Though unspoken, they both knew that after 38 years of marriage their time together would soon draw to an end. Despite the valiant war she waged the cancer had overtaken every aspect of her being and we all knew she would not be with us when the morning came. We moved her into the family room as she requested, so she could be among her children and grandchildren, not tucked far away from them in a corner bedroom.

My father knelt beside her. Thinking he was simply bathing her (a task I myself had performed every day over the course of that week), I began to tidy up the nearby kitchen. He raised her left hand and kissed her wedding band. He began to bathe her hand, her arm, her shoulder. He stroked her hair, over and over. She was much calmer, and her breathing that had been so labored in the previous minutes seemed to become less difficult. She turned her face toward him…they were only inches apart from one another.

They did not speak. Their gaze locked onto one another. His hand lingered over her shoulder, then moved toward her chest. Through her entire illness, I had never seen her shed one tear, until now. His hand did not move. I could only imagine what each of them was thinking.

Were they remembering, were they longing? Yearning? Were they aching in anticipation of separation?

Was he trying to memorize her? She, him?

It suddenly dawned on me what was taking place just a few feet away from me. I hurriedly left the room, allowing them to be alone for the last time.

To the casual observer, the scene unfolding may have appeared to a be a sponge bath from a loving caregiver for his dying wife. But it was so much more than that.

What I was witnessing was a most tender act of love making.

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Love Him or Leave Him?

Hey Dr. Welch,

I need some relationship advice for a friend, I hope you can help!

My friend is almost 29 and she’s been married for about four years—-and she’s ready to call it quits on the marriage. She feels like no matter what she does, she can’t make him happy, she feels like she gives and gives to him but gets nothing in return. She told me she’s done trying, and so she’s emotionally checked out of the marriage. Recently, he’s noticed that she’s withdrawing and now HE’S trying really hard.

She said that she still loves him, but it’s not the love she was expecting to feel towards him so it’s really confusing to her. She wants the marriage to work but she doesn’t know if going to counseling is worth it because she doesn’t have any feelings of love for him anymore. 

The other issue is that she works with older women who are encouraging her to leave him. They’ve basically told her that she has one foot out the door so she might as well leave and put herself first.

What can I say to encourage her to stick with it and work through this rough patch? I greatly appreciate your time and thoughts!

This is such a common relationship problem. The good news: THIS MARRIAGE IS NOT OVER! Your friend is one confused gal. And no wonder! There’s a lot of background noise crap that’s making it tough for her to focus on the real issues and her real feelings. And even BETTER good news: Both aren’t ready to check out of the marriage at the same time! One partner is still fighting to keep the marriage. 

Lesson 1 from this: Never, EVER listen to the Hens who are dissatisfied with their own relationships/marriages. People enjoy other peoples’ misery, and if you give them enough time or attention they’ll eventually entangle you into their miserable miserableness. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you’re considering breaking off a relationship or going down the divorce path, be sure to surround yourself with people who have nothing but your best interests at heart—yours and your partner’s.

Lesson 2 from this: Your friend isn’t falling out of love with her husband. How do I know? She gave you a couple of huge hints when she told you she just doesn’t “feel” love toward him anymore and that she doesn’t have the “feelings” of love. The good news is–she shouldn’t have the same “feelings” of love she had when she married him four years ago.  Love transitions over time from the all-consuming, passionate, gotta-have-it fiery hot feelings to a calm, steady, mature love. If she wanted to leave, believe me, she’d be out the door. She needs to understand the difference between her initial drive-thru kind of love (passionate love) and what she’s feeling now (emotionally mature love)…and that this emotionally mature love is waaaaay better. She just needs to give it the time and attention it needs to take root.

When you talk to her again, remind her that while some people are telling her that’s she’s got one foot out of the door so she might as well leave, she’s also still got one foot in the marriage…so she might as well stick around and try to make it work. Counseling is a great option for this couple, as is a get-away marriage retreat where they focus on nothing but themselves and their relationship. 

This is one marriage that can be–and probably should be–saved!

dr. w 

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I used to dread taking down the Christmas tree. Seriously hated it. Dragging down the boxes from the attic…donning oven mitts so I could reach in through the dead, spikey, pokey branches to retrieve precious memories hanging by a bent paperclip to an even deader, spikier, pokier branch…tissue-paper wrapping each [why do they make them so] breakable ornament…tucking the Treasures away in the seemingly shrinking Rubbermaid tote…and toting those totes back to the attic.

What. A. Process.


Think for a minute about what any process involves. You start at Point A and end at Point B (or C or D or E, whatever way it takes you). Inherent to any process, then, is change. Whether it’s taking down a Christmas tree or preparing for a new year or living and loving…

…process involves change.





I think part of why I used to hate undecorating the Christmas tree is because that act signaled that a new year was about to start. And that New Year always brought with it change. That unwanted, unnecessary, dreaded change.

Something happens to me when I sense change. I get restless. I get uneasy. Kind of like Seabiscuit being held back at the gates. Back in that era, horse race gates didn’t have doors—only a bell heralded the race’s start. When I anticipate change, I see and feel and hear that there are no doors holding me back, no iron bars locking me into a certain position. But I can’t move because someone or something is holding the reigns, keeping me where they want me to be…not where my spirit longs to take me.

I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. Instead, each year I choose a word—one word—that signifies what I feel I need to work on in my life/work out of my life. Last year the word was “toxic.” I spent the year consciously removing any and all toxicity from my life. People. Food. Situations. Thoughts. Relationships. Habits. (Very effective, try it!)

This year I sense that the word is change. I used to be afraid of change. I used to fight it. I used to do whatever I could to hang on to the present so that I wouldn’t have to face change or deal with it.

As we took down the Christmas tree today and tucked the Treasures away, the feeling of UGH didn’t wash over me as it usually does.

Today I felt excitement, anticipation, expectation (and truthfully, a little bit of anxiety. I mean, c’mon–what good and faithful OCDer wouldn’t have anxiety?)

What would you try if the fear of change didn’t keep you reigned in?

I don’t know, either. But I’m sure willing to break loose of the reigns and see what happens. Wanna join me?


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Intimacy Phobia: What is Your Score?

“Our fear of intimacy…inspires ingenious ways of avoiding it.”

Intimacy requires that we unmask ourselves and become vulnerable and risk rejection. Because of this, many people fear intimacy.

Do you find that you’re afraid to establish and maintain close relationships with other people, or that you put up walls or barriers that prevent people from getting too emotionally close to you?

Have you ever found yourself having many friendships–but avoiding one close personal relationship with someone?

Do you ever become over involved in work or use work as an excuse not to hang out with others? Have you ever thought to yourself, “Wow, it’s been ________ days and other than work/class, I haven’t really had any contact with anyone.” ?

If you answered yes to more than two of these questions, you may have a fear of intimacy.

But what exactly is it that people are afraid of? Fear of intimacy comes in many forms and can manifest itself in any of the following ways:

  • Fear of failure: What if this relationship doesn’t work out?
  • Fear of being vulnerable: Is it worth subjecting myself to hurt and emotional pain?
  • Fear of rejection: I’ve been rejected before, I can’t go through that again.
  • Fear of being smothered in the relationship: What if I lose my identity?
  • Fear of sex? What if he/she disapproves of my body?
  • Fear of losing someone we love: What happens if I fall in love and he/she breaks up with me?
  • Fear of abandonment: What if he/she leaves me alone?
  • Fear of being “found out”: He/she will find out who I really am and won’t love me anymore. No one can possibly love me because of all of my flaws

Are you afraid to be intimately close with another person? Take the intimacy phobia quiz here to find out your intimacy score. Be sure to save your results and to share them with your partner!

© Kelly J. Welch, Family Life Now (2/e). Boston: Pearson Education

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Buh-Bye Body Image Worries, Hullo Orgasms!

When you become preoccupied with the appearance of your body outside of the bedroom, these worries and concerns ultimately end up in the bedroom.

Because for women sexual arousal and response require attention and focus, when you focus on how your body looks—rather than what you’re experiencing and feeling—you are less able to let your guard down and fully enjoy sexual pleasure and sexually pleasing your partner.

For a great relationship—and great sex—redefine what sex is all about!

Replace each of these with something positive
about YOURself.

  • Get real! Sexy is as sexy does! You define what body type is sexy and appealing to your partner, not media images! Your partner probably wouldn’t be in bed (or on the kitchen table) with you in the first place if he or she didn’t see something about you that was appealing.
  • Let it happen! You can’t force great sex, especially if you’re overly concerned about how you look during the act. Just let sex happen. Focus on what feels good and all the different sensations going on in your body.
  • Let go! Hang on to your partner, but get rid of all of those inhibitions by giving yourself to ENJOY SEX. When you truly let go, it’s tough to think about what your thighs must look like in a particular position (trust me, your partner isn’t looking, either).
  • Connect, communicate, and trust! When you focus on emotionally connecting and communicating during sex, you feel safe and secure—and you’ll realize that the shape of your body has nothing to do with these other feelings.
  • Be adventurous! Explore, explore, explore! Come up for air, and explore some more! This attitude shifts the focus to each other’s bodies, and in doing so, you begin to see how FUN sex really can be…and that it’s not all about looks.
How healthy is your body image? Find out here! Be sure to email me your results, or come back here and share them!
Source:  See Family Life Now (Welch, 2010), pg. 218. 

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Everybody’s Searchin’ for Intimacy

We are relational creatures—we need to be with other people. Even Aristotle once observed that people who don’t want to be emotionally connected to others are either “a beast or a god.”

Yep–everybody’s searchin’ for intimacy. Everybody’s hurtin’ for intimacy.


The word intimacy comes from the Latin word intimus, which means inner or internal, to come from within a person. In my field of family studies, we use the term to refer to an emotional closeness, mutual trust, and comfortable levels of self-disclosure shared between love partners.

And intimacy doesn’t just benefit you as a couple and your relationship. Unlike any other aspect of a love and/or sexual relationship, intimacy meets your crucial individual psychological needs…it actually promotes your own well-being and psychological health.

Through frequent, intimate communication in which your talks include personal sharing, listening, and understanding, your individual psychological needs are met by way of your relationship with your partner! As you self-disclose and share, and as your partner responds positively to your disclosures, your emotional bond to each other is strengthened and deepened—and so is your love for one another.

Developing intimacy is a process, and because it’s a process it means that it will change over time—not might, not maybe, not probably, not possibly.

Intimacy. Will. Change. Over. Time.

<Insert Realistic Relationship Expectation Here>

The intimacy you have today will not—should not (!!!)—be the same 5 years from now or 10 or 20 years from now. Just as your love matures and changes over time, so will your intimacy levels.

As you get to know your partner better, you begin to self-disclose your thoughts and feelingsThis leads to greater sharing of personal vulnerabilities and fears and hopes and dreams and wishesWhich even further deepens your levels of trustWhich gives you the freedom to share even more and moreWhich ultimately creates your own unique, private relational culture.

And that, my friends, is what divorce/affair proofs your relationship!

Oh, creating and maintaining this intimacy culture is tough work, there’s no doubt about that! This is why, when kids come on the scene—and  we’re so busy tending to their needs and driving them over half of hell’s acre to get them where they need to be—most relationships experience a huge dip in relationship satisfaction.

But your relationship doesn’t have to be “average.” You don’t have to experience that nose-dive, OMG-are-we-ever-going-to-pull-out-of-this unhappiness.

It takes work, though. Are you ready to commit to what it takes?

Start by filling out this intimacy inventory. Each partner fills this out on his/her own time…once this is done, get together (away from LIFE!!) in a quiet setting and discuss your answers with each other.

Save your responses, because over the next several weeks we’re going to build on this information and then begin to weave it into what you already know about marriage scripts, love maps, and sex scripts!

And…there’s a surprise twist at the end. You don’t want to miss it!

Photo Credit: “Affection” by Colby Cash (

What a Day for a Daydream: Sexual Fantasies

Research shows us that about 95 percent of the population say they fantasize about sex….and the other 5 percent lie.

Sexual fantasiesare sexual thoughts and images that we create in our minds. Everyone fantasizes about sex, and it’s the most common daydream people have—it’s also the most common type of sexual behavior that people engage in.

Understanding your sexual fantasies is important, because it helps you to better understand “who” you are as a sexual person, and fantasies give you great insight into your unique sexual script.

[Read more...]

Sexual Response: In 5…4…3…2…1…

In the 1960s and 1970s, sexologists Masters and Johnson outlined their revolutionary Four Phases of Human Sexual Response.

Through their research (don’t ask…it involved a lot of not-so-fun electronic devices, like a penile strain gauge and the photoplethysmograph, placed into a lot of different body cavities), they discovered that sex—whether it’s masturbation, oral sex, anal sex, sex with a toy, or penis-in-vagina sex—causes a chain reaction of sorts.

(Or, as my husband says, “the launch sequence has been initiated!”)

[Read more...]

He Said She Said

Okay, so by this point you get it. You get that love is different things to different people. You get that love is different things to the same couple at different times.

You get that your definition of love is under constant construction, and that your love map (and your partner’s) changes over time. You get that early in a relationship, because of passionate love, couples are eager to care for one another and they’re highly motivated to satisfy each other’s emotional needs, to nurture one another’s love needs.

You get that, as you self-disclose, intimacy levels deepen in the relationship, to the point where you and your partner become mutually dependent and reliant on each other for the fulfillment of your intimacy and love needs. You get that when your love needs are met, you feel happy and content.

But guess what? There’s one more puzzle piece we need to put into place in order to complete the picture: Men and women don’t prioritize love needs in the same ways.





She Said: Women’s top five emotional needs are affection, conversation, family commitment [check out the Sexuality tab fellas, and see why this leads to a super-charged sex life], support/help around the house [see previous bracketed note], and honesty/openness.

He Said: Men’s top five emotional needs are admiration/respect [check out the Relationships tab gals, and see how this leads to deeper intimacy], sexual fulfillment, physical attraction [don’t rush out for a boob job just yet, gals], recreational companionship, and honesty.

What do you think about this stuff? Is this similar to your experiences?

Is it realistic to expect that your partner can meet all of your needs?

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The Kiss Still Works

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on.

The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that.

Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private.

Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?

The young woman asks, “Will my mouth always be like this?”

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It’s because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles. “I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.”

Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

What is it that strikes you most about this story?

Source: Selzer, 1978.
Photo Credit: Bob.Fornal (