Category Archives: Couples Counseling

Honesty really is the best policy

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen honesty, or rather the lack of honesty, play out as the underlying issue in a marriage.

HonestyI always ask new clients about what prompted them to come see me.  This generally gives me a pretty good idea of the presenting issues in the relationship and provides a launching point into the work we’ll do together.  We’ll typically address some serious topics over the course of the first few sessions, topics that are good to discuss in any marriage.  But inevitably, there will come a time when, often by accident, one spouse will say something that catches the other by surprise and touches a nerve.  

I’ll see the body language change almost instantly, followed by a “I didn’t know you felt that way”.  And with that, the stakes are raised.  As a counselor, this is when my work gets tough and requires a lot of  finesse.

Why? Because many of us bury – and I mean deeply bury – the root causes of our frustrations with our spouses. Sometimes that’s because we’re unaware – we haven’t really unearthed those roots ourselves.  But often it’s because we are fully aware, and scared to death to expose them, for fear of unsettling the delicate ground we’re walking on in our relationship.

''Most of us bury the root causes of our frustrations with our spouses.'' Click To Tweet

The underlying issue: we’re scared

In my experience, when we’re not honest about a serious issue in our relationship, 9 out of 10 times it’s because we’re scared. We’re scared of how our partner will respond to our feelings.  We’re scared of the conflict that will result. We’re scared of the hurt feelings, the hostility, anger, tears, you name it.  Or maybe we’ve been burned by past attempts and think there’s no good way to proceed.  The end result is our fear keeps us silent and it controls our relationship.

The counseling world calls this a “lack of differentiation”. We’re burying our true selves for the sake of our spouse’s feelings. Or, often, what we perceive their feelings will be. And in turn, we’re sacrificing a deeper, more mature,and more authentic relationship with our spouse, all in an effort to keep the peace.
''When we're afraid to bring up difficult topics with our spouses,we're letting fear control the quality of our relationships. '' Click To Tweet

Is it time to bring honesty back to your marriage?

I don’t care whether it’s your spouse’s weight, or how they parent your kids, or that they work too much, or that they don’t want sex very often – whatever it is, if you’re not talking about it, then it’s not the real issue.

The real issue is that you aren’t willing to be honest with your spouse.  These “secrets” cause cracks in the foundation of your marriage that will eventually grow big enough to swallow both of you.

What you can do now

Everyone needs a place to begin.  If you are struggling with being open and honest with your spouse on tough subjects, here are four steps that will help you kickstart honest conversations:

Number One: Identify what’s important to you – Don’t make this about your spouse, make it about you.

Number Two: Write it down – Think about it. If you can’t put into words what’s important to you, how can you tell your spouse in a way they can understand it?

Number Three: Tell your spouse – Pick a time when you’re both in listening mode, when neither of you is frustrated or hostile. Again, make it about what’s important to you, not about whether your spouse is doing their part.

Number Four: Listen – Don’t sit back and listen, sit forward. Express with every part of you that you want to hear your spouse’s feedback – even when it’s not the feedback you wanted.

Now, it’s just the beginning, but it’s a solid one. After this, you can take actions to help you process what you’re saying to one another, truly accept the other’s perspective, and learn to support each other’s personal growth. That growth will provide the cement to re-strengthen the foundation of your life together as a couple.

I’m not going to kid you though.  It may look like a simple process, but this can be really tough to do..  It takes practice and often times it takes the guidance of an experienced therapist who can lead you through the process until it becomes more natural to you.   If it feels daunting or like it could never work for your marriage, I urge you to have at least one conversation with us before you give up.  You can give us a call or schedule an appointment online. Your marriage is worth at least the phone call, right?

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The Art and Science of Non-Sexual Touch

I obviously work with a lot of couples who are dissatisfied sexually.   As such, I find myself writing frequently about sex.  Like here.   Also here and here

One thing I haven’t written about before – and probably should have – is the importance of non-sexual touch in a relationship.  

While there are no quick fixes and no single road map that fits every couple (that’s why all the work we do at The Marriage Place is customized to the couple), you might be surprised at how often I ask couples that are struggling in the bedroom to first focus on activities outside of the bedroom.

Non-Sexual Touching

One of the things I teach my clients is to be deliberate about increasing non-sexual touch.

What tends to happen within a couple – especially a couple where the partners have distinctly different sex drives (which is most couples, by the way) – is that the lower desire spouse will quit touching the higher desire spouse because any touch is interpreted as an invitation for sex.  

Many of you know exactly what I’m talking about. Your husband walks by you in the kitchen, gently pats your backside, and your brain goes straight to “He’s expecting sex tonight”.  Or husbands, your wife puts her hand on your arm as she’s asking a question and it translates to “I’m going to get lucky!”  Invariably, one or both partners in these situations end up frustrated or resentful.

Why Non-Sexual Touch is Important

Touching without the expectation of sex can be a deep bonding experience. It builds a level of trust otherwise missing from the relationship, which in turn, enhances the couple’s sexual relationship as well.

Touching without the expectation of sex can be a deeply bonding experience and build a level of trust otherwise missing from the relationship. Click To Tweet

When couples quit touching, hugging, and kissing except as a prelude to sex, the passion in the relationship usually dies. In fact, I can often gauge a couple’s sex life before they tell me anything about it, simply by how much they touch each other in a non-sexual way.

What Non-Sexual Touch Looks Like

Non-sexual touching can be holding hands or cuddling during a movie or just sitting close enough to each other that you are touching arms or legs.

Really, it can be any touch that you both agree is not intended to lead to sex.

The list of options is limitless, but here are a couple of purposeful ones if you are looking to be intentional.

The 3-Minute Hug

It’s as simple as it sounds.  Hug your partner (we’re talking full body hug) for 3 straight minutes.  You can even set a timer.  I’ll warn you though – 3 minutes can feel like forever, especially if this is the first time. So if needed, start with just one minute and work up to it.

Occasionally I’ll have my clients hug during a session.  If I were to video you’d notice a few things. First, couples often start out in a stiff awkward embrace. Their eyes jump around looking for distraction and at least one will glance at me with that “How much time is left?” look. But as the seconds tick off, I start to see some changes. Both partners will shift to get comfortable. Their bodies relax, often kind of melting together.  Their breathing slows and begins to regulate, even to the point where they may breathe in unison.  All in a matter of 3 minutes.  

 The 30-Second Kiss

Most couples typically kiss for just a split second at a time.  It’s the quick peck as you are leaving for work or the greeting when you get home in the evening.  

What if you kissed your partner for a solid 30 seconds each day?

30 seconds isn’t that long, but an intentional half a minute of kissing will feel like much longer (You can thank me later). It’s long enough that you can’t fake it and you are forced to connect with each other.  In fact, it’s nearly impossible to kiss that long and not feel closer to your partner.  

 The Science Behind it

Physical contact like hugging and kissing causes your body to release endorphins and oxytocin. Endorphins are the natural “feel-good” chemicals we all have that reduce stress, anxiety and depression. Oxytocin is known as the “bonding hormone.”  Our skin has receptors that stimulate our brain to produce more of these chemicals. So more hugging & kissing = more endorphins & oxytocin = more happiness, less anxiety, and more physical intimacy.  

Now this, by itself, does not guarantee more or better sex.   I can tell you this though – show me a couple with limited (or no) non-sexual physical intimacy, and I’ll show you a couple that is also struggling in the bedroom. The two are connected.


In case you haven’t noticed, none of this work can begin without open, honest, direct dialogue with your partner.  If you aren’t having those now on other topics, starting with sex may be awkward.  Really awkward.  But that’s okay.  Do it anyway!  If you need help getting started, you can

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