Celeste & Danielle Offer Sex and Relationship Coaching for a Passionate, Connected and Fulfilling Life

In the hierarchy of unforgivable relational sins, we, as a society, think of lying – and especially the lying associated with “cheating” – as perhaps the worst (non-abusive) relationship sin. Because lying is considered to be a universal evil, a person who lies in their relationship rarely gets much sympathy. Many potentially amazing relationships end because the person who lies is vilified and the offended party never takes a beat in order to get a handle on the why of the lie.

The truth is, people lie to the people they love all the time in small and not-so-small ways. Lying can be everything from saying you are “fine” when you are not to going behind their back and having sex with another person. As a sex and relationship coaches, we know that people rarely lie because they are evil, selfish monsters with no regard for others. Much more often, people lie because they are terrified of what might happen if they tell the truth. They fear they may be ridiculed, humiliated or left by the people they love the most.

Allow us to illustrate an example from our practice. Joe has wrestled with depression his whole life. While his depression did not go away when he met his wife, Catherine, he put it to us like this: “When I’m with her, it’s like she lights some part of me up that can rise above it all. I used to have trouble getting out of bed most days and I thought a lot about suicide and even made one attempt. These last 5 years being with Catherine, I’ve only had two depressive episodes.” Catherine and Joe came to us after Joe found out Catherine had lied about a work trip and went skiing with a group of friends instead. Joe was certain that Catherine had cheated on him on the trip and was feeling suicidal. He felt he could never trust her again.

In an individual session with Catherine she broke down crying, “I want you to understand, since I met Joe, for the most part I’ve been so happy and fulfilled. I’ve never felt alone, and I think he is really sexy, but I did lie to him and I feel horrible. There is no excuse for what I did, but I want to explain. I went on the trip and, while I was there, I kissed a friend of mine. I’m not even sure exactly why I kissed him but I think I was just feeling so suffocated, and on the trip I felt so free. I got pretty drunk and I was feeling this wild, playful part of me that I’ve kind of lost. I love Joe more than anything in the world, and I am so happy that I married him, but his depression has been really hard. I feel so selfish when I say it, but the two times it’s gotten really bad during our relationship, it was because of something I did. Joe can get really jealous and insecure and he takes my occasional flirting as certain evidence that I will cheat on him someday. In general, he is very anxious when I hang out with my friends. The first big depression was after he saw a playful chat I was having with a guy at work that had some sexual innuendo in it. I can understand that Joe felt jealous though I wasn’t doing anything with the guy and didn’t want to. After he saw the chat, he was in bed for a month, he almost lost his job. The stakes feel so high, like if I do something wrong he might be hospitalized or even kill himself. I don’t want to loose him but I do want to be myself. I know I should have tried to talk to him about this earlier, I was just too scared.”

Let us be clear, as Catherine said, none of this is about making excuses for lying. However, there is often a good reason. Infidelity is a very complex topic and is rarely black and white. Many people cheat even when they love their partner deeply and often cheating or other kinds of lies happen when a person feels like they have lost some part of themselves and are trying to regain it. Sometimes their partner rarely or never wants to have sex with them – something we don’t think of as universally evil or selfish but which can have grave consequences on a relationship. Sometimes the kind of sex they are having isn’t at all satisfying but the partner doesn’t want to try anything different. Sometimes the relationship has become isolating. And, sometimes there are so many good things in the relationships (often including shared children), that the stakes feel too high to tell the truth and face the potential loss.

All that said, we want to emphasize that lying to someone you love can have very grave consequences. It impacts trust and can shake the foundation of a relationship. Many relationships don’t survive a lie, especially one that involves sex outside the relationship. The way we see it, one of the worst parts of lying is that it takes the choice away from the deceived person, which often leaves them feeling humiliated. They are going along under one assumption about what is happening in the relationship and then suddenly they realize they’ve been wrong. In addition to simply feeling hurt, they often feel naive or downright stupid. Coming back from that humiliation can take quite a bit of work and a very supportive, understanding partner. Ultimately, the real healing comes when there is mutual understanding and empathy about why the lie happened.
Many people don’t want to lose a relationship that they have so much invested in, so they try and keep their secrets close. While it seems devastating when it is revealed, lying can offer an opportunity for couples to go deeper and understand where each of them stands, and what each of them really needs in the relationship.

It seems that everywhere we look we see couples in long term relationship suffering from challenges in their intimacy and sexual connection. More than half of all marriages end in divorce and a large number of those who stay married report feeling dissatisfaction in their sexual and emotional connection.

At the beginning of a relationship, also known as the “honeymoon period,” it may be possible for you to have super hot sex even you have not shared what you want out of sex and intimacy with your partner. Simply being with someone new upon whom you can project all of your fantasies, combined with the uncertainty of new romance can be enough to fuel the fires of desire and arousal and lead to a lot of sexual fulfillment.

The sexual honeymoon period doesn’t happen for everyone. For those who do get to experience it, a majority will see it fading as the excitement of newness and uncertainty wears off. It is then that the important question arises: “How can you keep sex hot in long-term relationships?” It seems like everywhere we look, we see new one-size-fits-all approaches to answering this question.

Therapists, coaches, sexperts, popular magazines and new age teachers have offered a variety of potential solutions. New age teachers will say that there needs to be polarity between the masculine and feminine. While this will help some couples whose desires include the need for polarity, others will be turned on by a feminine-feminine or masculine-masculine dynamic. Leading sexperts might tell you that there needs to be more mystery and distance that counters the domesticity. Yes, for some, that might be just the thing. For others however, less mystery and more safety will be what allows them to open to another. Some couple’s therapists advocate the idea that deep attunement and good communication will automatically lead to good sex, but that’s only true if what you need in order to get off is someone who is attuned to you. It is just as possible that what gets you off is that someone wants to use you for their pleasure.

The reason these approaches will not necessarily fix your sex life is because they are very simplistic and one dimensional. The truth of sex and intimacy is that there isn’t a cookie cutter answer that works for everyone. There is, however, a way to find out what will work for you and in your relationship.

If we have learned one lesson in our years of working with people around their sexual desires it is that people are extraordinarily diverse and unique – in other words, there is no one-size-fits-all fix. What people don’t realize is that each person has what we like to call their own unique Hottest Sexual Movie – a compilation of erotic and emotional experiences that elicit what they most want to feel in sex.

In order for sex to be hot, it must fulfill a good deal of each partner’s Hottest Sexual Movies. Those couples who have complimentary movies will generally stay much more satisfied with their sex life in the long term, but the majority of couples don’t get their movies met with the un-communicated, spontaneous sexual encounters that populate Hollywood movies. For couples who have less complimentary Hottest Sexual Movies, creating a sex life that fulfills both of your desires can be a feat!

Bottom line – what you don’t know about your own and your partner’s desires and what you haven’t shared may be killing your sex life and we hope you will begin to explore, experiment, teach and share your Hottest Sexual Movies. For a much broader look at some of the most common movies, check out our new book Making Love Real: The Intelligent Couple’s Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion.

Stay tuned… In our next blog – Discover Your Hottest Sexual Movie 101 – you will find out how to understand and share your own and your partner’s Hottest Sexual Movie and learn how your sex life can fulfill (as opposed to kill!) your partner’s desire.

Many have outlined the lessons that can be learned from the Ashley Madison hack in terms of personal privacy and internet security. Others see the site hack as an example of justice being served in what they see as an increasingly immoral world. While we always promote honesty in relationships, we are less interested in passing judgement and more interested in the relationship lessons that an affair can bring to the surface and how these do not always end in despair or divorce.

Ashley Madison’s cleverly manipulative tagline “Life is short: Have an Affair” is appealing because it offers a shortcut to getting certain needs met. Instead of communicating your desires with your partner, it implies an easy fix for getting your sexual desires fulfilled. This equation does not take into account how time consuming and heartbreaking it can be to process an affair with your partner. This is a lesson many Ashley Madison users are now learning the hard way, and maybe others can also take this lesson to heart before they cheat.

As a society, we think of cheating as the ultimate, unforgivable sin. But we see so many different problems surface in relationships that can be just as damaging such as withholding love, sex, or affection. As the “injured party,” the person who was cheated on may feel self-righteous and refuse to consider how their behavior may have contributed to problems in the relationship in general. They may refuse to have any compassion for the ways that their partner’s denied desires or fears and wounds led to the affair. When this happens communication becomes limited to a loop of apology and blame, which does not allow for a couple to reconnect.

It is undeniable that finding out about an affair can be extremely painful. Your partner, in whom you’ve invested so much trust, has lied to you and broken an agreement. At the same time, if you want to recover from an affair, it will not help to think of one of you as the helpless victim and the other as the evil perpetrator. Once cheating has been discovered or confessed, both parties need to decide if they want to face the process of looking at the issues in the relationship (and the affair as a symptom of these issues) rather than labeling the person who had the affair the cause of the problem.

For some people, those who find it unthinkable to actually communicate their desires to their partner, an affair might present a unique moment of crisis that can help save a struggling relationship. It can be a moment where honesty comes flooding out in all directions. We have helped many couples turn relationship crisis into an opportunity, and finding out about an affair, or even an attempted affair, puts most couples in a crisis. We agree with Ashley Madison in that “life is short”, which is exactly why honestly communicating your desires is so important.

​OK, let us start by saying that these may not actually be easy, but neither is having an affair and all of the residual problems that follow which can lead to a break up that neither party truly wants. So now that we have been honest with you, we think you can tackle number 1.

​1. Be honest – The best way to avoid an affair is to be honest about your desires up front as soon as they arise or once you have overcome your sense of shame for having them. For this to work best, you and your partner must create an ethic of acceptance around each other’s desires, even those that are scary or threatening. Some people are afraid to even share their sexual desires or talk about the possibility of being with someone else because they fear that their partner will judge them, stop loving them, resent them, or begin watching their every move to make sure that they are not seeing anyone else.

​2. Negotiate your Relationship Contract – Evaluate your Relationship Contract frequently and look at the boundaries you have set in your relationship or your resistance to certain sexual desires and practices. See if there has been any movement in those boundaries or if you are willing to explore the possibility of shifting them. If you do decide to expand your boundaries, it is important to do so slowly and with lots of communication. It is also important to remember that trying something out to see if it is okay with you does not mean agreeing to it forever. When working with couples on shifting boundaries, we always emphasize how important it is that people not go beyond their boundaries and shift into resentment.

​3. Make room for disappointmentt – Make room for each other’s disappointment when yours or their needs are not being met. Often, if you are merely allowed to openly and shamelessly ask for what you want and receive the support of your partner in having those desires, that can be enough. Then, even if it is beyond your partner’s capacity to allow you to meet those desires out in the world, they at least understand that you are disappointed, and you can feel loved and accepted by them.

​4. Turn a threat into an opportunity – You might also see if there is any part of your partner’s desires that you can play with or explore through fantasy and role play. If your partner wants to have sex with other people, you might dress up, pretend you are someone else, and have them pick you up for a night of sex. You might have a secret affair with your partner, complete with afternoon rendezvous, or you might go out cruising together and check out whom you’d each like to pick up. If your partner desires threesomes or group sex, you might come up with a hot threesome or group-sex fantasy to whisper in their ear during sex.

For some people, just having their desires heard and accepted will be enough. Others might not be satisfied with this solution, and their partners will need to listen to their disappointment or discuss outsourcing. The longer desires go unspoken and unheard, the stronger they are when they come out, so early acceptance is important.

Not everyone is attracted to people other than their partner, but it is normal and common when people are. The idea of being attracted to others or that your partner is attracted to others might scare you, or might feel like something you don’t want. The fact is that many people are attracted to different people other than their partner, emotionally and sexually. If you look at it as a fact of life, talking to your partner about your attractions to others can actually enhance intimacy. You can share what you feel about these attractions and any insecurities or fears that hearing about each other’s attractions might bring up. It is also okay to set boundaries around what you do and don’t want to hear about your partner’s attractions to others. When you make room in your relationship to honor the possibility of outside attractions and the feelings they create, it can help you stay connected and engaged with each other instead of developing separate lives where you keep your attractions hidden. This may help prevent affairs from happening.

Some people are comfortable with monogamy while others feel much more themselves in non-monogamous situations. They may feel fully satisfied with their partner and still want to have sexual or emotional connections with other people. But because there is limited social acceptance of non-monogamy, these people usually feel that they have no choice but to agree to monogamy if they want a long-term relationship. Some people don’t realize that they want to be with more than one person until later in life, when they have already entered into a monogamous marriage. Eventually, their desire to be with someone else may win out and they may end up having an affair.

No two relationships are exactly alike, yet we often make assumptions about how relationships are supposed to be. There is a lot of societal pressure, for example, to have a relationship where your agreements are assumed instead of overtly communicated and where you are expected to follow a particular relationship trajectory: you fall in love which generally includes meeting, dating, and becoming monogamous, then you solidify the relationship by moving in (and sometimes getting married), then you become a family (which may include children), and then you stay together into your old age.

The more relationships we see in our sex therapy and relationship coaching practice and the more we read the research, the more we are aware that this particular formula does not work for everyone (or even the majority of people). Yet, people judge themselves and their partners on their success or failure based on their ability to make the trajectory happen. We help people replace this static, assumption-based approach to relationships so that people can honor their unique and changing desires and boundaries in service of having sustainable, loving relationships.

We suggest you start with the following assumption: There is no right way to have a relationship and the most successful relationships account for the beautifully unique needs of the people in them. For example, we have seen wonderful marriages where the couple does not live together, delightful relationships that never result in marriage and generous couples who decide that the most loving, supportive thing they can do for one another is break up. We have seen relationships revived by an affair, and ones that were ruined by the monotony and boredom of trying to fit into society’s mold.

We invite you to examine the contract you have with fresh eyes and creativity and to be willing to continue to look at it throughout your relationship as you change and grow. Notice all the ways you have let yourself fall into default settings and see where this is or is not serving you. Even if you want aspects of the trajectory, bring them up and make sure you and your partner’s needs are both heard. Here are a few questions that might help you make your contract more transparent:
* How have you decided to share money?
* How do you approach attending social engagements (together or separate or both)?
* How do you sleep (i.e. in the same bed or not, at the same time or not)?
* Do you assume there is a right way to do some things in your relationship and get angry and blamey if it is not happening the way you want it to?
* What things do you really want that you have decided, consciously or unconsciously, not to ask for because it might upset your partner or it “just isn’t done”?

Once you approach your relationship contract as a dynamic, negotiable and non-judgmental process, we believe you will have a lot less undue suffering and frustration and a lot more of what you really want your relationship to be! Let us know if you’d like some help.

In popular culture affairs are portrayed as the ultimate, unforgivable relationship sin. The person who cheats is thought of as untrustworthy at best and, at worst, as downright evil. Yet, affairs happen all the time in relationships. In our work, we have found cheating to be more of a symptom rather than the problem. And while it is easy to blame the people who have affairs as the one who has betrayed the relationship, in our sex therapy and relationship coaching practice, we have found that people don’t cheat because they are bad people. But, they do cheat and they cheat for many reasons.

Sometimes people have affairs because they feel that something is lacking in their current relationship and they don’t feel that it is ok to ask for what they want or ask to be with someone else. They may still love and want to be with their partner (or they may not), but whatever is missing is something they feel they can’t live without, something that makes them feel truly themselves. For some people cheating is an expression of desire to be seen in a different light that they are perceived in their relationship or to explore a different aspect of themselves that isn’t expressed in their relationship.

Many people have affairs to make up for a lack of emotional or sexual connection. It may be that they don’t feel accepted or desired by their partner, or they may desire sex that is different from the kind they can have in their relationship. Maybe the sex they are having is not arousing to them, or there is little or no sex at all in the relationship. Some people simply have a strong desire for novelty and excitement despite a great sex life and connection with their partner. Cheating can be a way people fight the boredom and frustration that can arise when you are with one person for a long time.

For some people, affairs are a way to escape the responsibilities and criticisms of daily life. They want to feel, for a moment, that there is nothing they have to do and that someone is crazy about them just as they are. Some people have revenge affairs to get back at a partner who has cheated. Others have affairs to make up for a feeling of having been taken advantage of or as an expression of their unexpressed resentment. For example, if you feel pressure to provide and make everyone in your family happy, you may feel that the burden is unfair but not share your needs and feelings about it. Instead you feel justified in getting your emotional and/or sexual needs met somewhere else.

Stay tuned for our next installment on how to avoid cheating!