About Last Night: Be patient with yourself and your partner in new sexual relationship 28-10-18

Q: At 46, I am no athlete but I am reasonably fit, although I could lose a few kilos. Since my divorce I’ve had some sexual relationships, with mixed results. Although my ex and I didn’t have a lot of sex, when we did I had no trouble performing, but I’ve been unable to “rise to the occasion” with some recent lovers, even when I find them very attractive. This is embarrassing, and I notice I’ve started to worry about this when sex seems likely. How can I stop this from becoming a real issue?

A: It is not unusual for men over 45 to start to notice some decline in their sexual function. In order to eliminate the possibility of this being a symptom of an underlying health issue, such as vascular disease, it would be a good idea to see your doctor for a thorough health check. If you get the medical all clear you can then focus on other factors that might be contributing to this situation.

You and your ex partner had a relationship that broke down, but you did have the benefit of familiarity and a certain security. Starting new sexual relationships means stepping into unknown territory, which is daunting.

With a new person it is not always easy to be yourself. You want to give a good impression, you want to be able to live up to what you think the woman is expecting, even though she might not be thinking what you imagine.

When the anxiety kicks in take some slow, deep breaths, and bring your attention to your feet. This will bring you back into your body in this moment. You cannot be swept away with passion when your analytical mind is in control, or the “flight or fight” reflex has kicked in.

Men are often goal-oriented, but try not to get fixated on penetration and orgasm. The encounter will be more enjoyable for both of you if you can savour every part of the sensual journey. For many women penetration is not the most pleasurable part of sex.

Few people are athletes, and many of us are sedentary, and overweight. This can negatively affect our mood and our energy levels. Make a point of eating a healthier diet, and take some exercise, even if it is only some brisk walks. This will help with the anxiety, and improve your overall body function. Now is the time to “use it or lose it”.

Your psychological health can also affect your sexual life, so take steps to eliminate your stressors. The divorce process is stressful, and there can be a lot of blame, and much focusing on the other person’s faults. Now is the time to identify, and own, your own failings and issues. If you find this overwhelming, a professional counsellor or therapist might be helpful.

To fully enjoy a sexual relationship you need to communicate with your partner. Most women do not expect a man to be a superhero, and many find that their hearts open to someone who can be honest, and show their vulnerability.

If you are in the habit of masturbating frequently, try abstaining for a while. Too much stimulation from porn and fantasy can be desensitising, leaving you jaded. Allow your sexual energy to build up, and savour experiencing desire.

If you are the sexual partner of someone who is having difficulties, try to be patient and reassuring. Chastising or criticising them will only make things worse. Let them know what attracts you to them. Tell them how good they make you feel. Listen carefully to what they say, without offering suggestions or dismissing their fears. Sex works best when there is trust.

There is a popular misconception that a man gives a woman an orgasm, but you are responsible for your own orgasms. Every woman is different, so you need to know what works for you in order to be able to guide a partner. Practising having orgasms on your own will help you to better understand how your body works.

About Last Night : How do you approach women these days? 14-10-18

Q: Last weekend I was in a crowded cafe when I spotted a woman I know standing at the counter with her back to me, waiting to pay. I placed my hand on her shoulder, and greeted her, but I was taken aback when she responded coldly, and asked me not to touch her without asking permission first. How the hell do you approach women these days?

A: Gender relationships are a minefield at the moment, and you need to tread carefully. You probably felt stung, and defensive in reaction to her response, but getting cross only exacerbates the situation.

Recently, my partner spotted a mate in the supermarket, and wolf-whistled him for a joke. A woman nearby swung around, and he fell over himself, apologising and explaining. She laughed, and said she was disappointed it was not aimed at her, but she could have gone ballistic. No matter how confused you feel, try to stay calm, do not sulk, or take it personally.

The reality is that many women have experienced sexual harassment, and unwanted approaches from men. The #metoo movement has brought the issue to the fore, and people are sensitive. Put yourself in her shoes. You meant to be friendly, but your unexpected touch might have startled her. An assertive woman is not being aggressive.

What is called for, in these uncertain times, is to practise studied courtesy. Even if it seems stilted, and overly formal, it is the safest way to demonstrate your respect. Courtesy originated in mediaeval Europe, and was a system of etiquette and good manners designed to ensure civilised conduct in a royal court. What was new was the way it ensured the respectful treatment of noble women. This was not an early form of feminism. High-born women were the property of men, so the man’s honour was maintained by not preying on their women.

Never assume that your approaches are welcome, even if you want to offer a compliment. By asking, “May I give you a compliment?” you give her the opportunity to accept, or to tell you that she would prefer to be left alone. You cannot know if she is preoccupied, feeling frazzled, unwell, or is in the mood for a bit of peace and quiet.

If she is receptive, think about how you frame that compliment. Saying that she has beautiful eyes could imply that you have the right to decide if she is attractive or not. It is better to say that you love her eyes, or shoes, or whatever, thereby acknowledging that your opinion is subjective. Also, remember that a woman’s friendly, trusting response to your approach does not mean that she wants you to make any other advances.

Imagine a garden you pass everyday in which there is a superb rose bush. Nobody objects to you looking at it, and enjoying the sight as you pass. If a warm breeze wafts its scent your way, enjoy that as well. However, you are unlikely to believe that it is appropriate to unlatch the gate, and walk across the lawn for a closer look, or to pick some of the blooms. Your appreciation of the plant’s beauty does not give you the right to approach it without permission.

This is not just a gender issue. There are a number of situations where we all need to question our entitlement. Do not assume that it is OK to feel a woman’s baby bump, or talk to her child. Ask before you pat someone’s dog, or take a close look at his or her car. Think twice before teasing someone about going bald, or having a beer belly. Never assume your personal observations are acceptable, even if you think that you are “only joking”.

Society used to be hidebound with stultifying formality that made genuine connections difficult. Maybe we have moved too far towards informality, and unconsidered intimacy. Take a step back, and ask permission to engage with others, and, if you are rebuffed, apologise, thank them for their honesty, and move on. You are unlikely to encounter a negative response if you have been courteous and respectful.


About Last Night:Agree on your safe words before you play

Q: Rosie and I enjoy using sex toys with each other as part of foreplay. We’re both experimenting with some larger, more extreme toys, both by themselves and as part of double penetration play. Other than discomfort when it really is too big, are there any risks we should be aware of before insertion?

A: The kind of play you describe can be safe if you apply the mantra ‘‘Safe, Sane, and Consensual’’.

As a rule of thumb, never put anything in your vagina that you would not put in your mouth, so think carefully about what it is you are using. For example, if it is a sex toy, is it made from safe, non-irritating materials? The safest material is medical grade silicone, which is non-porous, does not release chemicals, and is somewhat flexible. Surgical glass, stainless steel, and hard plastic toys are not porous, but must be used carefully to avoid bruising. Never insert normal glass, as there is a risk of it shattering.

Cheaper toys made of latex, vinyl and jelly can absorb bacteria, so ensure they are perfectly well cleaned with toy cleaner, or soap and water, but avoid harsh cleaning agents, as a residue may remain. It can be a good idea to put a condom over such toys to be safe. This is also a good idea if you plan to share toys. Change the condom for each person. If you want to play with other objects, such as vegetables, cover these with a condom as well.

If you are experimenting with larger objects, take it slowly to allow time for muscles to stretch. This is particularly important with anal play, as this area is less flexible, and can be torn. Never go from the anus to the vagina without changing the condom, or thorough cleaning, as there is a great risk of introducing bacteria and getting an infection.

Always use generous amounts of a good quality personal lubricant, especially for the anus, which has no natural lubrication. Keep in mind that cheap lubricants can contain a range of irritating chemicals. High-grade silicone lubes, which stay slippery longer, are great, but they can break down the surface of silicone toys.

Only use toys, or objects, with a flared base for anal play. It is easy for fingers to be slippery, and the muscles can take the object in, requiring an embarrassing trip to A&E.

When engaging in more extreme play, it is important to be in your right mind, so do not get out of it on alcohol, drugs, or prescription medications. If your senses are impaired you can be clumsy, or go too fast. If you are receiving, you might not be aware enough to tell if you are being stretched too far, which could result in an injury. For this reason, also be cautious about using products that claim to numb, or relax, the anal muscles.

You cannot give informed consent if you are out of your head. You need to be able to employ your ‘‘safe words’’, to maintain communication with your partner.

Most people agree on using the colours of the traffic lights in order to communicate quickly and clearly. Agree on your safe words before you play. Green means all is well. Keep checking in to make sure this is still the case, or repeat it regularly to let your partner know how you are. Orange or amber means that you are close to the edge, and need to button back, take a break, or slow down. By respecting an ‘‘orange’’, you will build trust, and be able to stay relaxed.Red means stop now, so the situation can be assessed. It might mean a break is needed, but if it means the end of play, that must be respected, regardless of your disappointment. Stay with the person, and find out what aftercare they might need. Your respect and consideration will make it safe to play again another day.

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ABOUT LAST NIGHT : Anything that promotes equality can only do good

A: Western society is going through a period of cultural change, and all change can seem unsettling, unnecessary, or somewhat forced. It is natural to attempt to resist change, or to feel strong emotions about the changes, but change is inevitable, so it is better to try to understand it, and participate in the debate rather than to be left behind by the relentless tide of history.

I remember the fuss and foment stirred up in the 1980s when women demanded a title that did not define them by their marital status. The fact that you were a Mrs or a Miss said something about you. An elderly Miss might be labelled an old maid. A pregnant Miss was clearly immoral. A Mrs had successfully caught a man, and was a respected member of society, but, until recently, had had to give up her nursing, teaching, or public service job when she married. A Mrs was unavailable, whereas a Mr, who was not required to wear a wedding ring, could choose how he was regarded.

Many people scoffed at the introduction of the title ‘‘Ms’’. It was clunky, and a woman who insisted on it seemed strident. It was ‘‘political correctness gone mad’’. Today, every form offers Ms as a title option and no one bats an eyelid. It has become the new normal.

Now, many people object to being defined by their gender. Some of them may be transgendered, and object to being forced to accept a label that refers to a body they do not identify with. Others object to being defined by their gender the same way that women in the ’80s objected to being defined by their marital status.

This is not a recent phenomenon. In the 19th century, when women were not allowed to go to university, or have a career and remain respectable, they developed strategies in order to be taken seriously. The Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne, first published their writings under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, and Mary Anne Evans is better known to this day as George Eliot. Only when their success was established did they reveal their gender. Another strategy, still employed, is to use only one’s initials, like J.K. Rowling.

Times are less dismissive or hostile to the views of women, but assumptions are still made on the basis of gender. Only recently, a political commentator referred to the women in the ALP as ‘‘dregs’’, while offering great tolerance and respect to men whose behaviour reveals them to be dolts and clowns, or worse.

In the mid-’60s, Sweden proposed the introduction of a gender-neutral pronoun. The idea was revived in the mid ’90s, and the pronoun ‘‘hen’’ was widely adopted in 2010. Subsequent studies revealed that children do better in schools that use a genderneutral pronoun. I agree that ‘‘they’’ can seem forced and unnatural, and it would be wonderful if English could also develop a better substitute.

A change of this kind has no real effect on most people, but it can mean a lot to some. Anything that promotes equality, inclusion and recognition can only do good, and does not warrant an angry, outraged reaction from individuals, and the media.

Now, why are the buttons and zips on different sides in menswear and women’s clothes?

About Last Night: I think my partner’s priorities are wrong

Q: Josh is a great guy, but he’s too involved in fixing other people’s problems. I often spend hours of the weekend on my own while he helps someone move a bed, walks a sick friend’s dog, battles with the council for a neighbour, and so on. He does try to fix problems for me as well, but I think he should focus on us as a couple, and spend more of his time and energy helping me to deal with my anxiety and insecurity. Surely that’s how a couple should operate?

A: Not really. In fact both of you could be displaying symptoms of what Mark Manson, author of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F…, calls ‘‘entitlement’’, something that many of us suffer from in Western society.

Psychologists in the 1960s observed that people performed better when they felt good about themselves. By the ‘70s, self-esteem practices were being taught to parents, and the education system had introduced feel-good strategies like grade inflation, participation awards, and meaningless trophies so that everyone could feel like a winner. We were all encouraged to believe that we are special and extraordinary. No one was prepared to be mediocre or ordinary.

But Manson believes that feeling good about yourself means nothing unless it is with good reason. Otherwise, you become entitled and delusional. ‘‘Adversity and failure are actually useful, and even necessary for developing strong-minded and successful adults … a true and accurate measurement of self worth is how you feel about your negative aspects.’’

Entitled people need to feel good about themselves all the time. As a result, they are always thinking about themselves, in pursuit of that high. The result is selfishness and narcissism.

An entitled person believes that good things happen to them because they are amazing, and bad things mean they are being victimised. Some people flip between both, depending on their mood, but Manson says that both are manifestations of innate selfishness.

He encourages people to understand the difference between blame and responsibility. Another person might be to blame for stealing your car park, or telling lies about you, but you are responsible for your reaction to any situation.

When it comes to relationships, these patterns of thinking can become toxic. Manson says: ‘‘Unhealthy love is based on two people trying to escape their problems through their emotions for each other … healthy love is based on two people acknowledging and addressing their own problems, with each other’s support.’’

It is healthy for there to be clear boundaries between people and their values, with each person taking responsibility for their own values and problems and not taking responsibility for the other’s values and problems.

In toxic relationships there can be a rescuer, who takes responsibility for the other’s problems, and/or a victim who expects their partner to take responsibility for how they feel. One lights fires to get attention and feel special, the other puts out fires for the same reason.

In a healthy relationship each person owns their own issues, and encourages their partner to do the same, while offering loving support. Neither feels an obligation either way. They act because they care. They seek their own solutions. In this way each person, and the relationship, will grow stronger and deeper. In your situation, you would be wise to get professional help to tackle your anxiety and insecurity. Meanwhile, Josh might do well to ask himself if his focus on saving others is a way to avoid tackling his own problems.

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About Last Night : Fake it till you make it – how to survive a relationship break-up 2-9-18

Q: Paul and I have been together for two years. We’ve broken up a few times, but always get back together. Now he’s met someone else, and wants to break up for good. I know it’s for the best, but it hurts so much. I keep thinking about being close to him, and can’t believe I’ll never experience that again. I keep checking out his Facebook page, calling him just to hear his voicemail message, and generally tormenting myself. Help!

A: When any intimate relationship ends it is painful. When that connection is broken it feels like a door has closed and it is difficult to accept that you will never inhabit that space again. To escape this painful reality, many couples go into a make up/break up cycle. Each reunion is a buzz on one level, but eventually, you need to let go, so that you can find new love.

The end of a relationship is like little death, and we go through all the stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. The difference is that you can also keep exhuming the corpse and sending yourself back to step one.

There is a biochemical reason for this pain. When activity is monitored, we see areas of the brain associated with addiction light up. This can cause obsessive preoccupation with the lover, desperation, guilt, and physical pain.

Processing grief takes time. A fresh wound hurts, until a scab forms to protect it.

Relationship therapist Sheri Meyers believes it is important to take a holistic approach to this process, one that addresses the mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual aspects of being.

It is tempting to self-medicate your pain away with alcohol, drugs, or comfort eating, but doing this for too long will only make you feel worse. Instead, Meyers suggests meditation or yoga, or simply being quiet for a while.

Apart from the occasional break out, she recommends that you make a point of eating well and showing self-love by looking after yourself, and nurturing, rather than abusing, your body.

Get plenty of sleep. This can be hard when your brain is churning with painful thoughts, but alcohol or chemically induced sleep is not quality sleep, so practise allowing thoughts and scenarios to come and go without engaging with them.

Exercise is great for lifting your mood, so resist the urge to retreat under the doona. Go for a walk, go to the gym, play a sport, go out dancing, and release those endorphins.

Be kind to yourself, and allow yourself to cry, feel angry, or sad. Trying to suppress your feelings is not helpful, and will either prolong the pain, or create other bad feelings such as guilt or self-loathing.

Try to have fun. Accept invitations, go to a day spa, take the kids to the beach, catch a movie … You might not feel like it at first, but fake it till you make it. Do not isolate yourself. Rather, surround yourself with people who love you. Whether it be your bestie, your family, or a club you belong to, it will do you good to be surrounded by smiles, hugs, and affection.

Your biggest challenge is to escape from your obsessive thoughts. Meyers offers a strategy to help you with this.

“The best way to do it is to say, ‘Stop!’. If the thoughts won’t stop, then say, ‘No! Stop now!‘. If they persist, then continue, ‘Enough! No more! Stop!

“Saying ‘Stop!‘ interrupts the obsessive thought process and breaks the cycle of pain. Immediately, redirect your thoughts away to something good that is happening in your life.”

She also suggests taking “60-second vacations”. Like any addiction, when a craving hits, do something else for one minute. Usually, that pang will pass while you are distracted.

Finally, heal your spirit. Meyers says the best tools for this are gratitude, and service to others. You have been in a place where you have been dwelling on what is bad in your life. Write a list of everything for which you are grateful to get some perspective, and turning your thoughts to the needs of others stops you focusing on yourself.


About Last Night: Build your resilience to help when you feel like giving up 16-9-18

Q: We’re thinking about starting a family. My partner worries, can’t cope when things don’t go to plan, and overreacts to minor situations. I’m not sure how we are going to go with the stress of a baby.

A: New parenthood is challenging for the most confident couple, and can expose fatal flaws in a relationship. In preparation you both need to build resilience. Some think this means being tough, or hard, and have little patience with sensitive, emotional reactions.

The dictionary offers two definitions of resilience: 1. the power or ability to return to the original form or position after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity; and 2. ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyancy.

So, being resilient involves becoming more like memory foam than like a rock.

Bad things, many of them unfair, happen to even the wealthiest people. Some emerge from dreadful circumstances, and go on to have full, rich lives. Others cannot cope with the smallest setback, or frustration. However, anyone can learn to build resilience if they are willing to work at it. In her article “Building Resilience” (, British psychologist and counsellor Jane Collingwood explains how. She says that the secret lies in how you think about problems.

“It’s a way of behaving and thinking that anyone can learn. Essentially, it involves an openness to finding your way through a situation and the determination not to see yourself as a victim … try to manage your emotions by reacting to setbacks with grace, humour, strength and optimism.”

When a problem arises, take some time to think it through, and find the best solution, then make yourself take one step towards solving it.

Turn to others for support. “Simply describing the situation to someone else can help by putting your feelings into words and making it a logical sequence. You may even come up with new solutions as you are describing it.”

Try to keep things in perspective. Remind yourself of all that is good in your life. Take a break to do something fun. Try to see the funny side of things. Imagine yourself, having pulled through with grace and courage, telling this as an anecdote one day. Then, when it is over, look back on what you learned, and what good has come of it.

“This ability to look back on tough times and see how you survived, rather than focusing on how you suffered, is a crucial factor in developing resilience.”

Even close relationships can fail when confronted with a major trauma such as a house fire, or the death of a child. We need to build resilience in the good times.

“Resilient relationships not only survive struggle and adversity, they grow stronger.”

To achieve this, keep the channels of emotional communication open so that it feels natural to share feelings under pressure.

“Look for solutions rather than complaining, or blaming. Find a positive step to take even if you feel like giving up. Don’t let a bad response crush you, just keep on trying while listening to your judgment.”

Take responsibility for your emotional reactions, Collingwood says. “Shouting or being aggressive because you’re feeling stressed won’t improve the situation. Resilient relationships are those in which both partners make an effort to stay calm under pressure.”

Take an approach to life whereby you seek out new experiences and keep a wide group of friends. Withdrawing, and isolating yourself will not protect you, but it will make you less able to deal with problems.

Practise expressing love and appreciation in actions, as well as words. When times get tough a kind act can make all the difference.

“Success and happiness largely are determined by how we choose to respond to events,” Collingwood says. “Life is a hard teacher; it sends the test first and the lesson afterward. So whenever possible, learn from other people’s mistakes and observe the ways they overcome them. Having developed the skills of resilience you will be able to transform hardship into challenge and opportunity, and be an inspiration to others.”


About Last Night: Is it possible to reclaim passion and desire? 09-09-18

A: This is my most frequently asked question. Almost all couples find that desire flags over time. The honeymoon ends, and responsibilities, work pressures, money worries, and tiredness, combine to burst the romantic bubble. To understand why this happens I suggest that you read Dr Ester Perel’s groundbreaking book, Mating in Captivity.

This process can be reversed, but both of you need to be willing to address this together in order to enjoy a fulfilling relationship in the long term.

I do not believe that the answer lies in “spicing things up”, or reigniting a flame. That implies that the answer is to be found outside of the relationship.

The commercial sex industry offers to sell you “spice” and “sauce” in the form of pornography, sex toys, fluffy handcuffs, chocolate body sauce , and lingerie. These can all be a lot of fun, but buying props will not facilitate real change, or help you to connect in your intimate life.

Sexual pleasure and fulfillment are both possible, and desirable, but genuine sexual satisfaction does not come from titillation alone, but instead, nourishes the whole person.

The brain is the most powerful erogenous zone, and the heart transforms copulation into love-making.

Sex-positive educator and facilitator, Roger Butler, is passionate about helping people access their authentic sexual selves, and to achieve true sexual satisfaction. Almost five years ago he founded Curious Creatures as a vehicle to further these aims. (

To quote their mission statement, Curious Creatures “believe in sexual empowerment, self-development, community, consent, and communication”.

They pursue these aims by running workshops, producing a podcast, hosting events, speaking publicly, and writing about topics close to their hearts.

Butler says that the downturn in your intimacy can be reversed, but there is no quick fix. “To do so takes some level of time and investment … you’re going to need to talk about things, and set aside some academic learning time to relearn each other’s (and your own) bodies.”

His workshop, Fun Little Sex Games, is designed specifically, to support people in long-term relationships who are seeking to reinvigorate their sex life.

Butler asks, “Why fumble around with intimate contact and hope for the best, when you could be having exactly what you want, at precisely the level you want it?”

This four-hour workshop presents half-a-dozen deceptively simple practices to add some structure and assist with the process. “You can either view your situation as the end of your sex-life, or as an opportunity for new forms of intimacy to become a part of things. This might include sex as you know it, but it may also include some new and untraditional ways of connecting intimately with your partner, too.”

The workshop teaches how to recognise what you want, understand your boundaries, communicate all of this to a partner, get better at dropping fully into “giving” or “receiving” mode, and embed consent and negotiation into your sex-life “in a way that reflects your brand of sexy”.

The first step is for you and Julie to talk. Talking about sex can be difficult, so you need to be brave. Speak your truth; respectfully listen to Julie’s truth; and see if you share common ground. If you are both committed to doing whatever it takes to have the best relationship possible, you can then decide how to proceed.

Would you enjoy doing a workshop together? Are their issues getting in the way that need to be resolved? Do you think that it would be helpful to begin by getting some professional relationship counselling or sex therapy?

Only the two of you can know what will work best for you, but whatever path you choose, know that it is possible to reclaim passion and desire. For many couples, doing this work results in them enjoying the best sex of their lives.


Happy World Sexual Health day 04-09-2018

Our thanks to Jodie Dunne for the tip,

Happy world Sexual Health Day, women’s health week, gynaecological cancer awareness month. A big month for women’s health awareness.


In 2010, the World Association for Sexual Health (WAS) called all their organisations to celebrate, on each September 4th, World Sexual Health Day in an effort to promote a greater social awareness on sexual health across the globe. The first World Sexual Health Day was celebrated with the slogan “Let’s talk about it!” to start breaking fears and taboos surrounding sexuality.

World Sexual Health Day has been celebrated in 35 countries with a wide range of activities from Round Tables of Discussion to Conferences and Art Exhibitions. Country organizers have taken WSHD activities to schools, media, hospitals, libraries, universities, public squares, art halls, theatre groups, etc. WAS wants to ensure that sexual health issues are discussed everywhere! Past topics of World Sexual Health Day are:

  • 2017 “Love, bonding and intimacy, a possibility for all”
  • 2016 “Sexual Health: Eliminating the Myths”
  • 2015 “Sexual Health for a fairer society”
  • 2014 “Sexual health: The well-being of sexuality”
  • 2013 “To achieve sexual health, picture yourself owning your sexual rights!”
  • 2012 “In a diverse world, sexual health for all!”
  • 2011 “Youth’s sexual health: Shared rights and responsibilities.”
  • 2010 “Let’s talk about it!”

The three words that could keep your relationship alive 26-08-18

Q: My partner and I have a great life, and a terrific family, but it feels like something’s missing. We both rush around with work, kids’ activities, and our own clubs and hobbies. We rarely fight, but we also rarely connect as a couple. Sometimes it seems like we live parallel lives, and I’m not sure what we would do if we were left alone for any length of time. How can we revive our relationship?

A: When a couple falls in love they are inseparable. They cannot keep their hands off each other, talk late into the night, pine when apart and often close out the wider world. This intense period of being in love is called “limerance”, and it is not sustainable. It is the buzz people chase when they indulge in serial monogamy, but familiarity and the practical realities of daily life inevitably burst the bubble.

This is exacerbated when children come along. The baby takes first priority, followed by the need to build material security for the family. Life is less glamorous, with candlelit dinners and walks on the beach being replaced by sleepless nights, dirty nappies, and money worries.

The danger is that the couple rapidly lose touch. Little resentments about things like the division of labour, or leaving the top off the toothpaste, can start to fester. One or both partners can lose their libido, loving touch becomes increasingly infrequent, and the couple cease to be lovers, and become colleagues, their relationship, an obligation. Left unaddressed, this can mark the death of any romantic connection, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness. Ultimately, they are left with nothing to look forward to once the children leave home.

Dr Mark Holder, of the University of British Columbia, is head of a research team studying happiness. He outlines some their findings in a TedTalk, “The Three Words That Can Change Your Life”. (

He is critical of what he sees as a negative bias in contemporary psychology practice, using a quote from the father of psychotherapy, Dr Sigmund Freud, to illustrate his criticism: “Much has been gained if we take your hysterical misery and turn it into common unhappiness.”

He says that modern psychology focuses on “deficit, disease, and dysfunction … on working out what is wrong with you, and how to fix it”. His dictionary of psychology has, he notes, 18 definitions of depression, but not one of happiness.

Holder advocates a new school of thought known as “Positive Psychology”, which aims to “work out what is right with you, and how to promote it”.

The truth is that, globally, happiness is common, not unhappiness. His research team has discovered a common denominator among people who are happy – they have strong, high-quality relationships. Children with friends are happier, even when those friends are imaginary. People struggling to cope with the effects of an acquired brain injury were happier if they had good relationships. On the other hand, psychopaths, who cannot relate to the feelings of others, are not happy.

Significantly, “when it comes to long-term, romantic relationships, it has been found that the best predictor of happiness is the happiness of one’s partner”.

There is only one way to find out how happy your partner is, and that is to ask them, and, more importantly, to listen to their answer. Holder explains that listening is not just about taking in information. Listening is an act of love that validates the speaker. Therefore, the three words that could change your life are: “Tell me more.”

This lets your partner know that their story matters to you. Reinforce this by following up with the words: “What happened next?”

It is powerfully therapeutic to feel truly heard, knowing that your partner is not itching to say their piece; will not interrupt, be dismissive, offer solutions, or be judgmental.

Begin by talking to your partner, and see if you can agree, as a matter of priority, to take some quality time for yourselves, no matter how busy you are. This is a great example to give to your children, reinforcing, as it does, that your relationship matters.