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From the Couch: Sex, Dogs, Teens and Other Troubles

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Alicia MacGowan

Sex, Dogs, Teens and Other Troubles

“I have been married for 10 years and have two kids. My husband has not slept in the same bed with me for two years. We only have sex twice a month. Do you think he is having an affair?”

Before I answer that question, here’s one for you: Are you happy with the intimacy in your marriage? By intimacy, I’m not just talking sex. Intimacy is more than sex. It’s about being vulnerable, exchanging physical affection, emotional availability.

My hunch is that you’re asking me this question because you’re not satisfied with the intimacy in your marriage and you’re wondering if your husband feels the same way. And you know what? He might.

If you want to jumpstart the intimacy in your marriage, start with an intimate conversation with your husband. Share with him how your needs are getting met. Or how they aren’t. Ask him how he’s feeling. Talk to him about the changes you’ve noticed in your marriage. And if you truly suspect an affair, ask him if he’s having one.

This may sound difficult, maybe even impossible. I can’t promise you that the conversation won’t be painful, but I can assure you that it will be an opportunity to create intimacy in your marriage.

You may be thinking that this is too hard. It’s not worth it. You don’t want to risk hurting the kids. Maybe you’re afraid of the answers. However, the risk of not having this conversation is too great.

The choice you make impacts your children profoundly. They are watching you, learning from you. If you ignore the problems and accept the lack of intimacy in your marriage, your children will learn to do the same.

Is this the kind of marriage you want for your children? If not, why is it good enough for you?

“I have 11 dogs and live alone. I have never been able to make a commitment to another woman and would like to do so. How can I change this?”

You probably love your dogs a great deal. They are non-threatening and offer unconditional love. Human relationships are more dangerous. There’s a risk of rejection and the pain of getting hurt.

But if you don’t leave room for a relationship with a woman, how can you expect to have one? While you say that you want a relationship, you’ve created a barricade 11 dogs deep that says otherwise.

The question you need to ask yourself is why you need the barricade. Maybe you have trouble trusting other people and prefer to be alone. Maybe you watched your parents suffer through a miserable marriage and want to avoid the pain that you grew up with. Maybe you have anxiety in social situations that makes it difficult for you to connect to other people. Maybe you’re feeling depressed and hopeless.

The bottom line is this: determining the roots of your fear of intimacy is the first step toward addressing the problem. It may not be an easy journey to go on, but if you genuinely want a non-canine relationship in your life, it’s a journey you’re going to have to embark on. There are self-help books that can guide you on this adventure and psychotherapy can be very helpful.

“My husband drinks only in the evenings. He works regularly. Is he an alcoholic?” 

The time of day someone drinks has little bearing on whether or not he is an alcoholic. There are plenty of functional alcoholics who keep their jobs and earn a solid living despite the devastating impact of alcohol in their lives.

Here are some questions I would need to ask to assess your husband’s alcohol use:

  • How much does he drink?
  • How often?
  • Has drinking caused significant consequences?
  • Is he increasingly emotionally unavailable when drinking?
  • Does he have blackouts (when he can’t recall details while drinking)?
  • Has drinking steadily increased in frequency, intensity and duration?
  • Does he see it as a problem, and have there been attempts to control it?
  • Does he become intoxicated with less alcohol than before? This is a sign of reverse tolerance and often indicates alcohol-related medical problems.
  • Can he drink even more alcohol than before and not appear intoxicated (increased tolerance)?
  • Does he have a family history of alcohol/drug problems?

You probably wouldn’t be asking this question if his use of alcohol wasn’t impacting you in some way. Often people in relationships with addicts become obsessed with trying to help the addict and fail to get the help they need.

Check out AlAnon, an organization for family and friends who have been affected by another’s alcohol use. A good therapist can also help you set boundaries and find balance in your own life.

As for your husband, talk to him about your concerns. Alcoholics Anonymous is an excellent resource. Moderation Management can also be an option for people who identify alcohol as a problem but aren’t dependent on it.

“My 16 year-old daughter refuses to let me know who her friends are. In the past this was not a problem. Should I be concerned?

Of course. You know your daughter. If you’re noticing changes in her behavior, you have a parental obligation to ask why. But don’t jump to worst case scenarios just yet. An important question to ask yourself is how your own relationship with your daughter has changed.

Parents struggle when they see their teens strive to become their own individuals. What they see as rebellion is possibly just a normal stage of healthy development. Teenage years can be painful for teenagers and their parents. It is their job to individuate. And it is part of your job to let them do that. It is also your job to protect them and set limits, so you’re walking a tightrope here.

Spend some time working on your relationship with your daughter. Talk to her about her friends before you meet them and do your best to keep an open mind. You may disapprove of her friends but if you forbid friendships, you risk a Romeo & Juliet catastrophe: the more you disapprove, the more she seeks out those friends, and the deeper the divide between you and your daughter.

That said, if she’s hanging with a crowd that’s using drugs or alcohol, or engaging in other problem behaviors, consider a teen drug prevention group or psychotherapy.

Create an open dialogue with your daughter. Let her know you love her unconditionally.  If you suspect that she’s in over her head, get her some help.

Alicia MacGowan, licensed clinical social worker and advanced alcohol and drug counselor, is founder and clinical director of Recovery Now, Inc. and a mental health professional since 1992. Recovery Now provides psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, EMDR, support groups and recovery coaching with offices in Hermosa Beach, San Pedro and Palos Verdes Estates (RecoveryNowLA.com or 310-508-9531).

If you have a question for “From the Couch,” please email RecoveryNowAM@gmail.com with Easy Reader in the subject line.

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