About last night: It is important for good people not to lose heart 22-05-18

Q: During the recent cricket ball-tampering scandal, I saw a young sportsman being interviewed. He summed up his attitude to the controversy by saying, “Nice guys come second”. I was shocked. How can we hope for a better world, more equitable gender relationships, or more compassionate politicians if this is the attitude towards competition that is being taught to young people? This certainly seems to be a recipe for success among our world leaders, but what kind of world are they creating?

A: As People in the West rejected organised religion, and followed the path of personal ambition and competition, being kind came to be equated with being weak. We keep hearing about a need for “cultural change” in many of our institutions – the police force, sporting clubs, the world of entertainment, and religious organisations. This kind of change cannot occur in a vacuum. What is needed is a global shift, from ruthless competition and heartless ambition to compassion, empathy, and kindness. This is not only necessary to alleviate the sufferings of the oppressed; it is also essential to our own personal happiness.

Kindness is active, and involves interacting with others in a positive way. Illustration: Michael Leunig
Kindness is active, and involves interacting with others in a positive way. Illustration: Michael Leunig

Cultural change, like turning around an ocean liner, takes a long time, but there are examples throughout history of relatively rapid shifts. The abolition of slavery, votes for women, and the anti-war, civil rights, feminist, libertarian revolution of the ’60s all had a slow and painful gestation, but when the cultural change did occur it was dramatic and fundamental.

It is easy to despair when we witness the cruelty and nastiness revealed in the current news cycle, but it is important for good people not to lose heart. There are already signs that change is happening.

In a recent article in The Guardian, entitled The Cult of Being Kind, Eva Wiseman outlined a number of trends that seem to indicate that people want to live in a kinder world. She describes the phenomena of strangers leaving out gifts of warm clothing for the increasing numbers of homeless in Britain this winter.

Signs of this shift can be seen in the media. The New York Times has introduced a new section, The Week in Good News, and the BBC’s new head of drama has announced the intention of moving away from dark dramas to works that are more uplifting and inspiring.

This trend towards kindness can also be seen in the publishing industry. Titles due to be released in the next couple of months include The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson, Kindness: The Little Thing That Matters Most by Jaimee Thurston, and, Kindfulness by Padraig O’Morain.

Psychotherapist O’Morain looks at our recent emphasis on mindfulness as a means to achieving personal happiness, and points out that this has coincided with an explosion in the use of antidepressants and addiction to pain killers. The trouble, he argues, is that happiness is passive. Kindness is active, and involves interacting with others in a positive way. Not only does it make the world a better place for the people receiving kindness, it also has a myriad of positive outcomes for the giver. Research shows that being kind is good for your health and wellbeing, and reduces depression.

Some of us associate being kind with being a dupe, a sucker, or an easy touch. However, O’Morain makes it clear that we must also be kind to ourselves. You can be kind without denying your own needs, being a doormat, or being gullible. Protecting yourself is kind.

Despite our apparent cynicism and selfishness, we are touched, inspired, and uplifted by acts of authentic, heroic kindness. The whole world was deeply touched by the bravery of the French policeman Arnaud Beltrame, who died after volunteering to swap places with a terrorist’s hostage.

Both utopia and dystopia are fictional. We will never be perfectly good, or utterly bad. Every human being has positive, and negative tendencies, and the culture of the times seems to swing, like a pendulum, between philanthropy and misanthropy. All we can hope is that we progress two steps for every step we slip back. History certainly looks most favourably on the times when loving and kindness are in the ascendancy.


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About Last Night:Sharing non-sexual touch 15-04-18

Sharing non-sexual touch is a vital part of wellbeing, and is healthy when wanted

Q: I’m happily single, with my own apartment, a challenging but rewarding job, and an active social life. For my birthday, a friend gave me a voucher for a massage. That isn’t really my thing, but last week I redeemed it. I felt a bit self-conscious, but relaxed into it, and it was pleasant. When I was at the counter processing the voucher, however, I started sobbing uncontrollably. I realised that, even though I do not need a partner, I do need more gentle touch. What should I do?

A: Touch is extremely important for our wellbeing. It is the first sense to develop in the womb, and experiments show that infant monkeys would prefer to cling to a soft surface without food than to a wire frame that dispenses milk. Gentle touch also boosts the immune system, and releases endorphins.

We seem to be becoming increasingly isolated. If you look around a crowded place you will see a lot of individuals communing alone with their electronic devices rather than with each other.

This situation is exacerbated by an increasing touch aversion which has resulted from the sexual abuse scandals that have rocked many social institutions. Even infant teachers, doctors, and counsellors are instructed to follow a “no touch” policy, to avoid legal trouble. Recently, a friend took his child to a playground. He noticed a distressed child dangling from the monkey bars, and gently lifted him down. Its mother’s reaction was, “How dare you touch my child?”

Of course, as a rule, we should ask permission to touch someone, but we need to ensure that our paranoia does not cause us to confuse kind touch with unwanted touch.

Touch does not have to be sexual, but some people use sex as a way to get touch. It is better to seek out ways to get non-sexual touch. Some people do this by stroking a pet. Are you allowed to keep one in your apartment? Others benefit from having a regular massage. Even getting your hair and nails done involves neutral touch.

In recognition of our touch-deprived state, more formal groups hold “cuddle parties”. These are non-sexual events, and often offer learning opportunities for those who experience anxiety or trauma around touch. Check out Meetup, ( The Human Awareness Institute also organises non-sexual “touch groups”, but these are mainly held in NSW and SA (

In our everyday lives, the way to make friendly, social touch acceptable has two elements. Children and adults need to be taught that nobody is allowed to touch them without their permission. Never force children to hug Grandma, or sit on Uncle John’s knee if they are reluctant. They will be more likely to get healthy touch in their lives if they believe that they are a choice. A wonderful book for children on this subject is Everyone’s Got a Bottom: We All Have Bodies and We All Want to Keep Them Safe. This book was produced by Family Planning Queensland, and is available online.

One of the problems with negotiating healthy touch is the power imbalance. A child can feel disempowered if they are forced to accept touch against their will. As a result, many adults have developed a fear of touch. It is usual to ask, “Can I have a hug?” or “Can I give you a hug?”, but this can sound pushy, or patronising. A better way to make this offer might be to say, “Would you like to share a hug?” Used sensitively and judiciously, this might be the way that teachers and other caregivers might approach someone in distress, but it is vital to honour their response, and to graciously respect their, “No”.

People can also be isolated and touch-deprived while in a relationship. A reluctance to have sex, unresolved anger or resentment can make us disinclined to touch each other. Nothing is lonelier than two people sharing a bed with an unbridgeable gap between them. Acknowledge and address this situation. Talk about ways in which you can share gentle, non-sexual touch. Simply by hugging and cuddling you might find some of your barriers dissolving.


About Last Night: Learning to love yourself will lead to making better choices 08-04-18

Q: At 60 I have decided to go it alone after 30 years of monogamous marriage. I would like to think there may be the opportunity for relationships and intimacy in my future. However, I feel more naive, inhibited and less educated than when I was a young woman. Can you suggest a starting point for re-educating myself?

A: You have decided to “go it alone”, so this is now your time. Begin this new life by falling in love with yourself. Give yourself the time, and space, to go through the upheaval of setting up your own home, and tying up loose ends from the past. Be kind to yourself, and cut yourself some slack. No matter how sure you are about your decision there will be painful moments disentangling a 30-year edifice.

You cannot fully experience love and intimacy with another until you love yourself. When you love yourself you will make better choices. You will make sure that you stay safe. You will have the resilience to survive rejection or difficulties.

Before you actively pursue new connections, take stock of where you are. You might get a health check, and make some decisions about your lifestyle so that you can get the most out of life. It is not necessary to look like a model to find romance, but you need to be well to enjoy life.

 This might be a good time to interrogate your wardrobe, and reassess your style. Sometimes, what suited you in your 40s no longer works at 60. Do not be timid. The aim is to reveal the vibrant and attractive older woman that you are, not to become invisible, so embrace colour, and avoid too much beige.

Many women carry off their naturally greying hair with grace and elan. However, if you are tempted to colour, do so. The same goes for manicuring, and wearing heels. If something gives you pleasure enjoy it, and ignore that niggling, self-limiting voice that preaches the virtue of the “natural”.

When it comes to sexual intimacy, you are your own best teacher. When you feel ready to pamper and explore your own body do so. Many women are embarrassed by the idea of masturbation, and that word does not help. What you are doing is learning what gives you pleasure. The majority of women are unable to give themselves an orgasm with their fingers alone, so consider getting a good quality, pleasure-enhancing sex toy. To help you with this exploration, read Betty Dodson’s classic book, Sex for One: The Art of Self Loving. Some of the toys she recommends are now a little dated, but the basic information is excellent.

Glowing with good health, stylish, confident, and owning your own pleasure, you will then be ready to look outside of yourself. You might enjoy exploring further by attending some workshops. Not only will you expand your education, you will also meet other, like-minded people.

Take a look at the wide range of classes offered by Curious Creatures ( If something looks intriguing, give it a go. I can assure you that there will be a range of age groups involved, and you are definitely not too old.

Another workshop is coming up in August that I believe is the ultimate learning opportunity for anyone seeking greater depth and understanding of relationships. The Human Awareness Institute offers a series of weekend residential workshops called Love, Intimacy and Sexuality. Level 1, Connecting in Love, concentrates on loving yourself. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Details can be found at Space Inc ( You will join people from across the country for this life-changing experience.

The best way to meet people is to join a group activity that interests you. Whether it be wine tasting, bushwalking, or a book group, that is where you will meet people with shared interests. Check out Meetup ( for groups in your area.

If you want to be more proactive in finding potential partners there are a myriad of dating sites that cater for a wide range of people. For purely sexual hook ups, look at Adult Matchmaker (


About Last Night – food for thought

Q: Bill and I are very happy, and our sex life is satisfying, but we would like to spice things up a little. We’re not very adventurous, but I was thinking of experimenting with some food play – chocolate body sauce, whipped cream, maybe some fruit. Do you have any tips?

A: Even good sex can become a bit predictable over time. Taking a novel approach to a familiar act can keep things fresh. Occasionally, it is great to go to a hotel, or holiday home to get away from reminders of daily life. You can also introduce variety without leaving home if you use your imagination, and are willing to be playful.

Hunger and desire are both biological imperatives, but they also give us sensual pleasure, so combining food and sex can be a lot of fun, and highly erotic. It is an activity that works well with a familiar partner because it requires some preparation, a knowledge of each other’s likes and dislikes, and the ability to be uninhibited.

Before experimenting with food you need to prepare a play area. Use old sheets, and spread out towels in order to protect your furniture. You could even lay out a plastic drop sheet if you want to go wild. Have washcloths, tissues or wet wipes handy, as well as all the food, toys, safer sex products you might need. You do not want to go walking around the house trailing honey and mashed banana while you look for the condoms

There are a few safety issues to take into account. To avoid the risk of infection or irritation, keep food away from your genitals. Be particularly cautious with sugary food as it can trigger yeast infections in women. Even check flavoured massage oils and lubricants to make sure that they do not contain sugar. So, for example, you can insert pure water ice blocks, but not icy poles. If you do want to be penetrated with a fruit or vegetable, wash it well, and pull a condom over it.

Obviously, eliminate food allergies. Licking peanut butter is no fun if you have to reach for an EpiPen. Also, although we talk about “spicing” things up, it is advisable to avoid chili. That just hurts. If you want to play with fruit, avoid stinging citrus, or seedy fruits like raspberries, because the seeds could end up anywhere.

Avocado has a subtle flavour, and a wonderfully oily texture, and some Japanese enjoy eating sushi roll slices from each other’s bodies, but, as a rule, it is more successful to choose light, sweet food items. You might love savouries, but do not go for the gorgonzola and anchovy massage oil.

Food play is the appetiser, and sex is the main meal, so go easy. For example, if you warm honey you not only introduce a difference in temperature. The honey is also easier to drizzle. Great gobs of honey can be sickening, and will feel unpleasantly sticky, especially if you have body hair.

The idea is to engage all of the senses, not just taste. Lick, rub, squeeze fruit between your fingers, and slide your bodies together.

Slowly sharing a strawberry or a cherry can lead to deliciously passionate kisses. Enjoy the texture and aroma of mango slices. Use fruit cold from the fridge, such as frozen grapes. Nibble and bite if that feels good. Decorate each other. Put whipped cream on nipples. Tease other sensitive areas such as lips, the neck, earlobes, and eyelids.

The idea is to be as abandoned as children playing with mud pies, so leave your dignity at the door. Something that begins with laughter can end up being incredibly erotic.

Finally, clean up afterwards. While it might be tempting to fall asleep in a state of sated abandon it is not pleasant to wake up sticky, surrounded by rotting fruit and sour cream. Quickly gather every thing up in the soiled sheet or towels, and finish off your lovemaking by taking a shower, and helping each other to get food out of hard to reach places. Bon appetit.


About last Night ‘‘Setting aside time for fun, relaxation and intimacy is vital.” 25-03-18

Q: At 65, I attend more funerals than weddings. When an old uni friend died recently it made me think. He’d been incredibly talented, gained a PhD at 23, and was tipped to do great things, but, although he had a good career, three failed marriages, the suicide of a son, and problems with alcohol meant his life turned out to be as flawed as anyone’s. I’ve had a good life, and am in a solid relationship, but I want to ensure I get the most out of the time I have left.

A: In medieval times, great men often carried a ‘‘memento mori’’, or reminder of death. This skull ornament or suchlike was intended to keep life in perspective, and to prevent one becoming too attached to worldly power, and the pleasures of life. Our modern world shields us from death and dying, and, with an increased life expectancy, we can live as though we are immortal. This can cause us to live unexamined, or misguided lives.

Bonnie Ware is an Australian palliative care nurse who spent years with people at the end of their lives. These experiences led her to write a modern memento mori – The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying. In it she offers of us an opportunity to take stock, with a view to avoiding the same regrets.

The first of these is, ‘‘I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me’’.

So often we feel obliged to fulfil the expectations of our family, religion or culture. Be a success, make money, be virtuous. Women in particular can be crippled by the belief that ‘‘good girls’’ do not explore their sexuality. Give yourself, and your partner, permission to discover your secret desires, and to indulge some of them.

The second regret is, ‘‘I wish I didn’t work so hard’’.

Whether it be working at a career, striving for an immaculate home, or pursuing an interest, we can get the balance wrong. Setting aside time for fun, relaxation and intimacy is vital to having a truly happy life. It is important to experience pleasure.

The third is, ‘‘I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings’’. Remember to tell people that you love them. Also, have the courage to speak up about things that make you unhappy. Saying nothing is a waste of time, and delays growth. Even saying something that you fear might damage a relationship is worthwhile. Either the relationship will improve, or you will be freed to do something new.

Next is, ‘‘I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends’’. When we fall in love, start a family, or pursue a career, we can lose touch with the people in our lives. This can isolate us, limit our experiences, and make us too dependent on our partner. Having other people in our lives gives us emotional diversity, independent sounding boards, and a wider social support network in the tough times.

Lastly, ‘‘I wish that I’d let myself be happier’’.

We often feel guilty about being happy. A certain puritanism makes us see suffering as noble, and fun as frivolous. There is a difference

between allowing oneself to be happy, and hedonism. True happiness means looking to your own long-term happiness, and that of your loved ones. You might think a string of affairs would make you happy, but true happiness might result from pushing past any issues in your core relationship so that you can luxuriate in the open waters of the love you have earned over a lifetime.

We are all mortal, and our lives will end. Focus on the things that truly matter.

Follow your dreams, take risks, stop worrying about what others think, and stop putting things off. It is never too late to live your best life in the only reality we can ever know – the present moment. Live life now. None of us are getting out of this alive.

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About last night: Dwindling sex life leads to anxiety

Q: I’ve read and enjoyed your column for many years, and have noticed one theme that crops up time after time. A reader says that they love their partner, and have a great life, but sex has stopped, or become a problem. I’ve come to realise that I’m the one who avoids sex and has shut down. My partner has been patient, but I’ve noticed a change recently, and fear that there’s something being hidden from me. I’m desperate to know the truth, but I am also terrified that I will not be able to handle what I discover. Help!

A: You are absolutely right; the most common letters I receive are from people who are struggling with issues of desire and sexual satisfaction in a long-term relationship that is otherwise good. It was to offer assistance to these couples that Dr Rosie King wrote her invaluable book Good Loving, Great Sex: Finding Balance when Your Sex Drives Differ.

It is so easy to become complacent, and to avoid addressing issues that build up

It is so easy to become complacent, and to avoid addressing issues that build up

At first, our intention is to monitor and adjust our relationship as things change. The reality is that life can get in the way, and the safe haven from which you go out into the world can become stale, and lifeless.

Psychologist Esther Perel is the author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Emotional Intelligence, in which she questions many of the assumptions and expectations we have about long-term, monogamous relationships. I suggest that you watch these TedTalks videos before you attempt to make any changes ( and

Try not to beat yourself up over this. It is so easy to become complacent, and to avoid addressing issues that build up. Days slip by, routines are followed, and we find ways to get by. Eventually, a problematic situation can become entrenched, and toxic. Sometimes, it takes a major shock to jolt us out of our rut – illness, bereavement, an accident. Life forces us to confront our reality. One of these blows can be discovering a partner’s infidelity.

Perel says that this can sound the death knell for a relationship that is virtually dead already, but it can also be the catalyst for creating a richer, more rewarding future. She points out that the majority of couples dealing with infidelity do not break up. The quality of the relationship that follows depends on the willingness of both partners to do what is required to rebuild trust and passion. She offers hope, optimism, and helpful strategies that might help you to face any distressing revelations.

Ironically, one common result of discovering infidelity can be that the partner who had lost interest in sex finds themselves feeling sexually inspired once more. Meanwhile, the partner who has been caught being unfaithful often realises that they want to save the original relationship and are motivated to do what it takes to reconnect.

Perel’s upbeat, optimistic and positive attitude towards life and love after infidelity means she is often asked if she recommends having an affair. Her answer is that she recommends having an affair as much as she recommends getting cancer. Many cancer sufferers say that their diagnosis was a wake-up call, that they have had a renewed appreciation and love of life, and they have learned to live life to the fullest. We need to learn how to live our best life without having to have a shock.

You fear making a painful discovery, but the best chance you have of getting back on track is to face the truth, and to acknowledge whatever role you might have played in the situation.

It is never easy to deal with your hurt and anger, and both of you have to want to come together once more, but the future can be richer than ever. It can be useful to get professional relationship counselling, especially in the first, traumatic days, but there is no need to despair. Life and love can be wonderful once more. In fact, you might look back on this event as a blessing.

About last night: How can I learn to be a more romantic lover? 11-03-18

Q: After sex a few weeks ago my wife, Alison, said I wasn’t a very romantic lover. My father never talked to me about sex. How does one learn to be a more romantic lover?

A: Most people find it difficult to talk about sex, even with their long-term partner. Alison must feel strongly about this to mention it. It is a pity she framed her comment as a criticism. Try not to feel hurt or offended. The positive point is that she wants you both to enjoy a more pleasurable and fulfilling sex life.

Sex Ed in Australia is still pretty inadequate, but when your father was growing up it was non-existent. He was probably bumbling around like everyone else, and had no wisdom to share on this front. Women do not come with an instruction manual, and they too are often unclear about what they would enjoy, having had no guidance themselves.

Do not blame yourself for encountering a common impasse.

The two of you need to talk, but not in the bedroom. Choose a time when you are happy and relaxed, and ask her what she means by “romantic”. Can she give you examples of what she would like you to do? Be patient. This is not an interrogation, and she might be flustered, and find it hard to put into words. Give her time. Listen, without interrupting, commenting, or becoming defensive. When she feels safe to speak you might be surprised by what you learn. Simply listening, with love, could feel romantic to Alison.

Romantic love is the stuff of love songs, rom-coms, and soap operas. This kind of love is as intense, all consuming, and idealised as that magic time when we are first in love. While that level of heightened pleasure cannot be sustained forever, it is possible to give your lover the affection, attention, and respect they deserve. There is nothing romantic about being taken for granted.

Essentially, what your wife is craving is a type of physical intimacy that is about engaging the heart, as well as the genitals. There is some truth in the idea that men need sex to feel loved, and women need to feel loved to want sex.

Try to begin your wooing a long time before you initiate intercourse. Take the time to make her feel special, lovely in your eyes, your own princess. Establishing a loving connection is part of foreplay, giving the woman the time she needs to experience her own desire. Older women can need more time to become aroused. It can be a turn off if you feel that you are merely a convenient body with which to couple.

One way to understand this better is by learning a little about the way sexual energy operates in the body. Tantric philosophers describe seven places, or “chakras”, running from the base of the spine to the crown of the head. Put simply, energy can be brought up from the primal, animal base chakra, through the groin and solar plexus chakras, and into the heart. When this happens, there is an expansion of joy, and a deepened feeling of love and pleasure.

The problem is that many of us are blocked at certain points, and the energy cannot reach the heart. Most commonly, this blockage is around the navel, where your fears and angers are held. Many of us, especially men, protect our hearts from pain but this limits our ability to fully experience joy, and prevents us from making heart connections.

This probably sounds a bit New Age and kooky, or too much like hard work, but the bottom line is that using these ideas will result in you enjoying much more pleasurable and satisfying sex.

There are two fantastic books you might find useful. Australian tantra writer Kerry Riley’s Sexual Secrets for Men: What Every Woman Will Want Her Man to Know comes highly recommended by the men who have read it. Diana Richardson’s The Heart of Tantric Sex offers a number of practical exercises to guide you through this process.


About Last Night: Am I losing my ability to find pleasure? 04-03-18

Q: Increasingly I’m finding that my orgasms are the same quality, intensity and duration, whether I am making love with a partner (I’m polyamorous with my husband) or masturbating. While I love the physical and emotional connection of being with another woman or man, I am just as satisfied pleasuring myself. Plus I get to stay in my own bed and don’t take any health or physical risks. Am I losing my ability to find pleasure in and with another?

A: Sex is about much more than reaching the finishing line of orgasm. Good sex cannot be measured in terms of the strength and duration of a muscle spasm. Sexual fulfillment comes from enjoying the journey you take en route to climax. However, if that journey is taken repeatedly, alone, or in congenial company; if it is a reliable service, with few risks or surprises; it might be that the journey has ceased to be a holiday adventure, and have turned into a humdrum commute.Sex is about much more than reaching the finishing line of orgasm.

Sexual tension is built up by the dance of love, which involves pursuit and retreat, closeness and separation, playfulness and passion. There can be less energy when you can take it for granted that you will get what you want, without trying. You have organised your life so that you have easy access to variety, and you are fortunate enough to be able to give yourself pleasure, so there is no urgency or fear of famine in your sexual world.

If, as a rare treat, you were offered French champagne and Beluga caviar, it would probably be a memorable experience. You would savour every mouthful and be fully engaged with the moment. But, if you could afford to eat nothing else, for every meal you would soon get bored, and lose your appetite. The only reason you would persist would be because it had become a status symbol. Is it possible that you have become overly defined by your lifestyle?

Perhaps you are feeling a little jaded, and need to do something else for a while? Sex is not compulsory. It is all right to withdraw into yourself, or to choose to abstain. It is wonderful that you feel empowered to explore your sexuality, but too intense a pursuit of peak experiences can throw life out of balance. Remember to appreciate all of life’s joys.

 Self-pleasure, in your own bed, is definitely less bother. You do not have to worry about how you look, or your personal hygiene. You are safe from sexually transmitted infections, and hurt feelings. What could be better? Maybe your nourishment could be delivered intravenously, you could wear adult nappies, and orgasms could be no more than the stimulation given to lab rats.

Life is for living, and living means going out, taking risks, having experiences, and interacting with other human beings. Broaden the scope of your interests. Do something different.

Are you able to go away on your own? Put sex on the back burner. Engage your senses with other pleasures – physical activity, reading, listening to music, sightseeing, eating out. Give your sexual synapses a break, and remember what it feels like to do things alone. Give yourself time to miss your partners, to appreciate them, and to experience unresolved desire. You might come back to your life refreshed.

You might also deepen, and broaden, your sex life by investigating Tantra and “sacred sexuality”. This does not involve joining a cult or religion. Rather, it is about learning and practising a variety of techniques that will expand sex to something more profound and life-enhancing than merely having a clitoral spasm. Diana Richardson’s book Tantric Orgasms for Women is a great starting point. Alternatively, if you find experiential learning more effective, check out some of the workshops offered by Martina Hughes at Tantric Blossoming. (

You do not mention your age. If these feelings persist it is possible that you are experiencing a loss of libido caused by hormone imbalances around menopause. If this is a possibility talk to your doctor. There are many ways to deal with such symptoms.

About last night; the power of appreciation 17-02-18

Q: My partner and I love spending time together, and have a great sex life, but it seems like everything I do is never quite right. No matter how much effort I put in, I get no thanks, or a criticism. Last week, I made a surprise romantic dinner, with candles, and my nan’s best tablecloth, and the only comment was, “Don’t spill wine on this cloth”. I would love to hear something appreciative.

A: Each one of us is unique, coming from different backgrounds, having differing experiences, and having different cultural mores. As a result, it is not surprising to find we communicate differently too. We all know that the secret to a successful relationship is effective communication, but we do not always understand what that looks like.

Once we understand what communicates love, and what we do not really care about it becomes easier to empathise with one another. Illustration: Michael Leunig
Once we understand what communicates love, and what we do not really care about it becomes easier to empathise with one another. Illustration: Michael Leunig

In 1995, prominent relationship counsellor Dr Gary Chapman published Five Love Languages. In this groundbreaking book he outlined the five main ways in which people communicate and receive love so you can better understand your partner’s method of communication.

Chapman explains that, “there are basically five emotional love languages – five ways that people speak and understand emotional love. In the field of linguistics a language may have numerous dialects or variations. Similarly, within the five basic emotional love languages, there are many dialects. The important thing is to speak the love language of your spouse.”

These five languages are: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Giving Gifts, spending Quality Time, and Loving Touch.

Sometimes, miscommunication happens when you like to give or receive affection in a different way to your partner. For example, being given a bunch of flowers might leave you cold if you are yearning to be held.

In your case, it could be that your partner shows love by sharing quality time with you, or through loving touch, but you need words of affirmation to feel loved. On the other hand, you might show your love through acts of service, or by giving gifts, but your partner is more receptive to being kissed and cuddled.

Once we understand what communicates love, and what we do not really care about it becomes easier to empathise with one another, and realise where we might be missing something, or what is triggering fights.

I would encourage you both to explore this further by taking Chapman’s online quiz, designed to help you identify your love dialects, and then to tune in to the love you are being given, and modify how you express love so it is fully received (

If you discover you both like one of the languages, that is the one to focus on to maintain your love. When you understand one another’s love languages it makes it much easier to recharge, and top up your “love tanks”, that reservoir of positive emotions that helps us to weather life’s storms. This concept is also helpful in simply expressing your love in the best possible way. Overall, it all comes down to knowing what’s important to people so you can understand, empathise, and work with more effectively.

Although originally formulated to assist in relationships, Chapman’s ideas can also be applied more broadly – in the workplace, with friends, and in general social interactions. Particularly helpful in everyday life is the positive power of expressing appreciation.

It is too easy to take a jaundiced view of life. The orientation of our media, our politics, and of the world of commerce is to focus on faults, mistakes, problems and errors. While it is important to deal with negative issues, it can become a habit to concentrate on what is wrong, and to overlook what is good.

We need to be careful about this as it can foster a negative and suspicious orientation towards life that can diminish our joy, and is disheartening to those who are doing their best.

Consciously choosing to show appreciation, not just complaints, is a practice that will enhance your life. Most of us will lodge a complaint if we have had a negative experience. Take the time to lodge an appreciation if you have enjoyed outstanding customer service, problem resolution, and kindness.