To celebrate my one-year anniversary writing for YouBeauty.com, I thought I’d take a shot at a Q&A column. You’ve asked some great questions on the website, and these questions make for good jumping-off points for a larger discussion of relationship issues.Before I begin, one proviso. Although I am a licensed clinical psychologist, my advice here is not meant to replace that of an experienced professional who can work with you directly on a one-to-one basis. Many of the problems we’ll discuss here are serious and have implications for your mental health, as well as the prosperity of your relationships. I can’t “solve” these relationship issues via the internet; I just don’t have enough information to do that. Instead, my hope is to give advice that might encourage some new thinking about old problems and potentially shed new light on what in these difficult situations. If the issue is very serious, I urge you to seek the help of a licensed psychologist in your community.QUIZ: What’s Your Relationship Style? OK, that’s all for the qualifications. Let’s tackle a a couple problems. Here’s our first (I’ve shortened it a bit), submitted by soak925:
I have been seeing my boyfriend for about eight months now. He has all the check boxes – smart, attractive, good job and a home, however he is fiercely independent. I, on the other hand, tend to be somewhat insecure in (relatively) new relationships.I find myself asking him where he’s been, who he’s been with, which is always interpreted by him that I don’t trust him. There have been some occasions where he has been evasive when those questions are asked. I don’t believe that it is because he was doing anything wrong, but rather that he doesn’t like being checked up on. He answers my questions, but not without a fight. I think he feels like somehow his independence is being threatened if he surrenders to answering me. I’ve tried explaining to him that this sort of reaction actually just perpetuates my insecurity about our relationship, and while I think he’s trying to improve how he reacts to these situations, I don’t think he truly understands how his reactions affect my perception.How do we get to some middle ground? I promised to be more cognizant of “checking up on him.” But how can I get him to understand that it’s going to take time, and that we’re not going to get there if he’s not going to work with me?
An excellent question! Your relationship situation is not at all uncommon. And it illustrates one of the hardest parts of making any relationship work: Each person has their own unique history in relationships, and by the time we’re adults we often have pretty set ways of behaving.Your boyfriend tends to be “fiercely independent” and you tend to be a little more anxious, and when these two tendencies come together, there’s potential for real frustration on both sides.GALLERY: Attachment Styles of Our Favorite Characters I think you’ve handled your situation extremely well. First, you recognize that you’re a little anxious and that you might be over-reacting a bit. You might not be, too, and I’ll get to that point in a minute. Second, you’ve expressed yourself clearly, and you’ve indicated to you boyfriend that if he just responded in a totally straightforward way, your anxiety would go down.I would encourage you to keep going on this front. The “meeting in the middle” strategy you describe is just what you need to do. You can even say something like, “Here’s what I’d like us to do. I want to be less anxious and learn to worry less about us. But I also hope you can see my anxiety and be more open and direct with me. I know my questions bug you, but I am sure the more you can just tell me what’s up, the less I’ll bug you about everything.”The key realization here is that your anxiety and his desire for independence go hand-in-hand. If you push for more, he pulls away more, and this is a vicious cycle that is well-known to couple therapists. It is not your responsibility to simply stop “pushing” him for answers. Instead, it is incumbent on each of you to do your part. To help you stop pushing, he should be more open; to help him be more open, you should stop pushing.MORE: The Secret to a Successful RelationshipIn a general sense, there’s so much to be said for developing an understanding of why your partner feels and behaves as he or she does. In your case, it would be great if your boyfriend could deepen his bond with you by seeing why you become a bit anxious, then trying to be more open because he understands what’s driving your behavior. The same goes true for you: If your boyfriend could explain why he behaves as he does, perhaps your need to check on him would dissipate in time.There is one caveat to this approach. Perhaps your anxiety stems from a legitimate concern. You don’t just want a little more support from him, but you think something is wrong. He’s gone too long; he’s texting someone all the time and goes nuts if you pick up his phone; he seems psychologically absent.There is a true difference between legitimate anxiety about a relationship and misplaced anxiety. Is your concern based on indicators that he might not be that committed, or is your concern simply a reaction to his desire for independence?Our next question comes from anony88, and it’s this:
My bf and I have been together almost 8 months (4 months long distance and 4 months cohabitating). He complains how much more often the sex was while I was away at school and the fact that I initiated a lot. Ever since I started living with him, there has been a noticeable drop in sex. We went from 2-3 times a day in the weekends he would visit to once in 2-3 weeks. I’ve told him several reasons for that (arguments, new BC pill, sleepy, want it at different times of the day, maybe he needs to workout, too routine) but honestly I think I may not be as sexually attracted to him as I once was. I think he’s the most handsome, sweetest, loving man I’ve been with and I want to possibly marry him one day. How often a week is normal to have sex? He wouldn’t be happy in a low-sex marriage. Is it possible to be in a long-term healthy relationship where sex is your only issue?
This is tough question because you clearly love your boyfriend but are also beginning to wonder if you’re just not sexually attracted to him. He wants more sex, but you seem somewhat content with less sex. It’s hard for me to tell if you are actually content with less sex, or if you’ve convinced yourself you could be content with less sex because he’s a good partner on so many other levels.QUIZ: Are You Sexually Satisfied?You also asked what’s normal in terms of how often couples have sex in any given week. I discussed the topic in a recent column that might be of interest. In the column I reported that there’s “no normal” when it comes to sex in a relationship.The average rate of sex for couple in their 20s and 30s is about 12 times per month, but for roughly 68 percent of people, the range is between three and 21 times! That’s a huge range, and it suggests that most people fall somewhere between once a week or so and more than every other day. When it comes to sexual frequency, there is no normal.Unfortunately, however, you’re in a situation where the frequency issue is causing a problem in your relationship. Your boyfriend wants it more, and you’re wondering if any more is even possible. It’s possible that you guys can be quite happy overall while having this “ongoing fight” be about how much sex you each want to have. Even highly satisfied couples have long-term disagreements that never seem to get worked out. For you guys, sex might be just that theme.The key word in that sentence was might. Your lack of sexual motivation might also be a symptom of your declining interest in this relationship. I am not trying to create a problem where one does not exist. Instead, I suggest you entertain and explore all possibilities. Here are a few things to consider:First, you mentioned a bunch of reasons why you’re less interested than in the past. Are these real reasons? What happens if you try to do it at your preferred time of day more often? What happens if you spice it up a bit to make it less routine? Does your desire go up? As I said in my column, sex begets sex, and maybe you’re just fall into a rut that you can fairly easily escape by trying new ideas.Second, what if you do all this and nothing gets better? The key question then will be whether or not you still love him. Can you have a lasting long-term relationship with sex twice a month? Can he? Maybe he can be fine with four to six times a month—would that work for you even if your preferred amount is twice a month? There are lots of ways to figure this out, but my advice is to simply give yourself permission to explore your possibilities to see if you both feel better under a certain set of circumstances.QUIZ: What Kind of Love Are You (or Were You) In? Finally, what if you do all of this, but he doesn’t feel better? Or, he’s always hassling you to have more sex. Is that something you can live with? Is it a tolerable problem? In your explorations to figure this out, did you learn you’re just not that sexually compatible? If your efforts to solve the problem don’t fix the problem and the problem is really intolerable, then ending the relationship becomes a real option. I always advise people to first try to solve their problems, but if this doesn’t work, you might check out another column I’ve written about how to decide when to end your relationship.I’ve only tackled two questions, but we’ve covered so much interesting ground. For those whose questions I couldn’t get to—and those who have more questions to ask—I hope you found this discussion helpful. I wish you all the best for your relationships.