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Our experts talk share their thoughts on mating, dating, and relating.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Are You Hot or Not?

I am awesome for unspecified reasons.

by Matthew Hutson, Psychology Today News Editor and contributor for Brainstorm.

A few years ago, when I was a HOTorNOT profile moderator, I painfully read over 1,000 profiles. I could have written a sociology dissertation on it. One of my peeves: Why would anyone present herself with such sentiments as “I really like hanging out,” or “I’m into pretty much anything.” Best of all, “I like to have fun.”

Really? Me too. We’re a perfect match.

One guy actually listed “Anywhere in the world” among the things he finds “hot.”

Anywhere – I love “there”.

According to a paper in Computers and Human Behavior, these milquetoast daters should not expect success. In one study, the researchers compared the effects of emotionality in introductory emails.

So while JimJ789 exclaimed “Travel excites me since it allows me to see places and people that I read about,” FrankXYZ summoned only “I also like to travel. After I go on a vacation I feel very content that I have done something I like.” Unsurprisingly, Jim was seen as more confident, happy, enthusiastic, cheerful, energetic, excited, interesting, proud, determined, strong, bold, and daring, while Frank was seen as more calm, relaxed, at ease, shy, and nervous. I assume most people would choose the more “interesting” man.

The researchers also looked at self-disclosure. Sample emails included lines like “I would tell [my ex-wife] that I was lonely and she would change the topic.” The imaginary man who shared the most was seen as open, and the most discreet man was considered strongest.

Psychology Today has covered another study that bears on the issue of TMI: The less you share initially while dating online, the more easily others can fill in the blanks with high expectations, which may score you that face-to-face meet-up. So maybe saying that you’re “into pretty much anything” is hot after all.

*****

Read more by Matthew Hutson on Psychology Today’s Brainstorm blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 6:48 am

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Love Addict

Love is the hardest addiction to quit.

by Stanton Peele, PhD, author of 7 Tools to Beat Addiction, and Psychology Today’s Addiction in Society blog.

We often warn people about addictions, those destructive habits that are hard to quit. In recent years, the term addiction has been applied beyond drugs and alcohol, and even cigarettes, to behaviors ranging from shopping to sex. I have also written about love relationships that can be addictive.

Obviously, I don’t mean all love is addictive – starting with parent-child love and strong marriages. But, as a psychologist and addiction expert, I often encounter destructive intimate relationships. When you speak to a woman who has been abused in a relationship, but refuses to leave, the abused person explains, “I stay because I love him.”

On the other hand, when people leave a marriage or love affair, they often describe the most intense withdrawal, often extending over years. I recently wrote a blog post titled, “The Seven Hardest Addictions to Quit – Love Is the Worst.” One woman responded: “My divorce has left me completely blindsided and affected every aspect of my life. It is something that I have struggled for years to get over and to this day cannot seem to move forward.”

I have heard many similar horrible experiences. As with other addictions, I don’t blame the object of the addiction entirely – I feel people who form such destructive attachments lack something in their core selves that creates the need for the addiction.

Of course, our society romanticizes all sorts of love connections. We need to inform our children – and even many adults – that just because you are strongly attracted to someone does not mean the relationship is a good one.

*****

Read more by Stanton Peele, PhD on Psychology Today’s Addiction in Society blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 7:23 am

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Testosterone President?

The secret to Barack Obama’s success.

by Abraham Morgentaler, MD, author of Testosterone For Life and The Viagra Myth: The Surprising Impact on Love and Relationships, and Psychology Today’s Men, Sex and Testosterone blog.

President Barack Obama has been widely lauded for his coolness under pressure. As one of the youngest U.S. Presidents, one has to wonder: Could generous testosterone levels contribute to his calm demeanor?

Ridiculous? After all, we associate testosterone with the darker side of male behavior – violence and aggression. Surprisingly, raising testosterone does not cause aggressive behavior in men. On the contrary, low testosterone causes unpredictable behavior in animals and irritability in men. Testosterone actually appears to act as a mood stabilizer.

William, 48, came to my office with his wife. “He’s become a grumpy old man,” she said. “Little things set him off. He’s not the same man I married.” William just shrugged. Tests revealed low testosterone. Three months after beginning testosterone therapy, William reported, “My wife likes me again. I notice I’m more upbeat, and better able to deal with problems and frustrations.”

New research reveals important health benefits from having normal levels of testosterone, not only for mood, but also for bone density, muscle mass, sexual function, and sense of well-being. Having a youthful testosterone level may not help us live forever, but with our current President, it might just keep us out of a war or two.

*****

Read more by Abraham Morgentaler, MD on Psychology Today’s Men, Sex and Testosterone blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 3:29 pm

Monday, February 23, 2009

Repair Your Relationship Rules

How to end a fight: relationship psychologist John Gottman‘s rules to patching things up.

by Jay Dixit, Psychology Today Senior Editor and contributor for Brainstorm.

  1. Cool off. Don’t talk about the relationship if either of you is angry. People have an emotional refractory period during which it’s hard for them to think clearly. Take a break for at least half an hour and settle down-while thinking about something else. Start again when you’re both calm.
  2. De-escalate. Show affection, ask interested questions, and use self-deprecating humor to make your words sound less harsh, critical, or confrontational. If your partner says, “You worry too much about money,” you might respond with, “I know I can be pretty tight with my money-it’s part of my Scottish heritage. But I really do need to talk to you about the budget.”
  3. Find out your partner’s feelings. A direct question like “What are you feeling?” is fine.
  4. Validate your partner’s feelings. Respond in an understanding, compassionate way, and apologize if possible. Show that you understand why he feels the way he does. If your partner says, “I’m hurt because you didn’t ask me about my day, and it makes me feel like you’re not interested in me,” you might respond with, “I’m really sorry, I’ve been preoccupied with my own day. I can see why you’re feeling neglected.”
  5. Discover your partner’s needs. Ask questions like, “What do you need here?”
  6. Talk about your needs. Share how you’re feeling-it can’t be a one-way street. You might say, “You’re right, I’ve been working hard, and that’s an issue. I’ve been trying to make sure we have enough money for that vacation we’ve been planning.” Tell your partner what you need, too.
  7. Work toward a solution. If your partner says, “We’re not going on dates like we usually do because you’re working so hard,” you might respond with, “OK, let’s do that. When can we go on a date?”
  8. Follow up. People don’t always say everything they want to say the first time around, so take another pass. Ask, “What else are you feeling? How do you feel about this issue now? Have we covered everything? What else do you need?” Often, the initial argument covers only the leading edge feeling. If you don’t go back and ask if there’s anything else, you’ll wind up revisiting the issue in another fight down the line.

*****

Read more by Jay Dixit on Psychology Today’s Brainstorm blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 11:00 am

Friday, February 20, 2009

Yes, Tonight – and Every Night – Honey

Men do everything they do in order to get laid.

by Satoshi Kanazawa, PhD, evolutionary psychologist at London School of Economics and author of Psychology Today’s The Scientific Fundamentalist blog.

From an evolutionary psychological perspective, the ultimate (albeit often unconscious) motive of all human behavior is reproductive success. Among humans (and all other mammals), sex and mating are a female choice; it happens when and with whom women, not men, want it.

The power of female choice becomes apparent in a simple thought experiment. Imagine a society where sex and mating were entirely a male choice; individuals have sex whenever and with whomever men want, not whenever and with whomever women want. What would happen in such a society? Absolutely nothing, because people would never stop having sex! There would be no civilization in such a society, because people would not do anything besides have sex.

In reality, women do often say no to men. This is why men throughout history have had to conquer foreign lands, win battles and wars, compose symphonies, author books, write sonnets, paint portraits and cathedral ceilings, make scientific discoveries, play in rock bands, and write new computer software, in order to impress women so that they will agree to have sex with them. There would be no civilization, no art, no literature, no music, no Beatles, no Microsoft, if sex and mating were a male choice. Men have built (and destroyed) civilizations in order to impress women so that they might say yes. Women are the reason men do everything.

Bill Maher captures the essence of female choice perfectly, when he quips: “For a man to walk in to a bar and have his choice of any woman he wants, he would have to be the ruler of the world. For a woman to have the same power over men, she’d have to do her hair.” Any reasonably attractive young woman exercises as much power as the (male) ruler of the world.

Put differently, every woman has the power to predict the future, while very few men do. If a man wakes up in the morning and says to himself, “Tonight I will get laid,” the prediction will almost always fail, unless he is incredibly handsome. If a woman – any woman – wakes up in the morning and says to herself, “Tonight I will get laid,” the prediction will always come true every time. Such is the power of female choice. This is why men – be they criminals or scientists – must impress women; men do everything they do in order to get laid.

*****

Read more by Satoshi Kanazawa on Psychology Today’s The Scientific Fundamentalist blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 6:00 am

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Hard to Get

Does Playing Hard to Get Work?

by Jay Dixit, Psychology Today Senior Editor and contributor for Brainstorm.

We’ve all had the experience. You meet someone and there’s a connection. Maybe you go on a date or two. But then you call them and… they don’t call you back. You wait, and you wonder. What did you do wrong? Did she meet someone else? Then, when she finally does call, you’re so relieved you want to never let her go.

There’s little doubt playing hard to get can increase romantic desire. “When you don’t seem quite so available, it makes you seem mysterious, feeds the other person’s imagination, makes them doubt whether they have you,” says Robert Greene, whose The Art of Seduction is the ultimate playbook for the hard-to-get game. “Anything you do that makes the other person’s imagination take flight furthers the seduction process.”

If you’re excited about someone, uncertainty about how they feel toward you can actually heighten your attraction to that person, explains Paul Eastwick, a psychologist at Northwestern. You have a drive to reduce the uncertainty, which causes you to obsess – which in turn deepens your feelings.

We all want what we can’t have – and we value more what we work harder to get. When someone plays hard to get, it forces us to invest more, and the more effort we put in, the more we assume it must have been worth it.

Playing hard to get works because it increases a person’s perceived value. “It’s simple sexual economics,” explains Peter Jonason, a researcher at New Mexico State University who studies the phenomenon. “You give the impression of lower availability, and thus increase demand.” We’re programmed to be attracted to the best mates possible, and as with other types of negotiations – such as a job offer – cues that you have other options signal your desirability.

“Those who are high in mate value are indeed hard to get for most, since they are highly sought and in great demand,” explains David Buss, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Texas and author of The Evolution of Desire. “Being overly eager is a clear signal that you are lower in mate value.”

But playing hard to get is a dangerous game. We like people who like us back, and if you seem too unattainable, you risk causing the other person to lose hope and give up altogether. But stretching out that period of anxious anticipation can be a powerful weapon of courtship. Use with caution.

*****

Read more by Jay Dixit on Psychology Today’s Brainstorm blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 7:25 am

Monday, February 16, 2009

Turn Off Your Defense System

When you are defensive, the worst is likely to happen.

by Steven Stosny, PhD, author of How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It and Psychology Today’s Anger in the Age of Entitlement blog.

Except in the case of abuse or battering, the real barrier to a satisfying intimate relationship is not the personality, selfishness, ill will, poor behavior choices, or communication skills of you or your partner. The real enemy of your relationship is the hypersensitive automatic defense system that has evolved between you.

Activated almost entirely without words, the defense system is triggered unconsciously by body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. By the time you’re aware of any feelings, it’s usually in an advanced stage. It’s the feeling you get when your partner doesn’t look at you, or sighs as you enter the room, or when he starts with that “tone.” Suddenly you find yourself in a defensive posture, prepared for the worst.

Of course, when you are both defensive, the worst is likely to happen. You can just as suddenly find yourself in a battle of cold shoulders or curt exchanges or hot arguments- the missiles start flying on their own, with no one giving the order. You both feel powerless. You get irritable, impatient, resentful, or angry and want to stonewall, ignore, avoid, shut down, criticize, yell, or devalue yourself or your partner.

Disarming Your Defenses

  • See it as a pattern between you rather than something your partner does to you.
  • Make a core value decision of what is more important to you-giving in to your defense system or disarming it.
  • Maintain the will to disarm it, even when it feels awkward or scary to do so.
  • Appreciate times of hypersensitivity and the enormous power of incendiary triggers.
  • Be compassionate to yourself and your partner.
  • Be allies against it-it’s bigger than either one of you but not bigger than both of you.
  • Be able to say, “Oh, we’re triggered again; let’s set it right. You’re important to me; I want us to be close.”

*****

Read more postings by Steven Stosny on Psychology Today‘s Anger in the Age of Entitlement blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 6:00 am

Friday, February 13, 2009

Did My Daughter Do a Hair Flip?

Learning to beguile at a young age.

by Steven Schlozman, MD, Associate Director of Medical Student Education in Psychiatry for Harvard Medical School and author of Psychology Today’s Grand Rounds blog.

“Did she just do a hair flip?” my wife asks, smiling, wide eyed, as if our 8-year-old daughter has said a new word or taken her first few steps.

I replay what I’ve just seen. My daughter’s talking to a great kid whom she’s known since kindergarten. He says something charming and my sweet “latency age” child effortlessly tilts her little head down and throws it back, her long chestnut hair sweeping forward and then back again along her shoulder blades. Her friend, just for an instant, loses his balance, stumbles a bit toward the wall against which he had a second before been so confidently leaning. It’s like there was a small earthquake, but he regains his composure quickly and is back to his confident poise in almost no time. I could have missed the whole thing if I had hiccupped.

I nod to my wife and agree: “Yeah. That was a hair flip…I’m going in.”

“Don’t you dare,” warns my wife, reminding me of all the reasons that I married her. We men often descend into buffoonery without the guidance of our wiser partners.

Freud felt that the sexual world of an 8-year-old was “latent.” Hah! Hell, my legs felt rubbery. My daughter knew, at some very deep-rooted biological and unconscious level, exactly what she was doing. When Desmond Morris wrote The Naked Ape, he argued that humans learn to flirt early as a function of adaptive evolutionary pressures. In this sense, flirtation, of which the Hair Flip is a specific enactment, helps humans to occupy a biological niche that I believe has as much to do with romance as it does with reproduction. I have been on the receiving end of a Hair Flip, and it is a true pheromone, an invitation to continue the interaction, a sign that things are going well.

And that, as a psychiatrist and as a father, I must acknowledge is a good thing. That my daughter can do a Hair Flip is wicked cool. Her rapidly developing brain gleaned a social and evolutionarily adaptive communicative cue from the prevailing culture and called upon it at the appropriate time. THIS IS NORMAL! Any discomfort I experience is about my own coming to terms with my daughter’s capacity to beguile. And for this, I know a lot of good shrinks I can talk to.

*****

Read more by Steven Schlozman, MD on Psychology Today’s Grand Rounds blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 6:00 am

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Schooled in Jealousy

by Thomas Moore, author of Psychology Today’s Care of the Soul blog.

When I think of how naive and ignorant I was about love in my late teens and twenties, and not much better in my thirties, I wonder how I survived. When I was twenty-six, going on thirteen, a friend who was a Catholic sister pleaded with me not to get seriously involved with anyone. She knew how inexperienced I was.

But I learned quickly. I had to, given my romantic temperament and my tendency to fall fast and deep into love. I learned most of the laws of love through jealousy-burning, painful, clinging, obliterating jealousy.

I know that jealousy can be a dangerous thing. It is one of the love sicknesses. But you shouldn’t just try to get rid of it. It has a purpose: to make your capacity to love more mature.

Jealousy forces you to consider one of the great conundrums that every person faces: how to want another person madly and at the same time grant her her freedom as a person with her own life and fate. You can’t learn this from a book or a counseling session. Jealousy can teach you, but only if you are able to go through it to the end. All the questions with which you torture yourself, all your doubts, all your shifting back and forth-all of these tools of jealousy twist you out of your immaturity and eventually teach you how to love. Your heart expands, and you become capable of loving the other passionately while taking pleasure in honoring the mysterious laws and attractions that make her who she is.

*****

Read more by Thomas Moore on Psychology Today’s Care of the Soul blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 6:00 am

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Loving What Is

by Alix Kates Shulman, author of To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed and Psychology Today’s Love and Dementia blog.

In July 2004, my husband, whom I fell for in 1950, tumbled off a balcony, suffering a traumatic brain injury that left him unable to remember anything from that day on or find his way home from across the street. Our marriage, built on equality and mutual support, was radically transformed as I became his caregiver.

People wondered why I didn’t place him in a nursing home and get on with my life, not realizing that his dependency brought us closer and infused my life with new purpose. Though his emotional outbursts, typical of TBI, were sometimes difficult to handle, behind his symptoms he remained his gentle, sunny self, dancing with me daily, relishing a cappuccino, thanking me for “sticking by” him.

For the entire first year, I was determined to heal him, like someone possessed. But after I recognized that his cognitive impairment was permanent, I switched my goal to creating for us lives as fulfilling as possible. For him that meant being with me; for me it also meant writing. I hired a caregiver weekdays from 9 to 2 and began writing To Love What Is: A Marriage Transformed, a memoir about his accident and its aftermath. Of all my books, it was the most efficiently written, partly because time was limited; partly because our searing story, a love story, came pouring out of me.

Love, life’s natural sweetener, can ease the way to embracing your fate (amor fati, in Nietzsche’s phrase), accepting whatever lies in store. If someday I am no longer able to care for him at home, I hope I will adapt gracefully and continue to love what is.

*****

Read more by Alix Kates Shulman on Psychology Today’s Love and Dementia blog.

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Posted by: WebMD Blogs at 6:00 am

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