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Now displaying: January, 2019
Jan 29, 2019

What does monogamy mean to you and your partner? Sometimes a couple will have a different definition of what monogamy is and that miscommunication can lead to problems in your relationship and today we’re talking about that and a whole lot more. This week, our guest is Dr. Tammy Nelson, she is an AASECT certified Sex Therapist, and she's also a Licensed Psychotherapist, with almost 30 years of experience working with individuals and couples. Tammy, also offers training for therapists who are working with couples around these issues is the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. Her work will help you heal and rebuild if you've experienced betrayal in your relationship, and it will also help strengthen your bond if you're simply looking to create an even more robust version of monogamy that really works for you, and your partner.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!



Visit Tammy Nelson’s website to learn more about her work.

Pick up your copy of Tammy Nelson’s book, The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity

FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)

Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Tammy Nelson.

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out




Neil Sattin: Hello, and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Recently in episode 167, we talked about how to keep assumptions from eroding your relationship, it's crucial for you to take all those implicit ideas about what it means to be in partnership, the things you're assuming that you and your partner agree on, and to make them explicit, actual conversations and agreements that you share with your partner. And there's no place where this matters more than in defining what monogamy actually means to each of you. It turns out that there are a lot of nuances to something that on its surface, sounds as simple as forsaking all others, and if you don't take the time to talk about it, those assumptions and nuances can spell trouble for your relationship.

Neil Sattin: On the flip side, if you do talk about it, there's a ton of energy that it can create for you. That energy is the energy of being in integrity, diving into truly uncover your deep truths about what you want and what monogamy means to you, and what it also means to your partner and what your partner's deep truths are, and then living in that truth with each other. Sometimes though, before you have a chance to do that, some sort of betrayal happens in your relationship, where either your implicit or explicit agreements get violated. Today, we're not only going to be talking about how to help you create the version of monogamy that truly works for you in your relationship, but we're also going to talk about how to heal from an affair, and how having infidelity rock your relationship can actually create an opportunity for an even deeper, more rich connection with your partner, if you're willing to do the work.

Neil Sattin: Today's guest, Dr. Tammy Nelson, is the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity. She's also the author of Getting the Sex You Want. Tammy Nelson is an AASECT certified Sex Therapist, and she's also a Licensed Psychotherapist, with almost 30 years of experience working with individuals and couples. Tammy, also offers trainings for therapists who are working with couples around these issues. Her work will help you heal and rebuild if you've experienced betrayal in your relationship, and it will also help strengthen your bond if you're simply looking to create an even more robust version of monogamy that really works for you, and your partner. As usual, we will have a detailed transcript for today's episode, just visit, T-A-M-M-Y to download it. Or you can text the word Passion to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. Tammy Nelson, thank you so much for joining us today, here on Relationship Alive.

Tammy Nelson: Thanks, Neil. Thanks so much for having me.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, it's a total pleasure to have you here. And I have to say that, as I was reading The New Monogamy, I couldn't help but think, wow, imagine the power if a couple went through all of these exercises around defining monogamy when they were first committing to each other.


Tammy Nelson: Yeah, I agree. Or at any point in the relationship. I always find it fascinating that we renew our driver's license every two years, but we have this assumption that we can go on like a one-time promise at the beginning of our relationship, around whatever our monogamy agreement is and that's supposed to last forever. It's kind of like saying, "Well, I told you I loved you when I married you, so I'll let you know if I change my mind." And that should suffice. [laughter]

Neil Sattin: Right. And clearly, it doesn't. Clearly, it doesn't.

Tammy Nelson: Clearly.

Neil Sattin: We're growing as people the entire time, hopefully, that we're with our partners, and that growth necessitates being willing to talk to each other about what's changing, what's developing and how that's impacting how we're showing up in the relationship.

Tammy Nelson: Oh, absolutely. And our relationships themselves develop over time. So, we go through our early phase of romantic love. And then you basically go into the power struggle of your relationship, which lasts forever, for the rest of your marriage, or the rest of your committed partnership, and that's totally normal.

Tammy Nelson: What isn't so common is for people to understand that there is a new conversation that happens in every phase of your development as a person, but also as your relationship develops. If you make a commitment to each other during your romantic phase, that's going to be different than maybe you have kids and the kids are little, or when the kids get older or when the kids leave for college. Or when you go through what I call your own second adolescence, which is usually a time in middle age, when we get really interested in our sexuality again, and we're a little insecure about our bodies, but we're super interested in this new individuation phase, where we kind of redo our adolescence and we want to sort of do over the things that we might have not gotten right in the first adolescence, but now we're grown-ups. [chuckle] And all those times when we want to have a conversation even well into our 80s and 90s, with Levitra and Viagra and Cialis and even joint replacements, there's an expectation that we're going to be sexual for the rest of our lives, and either we're going to do it together or we're going to find a way to figure that out for ourselves.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And let's just get it all out on the table right now as well. When you're talking about the new monogamy, and I like this because here on the show, we've talked a lot about how we're having relationships in ways that are different than how our parents did or how our grandparents did. And generally, when we talk about that, what we mean is we know so much more about how to be successful in monogamous relationships. So the way that societal and cultural norms kind of kept the boat steady for prior generations except that in many cases it didn't and it actually failed those people, at least that was the case with my parents. Then, right now we're talking about new ways of being really intentional about the relationships that we get into  so that we're prepared for the storms that may come our way. But that being said, on top of that I think in this book, you're adding the additional possibility here that monogamy may be evolving into something totally new and it's a way of entering that conversation. Can you talk a little bit more about that?

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. I agree with it. And I really believe that with the hundreds and hundreds of couples that I've seen and the people that I've talked to all over the globe, it's not just America, I think because we're all living such long lives. It used to be, 200 years ago, we live to be an average of 38 years old and you were married like maybe 15 years. By the time you got bored, you were dead.


Tammy Nelson: And so now, you're supposed to live with the same person for a half a century or more, and only desire that person, which is virtually impossible. 98% of us have fantasies of someone other than our spouse, which pretty much means everyone except my husband.


Tammy Nelson: And I think that monogamy has developed into something that has to sort of keep up with our new lifestyle, and yet we're still going on this old idea that we were living on 200 years ago, that monogamy means certain things, and if we get it wrong, then we fail. And so there's a lot of shame around and guilt around, around marriage and around divorce and around infidelity and pornography and all the ways that we've kinda tried to cope with this long stretch of relationship life. And so now, I think people are creating new and more unique ways to not just cope, but to create sustainable and more healthy and joyful relationships. And so they're realizing they can't do it the way their parents did it or their grandparents did it because it's not going to work for them. And they don't necessarily want to get divorced and they don't necessarily want to cheat, they don't want to lie, they don't want to be dishonest. I really think that the way to have a sustainable relationship is to live in some kind of integrity because we're not necessarily faithful to another person. We're faithful to our own values.

Tammy Nelson: And so, that's true for everyone. And so if your value is to live in some kind of integrity, which basically means I want to feel like I can keep my promises, like, I'm not going to lie, I'm going to be a good person, whatever that is, for me. Then we have to redefine what it means to be living in integrity, and integrity, basically means I have to align myself with what it means to be faithful, and if being faithful to my own values means we have to create a conversation around what our values are so that we're not constantly disappointing each other, then monogamy has to look like a conversation, an agreement where we create that definition. It's not the definition of the past because we're going to fail at that. 50% of people get divorced, more than that cheat, so statistically it's bad odds.


Neil Sattin: Right. And what I love about your book, The New monogamy, is that it has some really great questions and it also coaches you the reader on a dialogue process for navigating those questions. But it has some great questions that help tease apart all these different aspects of what it means to be committed, what it means to be faithful so that you can know yourself and your partner way better than you would if you were just assuming that you knew the answers to these questions. And through doing that, I think it's really crucial in order to bring yourself into the kind of alignment and integrity that you're talking about right now.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. And I think that those questions and the answers may change over time, which is why they get to revisit it, but I think just asking each other those questions and talking about your own answers, creates this really nice intimacy. Intimacy is like into me see, like how transparent can we be with each other around what we truly want, because we can pretend to the that this is all we want, we're just going to live together until we die, and we'll never think about anyone else and never want anybody else, and never want anything else, and you're perfect just the way you are. And then live this other compartmentalized life with our real desires and our real fantasies, and never feel like we're living in integrity, never feel like we're integrated as a person. Never feel like we could be totally transparent with our partner about who we are.

Tammy Nelson: And I'm not saying that you're going to always want to be with someone else and that you should be in an open marriage, although for some people that might be true, but for other people it might just be; I really want to have lunch with my co-workers every week, and be able to talk about whatever I want without feeling like you're always worried I'm in an emotional affair. Or I want to have a private masturbatory life and not feel like I'm keeping it a secret. Some people walk in on their partner masturbating to porn and feel like you're cheating on me and the other person feels like, are you kidding? I've been doing this since I was 10. This is my life.

Neil Sattin: Right, right.

Tammy Nelson: And those are conversations that should be included in your monogamy agreement.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. Well, in that there are so many things that are really interesting to me, and I'm not quite sure where to go next.


Neil Sattin: But alright. So let's dive in here. First, one thing that I just felt for myself is like, wow, what a risk to take a topic like infidelity and to combine that with this idea that... Well, maybe one thing that we need to start talking about is loosening our definition of monogamy. And I think that for someone who is really still in a lot of pain from a betrayal, that might be a challenging thing to wrap their brain around at that moment. So how do you guide people into seeing; yes, you're dealing with a major trauma right now, and all that that requires. And then like... But on the other side of that, hopefully, you can experience that this is potentially a real breakthrough moment for your conversation about your relationship and what's actually possible.

Neil Sattin: And I just want to say, too, for people listening, even on the other end of that, it could be an agreement that we are... I'm not implying that on the other side of that is an open relationship of some sort, where one or both people now have permission to sleep with other people, and so now you're not cheating magically because we have this agreement. That could be there, but you could end up in a space where, no, actually we've gotten really clear on how we just want to be with each other and end up there. So, I'm curious for you, how do you navigate the tenderness, around this, is a major trauma and there are some bigger pieces going on here, that are important for you to be thinking about.

Tammy Nelson: Well, there's three phases of recovery after an affair. So there is the crisis phase, which is, as you said, a very tender time of, where there's been disclosure or discovery and people are quite distraught, and the person who finds out about the affair is always lagging, behind because the other person who had the affair has known about it for a while. It's going to take a while for that person to catch up and whose just finding out, and the trains are on different tracks and one person's always ahead in the recovery process. A lot has to be decided in that time, about how that is going to be worked through. But you don't have to decide if you're going to stay or go during that time, that's not the time to decide if you're going to make things work. Because eventually, you do... If you go into therapy and you read the book and you really want to work through to the next phase which is like the insight phase.

Tammy Nelson: The insight phase is where you figure out, how did this happen? And what is this affair or what does this infidelity mean about us, and how did we get here? And you know you're in that phase when you say things like, "This affair happened to us," instead of, "You did this to me." And you don't blame the victim. It's not like, "I know I deserve this. I made you do this to me." But it is a shared experience with some curiosity about the meaning of the affair. And then you go into the third phase, when you've done a lot of discovery and then you decide, are we going to make this work? But I'll be honest, you can never go back to the marriage or the committed partnership that you had before the affair because that monogamy is over. People know when they have an affair, you don't fall into bed with somebody. You know when you cross that line that you're breaking your monogamy agreement, so you have to draw a line in the sand and say, "Okay that's over. We can't go back to that." If you try to go back, it's going to happen again.

Tammy Nelson: And so, you both have to grieve that this was not the vision we had of how this relationship was going to turn out. And then, and only then, do you decide okay we could have a new monogamy together or we could break up and do it with someone else. But if we're going to do it together, it can't look like the old monogamy, because that didn't work. So our only choice is to discover together what we want going forward in this new relationship, and it's gotta be something that you agree on together. You may not agree on every single point, and certainly, an open marriage is not an excuse to continue an affair. So you might want to start with small things like, is it okay to send pictures of ourselves to our friends on social media? How much should you text? And should you share each other's passwords? And there's a lot of steps in between fantasizing and open marriage. Monogamy is a continuum. And so there's a lot of things that have to happen before you have that ultimate conversation about whether or not you even want a new monogamy together.

Neil Sattin: Tammy, before we continue, I have to go meta for a moment because I'm noticing a lot of that scratchy sound again.

Tammy Nelson: Oh okay.

Neil Sattin: And I'm just wondering if we can figure out quickly... Okay, so diving back in.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: I appreciate that you broke it out into these separate phases, and it would seem like when you're in that tender spot at the beginning, that's a time when you're trying to shore up the safety of a couple so that the immediate danger is not there. So that probably wouldn't be a good time for the affair person; the person who had the affair to say, "Well maybe we should just have an open relationship, and then what I did won't be considered cheating anymore."


Neil Sattin: What are some ways to help couples, once they've never navigated the tenderness phase, to develop that understanding that you're talking about? Because that does seem so crucial for both people to understand each other, and to start to get that sense of how they co-created the dynamic that led to one or both people having an affair?

Tammy Nelson: Well, I think in that first phase of the crisis, one of the biggest struggles that people have, is not so much safety but trust. Because what happens is you kind of get to this place where you realize I'm never ever going to be safe with this other person again. You go from this naïvety about love being, I'm never going be hurt by this person to realizing that that risk of being in a grown-up relationship is knowing that another person could always hurt you, and choosing to love them anyway. And that's painful.

Tammy Nelson: And knowing that relationships are a choice, knowing that you're going to get hurt because that's what love is. And that knowing also that trust is not about trusting the other person. Trust is about now learning to trust your own intuition, again. Because most people aren't really mad at the other person so much as they're mad at themselves. How could I have trusted you? How could I not have known? How could I have ignored my intuition? Why didn't I listen to my inner voice or I did listen to my inner voice, but I chose to ignore it because it was easier for me because the kids were little or it was more convenient, or I didn't want to believe that about myself, that I would actually stay with someone who was cheating on me. There's a lot that happens in the damage to your own belief and your intuition, and you have to learn the difference between your intuition and your fear.

Tammy Nelson: And that's a turning point when people put the onus on themselves and realize, you can jump through all the hoops I set for you. You have to come home at a certain time. You have to give me your password. I have to have access to your email, you have to tell me you love me 10 times a day. You have to tell me all the details of what happened. We have to have these conversations three times a day. People can do that but it doesn't change the level of trust, because the trust issue is internal. And once people can shift that onus onto themselves, then they're ready to move into that insight phase where they can talk about perhaps what was happening before the affair.

Neil Sattin: Great, great. And before we go there then, I love how you brought that up. It was something that really struck me in your book, is that distinction between whether you're experiencing your intuition or your fear, and how much our fear can be misinterpreted as intuition because that primal part of our brain is trying to protect us from some pain.

Tammy Nelson: Exactly. Exactly.

Neil Sattin: Perhaps could you offer our listeners a way that they could maybe start to discern between the two, fear versus intuition?

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. I think it's such an important part for everyone to discover in themselves. Part of an affair is it's not so much about the affair partner; with all due respect to the third party, but it's who you become when you're in that affair. You discover this whole other part of yourself, that you long for or that you miss or that you want to discover and... But I think one of the things we don't talk about too much, is that the person who has been cheated on also discovers a part of themselves. When the affair has been disclosed and they're going through the pain of the recovery, they discover a new part of themselves, and one of those parts of themselves is a deeper understanding, a deeper listening, a deeper mindfulness or awareness of what is going on inside? Of what fears do they have. And being able to really listen closely to that inner voice that says, "What do you mean you're coming home late? Does that mean you're still cheating on me or does that mean you're just nervous to tell me you're coming home late and that's why you sound weird?" To really discover that part of yourself, that has that inner strength to know that you will always be able to trust yourself, you will always be able to listen to that voice and be able to discern. And that integrity, that integration of those parts of yourself, means that you will always feel strong, regardless of whether or not that other person lives in integrity, and that is a huge shift.

Neil Sattin: So what are some signs that you're in your knowing versus being in your fear?

Tammy Nelson: I think that's a shift into the second phase, which is recognizing your stories, the stories you make up. So one of the exercises I have couples do is talk about the story I make up about the affair and what it meant about me, and the story I make up about what the affair meant about you, and the story I make up about what the affair meant about us. And I have both partners or if there are more than two partners in the office, I have everyone talk about those stories that they make up, and I certainly have stories about what the affair meant as well, as the therapist. But once people can talk about those stories and what they mean. They're always connected to our own childhood, our own beliefs about ourselves, our own fears. And when you do that, you start to see that your story is totally different than your partner's story.

Tammy Nelson: For instance, I had a couple today, where she said that the story she made up, about his affair... He had an affair with another man. And she said, "Well, obviously it means you're gay, and you're never going to want to have sex with me, again, and I've never made you happy." And the story he made up was, "I'm just a very sexually curious person, and I don't identify as gay, maybe I'm bi, maybe I'm just curious, but what I make up about me is that maybe I won't ever be satisfied. But I still love you and I consider you my partner."

Tammy Nelson: And she said, the story she made up, about what it meant about her is that, she went back to a time in her childhood where she was never good enough, her parents criticized her perpetually, she didn't play the violin well enough, she didn't get good enough grades, she didn't clean the kitchen well enough, and it was like the story again about she would never be good enough. She would never compete with a man. And so once again she was never good enough. And he said the story he made up about what it meant about her, was that she was so loving and so caring about him as a person, that she was allowing him to have this freedom to explore who he was, and that's not what had happened to him as a child. He wanted to play sports and his parents wanted him to go to science camp. And he said he never felt so in love with her. And she just fell apart. She just bawled in the office and cried because, for her, she didn't see it as a sign of their love. She saw it as a sign of her inadequacy. And so they could have a... Whether either of those stories was true or not, is irrelevant. The fact that it opened a conversation and a dialogue between them, that can last for weeks or months.

Neil Sattin: Right. And you talk about and encourage people to have regular dialogues, where they're structuring it in imago dialogue fashion. And we did have hard and have Harville Hendrix and Helen Lakelly Hunt on the show, back in episode 22 to talk about the imago process. So we don't have to go into that here. Though, I will say that one thing that's really great about your book among many things, is that you offer some great prompts for those structured dialogues, that help people get at the nuances of what was going on when an affair happened, and the stories that people were telling themselves about themselves and about each other in those moments.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah, thanks. I think it's easier sometimes to have a little bit of structure. Otherwise, we go down a rabbit hole with our stories. Well, you didn't love me, you just did this to hurt me. You don't care about me. You are a narcissist. You didn't pay enough attention to me. We didn't have good enough sex. All those old stories of critical voices and inadequacies and our own self-hatred basically. Instead of approaching it with a little bit of curiosity, and being able to really hear each other, which is hard.

Neil Sattin: Right. And the Imago dialogues, more or less force you to do that.


Neil Sattin: To really actually hear the other person and do your best to understand them. One thing that stood out for me in terms of that discerning between fear and knowing that you talked about in the book, was that when you're in your intuition, when you have a truth, and you have people go through a process, it's like a mindfulness process of getting really quiet, and then putting a question into that quiet space to see what arises. And you talk about if you're in your fear, you'll actually feel fear, like signs of fear happening in your body, whereas when you're in your knowing, that brings with it a sense of calmness. Or when I went through it myself, I experienced it as more like a solidity, that I would have called it almost the antidote to fear for myself. Yeah.

Tammy Nelson: I think that's very true. I think most of us spend a lot of our time in our heads. If you're an analytical person or an intellectual person, that sort of can be a defense against your feelings. If you feel an intense emotional reaction to something, sometimes you'll go into your head, but underneath your head and all those monkey brain kind of thoughts are perhaps real feelings, and then underneath the feelings, if the feelings are overwhelming, is your intuition. So all those places are telling you something. Your thoughts, you have a story, and then you have your emotions, and then under that much deeper are the things that you actually know. And sometimes we can't hear them because our feelings or our head is too loud. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah. The question that popped up for me when you were talking about how often we did know or we may have known that something was going on, or something that wasn't right, is something that we use in our relationship and with our clients, it's, "What do you know that you're pretending not to know?" Which hopefully helps people unearth those layers of like, "Oh yeah, beneath all of that, if I'm willing to let myself go there, this is what I actually know to be true."

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. That's a great one. That's really important.

Neil Sattin: Now, there was something that I found a little confusing and I'm hoping that you can clear it up for me. I love that you talk about exits, and that's a topic that's come up on the show several times. And how people... How we have these strategies that take us away from our partners, away from intimacy, away from our vulnerability. And then I think where it gets confusing, is as we think about what it is that we want and what it is that we desire, and particularly where this circles back onto the conversation, of, "Well maybe I desire to have some freedom in this relationship to be with other people. How do you discern the difference between something being an exit versus... Oh, that would actually be a healthy choice for me and for us, in our relationship.

Tammy Nelson: I think that's a good question. I think there's a difference between being conflict avoidant and living in your own truth. Your honesty is like your true north. So, that's different than turning around and walking north to avoid your conflict in your relationship.


Tammy Nelson: So we all do things to avoid what's uncomfortable. Some people are more conflict avoidant than others. Some people are more minimizers or more withholders like they'd create space around themselves, to avoid conflict because they don't want to fight, and that makes total sense. That makes good sense, particularly if you've had a background where there's been a lot of fighting. And other people are pursuers and they're maximizers, and they get loud or more intense and pursue their partner because they feel abandoned, they feel like you're not listening to me, you're not hearing me, you're not taking my feeling seriously. And so that's the thing that sets up that pursuer-distancer relationship.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Tammy Nelson: But even pursuers have exits, they have ways of avoiding real intimacy and real transparency. And for most couples, it's really hard to sit, to sit with the uncomfortable stuff, to sit and be true. The longer you're together, you would think it would be easier to share what you really want, to share your true fantasies, your true desires to say, "Let's try something new." You think it'd be easier because you're more comfortable, you're safer. But just because you're safer doesn't mean you trust each other. You actually have more to lose the longer you're together, so you might feel like it's harder to take risks, to start making changes because you don't want to disrupt the safety of your relationship, you don't want your partner to change their feelings about you. And one of the things that shut down in a long term relationship is curiosity. We put our partners in a box and we're like, "Yeah, I know them, I know what they like. They wouldn't be into that and there's no way they could take it and they're too jealous, or they don't like that kind of sex, or they couldn't handle it if we did that." That kind of boxing your partner in is the opposite of love. We fall in love with someone when they're curious about us. When they say, "Oh tell me about you and what do you like and where did you go to school and what turns you on?" And I mean that's why we go to therapy.


Tammy Nelson: So someone is curious about us for an hour. But that's also why we end up having affairs because we meet someone who is curious about us and we get sucked into that attention and it feels really good in the beginning. It's really exciting.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. I think that's helping me focus this question a little bit more, which is how do you know as you are entertaining thoughts of like, "Oh, maybe we should be entertaining thoughts of other people on some level, maybe that would be good for us or maybe that's my true north." Yeah, I'm having trouble articulating this. I'm holding that up against the notion that, let's say, if we're going to be in a closed monogamous situation, so it's just you and me forever, which is, I think, at least implicitly, what most people are choosing when they're choosing to be monogamous with someone. And they may find after they've gone through the questionnaire in your book, like, "Oh there's actually more nuances to that than I thought." So I invite you, listening to go through the questions in the questionnaire. They're very insightful and evocative. However, choosing closed monogamy is a difficult predicament, that brings with it the questions of how are we going to handle the inevitable humanity that exists in us when we are attracted to another person. And I think where the line gets blurry, is someone might think, "Oh, well, this is because, and there are certainly some people and authors who are making this argument, this is because monogamy is a bad choice. Like closed monogamy is just stupid."

Neil Sattin: "And what we should really be doing is figuring out how to be safe with each other, while we allow ourselves to be human and experience other people." Other people might say, "Well, that's part of the whole project." As soon as you're entertaining other people then you are potentially jeopardizing the whole safety of your container with your relationship and that can create huge problems for your deepening intimacy. And I'm not monogamous relationship. So it's really the higher level question of, yeah, how do we know what's right for us in the middle of that? because there it seems like there's no right answer really.

Tammy Nelson: Well, I think it's a great question and I think that it goes to this idea of some researchers who say that we're not born to be monogamous. Humans biologically are not really monogamous. And I would argue that fact and say, we're not born knowing how to eat with a fork either.


Tammy Nelson: But we can learn. We are higher primates and we have a prefrontal cortex, we can choose. And that's the fundamental issue, is that you have a choice and so yes, you can choose any kind of monogamy you want. And the issue is that you have to choose it every day like it doesn't just happen with a one-time decision, it's a choice that you make every day and you might have to modify. But it is something that you choose and give to your partner. It's a commitment, it's like a sacred commitment like yoga or meditation, that you give to yourself because it's something you value if you value the freedom to choose and be with different people. Because that to you helps you express different parts of yourself, then you're never going to feel good about your partner or yourself if you don't do that, and that's a different choice. And you have to honor that choice. But one of the ways you can figure that out, and I can tell you the secret to having that conversation with your partner, is you're never going to change your sex life, or your relationship life, by saying, "I hate it when you go to the left," you say, "I really love it when you go to the right."

Tammy Nelson: And because the secret to the universe is you always get more of what you appreciate. Our tendency is to point out what's not working, and to criticize our partner or criticize the structure of our relationship, or to go to therapy and say, "Just change them and we'll be fine." And the idea is to really point out what is working, what you do appreciate, what you do like, what you want more of. So to expand on what's already working, and then, and only then, talk about what you want to try. Because if you start off saying, "Look, I think we should open our relationship," it automatically creates a fear in your partner if they are not on the same track. And even if they are on the same track, the threat that it might create for someone who isn't normally in that same mode as you happens because it creates a hole in the implicit assumptions that you've already made. But if you start off with; I really love the times that we can joke together about how attracted we are to other people, I really love the times that we've been able to watch pornography together, instead of hiding it. I really love the times when I've seen you dance with other people, it's really exciting for me. To be able to share some of the ways that you've already done it in maybe simple ways that were good for your relationship.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And you talk about how appreciation is even one of the key areas that you need to address in terms of what may have caused an affair to happen in the first place. The kind of communication that was happening in a relationship, the kinds of appreciations that were being shared, and then, of course, the question of what was happening in the bedroom with you as a couple.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah. I think we have to go beyond this idea of forgiveness as the goal after an affair, and you really have to work on erotic recovery or else that another person is still going to be in bed with you like this is an erotic injury. And so you have to work on a new erotic life together. If you don't, then you're both going to feel somewhat disappointed and stuck, and there's no impetus to making a new relationship between you work. You need some kind of a new vision for what this new relationship between you is going to be. And if it's not hot and sexy then you're not going to be excited about it.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. So take us on the first step or two of erotic recovery and what's required for a couple who has gotten through the crisis phase, has developed some understanding of what led to what happened, have explored these questions of creating a new vision and what's okay and what isn't, and really gone deep on that. So now they're really communicating with each other about what they're looking for and understanding each other better. Yeah, how do we take that further into erotic recovery?

Tammy Nelson: Well, what I would tell all my clients, and all your listeners, is to create a sex date once a week. And to do it the same time every week, same day and to show up whether you feel like it or not, whether you're mad at each other, whether there's something better on Netflix, whether you have a headache or you ate too much, or you feel gassy or you drank too much wine. And you show up, say, it's every Thursday night, at 9 o'clock, and you show up and you light the candles and you turn on the music and you create an intimate erotic date. You don't have to have intercourse. It doesn't have to be any specific kind of sex, depending on if you're same-sex or trans-sex or whatever, that kind of specificity is not necessary. But the idea is to have something that's a sacred dedicated time to your erotic life. All the other time of the week can be for your companionship, it could be like; who's walking the dog and who's picking up the pizza, and who's paying the mortgage. But there is something truly important and sacred about your erotic life that makes you feel like you're in love. All the other time is about loving each other and caring and supporting. But if you don't have that erotic time, you're not going to feel in love. And a lot of people react by, "But that's not spontaneous."

Tammy Nelson: And I want to say, you can be as spontaneous as you want, if you plan it, even when you were dating, you kind of planned it, you knew when you were going to see each other, and you wore nice underwear and you shaved and you... It was a plan.

Neil Sattin: Right.

Tammy Nelson: I think what people are worried about is it's not going to be impulsive. And if you want to come home and sweep the dishes off the kitchen table and say, "Take me now", then do it, but still keep your Thursday night at 9 o'clock, as something that's like your sacred practice for each other. And then you can practice other things during that time but if you don't have that commitment, then when are you going to commit?

Neil Sattin: And this is a great example of why I think the process in The New Monogamy is so helpful for anyone, even if you're not recovering from infidelity, going through the process of figuring out who you really are, what you really want, who your partner is, greater understanding. And having a regular date-night where you're there in the bedroom, or maybe occasionally in the kitchen or wherever.

Neil Sattin: That how important that is to just be prioritizing feeding that energy into your relationship.

Tammy Nelson: Exactly.

Neil Sattin: So yeah. So whether you're recovering from infidelity or not, I think that's such a valuable practice. And you do outline in the book, like six week, six weeks of erotic nights once a week, and kind of a step-by-step that takes people through an experience that I think would alleviate some of the pressure of what we're showing up and now what we're supposed to have sex with each other, like, what do we do? Yeah. So maybe could you talk about that a moment? And then we probably gotta go.

Tammy Nelson: Yeah sure. And if your listeners want me to send them a protocol for like six weeks of sex dates, I'm happy to do that, if they want to contact me directly.

Neil Sattin: Awesome.

Tammy Nelson: because the six weeks of erotic dates I think is important, particularly for people who haven't had sex for a while, or are finding it difficult to get back into or really need some time to remember and re-integrate what it means to really receive pleasure and to give pleasure. That it's not about getting to the finish line, which is usually the male orgasm and if you can't get there we'll give you a pill, which I have nothing against. But the idea is to redefine what intimacy means and to remember what it feels like to experience pleasure with this other person at the moment, to be really mindful about it and to also change what it feels like. Because there's a lot of stuff that gets stuck in your habits and patterns around sex and your communication, that you definitely have to change. So you don't get triggered by thoughts around an affair or boredom, or the story that you make up. We're creating a new story. And so you can do that over six weeks, with these exercises, and at the end, things will be different. It's absolutely possible.

Neil Sattin: Great. So people should reach out to you through your website, which is...

Tammy Nelson:

Neil Sattin: Great. And we will have links to that in our transcript. So for those of you who don't remember that, you can just check out the transcript. Which again, you can download at T-A-M-M-Y or by texting the word Passion to the number 33444. Tammy Nelson, thank you so much for your time, your wisdom and I think your optimism about what we're capable of, and I really appreciate your being here with us today to share your strategies on how to build stronger and more modern monogamous connections.

Tammy Nelson: Thanks, Neil, I really had fun with you, I appreciate being on your show.

Neil Sattin: You are most welcome.

Jan 22, 2019

How is resentment affecting your relationship? Are you holding onto something from the past, or is there something that occurs again and again in your relationship that you just can’t get over? Or do you feel that your partner resents you for something, and you’re not sure how to resolve things? In this episode, we’re going to talk about how to heal the resentments that may have built up in your relationship. You’ll learn what parts of the process require collaboration, and which parts of the process you can work on yourself. How your boundaries can help keep you from harboring resentment in the first place. In the end, my goal for you is for you to experience what it’s like to live resentment-free and to take your power back in the places where resentment is keeping you from showing up with love, compassion, and generosity in your relationship.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Along with our amazing listener supporters (you know who you are – thank you!), this week’s episode is being sponsored by an amazing company. is a USDA certified organic company, with a wide variety of meal plans to make having healthier food easy and convenient for you. And they’re offering you $50 off your first box to give them a try! Just visit and use the coupon code “ALIVE” at checkout for $50 off, and enjoy the delicious recipes and fresh ingredients that GreenChef sends your way.


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Jan 14, 2019

Have you ever felt stuck, within yourself or within your relationship? Have you felt the effects of depression or anxiety as a result? You may know that intimacy is important - but today we’re going to show you how intimacy can help you heal your traumas and attachment injuries - so that you can get unstuck. This week, our guest is Diana Fosha, PhD, the developer of AEDP (Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy), a healing-based, transformation-oriented model of psychotherapeutic treatment. Diana Fosha is the Founder and Director of the AEDP Institute, and the author of The Transforming Power of Affect: A Model for Accelerated Change. Diana shares how she creates intimacy in a therapeutic setting and how that intimacy and safety helps clients make huge transformations in terms of their experience of their own lives.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. You know, intimacy is a powerful thing, super powerful. It brings us together with our partners and enables us to achieve more than we would be able to on our own. And yet sometimes we get stuck and things don't flow quite so well. And that could be a stuck-ness that happens in our relatedness, in our relationship with our partner, or it could be more like an inner stuck-ness, where you feel like you're not being quite as effective as you'd want to be in your life, or you feel the effects of depression or anxiety; the kinds of things that hold you back where you know that you might not be shining your brightest.

Neil Sattin: And yet intimacy has this amazing transformative power in how it gives us access to these deeper parts of ourselves. And I'm bringing this up because today's guest is a master of creating intimacy in a therapeutic setting, in a way that helps clients make huge changes in terms of their experience of their own lives. The name of her therapeutic modality is AEDP, or Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy. Now that sounds like a mouthful. It is a mouthful, but what you are going to discover in today's episode is just how simple it can be to effect profound transformation, all through harnessing who we innately are as humans, as feeling creatures.

Neil Sattin: And I know we're called homo sapiens, we are people who know, but I believe that it's also important to acknowledge how we feel and that our feelings, as many illustrious people before me have noted, are part of what has allowed us to adapt to our world in ways that are beneficial to our survival and also to our enjoyment of life and living. So today's guest is none other than Dr. Diana Fosha who, along with being the creator of AEDP is also the author of The Transforming Power of Affect: A Model for Accelerated Change. And her modality uses attachment science, interpersonal neurobiology, to help therapists, again, create amazing changes, or facilitate amazing changes in their clients. And I think there's also a lot that's useful just for us to learn here about how we operate as people, that we can take into our lives and into our relationships in order to enhance our experience. And we're even going to talk about that process of enhancing our experience in today's conversation. So I think that's it from me, along with just mentioning that if you want a detailed transcript of today's conversation you can visit, F-O-S-H-A, which is Diana's last name. Or as always you can text the word "Passion" to the number 33444 and follow the instructions. I think that's it, so Diana Fosha, thank you so much for being here with us today on Relationship Alive.

Diana Fosha: Such a pleasure to be in conversation with you Neil. Thank you so much for the invitation.

Neil Sattin: You are most welcome. And I hope I encapsulated everything in a way that... That makes sense, but we are of course going to dive in a little more deeply and help everyone understand what AEDP is all about.

Diana Fosha: You are absolutely did a stellar job, and it's actually a wonderful thing to sort of hear my work sort of mirrored and condensed in that way, so I think we're off to a good start.

Neil Sattin: Excellent, excellent. Well, to condense it and mirror it even further, because I've had people ask me, "What is that?", and "What's that big book you're reading?", because I've been carrying around The Transforming Power of Affect with me for probably the better part of the past month, and "Who is this person?" And the way that I've explained it to them is that by creating safety in the therapeutic setting, so a therapist creating enough safety so that you can experience the core emotions that contain within them the power to transform your experience.

Diana Fosha: That's great, what shall we do for the rest of the hour? [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Well, let's talk about how we get there. And maybe you could start by talking about your stand, because it's clearly super important to you that a therapist be able to participate actively with their clients, as opposed to what I think we tend to think of with our therapist, which is that they're more passive or receptive, or maybe they validate, but they're not necessarily down there in the trenches with us.

Diana Fosha: Right. And I'd be happy to talk about that. And I want to sort of just take one step back to sort of... To the... Another what I think of as really essential aspect of the model, and then we'll go to the stance and then get more deeply into it. And what I want to say is that, in addition to the safety that you talked about, in terms of the safety to really have people feel safe to come forth with their experience and who they are and then process those emotions, I would say that the most sort of core, core, core, fundamental assumption is that healing resides within us, that it's there from the get-go, side by side with the suffering, the stuck-ness that you talked about in your introduction, what have you, trauma, depression, difficulties in relationships, whatever it is that brings people to therapy and accounts for their not being fulfilled or shining as brightly, again, as you sort of said it in your introduction, that side by side with that, always, there's a capacity for healing that's just absolutely wired into us.

Diana Fosha: And I think that's just something that's the guide, and an assumption that actually allows me to sort of sit with whoever I'm working with, just in a confident or comfortable way, that what they need is already... So much of it is so deeply within them, if we can just bring it forth. So with that, as I was going to say it in the background, but it's not in the background, with that as a foundation, I think that my stance as a therapist, is about creating a relationship, that the safety really comes from the fact that we actually are two people in the room and acting in that way. And that I consider myself part of this healing diet that my patient and I formed together, and that my experience and my responses, not just my thoughts and not just my words, are really part and parcel of what we're co-creating, that allows the person, hopefully, to start to feel safe from very, very early on, at the beginning.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, you speak very eloquently in your book about the importance even of, right from the beginning, of the first session, to be creating that context of safety and being in it... Co-creating the process.

Diana Fosha: Yes. I really spend a lot of time... I do a lot of training of therapists, and one of the things that I like to talk to them about is that the first session is sacred and it's sacred in one very, very particular way, it's the only encounter that we will ever have that has no history, that we're creating history in that first meeting, we've come to it with no history of each other, even by the second session, we already have an established way of being, not that it can't change, not that it can't be altered, I don't mean that, it's not fixed, but it's history. Whereas in the first session, you have this unique opportunity to define the relationship in particular terms, so that I think it's incredibly important. So that in AEDP, the first session is not really so much devoted to, "Tell me where you were born," and, "How many people are in your family?" and, "How many therapies, did you have?" that kind of history taking, which, of course, is important, because it captures information. But that information is there for the acquiring in the second session or in the seventh session, or in writing, or by a million different ways. But this unique interaction between us, where we're sort of creating something together for the first time, it's a unique opportunity; so therapy really starts from the very, very first moment of that very first encounter.

Neil Sattin: It reminds me of a first date. And sometimes that can be a degree of pressure that people don't really like. But it's really true that before that moment, you don't have any idea about that person, or do they of you. And what I really like is that you're honoring the fact that you're creating a relationship by going to see a therapist.

Diana Fosha: Exactly. Exactly. And in a way... And I like the first date analogy, it's a little bit easier in some ways, in that there's one person who's sort of in charge [chuckle] So it's not both people, sort of in one way it is and it one way it isn't there, that's why we have roles, and that's why you're going to see a therapist. But it has some of that unknown and potential and excitement, as well as terrifying aspect; being vulnerable with a total stranger who, by the second meeting, will not be a stranger anymore.

Neil Sattin: Right. And one thing that really... Of the many. There are so many things that actually stood out for me about your work, but it was this idea of how so much of our suffering and pain comes from having experiences that occur in isolation, where we feel like we can't share them with another person, or there's something wrong with us and we have no way of really checking that out because, again, it's all happening inside us. And so the power of bringing an acknowledgement to every experience with an AEDP therapist of, "You're not alone. What you just went through right here with me, do you see how we were in this together?"

Diana Fosha: I think that it's so crucial, and of course, it's implicit in any relationship, or in any therapeutic relationship. Yet the strange thing is that merely by being with another person, whether in conversation or in relationship, does not necessarily automatically translate into not feeling alone. And actually, I think, one of the most painful ways of feeling alone is feeling alone in the presence of other people. So that... One of the things that I'm very, very, very conscious of is to actually explore together with the person that I'm working with, who I'm working with, what their experience is of are being together; if it feels like we're being together, and if they feel accompanied.

Diana Fosha: If they are aware, that as they're sharing something, or saying something, or feeling something, or not thinking something, and saying it out loud, it's actually being registered by another human who's there with them. And that's... To actually be able to have that experience of not feeling alone as you're going through something, is just very powerful and potentially very therapeutic, in and of, of itself. Because I think, as you've said, so much of what becomes our suffering or various forms of it, really has something to do with our aloneness, and either the fact that there's nobody that we can share it with, or the fact that we're experiencing something that absolutely overwhelms our resources, that were we there with somebody else.

Diana Fosha: The trauma was... Would be as horrible, that our capacity to bear it or deal with it would be quite different. There's very, very interesting research that shows that for people who are in combat, if they have a buddy that they're going through the combat experience with, their chances of getting PTSD are significantly reduced, and that kind of finding is present in many, many other settings. Another... Just to mention one other, and sorry, because you were about to say something, there's also a similar kind of research that during World War II there were all these kids who were orphaned as their parents were taken to concentration camps and they were actually in a therapeutic home school run by Anna Freud and this other woman named Dorothy Burlingham, and they studied these orphans. And what they found out is that, again, with those kids who had somebody they were close to, a sibling, or a friend, or somebody really whom they felt bonded, were much less traumatized by these most devastating of experiences that they were going through, and this actually influenced the therapy.

Neil Sattin: What I was going to say is... What was striking me in that moment was how we're here to talk about relationships, and it's always such a big irony when things start to get a little uncomfortable in relationship, how, theoretically, you're there with another person, but you can feel so alone. And I think that that's part of what we're trying to overcome when there are issues in a couple, is to remember that they are also there for each other, they're on the same team, they are each other's buddy, which hopefully helps them survive without too much trauma that they're inflicting upon each other from that stuck place.

Diana Fosha: Exactly. Exactly. And of course, that so many couples who come to therapy are in a couple, but the difficulties have been such that they have been feeling very alone. So that's really the paradox, that if we're just able to sort of recognize that presence and share enough of ourselves that the other person also feels us, we've already done something very significant.

Neil Sattin: Can we talk for a moment about what is it about this model that... Where does the healing take place? And in particular, I'm thinking about the difference between our core affective emotions and other things that come out as more like our defenses, our defensive strategies.

Diana Fosha: Yeah, the healing... God. There are many opportunities for it and there are many aspects of AEDP that are experienced as healing, we're actually in the process of doing some empirical research into the model, and to do so we needed to create some scales to measure that the therapy is actually happening in some fashion related to how we say it should be happening. And we created a scale to measure change processes, and there are nine, and there could have been more. But I'll try to be... [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: But I'll try to actually reduce it and condense it, even from the nine. I think that sometimes what we have been talking about, which is the experience of having one's alone-ness undone and feeling seen or feeling cared about, or just validated or understood, that in and of itself can be so profoundly transformative, not in and of itself and not forever, but those kinds of moments have tremendous power, so I think that's one piece. I think the other that you were beginning to talk about, which is that when we can't process, we can't fully process or express them, feel them, express them and do something about our emotions, either because they're overwhelming or because we're in environments where our core emotions are met with criticism or with ridicule or what have you, we do develop these kinds of protective strategies and... Which work beautifully in the short term; you don't get hurt, and you don't get shamed, and you don't get overwhelmed.

Diana Fosha: But over time, by relying on them, they sort of... They form almost like a crust, a... Or a shell over our hearts and ourselves. And they become sort of like the I who we present to the world, and that person is not authentic or is not our true authentic self, so that just in being able to break through or let go of those protective mechanisms that protect us but also limit us, and have the courage to be vulnerable and touch our emotions, and start to experience them and express them and process them with another person, is another huge transformative opportunity, particularly because those emotions are wired into us to help us. I mean that's why they survived over so many eons and eons of evolution, they're really good for us, even though they're difficult. So that's the second piece.

Diana Fosha: And then, I think I've said... So that's sort of three. [chuckle] And I'll mention one other, which I'm sure we'll end up talking about a little more, which is that in AEDP, in the kind of work that goes by that name, we do something very, very specific that, to my knowledge, is not done by any other therapeutic model, or it's not done systematically in any case, which is this. That any time there's a moment of change for the better, be it big or small, in a given session, we start to focus on the experience of that change, the experience of that moment of transformation. And we've discovered something really cool, which is that when you do that, the experience and the process of change or of transformation grows, and that in and of itself, is a huge source of transformative potential.

Neil Sattin: Right. The power of focusing on what's going right versus always being focused on what's going wrong. And as soon as you fix something, "Well, let's move on to the next wrong thing," as opposed to...

Diana Fosha: Exactly, like, "Okay, now we did that, it feels better. Excellent. Let's tackle the next thing." [chuckle] Which is reasonable enough, except that there's this other thing that can happen, that when we stay with a positive, when we stay with this thing that has just changed, and just gotten better or that feels right, these amazing, cool things happen when we do that.

Neil Sattin: Like what? [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: Like that feeling of something right growing, and it grows in a way that we can feel it in our bodies, literally, that we start to feel our chests expanding, or we start to feel this kind of streaming of alive-ness; so that's one aspect of it. And another aspect of it is that one feeling of something feeling right or good leads to another; pride can lead to calm, which can, in turn, can lead to joy. It varies from moment to moment and from person to person, but all of a sudden it's like you start with a little nugget and it just... Or you start with a seed, there are so many metaphors. And if you sort of nurture this particular seed, it just blossoms, right? We have this term, "flourishing," and I think that's, for me, one of the coolest things about the therapy, which is that people come in because they're suffering and they want their suffering relieved, and that's certainly a fundamental aim of the work, but it doesn't stop at relieving suffering, it continues, sort of organically, seamlessly, moves into also creating flourishing, this kind of from little seeds of growth or little seeds of change, and letting them flower.

Neil Sattin: Right. And it makes an intuitive sense to me. And I'm reminded of, I can't remember who said it, but someone said something about how you get rid of darkness by shining the light brighter and... But not by taking away the darkness, and... So it makes me think of that, that the more you amplify the flourishing and allow that to grow organically, and that brings up a question for me, but the more that you do that, the less room there is for the shadow, the dysfunction, to be there and to be a problem.

Diana Fosha: I think that's true. I think that's true. Yeah.

Neil Sattin: So the question, the question was, and I do want to go back to core affective emotions, but before we do, what are some ways... because I don't know about you, but I've been in situations where someone has shone a spotlight on how good a time we're all having and it's actually doesn't amplified, in fact, it feels almost inauthentic, or like that person is somehow kind of removed from the moment instead of actually they're participating in it with all of us, so what are the qualities of shining a light on positive change, or on a moment of goodness that actually help create resonance?

Diana Fosha: Right. No, I think that's excellent. So first of all, it has to come from within the individual who's doing the experience. In other words, it's not the therapist who says, "Gee whizz, look at that, isn't that great?" Which can evoke very much, or elicit very much exactly what you're saying while, actually, it actually isn't. You think it may be, but I'm actually sitting here feeling embarrassed, or it's evoking a lot of discomfort in me, or whatever it is. And so that we're always attuning to the experience, the internal experience, so that it's not that it looks like it feels right, it's the person, him or herself, who's really... So that, for instance, if I said, "What's that like for you?" Then the person will say, "Wow, I am really, really aware in this moment that this discomfort that I walk around with usually, is just not here. It's crazy, but it's really not here." I had this woman, and I'm thinking of her as I'm saying this, and I can hear her words sort of echoing for me, that she kept saying, "This is so weird. It's good, but it's so weird." [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: Right? Because the actual experience of not having the depression, or not having the uptight-ness, it's nice, but if that's what you're used to, and like if you're wearing a tight shirt and you've just worn that tight shirt all the time, it's so nice to take it off, but it's also so strange, if that's what you're use to. So we're just... That's what we're processing, we're processing the person's very sort of granular and very specific experience. And as to your point, it's not just a linear process that one good thing leads to another, it can very often lead to another defense or another block or all of a sudden self-consciousness or embarrassment or anxiety. I mean it can go one thing... I'm sort of theoretically talking about what can happen and often does. But sometimes we're as uncomfortable and as embarrassed when we're feeling positive things, they feel exposing. Alright, so then there's another round of work, be it with protective mechanisms or shame or other traumatic issues that can be brought forth by the positive emotions. So it's not like the A leads to B leads to C leads to D. It's very... The process is very individual and the safety isn't staying very connected to what each person's experience really is. And welcoming it, welcoming it whether it's good or whether it's difficult.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. And one thing that, in what you just said, that really stood out for me, even just in my initial question was, that it wasn't so much a declaration about, "Isn't this amazing what just happened?" It was more like a recognition that something is happening right now, and the question like, "What's your experience of this that's happening right now?"

Diana Fosha: Right, what's this like for you?

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah, which I mean I'm just even thinking in terms of our day-to-day lives, the number of times that we make assumptions about what's going on in our partner's worlds, versus just asking, "What's going on for you right now, what's your... What's this like for you, that we're experiencing right now?"

Diana Fosha: And may I add? And also listening. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Diana Fosha: Right. It's asking the question, knowing to ask the question and not assume and then really listening to what the other person has to say, because our experiences are so specific to us, and those assumptions so often turn out to be surprisingly not true for the other person.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah. And that's so much I think about what excited me in reading more and more about AEDP. And, you know, actually I was like looking are there any AEDP therapists in Maine. There aren't many actually, which is where I am. But I definitely want to experience it. Because again for me, I'm experiencing this more on a gut level that the power of being held that way in a therapeutic setting of being accepted, of having someone see me of being... Having someone there with me, and allowing me to get at whatever I haven't been able to quite get at before, and where my defensive structures and protective structures might be getting in the way of me just doing something simple like getting my to-do list done in an organized way.

Diana Fosha: Yes, and I [chuckle] think I need to try to see if we can...

Neil Sattin: Right, hook me up, Diana.

Diana Fosha: Absolutely, absolutely. I'm doing the match-making. And we do have a therapist directory. But I appreciate what you're saying, it's a powerful thing.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and so let's talk a little bit more about...because we've been generalizing about particular kinds of emotional experiences that contain within it a lot of resource. It's resource for how we show up in the world, how we show up with our partners, how we fuel creative endeavors, but they're not... It's not all... It's not all joy, right? There are other emotions there that are important in terms of their power for us.

Diana Fosha: Yes. Yes. Absolutely, all of the emotions, and there are really two that come to mind that I might want to just mention, because we tend to... Or people often avoid them, and one has to do with grief, and the other is anger. And I think there's just a... There's something about grief which is intrinsically painful, grief and sadness about losses and disappointments, and...

Neil Sattin: Right, you even talk about how that can... And this... I read this and I was like, "Yes, of course," how that can come up in a therapeutic setting where something great has just happened, and then, rather than that feeling amazing, you can feel this overwhelming sense of grief for all the missed opportunities or times you didn't feel that when you were younger, and how important it is to be nurtured through an experience of grief or mourning around those losses.

Diana Fosha: Exactly. Exactly. And to just recognize that actually, particularly if we're not alone and we're supported and that grief can be witnessed as we're feeling it; actually something very, very important happens, that in going through it and going through the process of mourning or feeling our sadness or grief, there's actually... When we come out the other side, there's a tremendous feeling of relief, and... I can feel it sort of as I'm saying it, that I almost feel my chest expanding and I feel... I feel my heart and all of this kind of energy is not going into containing something but actually feeling it. It's almost like you see a movie or a play that's deeply emotional, and you're crying, and then you come out, and there's an openness that comes in the wake of the grief, whether it's perspective or acceptance, but there's just something about... Our organism needs to mourn when we have those losses, and that's part of what psychic health really is. And when we just reflexively tighten up not so as not to feel it, we're putting all our energy into containing something that's natural; it's difficult but very profound and important.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Something that feels important here is how all of these deep emotions, when you experience them, you get to metabolize them, and I think that's not always clear to us that...because grief... The prospect of mourning something important, the loss of a relationship or a loved one, or a friend, or an opportunity, it can feel like, "Well, how will that... How will going through that pain help me?" so I'm going to, instead, I'm going to just pretend I'm okay, or like I got over it.

Diana Fosha: Right. Right. Right. And it's sort of... That's what I mean, that these are very sort of powerful wired-in emotions, we have them; people all over the world, regardless of culture, experience grief and anger and sadness, and fear and joy; these are just sort of wired into us, and they're also wired into mammals. They're very, very powerful experiences, and if we don't fight them and we experience them, and metabolize them, then we're able to really come to terms with whatever these experiences are that evoked them and realize things. So I'll tell you something... A story comes to mind of work that I did many, many, many years ago, pretty early in my career, when I was working with a man whose father had died when he was a young boy, and he was left very alone with that experience. There was the belief in his family that he was too young, and therefore, nobody talked to him about it, I think under the good intentions of saving him pain; again, misguided intentions.

Diana Fosha: He wasn't allowed to go to the funeral, so he was really... And by the time I met him several decades later, that wasn't the only thing, of course, but that was a major aspect. So he was a very numb person, he was very numb and dissociative and so on and so forth, and quite, quite distant and disconnected from his feelings, and he couldn't have... It manifested in his not really being able to have intimacy in his relationships. So after some time, we were finally able to make our way back to the little boy, he was seven or nine or so, I think, when his dad died, and he really was able to feel the grief and the fear of those early experiences, I think, for... Really for the first time, or one of the first times, certainly first time with somebody, and it was really, really deep sobs and deep pain. And I just have it as clear as if it had happened a week ago, or yesterday, of his weeping and the wave of tears ending, and his sort of breathing deeply and looking at me and starting to sort of calm, and his saying, "I have to go sit at the grave of my father," which he had never done.

Neil Sattin: Wow.

Diana Fosha: And that there was something about the power of that moment, of that knowing of what he needed to do, that only came after he went through this deep grieving.

Neil Sattin: I'm feeling really moved by that, just imagining that person's experience and the power of that, and it makes me wonder how do we know if we're safe enough to go there? Is it a knowing or is it more like a deeper knowing where... I'm not even sure I'm articulating this question well, but I'm thinking about how often we end up in relationship because the dopamine and oxytocin and that potent cocktail, that... Of bio-chemicals that we get to experience when we're together, it gives us that illusion of safety, and often there's even the sense of like, "I can tell this person anything," or, "They see me more deeply than anyone ever does." And then part of the reckoning that comes later is trying to establish true safety, and I'm just wondering, yeah, how do we... If our goal is to really foster that safety where we are allowed to go to those deep levels of experience and come out the other side metabolizing them, what... Yeah, how do we know that we have that?

Diana Fosha: You don't mean just in a therapeutic relationship, you mean really in the relationships that we have?

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah.

Diana Fosha: Right?

Neil Sattin: Right, because so many of us are trying to heal attachment wounds, right? And especially with our partners.

Diana Fosha: Right. Right. I think a couple of things sort of come to mind in response to that, I think we... That's how we gain experience, is that sense of when we go to those deep places, how the person that we're with is able to respond and they can listen and empathize and be there with each time one of these things happen in small ways or large ways, I think that increases our sense of safety and vice versa, that sort of heavy cocktail that you're talking about of early days and... You know and then being willing to be really, really vulnerable to only discover that that person then sort of shuts down or disappears or gets critical or... Right?

Diana Fosha: So, but then, which are... They're both very not unusual experiences, and I think the learning and the intimacy is forged through caring about getting better at it and repairing and owning our mistakes and trying again and being willing to risk again, because I think what's... And that takes me back to what I said at the beginning about the healing within, the great big assistant all of that is that while we want to feel safe and need to feel safe and we spend so much effort protecting ourselves, there's another way in which we want to be known, we want to... We also, much as that gentleman I was talking about had spent 40 years in numbness and dissociation, when he finally felt safe, there was also something in him that needed to grieve and wanted to grieve. So it's both; we need to feel safe, but we also want to feel known and that pushes us to take chances and be vulnerable and also, the importance, and this is what I want to emphasize, whether it's therapy or... And/or life, to learn to repair, because we sure as hell don't get it perfect we're just right so much of the time.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that must be an amazing part of your training for AEDP therapists, is that art of repairing with their clients when they haven't made quite the right step, in terms of an intervention or a noticing.

Diana Fosha: Exactly. Exactly. And all of a sudden the person before you gets defended or spaces out or starts to talk pretty superficially. So there's maybe something got activated for them, but maybe it's something that I, as the therapist, "Wait a second, have I done something? Did I miss that? Did I... " Or any number of things. And I think the willingness to just want to know and the willingness to own those mistakes or those... Yeah, is so huge. "I am so sorry, please tell me," and let me look in myself, "What happened there? What made me space out? What made me be insensitive, or say something that felt un-empathic or... Right, let's be with that together, and let me own my stuff."

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that willingness to be vulnerable that way, as a therapist or as a partner, to say, "Wow, I'm really sorry. I clearly messed up just then," and to recognize, in that way, that you're holding the well-being of the other person within you, and recognizing that you have some responsibility in that moment, for that.

Diana Fosha: Yeah.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Diana Fosha: And I want to say another thing about that, that's sort of specific to how we teach and train in AEDP, which is that we make use of videotape, we videotape our sessions. So first of all, that requires our patient's trust in allowing us to do that, but patients really want to be seen and very often appreciate the fact that not only do they have their session, but that the therapist is going to look at the session again or... But it's the willingness of therapists to be vulnerable in showing their tapes to their supervisors. By the way, tapes is a dated term.

Neil Sattin: I was going to say. [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: We still call them video tapes, I haven't had video tapes in 20 years, but the language hasn't quite caught up with the technology, but it's that patients allowing the therapists to do that, the therapists being vulnerable and sharing that with their supervisors. And myself and my colleagues who teach AEDP are being vulnerable and actually showing our video tapes. You don't have to just... When you're training in AEDP, you don't have to just listen to me tell you, "Oh, do this and do that," I have to be vulnerable and put this thing up on the screen that shows me doing this work, for better and for worse, right? And I... So...

Neil Sattin: I love that even in your... In the book, The Transforming Power of Affect there are lots of clinical vignettes, where you describe work, and it's annotated, so we know, as the reader, what's going on. But I loved how you even annotated like, "Well, this was a place where I totally messed up," or... It's really helpful to see that. And then, to also see, after, subsequently, how... What you do about that, how you don't just kinda go off the rails and stay off the rails.

Diana Fosha: Right, or have to get it perfect all the time, because then we would [chuckle] be in very big trouble.

Neil Sattin: Right. Right. Diana, I'm wondering if we can... There are obviously so many other things to talk about. And your work is so rich, I appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today. Hopefully, we can talk again at some point. One topic that's come up several times in this conversation has been the topic of our defenses, or protective strategies, and I'm wondering if you could give us some thoughts before we go on how to recognize a defensive strategy in ourselves and maybe in someone else, and then that next question of like, "When you recognize it, what do you do?"

Diana Fosha: So I think maybe one of the ways to recognize it in ourselves is that we feel maybe comfortable enough, but nothing happens. [chuckle] Meaning things don't deepen, things don't open, they... It's almost like a conversation that stays somewhat superficial. Nobody's making a faux pas, but nobody's learning anything either, it's a little boring maybe. Conversationally, that's the equivalent of sort of keeping safe, but too safe, so safe that there's no exchange, right? So it would be some version of that, the sense of, "Okay, I stayed safe, but nothing happened, I didn't connect, I didn't learn, I didn't take chances." And I think the opposite of that feels a little whatever one's version is, a little breathless and a little risky, a little scary, a little exciting, a little bit like you don't exactly know what you're going to say next, right? I'm describing, I'm trying to describe sort of qualities of...

Neil Sattin: My best podcast interviews. [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: Right. Right. Right. When you ask the question to which you really don't know the answer yet.

Neil Sattin: Yeah.

Diana Fosha: As opposed to the... Right? Either way, in both ways. And similarly, you recognize it in somebody this, if you walk out of an encounter, a get-together, and you're not moved, or you haven't learned anything, or you're leaving much as you came, that's a pretty good indication that everybody's nice and protected, and nobody got hurt and nobody got shamed, but nobody connected. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and so if I recognize that's going on, two questions come up for me, one is the... “What do I do about that?” The second is like, “are there hints of how I could discover what's the core experience that my defenses are actually protecting me against, to know myself more deeply?”

Diana Fosha: There's actually a book that was written by a colleague of mine, which does a wonderful, wonderful job of talking about that, outside of the therapeutic situation. She actually uses examples from therapy, but she uses examples from therapy to help people identify their own defenses and their own emotions. It's called, It's Not Always Depression and the author is Hilary Jacobs Hendel, H-E-N-D-E-L. So that might be a very, very good recommendation about how to sort of apply this stuff to oneself. And I think the other is that we know... We know when we're avoiding grief... Not always, but a fair amount of the time we know that we're trying not to be angry, we know that we're trying to pretend that we're not anxious or afraid. I think there's a fair amount of knowing what we're trying not to feel when we're trying to not feel it. Right? I'm talking about sort of ordinary interactions rather than sort of deep-seated drama. That sort of necessarily takes us to therapy. But in our daily interactions, I think we have a pretty good idea in some part of our mind are these core experiences, core emotions. So, we're trying to not go near because we're scared of them, or they make us feel just vulnerable.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I could see even asking yourself the question in that moment of just asking yourself, "What am I avoiding by doing this thing that I always do, this engaging in this habit and being open to the answer that arises there?"

Diana Fosha: Right, right. If I weren't talking so much now or if I weren't just asking the other person questions about him or herself, what might I be feeling? You know, whatever one's particular strategy is.

Neil Sattin: Whoo. Yeah.

Diana Fosha: Yeah. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: My sigh in that moment is just a recognition of... As much as I myself am an optimist, I try to dwell in the gratitude and all of that, but I recognize yeah, there's... There are a lot of places where there's pain or there's anger or there's disappointment or... And I'm feeling for all of you listening, the blessing hopefully in allowing yourself to feel more of that, so that you get the richness that's on the other side of metabolizing those things in your life. Diana, are you still there?

Diana Fosha: I am.

Neil Sattin: Okay. [chuckle] You were so silent, I wasn't sure if you had just been like, "And cut." I really appreciate your taking the time to be here with us today. And what's the best way for people who want to learn a little bit more about AEDP or therapists who might want to get some training in that modality. What's the best way for people to find out more about you and your work?

Diana Fosha: Yes, thank you for asking that. I think that we have a very rich website. The URL is A-E-D-P institute, one word, lower case. And there is a lot about AEDP. There are a lot of papers that people can download for free, by myself and by my colleagues who teach in the AEDP Institute. And there's a lot of stuff on our trainings. I myself teach an immersion course, which is a five-day intensive, which I teach several times a year. The next one is coming up at the end of January in Florida. And there are other courses. We have skills courses and so on, and so forth. And we have a therapist directory [chuckle] where we might look for somebody that you or other people who are interested in this might see. And so I would highly, highly recommend that people who want to know more about it, either for therapeutic training, or just to learn a bit more about the approach really go to our website and has references to all of my books, and video tapes, and just a whole bunch of different kinds of resources.

Neil Sattin: Great, and we will have all those links on the show notes, which you can get, again if you visit F-O-S-H-A. And so we'll have a link to And you can also download a transcript of this conversation to study it again and again. Unfortunately, we won't have a videotape for you to watch. [chuckle]

Diana Fosha: Videotape. You're picking up my antiquated language. [chuckle]

Neil Sattin: Diana Fosha, thank you so much for being here with us today. Such a treat to be able to talk with you.

Diana Fosha: Neil, thank you so much. This was one of those conversations, much like we were talking about that doesn't feel flat. And it goes to unexpected places, which makes it feel lively. And I'm really, really appreciating this chance to share this work. And you're really having gotten to know it. So, thank you so much.

Neil Sattin: You're welcome. And the pleasure is totally mine I think. Well, maybe not totally, but quite a bit mine.

Diana Fosha: I don't think so. Very mutual.


Jan 7, 2019

Did you make any New Year's resolutions? Every January 1st many of us make resolutions to make some changes in our lives. Whether it be to change something significant in your relationship, spend more time with your significant other, or even something small like reading more, we all start off meaning well but we don't always follow through with making the changes we want to make. In fact, studies have shown that around 80% of New Year's resolutions fail by February. What is stopping us from making those changes and why do we hold ourselves back from change? What do you do if your partner isn’t on board for the change you desire? In today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the things that may be holding you back, so that you can move past them and become a beacon of strength, change, and integrity. Let’s get the year started off right, together.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


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Hello, and welcome to another episode, another YEAR, of Relationship Alive. This is your host Neil Sattin. And...Happy New Year! Big things in store for you this year on Relationship Alive - some exciting new guests, and some return visits from some regular favorites here on the show.

Has it ever happened to you that you’ve set an intention to grow, or change, but then - not followed through? For instance, if you’re like me, and not totally jaded, then perhaps you like to start the new year with reflecting on the past year and setting some intentions for the coming year. And while that can initially be inspiring, I think it can often be followed by a bit of dread. That dread can be accompanied by thoughts like “How do I make this year different from year’s past? Am I really capable?” - but, especially in the case of relationships, it can also be something like “All this change and inspiration sounds great to me - but what if my partner isn’t on board? What happens if I’m committed to all this change and growth, and they’re not?” So in today’s episode, we’re going to talk about the ways that this can be holding you back so that you can move past it and become a beacon of strength, change, and integrity - so that you can feel inspired within yourself, and in your relationship. Let’s get the year started off right, together.

OK - let’s dive in.

Growing in your relationship - creates a conundrum. What if your partner doesn’t want to come along for the ride? What if you grow in different directions? What if you find yourself in a place where your relationship doesn’t work for you anymore? This is actually kind of a big deal when you’re contemplating your own path and growth because if you don’t have actual answers to these questions, you could find yourself with a fearful part protecting you from actually making any changes.

So when I asked, at the beginning, if you’ve ever experienced being excited about some potential change, only to have it not happen, this is a dynamic that’s often at play - the internal parts that can sabotage our best, inspired intentions.

The obvious problem is that if you’re not actually committed to your growth, and truly taking action towards it, then things will truly not shift.

You also don’t want to get caught in that cycle of getting excited about some new thing that you’ve learned, only to not even try to implement it because your partner might not be along for the ride. Or because as you see yourself shifting, changing, and growing - you’re not sure if you’ll even be compatible with your relationship anymore. See - it’s no wonder that these shifts and changes don’t come so easily, is it?

In some respects, your relationship is what it is. It’s something we’ve talked about here on the show before - that the way things ARE is the product of how you and your partner are, in your lives, right now. If nothing changes then, well, nothing changes. You put the same ingredients in, you get the same ingredients out. And it’s natural to think that we’d WANT good change, right? But the truth is, that if change could mean that everything actually changes - well, that might not be so great. Often the reason that things are the way they are is that they serve some purpose in our lives. It may not be the greatest, most sustainable, most healthy purpose - but it is a purpose nonetheless.

In some ways, I’m letting you off the hook for the way that things are. And, at the same time, hopefully, this is helping you get clear on WHY things are the way that they are. It’s really helpful to stop before you try to change anything, and to ask yourself - How is it serving me to have things be just the way that they are? What beliefs about myself does this allow me to perpetuate? What stability, or certainty, does it give me to have things just continue on as they are? If things were to actually change, what would I be afraid might happen?

If you can get really honest with your answers to these questions, then you will have some help in taking things to the next level.

Now it’s funny - I’ve talked about my communication guide here on the show quite a bit - because it has some helpful secrets for helping you connect with others around difficult topics. If you’ve downloaded and read the guide already, now would be a good time to re-read it, and to ask yourself how it applies to communicating with YOURSELF. Because some of those inner conversations can be challenging too! If you haven’t downloaded it yet, you can grab it at, or by texting the word RELATE to the number 33444 and following the instructions.

Now what about that fear that I’ve mentioned a few times now. The fear that if we grow, that we’ll leave our partner behind. Or that they won’t be interested in us. Or...basically the fear that if we change, it might mean that our relationship ends.

There are two important ways to think about this, that hopefully will help get you unstuck.

The first is to be able to draw a distinction, for yourself, between KNOWING what you’d like to do, and/or change - and actually DOING it - taking action. Are you stuck in the knowing stage, without really doing much? I’m asking you this in all sincerity - because I’ve noticed that in myself at times, and because I often notice it in my clients. We KNOW what we SHOULD do - but do we actually make a choice and commit to doing it? No. So before you go down the road of saying, for instance, that you’ve already tried changing, and your partner ISN’T coming along for the ride - take a hard look at the evidence of what you’ve actually changed. Change your beliefs and your mindset, sure! And...have your actions changed? If they haven’t, then there’s still some work to be done.

Now, how do we take on the fear, the ways that our fear of what change might do could be holding us back? Let’s get right to that. But first, I’m going to take a moment to talk about this week’s sponsor. I’ve found them to be REALLY useful over the past few weeks, and they have a special offer for you to try them out for yourself.

So - how do we take on the fear that our growth is actually going to separate us from our partners?

I don’t want to lie to you here. It’s possible. What I mean is, it’s possible that if you grow in a way that really resonates with you, and feels true to the essence of who you are, that there is a chance that your partner might not want to come along for the ride. And, if that happens, then you will have some decisions to make. But you’ll be able to make those decisions from a place of actually having grown, having embodied something new for yourself, and thus the WAY that you approach those conversations and decisions will be different than they would be right now, as you’re simply imagining what that would be like. And you have no way of knowing that until you actually do the growing, until you actually experience it, and see how it impacts you and the other people in your life.

Now I don’t think that you should just grow without considering your partner. By all means, consider how your actions and growth impact the safety of your relationship, the agreements of your container, and make choices that feel like they’re in integrity. If it’s clear that this represents a shift, do your best to NOT go rogue - take time to check in with your partner about what you’d like, the choices that you’re making, and the vision that you have for yourself. You might also share with them some of the ways that you see this having a positive impact on them, and on your relationship. Because most people respond to change with their own fear. So recognize that you’re going to have to address that head-on in your conversation.

That’s a bit of sidebar here, though. Because we’re talking about you and your growth. You and the way that you might be holding yourself back. And, as I said, there is a real possibility that your fear will come to pass.

But - love is a strong thing. And if your growth is fueled by love, then my guess is that you’ll find that it only increases your capacity to show up in your relationship. To be more fully who you are, and to bring that to your partner. Can you do that and, at the same time, invite your partner into your world as it’s expanding? And can you give them the time and space to digest it, so that it’s not a now-or-nothing proposition - so they’re allowed to stretch into something new. To experience the discomfort of that and come back into balance.

What is it about you that doesn’t trust your partner could do that? Talk to that part of yourself, and reassure them that you have chosen another human and that all humans have the capacity to grow, especially if it’s in ways that are ultimately positive for them.

And, in the need to take action. And then be ever-aware for what might happen next. Make connecting to your partner your priority in those moments, just like I was talking about back in episode 171 - because that will help them feel safe despite the tension that your growth might be creating. And I say *might* because you don’t really know until you try. It could be that your partner was, for some reason, just WAITING for you to take action.

This dance, of each person holding back, waiting for the other to act, while living in competing fears - first that something either of you does will disconnect you, and second, that you’ll never get to grow and live the way that you want to - this dance is something that most of us do at some point, or at some points in our relationship. And it’s possible that if you’re not the one doing the growing in this moment, that your partner is actually doing some growing and wondering if YOU are going to come along for the ride. Wouldn’t that be an interesting thing to discover?

So. Notice your fear. Address it head-on. Take steps to re-regulate yourself, to bring yourself back into balance.  Then ask yourself, what am I truly afraid of here? Get really clear on your resistance. This is a good time to do a little work - dialoguing with your inner parts - using Internal Family Systems - can be great. Check out episodes 26 or 140 for that. Or if you’re familiar with Byron Katie, and the work, this could be a good time for that too. Yes - I’m definitely hoping to have her on the show at some point!

Because in the end, your goal should be to get clear so that you can actually move forward. A life of holding yourself back for fear of what *might* happen - that’s not what I want for you. A life of shining brightly, and inspiring others - especially your partner - with your integrity - now that sounds like something to shoot for.

Ultimately, you are going to have to make the choice, the actual commitment, to follow through on your path. As I alluded to earlier, it’s possible that you’re not actually making the choice - that instead, you have the knowledge, but you’re not actually following through on making it happen. Is that possible? Only you know for sure. But see what shifts in you if you decide that you are COMMITTED to a particular path of growth…

Here are some examples you might try on:

I am COMMITTED to being truthful in my relationship.
I am COMMITTED to taking care of myself when triggered, and not trying to have important conversations when I’m in a state of dysregulation.
I am COMMITTED to being positive, and having fun - and to not bringing negativity into my relationship.
I am COMMITTED to being monogamous and pouring my energy into fostering connection and intimacy with my partner.
I am COMMITTED to self-care, to giving myself what I need - and if I don’t know what I need, I’m COMMITTED to figuring it out.

Try some of those out, and feel the energy that commitment brings to your actions. Are you choosing to do something? Or are you just going to “try” to do something?

In the end, once you realize that your fears are holding you back, you may or may not be able to eliminate your fears. But as you’ve heard me say before, this is a time for courage. Feel the fear, and do it anyway. And then - keep paying attention! You don’t want to bluster on ahead - do what it takes to stay present to however the world, and especially your partner, are responding to your path. And, if you need to, make adjustments. But at least your adjustments will be made based on reality, not what you think might happen, or what you’re worried might happen.

That’s my wish for you. That this New Year you can set whatever intentions truly matter to you. And make the commitment to choosing, to taking whatever actions are required to get you there. And that you can stay present, taking care of yourself, and the others in your sphere of influence so that your path of growth is informed by your impact on the world, and the world’s impact on you. Happy New Year - and see you again next week where my guest will be Diana Fosha, creator of AEDP, which is an amazing modality for healing trauma and attachment injuries so that you can show up more brightly in your life. I’m really excited about her work - and to bring it to you next week on Relationship Alive. Until then, take care! And keep me posted.

Jan 1, 2019

What are some of the keys to helping a woman experience pleasure, and orgasms? If you’re a woman and you’re not having orgasms - and you want to be - then this episode could be really helpful - sure, for you - but especially for your partner. Maybe leave this episode’s transcript under their pillow? This week, our guest is Ian Kerner, New York Times bestselling author of She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman. Ian is a licensed psychotherapist, and nationally recognized sexuality counselor who specializes in sex therapy, couples therapy and working with individuals on a range of relational issues. Today Ian Kerner shares how he has helped couples create more intimate and satisfying sexual relationships and he addresses the knowledge gap that many of us have about a woman’s sexual anatomy.

As always, I’m looking forward to your thoughts on this episode and what revelations and questions it creates for you. Please join us in the Relationship Alive Community on Facebook to chat about it!


Visit Ian Kerner’s website to learn more about his work.

Pick up your copy of Ian Kerner’s book, She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman .

FREE Relationship Communication Secrets Guide - perfect help for handling conflict and shifting the codependent patterns in your relationship

Guide to Understanding Your Needs (and Your Partner's Needs) in Your Relationship (ALSO FREE)

Visit to download the transcript, or text “PASSION” to 33444 and follow the instructions to download the transcript to this episode with Ian Kerner.

Amazing intro/outro music graciously provided courtesy of: The Railsplitters - Check them Out


Neil Sattin: Hello and welcome, to another episode of Relationship Alive. This is your host, Neil Sattin. Today I have with me Ian Kerner who is a nationally recognized sexuality counselor specializing in sex therapy, couples therapy, and working with individuals on a range of related  issues. He's regularly quoted as an expert in various media outlets with recent appearances on CNN, The Today Show, The Dr. Oz show, and now...he's here on Relationship Alive. Ian is The New York Times best­selling author of numerous books including "She Comes First", which is what we're  here to talk about today, and I should say that "She Comes First" is subtitled "The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman". In addition to being a clinical fellow of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, Ian is also certified by the American Association of Sexuality  Educators, Counselors, and Therapists - also known as AASECT, with a doctorate in clinical sexology. If you download the transcript of today’s episode you will ALSO get a bonus show guide with highlights and action items from the show. You can do that at (I-A-N) or by texting the word PASSION to the number 33444 and following the instructions.

Ian Kerner - thank you so much for joining us today on Relationship Alive!

Ian Kerner: Thanks, Neil, my pleasure.

Neil Sattin: Great. Well, we are here primarily to talk about She Comes First, which is a book about how to give pleasure to a woman and before we get started I was wondering if you could just let our listeners know a little bit more about you and how you came to write this book.

Ian Kerner: Sure, well, I guess that there are two ways I came to write the book. One is sort of the professional path and the other is the personal path. Professionally, as a sex therapist at the time that I wrote the book and even through today, one of the questions I get asked most often by women is “what can I do to have an orgasm during intercourse, and what am I doing wrong?”. So I really wrote the book as a response to that question. I wanted to let women know you're not doing anything wrong. It's just that, you know, a lot of the men that you may happen to be partnered with are what I would call ill-cliterate, they know more about what's under the hood of a car than the hood of a clitoris and it's often through no fault of their own, and there's nothing wrong with you. It's just that we are sort of all trapped in what I'd call the Intercourse Discourse in terms of thinking of sex often in one way and that once you kinda break out of the intercourse discourse and think of other ways of pleasuring, and once men understand that the clitoris is the powerhouse of the female orgasm and how to stimulate the clitoris, then you really won't be asking the question, “what can I do to have an orgasm during the intercourse?”

Ian Kerner: You may not be having intercourse at all, or you may be having intercourse plus other activities. So that's kind of the professional path. Personally, I suffered for many years from a very common sexual dysfunction, premature ejaculation. It's actually more prevalent than erectile disorder but certainly much less talked about, and it's an issue that leaves many men feeling sexually crippled, leaves many partners feeling frustrated and dissatisfied. And I suffered quite a deal from this... Quite a bit from this issue to the point that it affected my desire to date, and my desire to make love to a woman, certainly my confidence and my self-esteem and...

Ian Kerner: When I began to learn more about female sexuality and about the power of the clitoris as sort of the centerpiece of female sexual arousal and I was able to learn how to pleasure a woman in other ways outside of just intercourse and with just my penis and I began to make love with not just my penis, but my mouth and my mind and my hands and every other part of my mind, body, and soul, it really liberated me and actually that liberation and that confidence and self-esteem became one of the most important tools that I gained at my disposal to manage premature ejaculation.

Ian Kerner: So that is sort of the professional and personal pathway that led to writing She Comes First and I've been, you know, amazed over the years in terms of how the book has resonated and continues to sell and I hear not just from men but from women as well, who learned from the book and give it to their partners. And probably I'm most flattered when I hear from a parent who says, whether it's a mom or a dad, "I want my son to be sexually competent and to be respectful of female sexuality and understand female sexuality. And so I gave your book to my 18-year-old son." So that's a little bit of background to She Comes First.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that's great and it's really interesting to me because... Well, for one thing, we had Wendy Maltz on the show to talk about sexual healing and I got connected with you through Wendy and that was without really even knowing what you had done and what you were writing about. And then on the show, we've also talked a lot with a few people in particular, Diana Richardson, who wrote "Heart of Tantra" and then also Marnia Robinson, who wrote "Cupid's Poisoned Arrow", about both non-orgasmic sex and also the problems that orgasms can cause, particularly for men, in disconnecting them from their partner. And I'm bringing both of these things up because as I was reading your book, which is basically about how to perform cunnilingus, like that's what this book is about, and it does it in a very informative way, where I learned a lot about female sexuality that I didn't even know necessarily, and it's... I wanted to bring this actually to our audience because sometimes, for one thing, you may just want to go for it and have orgasms and she wanted to have some great methods and knowledge at your disposal on how to do that, so you're not just winging it.

Neil Sattin: And I appreciated how in the book you brought up that most men actually don't have a lot of sources of information for how to please a woman. It's maybe the locker room, probably porn and apart from that, there's not a lot of guidance being offered. So I liked how you offer it from that perspective as a way to help bring people up the curve.

Ian Kerner: Yeah, no, thank you. I mean, certainly on one level, the book is a very practical guide in how to pleasure a woman and how to, you know, create or get help to mutually co-construct and create orgasmic satisfaction and that is, I believe, through cunnilingus, not only in my own experiences, but you know, study after study shows that women, not that they prefer oral sex to intercourse, just that they most more consistently orgasm from cunnilingus as opposed to intercourse. That has a lot to do with the distance between the clitoris and the vaginal entrance, and in some women, it can be anywhere from two centimeters to four centimeters and many sexual positions or most sexual positions miss the clitoris altogether and the greater the distance, they call it the vaginal clitoral distance, the greater the distance between the clitoris with the clitoral glans, the head of the clitoris, what's visible and the vaginal entrance, the greater that distance, the harder it is for a woman to orgasm through intercourse. So, certainly manual stimulation, whether with your hand or with a sex toy and oral stimulation are more direct and consistent ways of eliciting orgasms. And I wanted and I hope that the book... I think actually the staying power of the book has been that it's a little more than just a cunnilingus guide and that it is both a real introduction to understanding female sexuality and hopefully there's a little bit of a fun philosophy in it as well.

Ian Kerner: And I just came across a really interesting statistic that related to porn use and that heterosexual women are the biggest consumers of lesbian porn. So heterosexual women are the biggest consumers of lesbian porn and that's for a couple of reasons. One, that heterosexual porn often really objectifies women and that's not a turn on to women who are watching porn. And then of course lesbian porn features a lot more cunnilingus. And when you look at the top search terms by women that women enter into porn sites... How explicit is this show, Neil? How G-rated, PG-rated or R-rated do you want me to keep it?

Neil Sattin: We're good, we rate it explicit on iTunes.

Ian Kerner: Okay. So when you look at the top five search...

Neil Sattin: However, let me just interrupt you and say if you're listening with your eight-year-old in the car right now, it might be a good time to hit pause and then come back to it.


Ian Kerner: Okay, I would say you should have hit pause like 10 minutes ago.


Ian Kerner: But if you need to hit pause now go ahead and hit pause now. But the top terms are things like "pussy licking", "pussy eating", "pussy touching". I mean, they're all terms that really come back to clitoral stimulation and particularly oral stimulation of the clitoris. So I guess, I just wanted to provide a little bit of context and both around the importance of direct clitoral stimulation and the way that I'm trying through the book to take an act that's traditionally considered foreplay and turn it into coreplay, a complete act of love making that really vouchsafes and guarantees almost the female orgasm.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I love that, especially because we are arriving at a very similar place where we're talking about expanding the definition of intimacy and expanding what it means to be making love with your partner, coming at it from different directions. But you arrive at this very similar place which is, how are you really exploring sensuality with your partner and are you doing it in a way that's actually not objectifying your partner, but really about tapping into what really makes them tick and feel good? So let's start with that because one of the most fascinating things in reading your book was that there are 18 parts to the clitoris, and I'm not expecting you to necessarily remember what all of those are right here now.

Ian Kerner: [chuckle] Okay.

Neil Sattin: But I was like, "What are you even talking about?" And then you went on to elucidate. And so I'm hoping that you can just give us a little bit of a taste of what you're talking about.

Ian Kerner: So male and female sexual anatomy, although they look very different, they're actually homologous and that means during the early months of gestation, when a woman is pregnant with a baby, the baby isn't really differentiated as male or female until around the 12th or 13th week and up until that time, the baby doesn't really have an assigned sex, and all of the tissue that's ultimately going to form the genital structures, it's really up for grabs, which way is it going to go, male or female? And then around the 12th or 13th week, there's some different bursts of hormones, namely testosterone. And the fetus is either differentiated as male or female, but all of the same tissue is used and male sexual anatomy will grow outward into a penis and scrotum with testicles and it's all very visible.

Ian Kerner: But those same structures really exist for women, they just kind of grow... Everything grows inwards. And so what you end up seeing is a vulva that includes a vaginal entrance and inner and outer labia, as well as what we would also call the clitoris. Really what we tend to think of as the clitoris and sometimes people refer to it as a bump or the little man in the boat or the pea in the pod. I mean, there's a lot of sort of vernacular around the clitoris but really that what you're seeing is the head of the clitoris, or the clitoral glans just as a guy has a head on his penis, and really for a woman that clitoral glans is really just kind of the tip of the iceberg. And there's a whole internal development of sexual anatomy and really the latest science is really showing that all of that material really encompasses what you would consider sort of like the clitoral network, and so that even the g-spot is probably just the back and roots of the clitoris.

Ian Kerner: And so that's really what I mean when I say that the clitoris has 18 parts, that the part that we normally associate with... Usually are generally associated with the clitoris again, is really just the tip of the iceberg and there are other parts that are internal and external that constitute the totality of the clitoral network, and it would be extremely... It's really rather rare for a woman to really experience arousal and certainly orgasm without clitoral stimulation.

Neil Sattin: Right. So even if you're having, say vaginal orgasms, that's probably because you're stimulating the part of the clitoris that is actually surrounding...

Ian Kerner: Correct, correct. And those... That part of... Those parts of the clitoris tend to be either on the surface of the vulva or within the first inch or two of the vaginal entrance and the deeper you go into the vagina, the less nerve endings, there are... The less sensitivity there is. And so really when you think about making love, making love to a woman, rather than thinking vaginally, you should really be thinking clitorally. And rather than thinking about penetration, you should be thinking about stimulation and rather than thinking about really internal stimulation, you should be thinking about external stimulation of the vulva.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so hence what you were talking about earlier, about how the penetration really doesn't even have to happen at all.

Ian Kerner: No, it really doesn't. And that's why, you know, when men obsess over penis size, not to say that size is totally irrelevant, or that size doesn't matter, or that it doesn't feel good to a woman to have a penis inside a vagina. I'm not trying to discredit entirely the role of the penis in pleasuring a woman, but I don't think that really size is as relevant as men think it is.

Neil Sattin: And when you're talking to people about performing oral sex on a woman, what kind of problems or obstacles do you run into around actually someone diving into doing that?

Ian Kerner: Okay, well, I mean, first of all, it is about thinking of oral sex, not just as sort of an optional appetizer but is a required entree and understanding, thinking of oral sex, clitoral stimulation as a complete act of love making that often can include the female orgasm. It's also not just what you're doing, but when you're doing it and being tuned into a woman's arousal arc and thinking about it as a dance in which you are both participants in which she's often leading the dance in order to cue to you the type of stimulation that at the time feels good and right. I mean, as we sort of know the more you get aroused, the more tolerance you have for sensation. So certain things that may feel not so great at the beginning may feel really great towards the end of an act of love making closer to orgasm. The other thing that I deal with is probably just self-esteem issues, misconceptions. I often am working with couples in which ironically, believe it or not, it's often the male partner who's very eager to engage in oral sex, really loves going down on his partner, really enjoys it, wants to sort of liberate himself from the tyranny of his penis.

Ian Kerner: I'm using rather a hyperbolic language today on this podcast. And very often, it's a female partner who has genital self-esteem issues, so maybe she feels like she doesn't look beautiful down there, or taste wonderful, or smell is great, or maybe she feels like she's taking too long. Women often can bring a lot of anxiety around receiving oral sex, and for many women, especially women who have experienced faking orgasms, it's sometimes easier to give pleasure than it is to receive pleasure. I know a lot of women who really enjoy giving pleasure and can really participate in that way, but when it comes to receiving pleasure, they tend to get very anxious or very inhibited. And so a lot of times that's the point at which I'm kind of entering into this situation and certainly there are men who are ambivalent about oral sex who don't understand it as being important, who don't understand clitoral stimulation, who maybe have had some negative experiences in the past, or were brought up to feel that maybe a woman's vulva or vagina is unhygienic in some ways. So there can be a lot of myths and misconceptions, and opportunities for discomfort around oral sex.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, that brings up so many questions from me. I guess the first one would be, well, let's talk about those hang ups. So if someone is really feeling self-conscious about their own vagina or vulva, how do you work with someone like that so that they can relax into receiving?

Ian Kerner: Well, it's sort of like throwing a stone into a pond and watching the ripples. How close to the stone are you going to get? Like at what point do you address the rippling? Do you think that... Well, really, I want to be in the kind of relationship that lends itself to intimate connected sex, and I really need to focus more on the positivity in the relationship and being in a sex-positive relationship and being able to communicate openly and constructively and arousingly around sex and then maybe you need to get closer to the sex act itself. And what are you really doing to stimulate desire and arousal? Some studies really show that the closer a woman gets to orgasm the more parts of the brain that are associated with stress, anxiety, high emotion deactivate and that as a woman is having an orgasm, she's actually entering into almost a kind of a trance-like state. And so what is happening to facilitate that process of deactivation where a woman can shut down those stress centers in the brain and those anxiety centers? And what are you doing in the actual environment around sex to create a sex-conducive environment to actually create sort of a love nest? And does that require music? Does it require lighting? Does it require certain types of being dressed or undressed? Like what does it take for a woman to feel really comfortable?

Ian Kerner: And then I think the most important factor is really to be able to hear from a guy, hopefully a guy with whom she loves and has a secure, trusting attachment that she can really let go with, to hear from a guy, to be reassured like, "You are absolutely beautiful. I love doing this and it's arousing to me and I get so turned on by this and the longer it takes actually, the more I'm just postponing my own gratification and the more intense my own gratification is going to be." I think so many women just wonder, "Does he like doing this or is it a chore?" And you ask so many men and they say, "Well, I love doing it. It's the last thing from a chore. It's completely arousing. I get into my own kind of zen headspace." And then just the way you would look into a woman's eyes and let her know how beautiful you find her, I think, you want to be able to let her know how beautiful you find her vulva and you want to contribute to, again, that concept of genital self-esteem, positive genital self-esteem, that doesn't come from just your own sense of your body, like you need to be told by your partner that you are beautiful. And I think we often are focused on, "Oh, your hair looks great, or that dress looks great, or you look so hot and sexy right now." And we need to be able to extend those compliments to our mutual genitals.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, yeah and I noticed you were using the pronoun he but, I mean, this can apply to both...

Ian Kerner: Right. Absolutely, absolutely. I didn't mean to take the words out of your mouth, but yes, it can apply to... I work with a lot of lesbian women who have bought She Comes First because they may have some inhibitions around oral sex or they want to be more proficient. And so, yes, I didn't mean to be gender-specific although I do have to say, I didn't write the book in a gender-neutral way. A lot of sex books and I've written a bunch of them can be written in a gender-neutral way, but I really wanted to send a specific message to heterosexual men.

Neil Sattin: Yeah and probably rightly so, because if nothing else, we don't have a woman's body, so we don't have... And in fact, our penises can probably take a lot more and a lot different kinds of stimulation that we don't even think about than we might practice if we didn't know any better when we are with a woman.

Ian Kerner: Yeah, I think that's true. When you look at the age at which men start having nocturnal emissions or wet dreams and they start masturbating and having their first orgasms, there's a huge concentration all in those early teen years, 13, 14, 15, and men have their first ejaculations and they figure out how to give them themselves these ejaculations repeatedly, and for most men orgasm and sex are very tied together, and most men wouldn't really think twice if you ask them, “do you know how to give yourself an orgasm?” But when you look at women, it's a very different story across the board. Women have their first orgasms at vastly different ages, many women who have had orgasms early in their teen years don't necessarily know exactly how to replicate them. Even today, I have a number of women in my practice who weren't really sure they've ever had orgasms. They've certainly enjoyed sex and they've felt a lot of arousal, but they're not sure that they've had orgasms.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. One thing that you mentioned in just a few moments ago, it came out as part of how you reassure a partner, but I heard you talking about this what you call The Three Assurances. So I'm wondering if we can just enumerate those for people listening, so they know exactly what you're talking about that... because these seem really key.

Ian Kerner: Yeah, do you mind if I go grab the book off my shelf then? I don't have it, so...

[overlapping conversation]

Neil Sattin: You know what I can... I'll read them out loud.

Ian Kerner: Oh, that would be lovely.

Neil Sattin: Because I have it right in front of me.

Ian Kerner: Why don't you do that? Yeah, well, okay.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I didn't mean this for this to be a pop quiz...

Ian Kerner: No, no, no, no, but I think the book says it better than I would just impromptu.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, so what you write are, "To that end, the three assurances of the cunnilinguist manifesto are as follows: Number one, going down on her turns you on. You enjoy it as much as she does." So, I would paraphrase that, something like your pleasure gives me pleasure.

Ian Kerner: Absolutely.

Neil Sattin: "Number two, there's no rush. She has all the time in the world. You want to savor every moment." So that's taking the time pressure off and letting it just be what it is. And I have a question about that, but I'll come back to it.

Ian Kerner: Okay.

Neil Sattin: And then the third thing is that, "Her scent is provocative, her taste powerful. It all emanates from the same beautiful essence." So basically, where you're saying the whole visceral experience of being there is great, is amazing for me. So the question I had about the second one, the all the time in the world is... The book is about bringing a woman to orgasm and yet we also talk a lot about not being orgasm-focused and being real sort of process-oriented instead of product-oriented.

Ian Kerner: Well, that's interesting, I don't... Yeah, let's talk about this. I don't think that there is anything necessarily wrong with being orgasm-focused. Our body participates in the process of arousal. There is a vasocongestion but blood flow to the genitals. There's myotonia, there's sexual tension being developed throughout the body and when those two processes kind of reach a tipping point, that muscular tension causes orgasm which is a flood of different sort of feel good hormones that are all triggered and connected to the release of sexual attention, and men and women have capacities to orgasm. Women have an innate capacity to experience multiple orgasms, and certainly, over the course of the life cycle, our relationship with orgasm changes and orgasms can feel differently and happen at different intervals. And we can lose our ability to have orgasms, but I don't think that there's anything wrong with being focused on, or wanting to have an orgasm, or wanting a partner to have an orgasm. And very often you will hear in the media and in writing and from professional therapists, many of whom are my colleagues, you'll sometimes hear, "Well, men tend to be orgasm-focused. Women tend to be more process-focused, more pleasure-focused, can enjoy sex without necessarily having an orgasm every time."

Ian Kerner: I think that there is some truth to that, but I also want to just say that I meet with women every day in my practice who are sometimes on their own or sometimes as part of a couple and they are often very, very, very frustrated that they're not having orgasms in the sex that they're having. And given the choice between not having an orgasm and having an orgasm, they would much rather have one. And certainly there are times in life when you don't always have an orgasm, but if you're in a relationship where you are having sex and you are consistently not having orgasms, I'm going to wager that there's going to be a lot of distress and dissatisfaction. And I think also that one of the reasons we often tend to say, "Oh, women can be pleasure-focused or less concerned, or care less about orgasms," is because as men, we don't live in a culture where men really consistently are tuned in, care, and can kind of elicit orgasms consistently. So I think a lot of that sort of verbiage around being pleasure-focused and non-orgasm-focused is also justifying a paradigm in which men always get to have orgasms during sex and women do not. And so... My dogs are barking incessantly in the background.

Neil Sattin: They agree with you.


Ian Kerner: So I just want to challenge that assumption again. Listen, I understand that we should all be pleasure-focused. I've been working with a client for the last few weeks, and he's a gay man and he experiences erectile issues and delayed ejaculation, and one of the biggest changes he made on his OkCupid profile is saying that he is pleasure-focused as opposed to orgasm-focused. So I don't want to say that I don't understand the sentiment and that there aren't certain people for whom they really are going to be more pleasure-focused than orgasm-focused, but I also really don't want to discount the value and importance of orgasm, and I don't want to live in a world where we think that, "Oh, men consistently get to have their orgasms and women don't and that's okay, because women are more pleasure-focused and less orgasm-focused than men.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, I really appreciate your taking a stand for the orgasm just now. And it makes a lot of sense that the mechanism is there. So if the experience of not having an orgasm is about the inability to have an orgasm or about... Well, not being able to take the time to have an orgasm which is what brought us down this topic, this line of conversation, then yeah, don't let it be an excuse by any means.

Ian Kerner: Right. Now the other myth that's out there, it's not exactly a myth but it's sort of a semi-truth is that it takes women longer to get aroused and reach orgasm than it does men. And that's certainly something that I see in my practice all the time that I wrote in She Comes First, that I pretty much stand by. But when you also talk to women about masturbation and their sort of approach to self-pleasure, many if not most women will say, "Well, if I want to I can get there in three minutes." And it kind of starts to really resemble the way men masturbate and the road to orgasm can be as short for women as it is for men, that doesn't always translate into relational sex between two people, but I would say it's also something of a myth that it always takes women longer to reach orgasm, and that's so... Even in my reassurance about time, when you have all the time in the world then you're just happy to be there, it doesn't have to be a chore and it doesn't have to take so long.

Neil Sattin: Yeah. Yeah, and another thing I wanted to just clarify for you, too, is that when I say that here on the show we've talked a lot about non-orgasmic sex, we've been really approaching it from the perspective of well, for one thing, the way that for a man having an orgasm changes the level of connection that they're experiencing with their partner when they're making love. So in a way it's like taking it off the table so that you can actually prolong what's happening when you are doing the rest of the stuff, which is affecting you, obviously, biochemically and also energetically.

Ian Kerner: Absolutely. I would agree with that. Very often when I'm working with couples and there's a sex issue, or they're not having mutual orgasms, or they're not enjoying sex as much as they could or there's some kind of dysfunction, I'll often say, "Well, let's take orgasms and sex off the table and let's just sort of go back to a ground zero and build up from there."

Neil Sattin: Yeah, well, I think that this podcast episode would not be complete without talking about some actual techniques and details of how to do it and we don't have to cover everything. There's a lot of information in Ian's book, She Comes First, and that makes me think of another question but before I ask that, let's just talk about a few things that are important and that maybe you find to be the biggest problems when people are actually performing oral sex on a woman and how to do it differently?

Ian Kerner: I think one misconception is that the tongue or an oral sex, it's about penetration or that the tongue is kind of a stand-in for the penis. And then a lot of guys sort of focus on sort of showing off a little bit. And again, all of the nerve endings that really contribute to the female orgasm are located on the surface of the vulva. They respond to gentle stimulation rather than penetration. Some women have told me, when complaining about their partner's oral sex techniques, "Oh, it's like the running of the bulls in Spain, a mad stampede for my clit." That's not what you want to be doing. They're like, "When he goes down on me, it's like a cobra fighting a mongoose." It's just like don't want to be that vicious cobra. You want to approach oral sex again as a dance in which a woman is often leading, sometimes just providing a very flat still tongue or a simple point of resistance.

Ian Kerner: There's an area of the vulva, of the clitoris, that's actually just above the clitoral glans which would be more in the area of the hood that kind of covers the glans but it's just that area, just sort of a little above and behind the clitoral glans that's called the Front Commissure and it's a little smooth area that's so kinda like the... As big as... Less than the size of a fingernail of your pinky, but there's a lot of nerve endings there and that area responds very well to pressure, not necessarily friction but pressure and if you just sort of get into a groove and get into a position where a woman is...

Ian Kerner: Where there's contact between the front commissure and either a tongue or even better, something that's firmer than a tongue like your front gum just above your tooth, if you just sort of raise your lip into kind of like a little bit of an Elvis Presley snarl and just kinda nestle your gum against that front commissure which is, again, not exactly on the clitoral glans but more sort of just above and behind the clitoral glans a little, and then just kinda get right into that. And let her do... Let her sort of set the routine. It's a little like when a woman is on top during the intercourse. One of the reasons the female superior position is the position that most consistently leads to orgasms for women is because in that position they can really get a lot of clitoral stimulation by pressing the clitoris against a guy's pelvis and pubic bone and also really control the frequency and pressure and the nature of the stimulation against the clitoris as well. If you can do the same thing during oral sex and really let her sort of press into a point of resistance, again, sort of like the soft area of your gum just above your tooth might be, I would say, is ideal.

Ian Kerner: And really let her lead the dance. In some ways you don't have to do anything more than that. You can certainly use your tongue to be providing, to be going back and forth against the clitoris or looking inside the vulva and the vaginal entrance, you can also... You should also certainly think about enhancing oral stimulation with manual stimulation, whether your fingers or a sex toy. You can raise your fingers and sort of press into the g-spot area, but certainly a combination of manual stimulation and oral stimulation and again where you're less of the lead dancer and more of following her lead is one approach that I often recommend for people who are just sort of entering the world of oral sex.

Neil Sattin: Yeah, and one thing that made a huge impression on me was you mentioned stillness, as being really important as well as movement.

Ian Kerner: Uh-huh, yeah, and part of that is because men reach a point of ejaculatory inevitability and this has a lot to do with evolution and the importance of the male ejaculation to reproduction of the human race, but men can very quickly, often very quickly reach a point of ejaculatory inevitability. You're going to have an orgasm, you're going to ejaculate and there's no pulling back, and you get to that point of no return. And I think for men that's sort of how we conceptualize the sexual response cycle. But most women will tell you that they can very easily lose an orgasm, and that even as an orgasm is starting to happen, it can still be lost. There is no point of inevitability, there is no real point of no return, and that's why I emphasize both stillness and predictable routines. If you're doing something and it's working, keep doing it until she lets you know otherwise. Too many men I hear from their partners are doing great jobs, a woman is very close to having an orgasm, she's very excited. And based on that excitement, they will sort of get excited themselves or change what they're doing. And it's in that change that a woman often loses her orgasm. So, I do emphasize tuning in, I do emphasize stillness, I do emphasize following her lead, and I do emphasize predictable, consistent, rhythmic routines.

Neil Sattin: Great, well, Ian Kerner, thank you so much for your time and for all the valuable  information that you've given us today on the podcast. And I just wanna say that Ian's book "She  Comes First: The Thinking Man's Guide to Pleasuring a Woman" is available on Amazon and also probably at your local bookseller. You can visit Ian on the web, his address is And again, if you’d like to  download the transcript AND the bonus action guide for this episode, just visit, that's I­A­N or you can just text the word "passion", P­A­S­S­I­O­N to the number 33444 and follow the instructions there.  Ian, thanks again for coming on the show today, and for defending the orgasm, and also giving us some great words of wisdom for how to have more pleasure in our intimate lives.

Ian Kerner: You're very welcome. I can't think of anything I'd rather be defending, so thank you.