woman would go off with whatever man she had chosen who gave her the meat. (Presumably the guys would kind of partition the meat in the jungle so that every guy had some meat to give to his particular woman).

You know, this book always got presented as being one of most progressive books because it had to do with polyamory in prehistoric societies. But I thought to myself, this is so conventional.

No woman is going to go into the jungle to hunt. The guy goes and does something. There’s something very primal about that, about women wanting to have a guy do something that involves a special gesture, a big sacrifice. I mean, it can be less dangerous than going into the jungle. But it’s about risking something and doing it for her. He’s done it because he wants her. She’s desirable. That’s pretty impressive for most women, at least most women I talk to.


Julie: Yes, absolutely.


Stephen: But it’s not the same for a man. If a woman does something very heroic, risks her life for a man, he would be grateful, maybe. But it’s not going to make him one bit hotter for her.


Julie: Yeah. So, what would?


Stephen: To make a man hotter for a woman? Well, the fact that she’s got the kind of a body he likes and that she smells nice. That’s it.


Julie: And it’s welcoming?


Stephen: Men are just very simple in what turns them on. You know, most men, you show them breasts and butts and they get turned on. They’re simple that way.



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6 Steps To Becoming An Emotionally Available Lover

This article was originally published on and is republished here with permission.

Am I an emotionally unavailable lover?

Have you ever been accused of being emotionally unavailable?

Being emotionally unavailable is one of the most common issues couples face. I get a lot of messages like this:

“Hey Kyle, I read your last few articles about emotionally unavailable partners. It makes a lot of sense that you recommend others to avoid those of us with those flaws. Personally, I don’t want to be this way, but my childhood experiences, failed relationships, and lack of growth in becoming more emotionally available is downright depressing.

If other people start taking your advice to heart, what would happen to the rest of us? Many of us lack the money and emotional depth to become the emotionally open souls professional therapy promises. Can you please offer some relationship advice for us on the other side of the tracks? Maybe some tips that will help us grow to become more emotionally available? What are some ways we can open up to create happier relationships?” – Closed Off in California

That’s why I wrote this article.

Hi Closed Off,

Being emotionally unavailable is rooted in life experiences.

Here’s how it works: If deep down, I feel inadequate and fear I don’t deserve love, then my instincts tell me that eventually, you’re going to find out about me, realize that I’m not good enough, and break my heart.

So I love you from a distance. I stay aloof and disengaged. I refuse to give you much of my time because it won’t hurt as much when you tell me you’re going to leave me.

I know it’s coming. It always does.

My parents. My exes. They’ve all done it.

I know you will too.

I wear my armor and hold you at arm’s length. I’ve been flooded by rejection, sadness, and feelings of being unworthy before, and it’s not something I can handle after I get close.

At my core, I don’t feel I deserve your love.

While half-hearted love does offer safety, it will always sabotage the opportunity to create a deeply loving relationship.

People who are emotionally unavailable are called avoidants because they do exactly what that word says. They avoid their partners. They avoid intimacy and closeness.

But they do this for a reason. Can you guess what that reason is?

“If I anticipate you rejecting me, then I’m going to remain less emotionally invested in you.”

Yes—feelings of unworthiness cultivate insecurity.

True security in a relationship requires interdependence

It’s the ability to depend on your partner while also being able to stand on your own two feet. To take responsibility for your part of the relationship as they do for theirs—as equals.

It’s the ability to be open to their feelings and needs while working with your partner to get your needs met.

Emotionally unavailable people don’t like hearing what their partner thinks or feels if it’s not what they want to hear.

If their partner says something they don’t like, the unavailable partner makes it emotionally costly to do so.

They emotionally beat their partner into obedience. This is why the other partner becomes needy, acts crazy, and will make massive compromises to make the relationship work, even if it is unfulfilling.

Emotionally unavailable people do this because they feel empty. They focus on their own needs and interests. They believe they don’t have the capacity to devote time and effort to their partner’s needs.

They find their partner’s needs overwhelming and burdening.

It’s clear that the emotionally unavailable partner has a lot of internal battles going on. It also explains why they struggle to be there for their partners when they need them.

You might be dealing with many of these same internal battles that lead to being emotionally unavailable. And your relationship is suffering because of them.

If that sounds like you, you won’t want to miss what I have to tell you next.

Here are six effective tips to stop being emotionally unavailable:

1) Take a hard look at the beliefs you have about yourself in your relationship.

Explore why it is that you don’t feel worthy of a close, loving relationship.

Is there a way to challenge your belief that if your partner gets to truly know you, they will reject you? Is there a way you both can explore why you are lovable and deserving of your partner’s affection?

2) Make your partner’s needs and feelings equal to yours.

Doing this requires empathy and compassion for your partner’s feelings, needs, and requests for closeness.

3) Stop the secret life.

Emotionally unavailable partners often have a secret life—a backup plan for when the relationship fails.

They may have someone on the side because rejection is inevitable. A secret life with others helps keep a safe distance in the relationship.

Your relationship cannot afford your secret life or side person.  It requires you to offer complete transparency.

This may require opening up access to your computer, text records, and so on to clean up any past feelings of betrayal or mistrust.

Not keeping secrets is a vulnerable place, but it is the only place that allows you to invest in the relationship and get the returns you deeply need.

4) Make time for your partner.

Place your partner (and children) at the top of your priority list.

This is done with your actions, not your words.

Words might sound comforting to your partner, but without actionable follow-through, they are meaningless. Making time for your partner also requires you to be available and accessible, most of the time.

Often avoidants will avoid phone calls, ignore text messages, and reply only when they want.

They focus only on their needs, which makes their partner even needier.

If you give your partner the reassurance that you are there for them, they will turn their attention away from the relationship because you have given them the security that you are invested in the relationship.

This is called The Dependency Paradox of Love. You can read more about that here.

5) Work on taking responsibility for your emotions.

Take control of your temper. Stop acting in hurtful ways or saying things that cut to the core of your partner’s vulnerabilities.

As an emotionally unavailable person, you are an expert at finding someone’s weakness and exploiting it, so they give you the distance you want.

Stop threatening to leave the relationship if you don’t get your way, and stop using anger and personal attacks to bully your partner into doing things your way.

That’s not a relationship.

Even if you get your way, you are still avoiding a relationship that will change the deeply rooted beliefs you have about yourself.

A loving relationship requires two people who work together equally.

6) Commit to opening up.

Share your deepest fears.

Tell your partner what makes your spine tingle. Tell them about your life’s greatest disappointments and your biggest dreams.

Love requires more than physical touch. It requires emotional touching. It requires both your partner and you to let each other see your inner world.

Quit walling off your inner self, and allow yourself to be deeply known by your partner.

This will not be an easy task. You will feel overwhelmed. You will want to attack your partner.

When you feel like you’re suffocating from a lack of space, you’re on the right track. You are suffocating the belief that you don’t deserve love.

You’re allowing someone else into your heart as you fill its emptiness.

Your childhood and failed relationships may have been a great source of pain, but it is your responsibility to make the effort to change the undermining beliefs that destroy your relationships.

Transforming from emotionally unavailable to emotionally available

It’s up to you to build the emotional skills required to be an emotionally available lover, and utilizing these six steps is a great place to start.

It’s also up to you to work on becoming a better listener. To stop letting your addictions control you. Be more of a giver than a taker.

And most importantly, to stop being so judgmental and critical of both your partner and yourself.


Kyle Benson is an Intentionally Intimate Relationship coach providing practical, research based tools to build long-lasting relationships. Kyle is best known for his compassion and non-judgemental style and his capacity to seeing the root problem. Download the Intimacy 5 Challenge to learn where you and your partner can improve your emotional connection and build lasting intimacy. Connect with Kyle on Twitter and Facebook. For more tools visit



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Coupling Through Coronavirus: How to Live and Work From Home Together Peacefully

With more people finding it necessary to self-isolate due to COVID-19, certain issues may become more evident as couples spend more time at home together. With work life spilling over into home life, there will be more occasions for partners to interact, as well as more things to interact about. And as interactions increase, so too can conflict.

If you’re finding it difficult to manage conflict and ease anxieties, online couples therapy can help. Online counselling is just as effective as face-to-face and comes with a few added bonuses, like:

  • Zero commute time
  • Sitting in the privacy of your own home
  • For those with children, no extra cost of finding a babysitter
  • For those with pets, the option to keep them close during sessions
  • A lower rate is now available


Tips to stay together through Coronavirus

Aside from therapy, the key to protecting your relationship while in close quarters is to develop a good Coronavirus readiness plan. Let’s go over a few tips to keep in mind when preparing your plan.


1. Negotiate Boundaries

Take the time to negotiate what is and isn’t going to work for the both of you and figure out how you’re going to support each other in this time of the Coronavirus. Treating each other with respect when in the middle of deep thinking, calls or other activity, will go a long way in making communication smooth and mutually supportive. If there’s something your partner is doing that is affecting how you work (ie. playing loud music while you’re on a conference call), let them know by explaining how it’s having an effect and suggesting a compromise together. There’s going to need to be a bit of give and take.


2. Setup Separate Workspaces

If at all possible, find separate areas within your home where you can each setup your individual homes offices. This will ensure that you each have designated areas to concentrate on work and minimise distractions from one another.


3. Work out a schedule
While adjusting to this temporary new reality, it will be important to find a balance between individual work time, recreational alone time, time together as a couple, and for those with young children, time together as a family. When it comes to your work schedule, set a time to start, to break and to end the day, and respect each other’s office hours. The fewer interruptions you both have, the more likely you’ll be to finish your workday on time. If you’re both juggling home, work, and children, consider alternating your work hours so there’s more coverage for home chores and child care.


4. Take breaks together
To feel connected with your spouse or partner, schedule some lunches and breaks together. Avoid talking about work during these times—take a walk to rejuvenate your mental alertness, hold hands, make plans for fun together over the weekend. Schedule these lunches and breaks into your schedule and treat them as importantly as you would a work meeting.


How to nourish your relationship in lockdown

If circumstances were already tense, it may feel difficult to now have extra time together where relationship stress is at the forefront. Seize this as an opportunity to stop, look at the challenges you’ve been avoiding and start working on these together. If you don’t feel confident navigating these on your own, Dr Sue Johnson has published a book, Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love, that guides couples in conflict through heartfelt conversations.

For couples who are feeling less distressed, it would be worthwhile carving out some time together and working your way through  the book Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by John Gottman and Julie Schwartz Gottman. A lovely tool to guide you through some crucial, yet meaningful, conversations.


Written by: Natalie – Couples Therapist



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How Chronic Stonewalling Imprisons a Relationship

This article was originally published on and is republished here with permission.

Have you ever watched a child try to get attention from their mom or dad?

“Pay attention to me.”
“Look at me.”
“Mommy! Daddy! Watch me.”

What happens if the child’s attachment figure is unavailable and unresponsive?

The child is bound to be distressed.

It doesn’t matter if you are 5 months or 45 years old–there are still two basic responses to an unavailable attachment figure:

When our romantic partner is unresponsive and unavailable, we protest.

We act like an infant banging a rattle on the side of the crib. We make as much noise as possible to try and get attention.

As adults, this manifests as being critical, or making excessive, desperate attempts to reestablish a connection.

If the consistent response is being ignore or dismissed, the child curls up into a ball and hides in the corner.

As adults, we stop fighting for emotional connection and give up on the relationship altogether.

Despair has set in.

To demonstrate this scenario, one partner in a couple was asked to be intentionally unresponsive.

Here’s what it looked like:

  • Angela: Hey. Hey. [Looking at her partner, trying to get his attention]
  • Brendan: [On his phone, not looking at her at all]
  • Angela: Hey, I have something I want to talk about. Um, something at work… are you listening? Hey, babe. Love? I’m super upset about something at work and need to talk to you. I can text you. Are you on Facebook? [Touches his back and sighs heavily]
  • Brendan: [Continues to look at his phone and is unresponsive]
  • Angela: Hey…

This occurred in about 30 seconds. At the end of the demonstration, here is what Angela said when she was asked what she noticed in her body.

I… um… felt a lot of tension. I was frantic. Panicky. I became super anxious, even though I knew this was an exercise. And towards the end I just felt helpless.

This prolonged act of turning away is what Dr. Gottman calls stonewalling.

Stonewalling as conflict avoidance

Everyone withdraws from a relationship when they’re feeling hurt or fearful of saying the wrong thing.

This pause allows us to get creative about how to solve the problem.

But consistent withdrawal is toxic.

In fact, most romantic partners do not understand the profound impact distancing has on a bond.

A stonewaller might think, “I don’t get why they’re so pissed with me. I wish I could just shrug off their blaming, but I can’t. I need time to recover. Why don’t they get that?”

While this person is being honest about their internal world, they neglect to mention one important fact: that they never want to resume the discussion, because the emotions they feel are too overwhelming.

“If either spouse refuses to communicate when conflict arises, it can be hard to heal a marriage.” – Dr. Gottman

The Still Face Experiment

How can doing nothing be so triggering?

When looking at relationships from an attachment lens, this type of response is seen as a threat to survival.

Psychologist Ed Tronick demonstrated the effect of stonewalling in a landmark study between mothers and infants called The Still Face Experiment.

In this experiment, for a set amount of time, the mother responds to her child’s cues for attention with only a still, unreactive face.

The baby protests the loss of emotional connection to his mother in a variety of ways.

He points. He screams. He aggressively moves around in his chair.

When these attempts fail, the baby withdraws by moving his face and body away.

After a few moments, he starts to wail in a panic.

It’s difficult to witness.

When the researcher signals the end of the experiment, the mother smiles and comforts the baby, who rapidly regains his emotional balance and happily re-engages her.

This Still Face experiment applies to our adult relationships too.

Each time a partner turns away from connection, the response is not dissimilar to the baby shown above.

Are men or women more likely to stonewall their partner?

Dr. Gottman’s research highlights that, due to certain physiological differences, 85% of stonewallers1 are men.

Men are flooded with emotions more easily than women and struggle to recover as quickly.

Also, men tend to be more avoidant in their attachment styles, and stonewalling is the ultimate avoidant strategy.

But here’s the thing….

Often, stonewalling can come from good intentions.

The stonewaller is trying not to make anything worse, even though their behavior sends the unintended message of disapproval and emotional distance.

The purpose of stonewalling is to self-soothe because they are overwhelmed by negative emotions.

Stonewallers typically have a history of making things worse when trying to solve problems…which is why they have the learned behavior of shutting down.

Demanding and withdrawing

The toxic cycle of criticism and stonewalling is a predictor of divorce.

It goes like this:

The stonewaller feels criticized, so they turn away. The more they turn away, the more their partner attacks.

The stonewaller’s heart rate escalates, and they’re scared to say anything for fear of making it worse.

Let’s look at a couple named Jane and Miguel.

This is what happens when Miguel comes home from work.

  • Jane: You’re late again! And you forgot to pick up the groceries.
  • Miguel: I did. [Thinks to himself, this is never going to stop. If I tell her I just forgot, she’ll explode. It’s not worth it. Just keep your mouth shut.]
  • Jane: So typical.
  • Miguel: [Looks away, and stonewalls by not replying.]
  • Jane: [Heart rate increases.] You never care about our family.

Miguel may be physically in the room, but he has emotionally disappeared from the conversation.

This is done to protect himself from Jane’s criticism, so he can calm down. In his mind, he’s preventing the situation from getting worse.

Unfortunately, the message the partner receives from the behavior is, “I am withdrawing from any meaningful interaction with you.”

Jane’s distress is amplified by the confusion of having Miguel physically present but emotionally absent.

When stonewalling becomes a habit, it creates a sense of helplessness in the other partner.

This is why she attacks even more.

This could be a sign of a toxic relationship.

The Other Side of the Wall

stonewallingWhen your partner is stonewalling you, you may feel judged, or that your partner is cold, detached, and acting superior.

When they are unresponsive, you feel they don’t care about your needs or feelings. It’s as if they’ve abandoned you, even though they’re in the room.

This is when you may become even more critical and demand emotional connection.

This will push them farther away.

Instead, give them space, and then revisit the issue later when you can be gentle. This should always be the way you start the conflict conversation.

Ask them what they need, so you can talk about it in such a way that will allow them to work with you.

While we’re on the subject, read these other rules for handling conflict conversations with your partner.

Remedies to stonewalling

Stonewalling is the last horse of Dr. Gottman’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 2

It takes enough time for the negativity formed by the first three to become so overwhelming that stonewalling is a form of escape.

Ask for a break during conflict

When one partner is too overwhelmed and flooded, one of the most successful strategies is to take a break.

In fact, this is a very natural and healthy thing to do.

With the couples I work with, we come up with a hand signal or a phrase that signals a break is necessary. And we discuss a way in which each partner will effectively calm down for a full 20 minutes before returning to the conversation.

For most couples in conflict, there is little to no engagement once one of them leaves. But avoiding the emotional intensity of conflict postpones healing and blocks emotional connection.

By saying, “I will be back in 20 minutes,” you’re giving your partner the reassurance that you will return. This reduces their tendency to continue criticizing you because they know you’re coming back to work through the problem.

During these 20 minutes, intentionally focus on replacing problem-maintaining thoughts, such as “my partner is so mean,” with relationship enhancing ones, such as, “my partner is just stressed out and frustrated. We need to work together to find what’s best for both of us.”

Ask for what you need, not what you don’t

When both partners restart the conflict conversation, focus on expressing the positive needs.

Helping your partner see your side in a conflict conversation might be challenging. But I’ve written a guide to handling this situation. Find it here.

If you’re the stonewaller, do your best to search for the longing in your partner’s words.

You can even ask, “what do you need?”

This need should be positive and actionable. If your partner is vague and says, “I need you to love me,” you should respond by saying, “I understand you need me to love you. I want to do that too. Tell me, what can I do that would make you feel most loved?”

Express appreciation

During conflict conversations with your partner, take extra time to share appreciation for listening and responding. This will help keep the conversation more positive and support the stonewaller from feeling the need to withdraw.

Consistent stonewalling is a sign a relationship is ailing.

Take this sign seriously, because when you consistently turn away from your partner, you’re not just avoiding a fight – you’re avoiding your relationship.

And your relationship needs YOU in order to thrive.


Kyle Benson is an Intentionally Intimate Relationship coach providing practical, research based tools to build long-lasting relationships. Kyle is best known for his compassion and non-judgemental style and his capacity to seeing the root problem. Download the Intimacy 5 Challenge to learn where you and your partner can improve your emotional connection and build lasting intimacy. Connect with Kyle on Twitter and Facebook. For more tools visit



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Til isolation do we part? How to survive isolation as a couple in conflict


As travel plans collapse and workplaces across the world send staff home for remote work, couples across Australia have found themselves together at home 24/7, confined to four walls and

several brewing issues. Even the most satisfied of partners can find it challenging living, working, sleeping and resting with their partner stuck to their side all day every day.

While the temptation for snuggling sleep-ins and working in underwear or pyjamas may provide novelty for the first few days, humans though social creatures, also often need alone time to recharge, process our thoughts, to have independence and create personal value. When partners are in conflict this task of confinement becomes even more of a struggle.

Being within a contained environment can become a giant pressure cooker for conflict. The underlying tension has nowhere to hide, no distractions, and can become the focal point for our efforts when we have no other outlet to select.


Why it is so challenging spend 24/7 with someone you love

There’s a reason why Jane Austin wrote so many complex character novels about people and their drama in period houses in the rain, boredom, issues and confinement breeds conflict!

On a much more serious note, several studies have shown that domestic violence rates have increased after major natural disasters, where humans have experienced significant pressure. The home can become a very complex and challenging place during a major world event.

But, unlike Jane Austin’s characters, we are fortunate to have access to resources, tools and therapists to support this adjustment of close proximity love. There are several moves couples can make to ensure the adjustment to remote working doesn’t destroy the partnership.


Find space in isolation by creating healthy boundaries

Nelson (2016) conducted research to determine that couples without boundaries were more likely to experience resentment, anger and relationship burnout.

Set up boundaries, be clear with each other about what space you need, for work, for yourself, for each other to share. Just because you are in the same house together, doesn’t mean that there can’t be some personal space and separation, whether physical or emotional.

Barkin & Wisner (2013) describe boundary setting as a form of self-care, and relationship preservation. Being really clear and organised with boundaries between work and play time, can allow you to focus on your work, prioritise personal time together, allow for alone-time and ensure that you have your time allocation needs met an reflects the time you would have for each aspect of life under normal conditions. But setting boundaries we can allow for quality interactions with purpose.


Shift your mindset from solving issues, to managing conflict

With growing pressure upon each of us, we only have capacity to take on a small number of issues, before we implode.

Renowned relationship expert Dr John Gottman’s research found that 69% of problems encountered in a relationship are unsolvable. Prioritise with your partner, and with yourself, what topics are worth further discussion, and what you can let go. Don’t overload your plate with small niggles that aren’t important in the long run.

Let the focus shift from resolving issues, to managing them with compromise and the support of a therapist.


Isolation as a means to connect with your partner

This is a time to explore and dive into new things, with more time at home we can learn a new hobby together, discuss future plans and goals, spend a little longer exploring sensuality and touch. Take the time to re-connect, play a board game, give each other a sensual massage, reconnect and reminisce about great experiences.

At the Hart Centre we have a fabulous resource to support sexual discovery for long-term partners.


Just because you’re at home alone, does not mean you’re alone

Therapy is always an option, with telehealth (online counselling) a growing area of service, time constrained, isolated and busy couples can access qualified support direct to the home.

Isolation can be the perfect time to work through those underlying issues in a controlled and supported way, or to build your repertoire of intimacy through the guidance of a therapist.



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An Always Happy Relationship is a Doomed Relationship

This article was originally published on and is republished here with permission.


A relationship pattern that ends in heartbreak is founded on deception and lack of emotional connection. Deception is birthed from the scar that taught us that revealing our true needs only causes more unpleasant conflict.

When we cut out this part of ourselves, we do so under the belief that maintaining good feelings in the relationship will keep the relationship. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. When our goal is to make our relationship feel good, then the relationship will fail to make both partners feel good.

How Conflict Avoidance Creates Misery

At first, dismissing conflict seems to be a great idea. Problems are avoided and swept under the rug, and the couple seems to move on. But eventually, these problems start sticking together. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the problems pick up speed, and the issues seem to be much bigger than they actually are.

One day your partner blows up at you for not folding the laundry, and you’re shocked at how upset they are. Are they really that pissed off about folding the laundry today? No.

Their reaction is a byproduct of being hurt by the hundreds of moments that conflict and hurt feelings were avoided by both of you.

The likelihood of loneliness in a relationship is directly proportional to the unaddressed issues in a relationship.

Our minds are designed to remember the unprocessed issues in our lives, and to let go of the things that have been processed. If you’ve ever laid awake at night thinking about an email you have to send, you are experiencing the Zeignarnik Effect.

HappyThis is why a constantly happy relationship is a doomed relationship, because the moments of disconnection and misunderstanding never get processed. The hurtful moments stay fresh in our mind, slowly eroding our relationship, and turning our Story of Us into a negative one.

Eventually, both partners start to emotionally disengage from each other, and start to live parallel lives. Over time they enter the advanced stages of what is called the Distance and Isolation Cascade. They act like everything is okay between them because they are trying to adapt to the current status of the relationship, but they feel empty, annoyed, and unwilling to connect with their partner.

Most of the time, partners are unaware that they are withdrawing emotionally. Many of us are unaware of the misery in our own relationship. Maybe we come from a family that had parents who were emotionally unpredictable so we became anxious. Maybe we have a history of relationships just like the emotionally disconnected one we currently have, so we ended up accepting that love is supposed to be this way. So it doesn’t actually feel miserable. It feels normal.

To assist you in becoming more aware of this pattern, here are some signs that have helped others recognize an emotional disconnection in your relationship.

6 Signs of Emotional Disconnection

  1. The Relationship is Emotionally Dead: Your partner and you are unresponsive to one another. You lack joy and affection, and don’t laugh about things together.
  2. Feel like Passing Ships at Night: Your partner and you don’t connect, and are emotionally unavailable to one another. Passion in the relationship is nonexistent.
  3. Lacking Friendship: Love, trust, and intimacy is built on the foundation of a couple’s friendship. When the friendship starts slipping away, emotional disconnection is sure to follow.
  4. Pretend Everything’s Okay: If your partner asks you what is going on, you say “nothing.” The truth is you do not feel entitled to your complaints about the relationship. This stems from the belief that there is something wrong with you feeling this way, so you don’t feel right about complaining.
  5. Lack of Soothing Each Other: When you are stressed, your partner makes little attempt to soothe you, and vice versa.
  6. Loneliness: You feel alone in your relationship.

These are important signs. In fact, the California Divorce Mediation Project reported that 80% of the time couples divorced were due to partners slowly growing apart and losing the sense of closeness that left them feeling unloved and unappreciated.

How To End Emotional Disengagement

Partners in this situation have to confront the emotional distance spanning between them in order to end their withdrawal from one another.

Healthy and happy relationships recognize that the good feelings are a byproduct of getting the other stuff right. You have to be willing to make the relationship more important than the good feelings, because all healthy relationships must tolerate some level of discomfort for growth and emotional connection.

Typically this discomfort requires us to expose our deeper emotions and to be truly vulnerable with the one we love. If we are unwilling to do this, we seek emotional connection outside of our relationship instead.

The Infidelity of Emotional Disconnection

One of the biggest reasons partners cheat on each other because because they find the connection their relationship has been lacking elsewhere. This happens over compounding micro-experiences of disconnection from our partners and connection with another. Then suddenly cheating, something we never thought of doing, becomes engraved in the resume of our relationship history.

The entire cheating experience often comes as a surprise. And while we can sit here and blame the non-cheating partners for neglecting the cheater emotionally, we cannot neglect the cheater’s responsibility as well. The cheater could have used those moments before cheating on their partner to repair the relationship, rather than disengage.

The Choice to Connect When Disconnected

happyMaybe it was the opportunity to realize how much I enjoyed talking with Suzie at the office, and how the excitement Suzie is giving me makes me realize that I feel disconnected from my partner.

So when I go home that night, I will inevitably experience what is called a choice point when my partner asks, “how was your day?”
I can either respond:

  • “It was good.” This is an attempt to keep the good feelings in my relationship and protect my partner from realizing that I feel disconnected from her. But as I do this, I create a secret that will deteriorate the house of my relationship like termites. As I begin to enjoy the connection with the other person, I will shut my partner out from experiencing connection with me.
  • “It was good. I had a really good talk with a coworker and it made me realize how much I miss talking to you. Do you have time tonight to sit and chat?” Thus addressing the disconnection in the relationship, and takes steps to reconnect with my partner.

While choice two may seem easy on paper, for some of us, such a request feels like peeling our adam’s apple. Rather than opening up, we attack our partners, or behave in ways to create more emotional space.

Becoming emotionally cold towards our partners are the oozing of our emotional wounds that have not been properly addressed.

Conflict Is Necessary for a Happy Relationship

HappyHaving conversations that address the problems in the relationship are paramount to cultivating a healthy relationship that meet both partners’ needs. I always say that conflict is a catalyst for closeness, because it allows us to experience all of our emotions with each other. It helps us learn to love each other, despite the unpleasant feelings.

In fact, our unpleasant feelings are amazing guides to repairing and enhancing our relationship. We just need to interpret them as signals to take action in order to improve our connection with our partner. Conflict has a powerful purpose because it allows us to speak about what we need that makes the relationship more fulfilling for both partners.

Additionally, a healthy relationship requires partners to say “no” to each other every once in awhile and figure out what works for both of them. You have to speak up for yourself and your needs, and your partner has to do the same. Both of you have to be willing to discuss what will and will not work for each of you in the relationship. This is why it’s called a relationship. It takes two mature people who realize they are responsible for bringing up their struggles in the relationship to improve the relationship.

It’s not always easy, but focusing on the underlying emotions of your partner or yourself, despite the unpleasant feelings you feel during conflicts, will bring both of you closer.

One of the ironic things I’ve discovered about conflict is that sometimes, my partner feels the same way I do. By speaking about it, I invite her into being vulnerable with me, which allows us to connect on a much deeper level.

The quality of your relationship depends on your ability to understand your partner, and vice versa. The secret to understanding each other better comes from the hard work of putting your partners in a position where they can tell you their minds openly and honestly. They need to be given the breathing room to show their fears and vulnerabilities so you can connect over them.

An always pleasant relationship is not a great relationship. It’s a doomed one. It takes a level of discomfort to communicate our needs and understand each other. Love takes work to expose and resolve conflicting beliefs and expectations. And it is our willingness to experience the discomfort of conflict together that deepens our love for one another.


Kyle Benson is an Intentionally Intimate Relationship coach providing practical, research based tools to build long-lasting relationships. Kyle is best known for his compassion and non-judgemental style and his capacity to seeing the root problem. Download the Intimacy 5 Challenge to learn where you and your partner can improve your emotional connection and build lasting intimacy. Connect with Kyle on Twitter and Facebook. For more tools visit



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Emotionally Intelligent Husbands Are Key to a Lasting Marriage

What does it mean to accept your partner’s influence? And how do you do it?

In the Japanese martial art of Aikido, there’s a central principle called Yield to Win, which is a method of using your opponent’s energy and actions against them to win a fight, rather than strong-arming them into submission. It allows you to conserve energy and choose much more effective and efficient tactics.

But we definitely don’t want you using Aikido moves on your partner!

For our purposes, yielding to win means accepting, understanding, and allowing your partner’s perspective, feelings, and needs into your decision-making process as a couple. It means really listening to your partner and forming compromises so that you both feel satisfied.

Which is really more like yielding to win-win, and that’s we’re aiming for.

When men learn how to accept their partner’s influence and work toward a win-win solution, the outcomes are wonderful in heterosexual marriages. In a long-term study of 130 newlywed couples, we discovered that men who allow their wives to influence them have happier marriages and are less likely to divorce.

And this critical skill is not limited to heterosexual couples at all. In fact, research shows that same-sex couples are notably better at it than straight couples. Straight husbands can learn a lot from gay husbands, and they’d be wise to do so.


Rejecting influence is a dangerous move

Marriage can absolutely survive moments of anger, complaints, or criticism, and even some longer periods of negativity if conflict is managed in a healthy and respectful way. They can even flourish because conflict provides an opportunity for growth as a couple. But couples get in trouble when they match negativity with negativity instead of making repairs to de-escalate conflict.

As Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

Clearly, counterattacking during an argument does not solve an issue or help to form a compromise. It does not allow your partner’s influence in the decision-making process. Our research shows that 65% of men increase negativity during an argument. And the Four Horsemen—criticism, defensiveness, contempt, stonewalling—are telltale signs that a man is resisting his wife’s influence.

This is not to insult or belittle men, and usually, it’s not a personality fault or cognitive shortcoming. Rather, it is to enlighten men as to some instincts and tendencies they might have, but of  which they aren’t aware.

There are simply some differences in how men and women experience conflict (for example, men are more prone to stonewalling, and 85% of stonewallers in our research were men). It takes two to make a marriage work and it is vital for all couples to make honor and respect central tenets of their relationships. But our research indicates that a majority of wives—even in unhappy marriages—already do this.

This doesn’t mean women don’t get angry and even contemptuous of their husbands. It just means that they tend to let their husbands influence their decision making by taking their opinions and feelings into account.

Unfortunately, data suggests that men often do not return the favor.

If heterosexual men in relationships don’t accept their partner’s influence, there is an 81% chance that a marriage will self-implode.

Men, it’s time to yield to win-win.


What men can learn from women

Some say that men are from Mars and women are from Venus. While this is a common saying that cannot be true (obviously, we’re all from Earth and we have much more in common than we think), men and women often do feel different from each other.

This difference can start in childhood. When boys play games, their focus is on winning, not their emotions or the others playing. If one of the boys get hurt, he gets ignored and removed from the game. You see this in team sports all the time. Maybe someone comes to help carry the injured player off the field, but the game must go on.

But here’s the difference. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman explains that “the truth is that ‘girlish’ games offer far better preparation for marriage and family life because they focus on relationships.” And that isn’t necessarily about gender roles, but about learning emotional intelligence.


Developing emotional intelligence is the first step

The husband who lacks emotional intelligence rejects his partner’s influence because he typically fears a loss of power. And because he is unwilling to accept influence, he will not be influential, and that dynamic will result in gridlock.

On the other hand, the emotionally intelligent husband is interested in his partner’s emotions because he honors and respects her. While this husband may not express his emotions in the same way his partner does, he will learn how to better connect with her by listening to and validating her perspective, understanding her needs, and expressing empathy.

When his partner needs to talk about something, an emotionally intelligent husband will set aside what he’s doing at the moment and talk with her. He will pick “we” over “me,” which shows solidarity with his partner. He will understand his partner’s inner world and continue to admire her, and he will communicate this respect by turning towards her.

His relationship, sex life, and overall happiness will be far greater than the man who lacks emotional intelligence.

The emotionally intelligent husband can also be a more supportive and empathetic father because he is not afraid of expressing and identifying emotions. He and his partner can teach their children to understand and respect their emotions, and they will validate their children’s emotions. And our Emotion Coaching parenting program is based on the power of emotional intelligence, which we can all benefit from learning.


How to accept influence

It’s most likely that men who resist their wives influence do so without realizing it. It happens, and that’s okay, but it’s time to learn how to accept influence. It is both a mindset and a skill cultivated by paying attention to your partner every day and supporting them. This means working on three essential relationship components: building your Love Maps, expressing your fondness and admiration, and accepting bids for connection.

And when conflict happens, the key is to listen intently to your partner’s point of view, to let them know that you understand them, to ask them what they need, and to be willing to compromise. One way to do this is for each of you to identify your core needs and search, together, for where those needs overlap. Then you can find common ground upon which to make decisions together.

That’s how you accept influence. Want to have a happy and stable marriage? Make your commitment to your partner stronger than your commitment to winning.

If you do that, you win, your partner wins, and, most importantly, your marriage will thrive.


This article was originally published on The Gottman Relationship Blog, and is republished here with permission from The Gottman Institute.



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Could Autism/ASD Be a Cause of Your Relationship Difficulties?

If you are trying to understand why you are suffering from ongoing relationship difficulties and are wondering if Autism might play a part, this blog article should help.

As we all know, relationships can be difficult and complicated at times, but when one partner has Autism, many more difficulties usually arise. That’s because ASD/ASC is primarily a social-emotional-communication difference.

Being able to express your emotions and be emotionally supportive of each other is the lifeblood of a healthy relationship. This can be difficult though, if you are in a neuro-diverse marriage, and over time you can both run out of energy trying to deal with these challenges.

To make things even more difficult, the tools and strategies that “garden variety” couples find helpful often don’t work for you in a neuro-diverse relationship.

I will start with what it feels like to be a neurotypical partner with an Aspie, and then also talk about what it feels like to be a person with Autism or Aspergers in a relationship with a neurotypical person. I’ll then describe how the relationship usually progresses, the challenges that can happen along the way, and then how your relationship can be helped.

Just a note, in the past Asperger’s disorder was considered a “mild” type of autism, but since 2013, when a new classification called Autism Spectrum Condition/Disorder (ASC/ASD) was created in the DSMV, Asperger’s is no longer a correct clinical term, but is now included in the Autism Spectrum. However, many still refer to the term to differentiate “high functioning” Autism from more evident types of Autism.


Is my partner Autistic? Here are 55 relationship clues.

Here is a 55-point questionnaire we have created that will help as a starting point. It is important to understand that Autism has a very diverse set of symptoms and no two individuals will be alike. But the more of these points that you feel fit your relationship, the more likely that ASD can explain your particular set of difficulties.

If you find that 40 or more of the below clues seem to apply, then your partner could be on the Autism Spectrum.

For ease of expression, I will use the term “he,” but this could equally refer to “she”.

  1. Your relationship had a passionate start, but the passion dwindled quite quickly when you started living together
  2. Your partner can often engage in long-winded conversations that are often one-sided
  3. He may have difficulty putting himself in someone else’s shoes and empathising
  4. He often needs many periods of solitude and quiet time
  5. He tends not to understand the nature of give and take in a conversation
  6. He can often seem to be self-absorbed
  7. You often feel emotionally deprived in the relationship
  8. He often interprets words quite literally
  9. He has difficulty talking about his emotions, and so tends to avoid it
  10. He may have trouble making the connection between what you are feeling and what he has done or not done
  11. You often feel frustrated by not being able to connect on a deep and consistent level
  12. Even if you are physically together, there can feel like there is an emotional distance, which can leave you feeling lonely
  13. He can suffer from sensory overload at times
  14. He tends to shy away from public displays of affection
  15. You can often feel taken for granted by him
  16. He tends to demonstrate his feelings of love through his actions
  17. You can feel your best efforts in the relationship get very little in return
  18. He doesn’t choose to socialise much with his friends
  19. He can tend to be lazy in the relationship
  20. He may find it difficult to completely let go in sex
  21. He can have trouble engaging with you when you are talking about an emotional issue
  22. He gets defensive easily and the gentlest of conversations he can view as an attack or a criticism
  23. He may not tell you the whole truth
  24. He usually tends to put himself and his needs first
  25. You can sometimes find yourself in situations where you are shocked at how insensitive he is
  26. He can be altruistic and heroic, but sometimes when you expect him to come through for you, he may not be able to handle it
  27. He doesn’t tend to like pressure or expectations put on him
  28. In times of relationship difficulty, he tends to see you as the neurotic one
  29. He can sometimes have a hard time holding onto a job or seeing things through
  30. He feels more comfortable with structure and routine
  31. He finds it difficult having to answer to an alarm clock
  32. He can be excessive at lazy activities
  33. His aloneness or cocooning is essential for him
  34. Depression is a common state for him at various times of his life
  35. He can be very passive
  36. He tends not to be good at organising holidays or outings
  37. He is often not interested in your world, inner life or activities
  38. He tends to be socially withdrawn
  39. He can at times, cut you off and change the subject when you are mid-sentence
  40. He can keep you separate from his family and /or friends
  41. Even if he loves you and values your relationship, you may never get a commitment. He may worry he is not capable of being a good husband.
  42. He may marry because you want it and then often be half hearted
  43. He will be more comfortable with old friends and family than new ones
  44. He can acknowledge it’s good to have companionship, but it does create stress for him
  45. He can tend to live in his rational mind the most
  46. His conversations can often be surface level and brief
  47. You may find it difficult to cope with his anxiety and routines and not being able to be silly and frivolous
  48. The chances are he has never made any promises, unless you are married
  49. You find you have made more adjustments to him over time than he has to you
  50. You feel you are more a caregiver to him than an equal to him
  51. You may feel you are never number 1 for him. His special interest more often is
  52. You may feel you have to do more than an equal share of the household tasks
  53. Your relationship may be more practical than anything else
  54. He may deny there is a problem as he finds it difficult to empathise with what you are feeling
  55. You may feel isolated as no-one else understands what’s going on behind closed doors, and he seems normal to others outside the relationship


Those with Autism are at an inherent disadvantage in a relationship, but that doesn’t mean with guidance it is not possible to create a happy union. Each partner has very different and unique needs and these need to be taken into account.

Our Hart Centre relationship psychologists across Australia have completed training by Tony Attwood, the leading Asperger’s expert in the world, so can help you navigate a relationship where one or both of you are on the spectrum.


Am I an Aspie in a relationship with a neurotypical partner?

Perhaps you think it might be possible that you have ASC/ASD and are in a relationship with someone who is Neurotypical.

Here are 33 questions to ask yourself that will give you clues in identifying this.

If you find that 25 or more of the below clues apply to you, there is a high likelihood that you are on the Autism Spectrum.

  1. You have had very few relationships in your life
  2. You are not sure you know what is expected in a relationship
  3. You really enjoy your solitude
  4. You have at least one interest you are very passionate about
  5. You appreciate having the opportunity to talk about your special interest
  6. You are easily stressed by social situations
  7. You tend not to talk about your emotions
  8. You tend to show your partner how much you love her by doing things for her
  9. You can have difficulty concentrating if the topic isn’t about your specific interests
  10. You can feel stressed by change or unpredictable situations
  11. You tend to like structure in your life
  12. It can feel great to settle into a relationship and not have to put so much effort into it winning her
  13. You feel easily overwhelmed when someone is talking about their emotions
  14. You can be socially shy
  15. It’s difficult for you to share all aspects of your life with your partner, and work towards shared goals
  16. Managing conflict is not your strong suit
  17. You tend to be more comfortable with old friends and family than with making new friends
  18. You don’t tend to like being silly and frivolous
  19. It can feel after a while in your relationship that your partner is often criticizing you
  20. You can tend towards being passive in your life
  21. You are not so good at listening to your partner
  22. You find your partner often seems obsessed with you showing her more affection
  23. You find it difficult and unnecessary to sense what your partner is feeling
  24. Making compromises doesn’t come easily to you
  25. You don’t like public displays of affection
  26. You don’t understand why birthdays and anniversaries are considered important
  27. Past partners have often left you
  28. You don’t feel comfortable with expectations put on you
  29. Being in the relationship can begin to feel very difficult and complicated
  30. You don’t tend to like making commitments to others
  31. Your partner can seem more and more moody, irrational and emotional over time
  32. You prefer to keep some things separate from your partner
  33. It can seem like your partner is making the relationship difficult for you

If many of these apply to you, then you may have found an explanation for why your relationship has had its particular challenges.

You will need to work together to understand and meet the needs of both of you and create a whole new structure for your relationship.

You may have already tried this with a generalist relationship counsellor without success, but because specific knowledge, understanding and strategies are needed for you, this is best achieved by seeing a specialist ASC/ASD relationship psychologist.

Please see below for locations of our Hart Psychologists


Should we get a diagnosis?

It is usually in the context of their romantic relationships that most adults with Asperger’s discover that they are an Aspie, because this is the context where the expectations on them are the most difficult to meet. Colleagues, parents, siblings and even children may consider them quirky, unusual or different, but will often not identify anything beyond this.

Diagnosing ASC/ASD, particularly in adults remains challenging as it is both a science and an art, requiring the trained eye of a specialist who has seen a wide variety of adults on the spectrum, and viewing a cluster of traits in the broader contexts of relationships, life history and life experiences. Add to this, the severity of traits can and do vary greatly with each individual, which adds to the complexity of diagnosis.

Clinical Neuropsychological testing is more commonly done with children and teenagers where special educational accommodations may be needed. But for adults, many are satisfied with having the expert opinion of a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist specialising in ASC/ASD, without the formalised testing procedure, or even self- diagnosis.



More and more people are self-identifying as being on the autism spectrum. Many actually prefer self- diagnosis, because this can lead to them evaluating their strengths and weaknesses in the context of ASC/ASD, and it can help finally make sense of why they may have always felt so different from others.

There can be a great relief to know their alternate mindset is what makes them different, and they can actively seek out professionals and resources that will help.

If you would like a more detailed diagnosis than our brief checklist listed here,  you can try the AQ a 32 question quiz, or The Aspie Quiz a 100 question test.


When you get the diagnosis

Having a diagnosis of ASC/ASD can bring about a huge paradigm shift for both partners.

For the neurotypical partner, it can help explain and put into perspective all, or almost all, of the relationship difficulties they have been experiencing, and she can now understand that for the most part, he has not deliberately been making things difficult.

For the partner with ASC/ASD, the diagnosis can bring about very mixed feelings. Sometimes he can deny or make light of the diagnosis, although at a deeper level he also realises that this does explain a lot of why he has felt so different to others over his life.

There can be a relief to discover that his brain is wired differently, and he may also realise that his partner isn’t to blame for their relationship challenges either, and that she hasn’t been too demanding or overreactive as he had previously thought.

Accepting the diagnosis can set them both on a course of new understanding and learning new strategies to help their specific relationship.

For the partner of the Aspie, this initial stage can often be followed by a stage of grieving for the loss of the partner she thought she had, and the loss of the typical marriage, but this grieving process can also bring hope.

As Eva Mendes, a US ASC/ASD relationship expert says ‘She may come to think “I now understand the way he is. I no longer feel like I am going crazy. It’s not what I thought my marriage would be, but I am interested in working on solutions”’, particularly if the positive aspects of their life together outweigh the challenges.

This is the time where a specialist ASC/ASD relationship psychologist is the most help, in assisting you in coming to terms with the discovery, in understanding each other more fully, and suggesting specific strategies to help both of you meet the unique needs of each other.


When you met, what attracted you to each other?

Tony Attwood has found that it is common for a new person meeting an Aspie to be impressed with his intellect and knowledge on topics, or his literary or artistic qualities.

Due to their giftedness in the areas of maths, science, technology, medicine, art, and music, many adults with ASC/ASD make highly desirable life partners.

He will often also be kind and thoughtful to his new partner.

In addition, he often offers a detail-oriented approach to problem solving, and a unique and interesting way of looking at the world.

Initially, he can appear to have a kind of “Peter Pan” type of character, often being good looking and attentive, and not suffering from a lot of relationship baggage, having not chosen to be in many relationships in his previous life.

When it becomes apparent that he is rather socially shy, the partner can often feel strong maternal and caring feelings for him.


What kind of partners do Aspies usually find themselves with?

There are usually 2 very different kinds of partners a person with Asperger’s looks for, and finds themselves with:

Firstly, the less common option is a partner just like them – someone who works in the same industry as them, and/or who has similar interests, who also likes solitude and who likes talking about facts and information, rather than sharing more on an emotional level.

The second and more common choice of partner is a someone who is on the other extreme – a person who is exceptionally caring, affectionate, and nurturing, and with a natural maternal instinct. She/he moves effortlessly in social circles and can easily become a social interpreter for the person with ASC/ASD. She can also be a calming influence when anxiety and anger come up for the person with ASC/ASD.


What happens in a relationship with an Aspie

The relationship usually starts off beautifully with the neuro-typical partner feeling her partner is very attentive to her, eager to please her, and desires to be with her often. She feels very much appreciated and special in this new relationship.

When an Aspie man finds just the right partner he is looking for, which may take him a long time, initially he will work very hard to make it work between them. He will put himself out and extend himself right out of his comfort zone to accommodate her wishes and desires.

However, he will not be able to keep up this amount of effort for very long, so once he feels he has secured her, and they have settled in, he usually relaxes back into his more normal ways.


The Disillusionment Stage

aspergers marriageOnce the couple start living together or get married, the initial romantic stage often comes to a very abrupt end, and this loss is felt very deeply by the neuro-typical partner.

She has no idea of how much effort and sacrifice he has had to expend to win her over and to have her as part of his life, and she is devastated when his attention then moves away from her and back to his special projects, especially as she has no inkling of why this is all happening.

This disillusionment stage happens in all relationships; but is often felt more acutely in a neuro-diverse relationship.

Once that initial intoxicating limerence stage has come to an end, both partners start to realise that their relationship is not what they each imagined, nor is it as fulfilling as they initially thought or hoped it might be.

The neurotypical partner may feel disappointed that their ASC/ASD partner appears to find more enjoyment from solitude, and being involved in their special interest, than from their company.

Added to this, the conversations that they are having are brief and more superficial than she would like, with the ASC/ASD partner having little interest in conversations with more emotional depth.

She discovers that where she expected him to become more emotionally attuned to her and interested in things that are emotionally significant to her as the relationship deepened, she finds that this is often not the case at all.

She may also find that he no longer expresses love and affection for her in the ways he did to start with, as if this is no longer needed. Whereas for her these are needs that remain through-out the entire relationship.

She can also find it taxing to need to adhere to his strict routines, perfectionism and bouts of anxiety, or rages against what seems like minor irritations.

She can also find over time, that she is becoming a micromanager of her ASC/ASD partner, with very little appreciation from her partner, and this can exhaust her leaving her feeling taken for granted.

For the neurotypical partner it can feel like she is expected to be his mother, giving unconditional acceptance and support without receiving anything similar in return.

In addition, she can find that there’s times when she just wants to have fun, and perhaps be a bit silly and frivolous, but he’s never up for that. Nor is he interested in having fun socially either.

As a way of coping with these stresses, she may go through a change where she tries to become more like her Aspie partner, taking on similar values, lifestyle and thinking in order to cope, but this is usually an unsuccessful coping strategy.

As a result of all these things, the neurotypical partner often finds herself feeling emotionally neglected or rejected and undervalued.

The ASC/ASD partner can also start feeling that his relationship is not what he thought, but usually this takes a little longer for him.

Having not had much experience in relationships, he can find himself in a complex world where he feels overwhelmed with what seems to be expected of him.

Usually, he has not had much experience or practice at the basic relationship skills of seeking to understand another’s view, resolving conflict in a way that honours both persons needs, making compromises and sharing responsibilities, so these can seem overwhelming.

He can become increasingly aware of not living up to the expectations that his partner has of him in the relationship.

He unintentionally trips up in things he says or does or doesn’t say or doesn’t do, and then feel criticised by his partner for it.

He can find it exceedingly difficult and taxing to maintain a relationship particularly as he notices his partner becomes moodier and more irrational, and has more emotional ups and downs than he is comfortable with. And he doesn’t appreciate her seeming obsession with him showing more affection towards her.

As Tony Attwood says he feels like he is in a world “with no operators manual”.

He also can’t understand someone who seems to be so emotional about things instead of using logic to solve problems which he knows is by far the best way.

Often, too, she doesn’t understand how important his special interest is to him, and on many occasions, this is more important than spending time with her. In this, he can escape from the complicated world of relationships to a familiar world where he feels comfortable and knowledgeable and at ease.

He often feels unappreciated, and constantly criticised and not able to do the right thing by her, leading him to feel confused and resentful. This affects his sense of self- esteem and he can easily feel like a relationship failure.

Having ASC/ASD will mean that it will be very difficult for him to put himself in her shoes, and rarely will he make the connection between his behaviour and her reactions. This can make things worse as he can then blame her for the relationship problems, seeing her as being unreasonable and difficult.

Each of them can experience not only different enjoyments, but also different priorities.

This stage of disillusionment can be followed by a prolonged stage of anger and frustration by both partners as their needs are apparently so different. Arguments become common, accusations are often thrown around, and frequent short and extended separations happen regularly.

Neither person understands what is going on, or why the other is being so difficult.

In the absence of a diagnosis and skilled professional help, neuro-diverse relationship almost always flounder because of these complex differences.


How a partner feels in a relationship with an Aspie – Affective deprivation

Neurotypical partners tend to have a rather unique relationship experience, and this often leads to the development of what has been referred to as Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder, or more recently Affective Deprivation Disorder.

This disorder is not a personality disorder, but instead develops as a result of being emotionally deprived in their relationship situation. All humans have a need for emotional love, belonging, affection and reciprocity and when we are in a situation where we feel we are giving it, but not receiving it in return, then it affects our self-esteem and has a huge impact on our mental and physical health.

It is important to understand that the Aspie partner does not realise that these needs are there for his partner and that this deprivation is happening, as he is not intentionally withholding anything.

He is often surprised and saddened to discover that his partner is being impacted in such a huge way like this. This is why a no-blame perspective is the best approach.

aspergers relationship

Maxine Aston, a UK specialist Asperger’s relationships counsellor, explains that this Cassandra Affective disorder is like a seasonal affective disorder which is caused by a lack of sunlight, affecting the person with depression, sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, hopelessness, anxiety, tension, a loss of libido and a weakened immune system.

Things are often made worse for a partner when she is not believed, and commonly is blamed for the problems in the relationship by her ASC/ASD partner. Even when other professionals like doctors, teachers, therapists and counsellors become involved, unless they are trained in ASC/ASD and it’s affects, they can choose not to take her seriously, and inadvertently continue the pattern of blame towards her. Realising that she isn’t being heard or understood creates even further depression and despair for her.

She can feel confused, alone and desperate by this stage.


Symptoms of “Cassandra” Affective Deprivation Disorder

Maxine Aston has identified the following symptoms of CADD:

Emotional health

  • Feeling extremely disappointed with the relationship
  • Feeling confused
  • Feeling angry
  • Feeling guilty
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loss of self-identity
  • Loss of faith in yourself

Mental health

  • Anger and frustration
  • Listlessness and depression
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias or social phobias
  • Developing Asperger’s ways

Physical Health

  • Migraines
  • Loss or gain in weight
  • Premenstrual tension
  • Low immune system


What can be done about Affective Disorder?

The first most important factor in reducing Affective Disorder is to acknowledge it and seek to understand it, by both the person suffering and her Aspie partner.

This is almost impossible unless or until there is a diagnosis or acknowledgement that Asperger syndrome exists in the partner.

Then it can be understood as a consequence of the huge differences between their emotional needs.

Then secondly, it is about repairing the deprivation.

For the NT partner these emotional needs are like food that are crucial for her survival, so the best approach is to take a two-pronged approach.

Firstly, Maxine suggests her ASC/ASD partner can learn about what he can do to help her feel more emotionally fed.

What can an Aspie partner do to help his partner?

He can start doing things like:

  • Giving her a kiss when he leaves the house
  • Greeting her sweetly when he arrives home
  • Making a commitment to say one nice thing a day to her that he is genuine about
  • Hold her hand when they are walking together
  • Tell her he loves her often
  • Send her a nice text message daily
  • Ask her to tell him about her day
  • When she is upset, give her a hug and ask her to tell him about it

Secondly, she needs to start doing some of the following things she finds enjoyment in herself:

  • Have a regular coffee morning with a friend or friends
  • Join a gym or take up some form of exercise
  • Take up a fun hobby
  • Pamper herself in some way and make these a regular part of her week
  • Spoil herself with something nice

When both partners of the couple are motivated to help her, and make the relationship work, then it can be done. That doesn’t mean it is easy. Its important to focus on the positives and work through the negatives.

Many couples find this is too difficult to do on their own. That’s where a qualified and experience ASC/ASD couples’ therapists is your best ally. He or she can understand and support you both in overcoming these differences and give you the specifics steps to take to help you create a more fulfilling relationship for you both.


Can our relationship be saved or improved? Creating Successful relationships

In many cases, it is very possible to save and/or improve your relationship if one of you has ASC/ASD. There are 3 factors that Maxine Aston has described which are crucially important in maximising your relationship satisfaction and ultimately your success:

  1. Both partners need to acknowledge and accept the diagnosis of Asperger’s. This helps each partner to have an understanding of what the strengths and weaknesses of each of you are, along with your needs, and also some skills that might need improving.
  2. Both of you are motivated to change, and are willing to put in time, effort and commitment in working on your own side of the relationship equation.
  3. You will need access to specialised ASC/ASD Relationship Psychologists or counsellors who can understand the specific difficulties you are going through.


Relationship Counselling – some important points

A couple’s psychologist/counsellor who is trained and experienced in ASC/ASD will be able to provide both of you with information about ASC/ASD, and work with each partner about understanding the aspergers couples therapywiring, mindsets and perspectives of each other, and create a space where both of you feel safe and understood.

He/she will also suggest and help you implement specific strategies for your particular relationship, and provide accountability, motivation and support to move you both into a healthier happier relationship.

It is important to note that couples’ counsellors who don’t have knowledge of ASC/ASD can often wrongly ascribe your challenges to personality clashes, or family or origin issues, or can blame one partner more than the other, and are therefore rarely able to give you your best and most appropriate help.

For your part when you are considering coming to relationship counselling, we need each of you to be motivated and be willing to work on your side of the equation, rather than entirely blame your partner. This gives us the best chance of success for your relationship.

But this is often a journey, so we can support you together or individually at any stage of your journey of discovery.

Our Hart Centre relationship psychologists have been specifically trained by Tony Attwood to help you with the unique problems that come with neuro-diverse relationships. We have psychologists in each city, as well as Skype counselling options for those who can’t make it into one of our offices.

Click here to put in an appointment enquiry, or search for a Hart Asperger’s Relationship therapist using our search bar on the side of this page.



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Why Some Men Have Trouble Ejaculating During Intercourse

Trouble Ejaculating and The Orgasmic Double Standard

Men who have trouble ejaculating are a misunderstood bunch.

Women’s and men’s orgasm difficulties are really very similar. As I explained in my article, Advice for Men Who Have Difficulty Ejaculating, an orgasm is really just a reflex. Male or female, people differ in what’s called their orgasm thresholds — how much stimulation they need to climax.

We’ve come a long way in understanding women’s orgasms. People now recognize that some women just need much more stimulation to climax. There’s nothing wrong with her. That’s just how she’s wired.

But our knowledge of men’s orgasm difficulties has lagged a bit. Lots of couples still put pressure on the male partner to orgasm, and they worry there’s something terribly wrong with him if he can’t.

In my previous article, Advice for Men Who Have Difficulty Ejaculating, I showed you four rules to follow if you want to make it easier for a man to climax.

Today, let’s go a little further . . .


Ask Him How He Masturbates

As a sex therapist, if you want to be able to help men who have trouble ejaculating, you need to to get comfortable asking them how they masturbate.

Men who have trouble ejaculating tend to masturbate in particular ways. The details can vary. But in working with many hundreds men with trouble ejaculating in sex therapy over the last 30 years, I’ve noticed some consistent patterns.

Here are the most common ones:

1:  “FAST”

Many men who have trouble ejaculating tend to move their hand very rapidly when they masturbate. Especially right before orgasm. To see examples of this, just watch some male porn stars in action.

Many male porn stars have trouble ejaculating. Look carefully, and you’ll see that many of them have to masturbate their own penises at the end in order to climax.  If you look at their hands, you’ll often see a very quick motion — something of a blur.

It’s the same for many women who can orgasm by themselves but not with a partner. They need a very rapid stroke — which is something they can easily do by themselves, but that’s not so easy for a partner to do.

Same thing for a man who has difficulty ejaculating. He often needs to go fast at the end — which is obviously much easier to do with your own hand, since you can feel confident of not hurting yourself in the process.


The second element of masturbation technique for many men who have trouble ejaculating is that they tend to grip the penis forcefully — more forcefully than a vagina can grip a penis, and more than a partner might dare to grip it.

Men who don’t have any trouble ejaculating tend to masturbate with a much looser grip. They may use a lubricant as well, since the skin of the penis tends to like something moist.

But for most men who have trouble ejaculating, a loose hand won’t do the trick. You need a really tight grip to get to climax.

Most men who do this kind of forceful technique while masturbating will also tell you they get a better grip with a dry, unlubricated hand. That presents an obvious disadvantage when it comes to ejaculating inside your partner’s vagina.


During masturbation, most men tend to focus strongly on a part of the penis called the “frenulum” — which is on the underside, close to the tip. Men who have trouble ejaculating often concentrate especially strongly on this spot.

To illustrate where the frenulum is, here’s a diagram — not of a penis, but of a rather famous Manhattan building, the “Flatiron Building.”  One of the reasons it’s so famous is that viewed from a certain angle it looks like the underside of an erect penis.

The underside is basically just “bubble-wrap” to protect the urethra. Nature supplies both men and women with this protective tissue. And for both genders, this bubble-wrap tends to be erotic.

A woman’s urethra — and the bubble-wrap that protects it — is located at the roof of her vagina. That’s the origin of the so-called “G-spot.”

The most sensitive part of a man’s bubble-wrap is usually right under the head of his penis — just a couple of floors down from the top of the Flatiron Building, above. For most men, that’s the magic spot. That’s where most men who have trouble ejaculating tend to focus all that fast, forceful attention during masturbation.

During intercourse, his frenulum is mostly buried deep inside his partner’s vagina where it doesn’t see much action.  So if he’s someone with trouble ejaculating who’s learned to need intense frenulum stimulation, it’s likely he may have trouble ejaculating during penetrative sex.


Once you know these three basic elements — FAST, FORCEFUL, and FRENULUM — it’s easy to see why intercourse might be a problem for a man who has trouble ejaculating.

A woman’s vagina typically can’t move very fast. It can’t exert much force. And for the most part the most sensitive part of his penis, his frenulum, is buried deep inside her vagina where it doesn’t get much stimulation.

So what can be done about this?

Can Trouble Ejaculating Be Overcome By Changing Masturbation Technique?

You might think all a man who has trouble ejaculating would need in order to fix the problem would be to change his masturbation technique. to stroke his penis more slowly, and with less force, and with more attention to the entire shaft rather than just the frenulum.

That’s often worth trying. And sometimes it does help.

But it’s not always so simple. Here’s why:

Many men who end up using some variation of the FAST – FORCEFUL – FRENULUM technique use it to compensate for the fact that they have a high orgasm threshold.  They develop this kind of masturbation technique because they need it — to compensate for their high orgasm threshold.

So in addition to adjusting their masturbation technique, many men find they also need to learn the methods for good partner sex that we discussed in the previous article.


On Being Accepted For Who You Are

But here’s the thing: A man’s high orgasm threshold isn’t usually something he control, or change.

Just like a woman who needs a lot of stimulation to climax. The only way you’re going to enjoy really great sex with her is to accept her as she is. Same with a man.

In my book, Love Worth Making, I call acceptance “Vitamin A” for good sex. Without enough Vitamin A, you won’t get very far.

In future articles, we’ll discuss even more techniques for managing this condition. But remember, no techniques have much chance of working unless you accept each other in bed for who you are.

That should always come first.

For more information about how to get more Vitamin A in a long-lasting relationship, check out my book Love Worth Making — available at the following online outlets, and  wherever books are sold.


Reprinted by permission, Stephen Snyder MD, author of the new book Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship (St Martin’s Press 2018). 

Women’s Sexual Desire, and Why Men Often Don’t Recognize It

Women’s Sexual Desire Is Different

We’ve learned a lot about women’s sexual desire in the last few decades.

Back when sexologists were mostly male, sexual desire—or “libido” —used to be thought of as like some kind of hydraulic pressure in the body. Like the pressure most young men feel when they need to ejaculate.

But the hydraulic model doesn’t fit the facts of most women’s sexual desire. Most women need a reason to have sex. Otherwise, they might go for a long time without feeling desire.

Men need a reason to have sex, too.  But for most men, the reason can be as simple as your partner taking off their shirt.

Most men’s minds tend readily to say “yes” to sex. Whereas most women’s minds tend to say “maybe,” or “that depends.”

As a sex therapist, when a straight couple comes to see me because they aren’t having sex, the male partner is almost always still regularly masturbating. Often the women has stopped masturbating, or does it only rarely.

In the absence of satisfying sex, it’s as if the woman’s sexual desire has just gone to sleep. Like the screen-saver program on an old-fashioned desktop computer, a woman’s sexual desire system will often stay in “sleep mode” until someone moves the mouse.

Women’s Sexual Desire and the Definition of Good Sex.

Of course that leaves open the question of just what constitutes good sex, right?  People have widely different opinions, of course.

But having discussed the subject with many hundreds of people over the years, I think most people’s notions of good sex would involve getting authentically aroused– not just hard or wet.

As I discuss in my article, Sex Tips for Married Lovers, authentic arousal requires more than hardness or wetness. By my definition, you’re not really aroused unless you’ve lost a lot of IQ points.

Real authentic arousal should also make you feel good about yourself.  And good about your partner too—in a primal way that just says “YES, that’s the stuff I like!” Otherwise your mind can easily go into screen-saver mode, and sexual desire can turn off completely.

But many couples don’t know how to recognize authentic sexual arousal. They think if they’re hard or wet, they’re ready to have sex. That leads to a lot of bad sex, since hardness and wetness just aren’t sufficient to move the mouse.

You can’t nourish desire with bad sex. Only good sex can nourish desire in a committed relationship. 

Obvious, huh? You’d be surprised.  Many couples I see in my office have never bothered to reflect on those simple facts.


How Women’s Sexual Desire Confuses Men

As a sex therapist, I’ve noticed that heterosexual women’s sexual desire sometimes confuses men. They miss it completely.

Here’s why: Many women don’t just want sex. They want to feel desired first.  

If a woman doesn’t feel desired, then the sex itself may not seem so appealing.

Wait, you say. Doesn’t everyone know how important it is for most women to feel desired?

You’d be surprised. I see many men in my office who have no clue how important this is for women’s sexual desire.

Now here’s something that I find baffles most men: In order to feel desired, a woman may sometimes actually move away from her partner — in the hopes he’ll come running after her.

That’s so foreign to the average male mind that few men understand it at all.

When talking with men in my office, I’ll often cross species lines and illustrate with the following example:

What Men Can Learn from the Sexual Behavior of Female Rats

I once attended a sex therapy convention where researcher Jim Pfaus showed videos of rats having sex. The most interesting part turned out to be the foreplay.

By human standards, male rats are all premature ejaculators — so rat sex is typically very short-lived. But rat foreplay can go on for a long time.

Here’s typical rat foreplay:

The female rat runs in front of the male rat, gets his attention, then darts away. With any luck, he’ll be interested enough to chase after her. He might chase her around the cage for a long time, before she finally lets him have her.

The female rats tend to like to prolong all this running around. And more than one sex researcher has wondered whether the female rats enjoy this strange kind of foreplay more than the actual sex.

Many people have noted that the whole thing looks suspiciously like what sometimes during heterosexual human mating: how women’s sexual desire often seems to be as much for the pleasure of being chased as for what happens afterward.


“Juego” and Women’s Sexual Desire

Now, of course, there are exceptions. Just as there are exceptions to every generalization you might make about sex and gender. There’s a tremendous amount of diversity in human mating. In an article in PsychologyToday, I discussed the fact that some men have an unusually strong yearning to be desired too.

But the fact that many women’s sexual desire can manifest by a wish to run away ordinarily causes a lot of mischief in heterosexual couples. So it’s a crucial thing for a man to understand.

My colleague Esther Perel describes one of her Spanish-speaking clients playing a game she calls “Juego.”  To play this game, the first thing is to make yourself a bit unattainable. If your partner responds by pursuing you, then you’ve won the game.

For many men, the hardest thing about playing “Juego” is to realize there’s a game going on in the first place.

A lot of men will just greet their partner’s unavailability with a shrug of the shoulders and go do something else — which of course defeats the whole purpose. Then they’re surprised that she’s angry or frustrated.

Take home message:  If you’re in a committed relationship, notice when she might be pulling away from you. If that happens, keep in mind the possibility this is a manifestation of her desire — and that like the female rat, she may be hoping to begin a chase.

Just keep that in mind. You can thank me later..

You’ll find more actionable advice on how to make sense of men’s and women’s sexual desire in my book, Love Worth Making.  


Reprinted by permission, Stephen Snyder MD, author of the new book Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship (St Martin’s Press 2018).