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.

Photo Credit: Man met bril (

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 

Photo Credit: meia_lua (










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 (

What’s Your Love Triangle Score?

Do you want a marriage that lasts? Do you want to live [almost] happily ever after? Then consummate love (not to be confused with consommé soup!) is what you want to strive for!

Consummate love is thought to be the most complete form of love, the love that’s associated with “perfect couples.”  Consummate means to develop something or to bring something to the point of perfection.

A perfect marriage? For real?  Yep.

Psychologist Robert Sternberg developed his Triangle Theory of Love, which conceptualizes eight different types of love relationships. Sternberg says that love isn’t a fixed experience—it’s a process that undergoes change over time, and it’s made up of three main things:

1.Intimacy:Feelings of closeness and connectedness deepen as we self-disclose—the more we disclose about private aspects of our lives, the deeper the trust becomes (and, the deeper the trust, the more we disclose). This trust, in turn, builds respect, affection, warmth, and the spiritual bond between couples. Intimacy takes time—and nurturing—to build, but it’s a prominent feature of love that lasts.

2.Passion: This refers to the physical attraction and romantic feelings that draw us to someone. Passion is the initial driving force in relationships. But it peaks quickly, and over time, reduces to a stable level (otherwise, we couldn’t get anything else accomplished!). At the same time, though, intimacy levels rise.

[PUSH THE PAUSE BUTTON:When passion begins to fade, it’s a good sign that the love is transitioning to a calmer love—to consummate love, a love that lasts! You are not falling out of love! The relationship is not over! Do not bail out! Stick it out, talk, and watch what happens next!]

3.Commitment: Simply put: Commitment is the decision to love someone else and to maintain the love over time. Loving another person is a conscious act of will—it is a deliberate choice. It’s putting forth your best effort in a relationship. No matter what.

I’ll be the first one to tell you that developing consummate love is tough. And maintaining it is even tougher.

That’s why I’m determined to write this blog, to help you get to that kind of love that no one can compete with! That kind of love that is so crazy hot Goliath himself couldn’t take you out of it. That kind of love you see in others and say to yourself (or out loud), I want that!

Stop in later and I’ll show you how all of this stuff about love ties together. In the meantime, time for another pop quiz!  Go here to see what kind of triangle of love you have. (When it asks for forename, it’s asking for your partner’s first name. It took me a second to figure that out. J).



Photo Credit: B Rosen (


Would You Like Fries with That? Drive-Thru Love

In my previous blog I talked about the science of love, and how the brain releases chemicals that make us feel blissful and euphoric when we are first “in love” with someone. Because of this flood of brain chemicals, it’s common to feel love intensely (just like our Bachelorette).

How long does the craziness of love—passionate love—last? And why does knowing about passionate love even matter?  Don’t all couples experience passionate love at some point? And don’t they do just fine?

Ummm….no. <cough, ridiculous divorce rates, cough><cough, ridiculously high cohabitation rates, cough>

You see, passionate love experiences are only temporary, usually lasting only about 12 to 36 months.  Yep, you read me right—the I-don’t-ever-want-to-leave-your-side-make-love-to-me-forever-and-ever-and-ever-amen feelings of passionate love only last for about a year to about 3 years (at the very most).

Don’t get me wrong. Almost all of us experience passionate love early on in our love relationships, and I would venture to say that this is a very, very necessary process that draws young lovers closer together.

But let’s stop here for a little Reality 101: Passionate love does not last! The very nature of passionate love is that it will wax and wane. It will fade!

Do you see the problem?

Faaaaaaaaar too often, couples today make decisions about cohabitating or marriage while they are still in the throws of passionate love.

We’re a society that needs demands immediate gratification. And while this instant satisfaction may be okay when it comes to driving through Mickey D’s to satisfy an urge for carbs and cholesterol, drive-thru passionate love certainly isn’t a way to determine if “that” girl or “that” guy is the one we should live with or marry.

So, a huge step toward divorce-proofing your relationship is to determine: Is what I’m feeling passionate love—or love that lasts?

[This is usually the point where students freak out. They’re afraid that after passionate love fades, their attraction to their partner or their gotta-have-it sexual desires will fade, too. Nope. Not gonna happen. Come back later and see why real love is even better than passionate love!]

Photo Credit: freefotouk (

Mr. Happy Gets Married

The other dayI introduced you to Mr. Happy and his “Stop! Don’t use that pole anywhere near her no-no hole” sex advice.

But Mr. Happy’s “secrets of sexual intimacy” don’t end there.  It looks like a night of explosive, make-Mr.-Happy-blow-like-Mr.-Mount-Vesuvius sex starts with the wifey.

“Ladies, learn how to wrap yourself, to wrap the room in a seductive allure tailor-made to your husband.” [Observation #1: Tailor-made to my husband?? That would mean something involving snow. And ski poles. There’s no way this can end well.]

But Mr. Happy’s wife seems to be an eager beaver (oh yes I did), so let’s see what gets him going.

Meet Mrs. Headlights (I am so not kidding).

“There’s this thing we men talk about called ‘headlights.’” [Observation #2: Ummm……I think pre-pubescent boys sneaking a peak at the lingerie section of the J.C. Penny’s catalog—or Popular Mechanics—talk about ‘headlights.’ Mr. Happy: Puberty called and suggests you give it another go.]

I wonder why headlights are so important? I mean, in the bedroom, not on the highway.  I’m sure Mr. Happy has an explanation. Let’s find out.

“When you’re a young boy watching the women’s Olympic diving competition, you might get together with your buddies and mention one swimmer’s ‘amazing headlights.’” [Observation #3: ‘Nuff said.]

I couldn’t understand the significance of this little how-to-make-Mr.-Happy-really-really-happy-with-your-headlights tidbit, but reading on I learned this: Apparently, a guy’s explosive volcanic eruptions are at your fingertips tonguetips nippletips, gals.

“What am I talking about? Nipples. When a man can see a woman’s nipples through the fabric she is wearing…we get weak in the knees at the right presentation.”

<things your mamma never taught you>

“I don’t know anything more alluring than a satiny top being pushed from underneath by your wife’s two nipples.” [Observation #4: Wait, what? What does Mr. Happy want with your wife’s nipples?]

Apparently, here’s all it takes to make Mr. Happy blow his top tip:

“Now, here’s how you build on your presentation, girls. Let’s say your husband hears the shower running at 10:30 PM. Just the sound of the water makes him frisky.” [Observation #5: Silly Viagra makers. All it really takes is a leaky faucet, not an erection-in-a-bottle.]

<you can’t make this stuff up, people>

“When his wife walks out sporting a new nightie that conveniently displays those headlights, he’s suddenly a little boy. [Observation #6: There's something seriously, seriously wrong with this statement!]

“A lot of men would jog five miles just to see that in their own bedroom. [Observation #7: See Observation #3]. That scenario alone could bring a good number of American men straight to orgasm!” [Observation #8:Gone in 60 Secondsmuch?]

Look, I’m all for great sex advice. No matter what studies you look at, sex problems are always pretty close to the top of the list when it comes to divorce because great sex is really important to a couple’s overall relationship satisfaction and happiness.

But folks, sex advice that reduces a woman to a sexual object—using her [nipples] as an instrument (object) towards your own sexual pleasure—almost always results in regarding her as a commodity and ignores her uniqueness as an individual.

Now, there’s no problem with a guy being attracted to a particular area (or every area, for that matter) of his gal’s body. There’s nothing wrong with her being attracted to any/every part of his body.

But when a books uses four pages—count ‘em, four pages—to talk about how excited Mr. Happy gets when he sees Mrs. Nipples Headlights…well….I have to wonder how Mrs. N-H benefits?

Stop by in a few days and we’ll talk about women’s sexual desire, arousal, and response…and why Mr. Happy needs to learn what makes Mrs. Headlights’ eyes roll back in her head.

Photo Credits: “Turn on your headlights” (Nikita Kashner,; “Roof” (Thom Watson,

What’s Your Passionate Love Score?!

Bachelorette: “I’m veeeeeeery in love. I feel giddy and blissful and excited and my heart feels really really really joyful and happy and at ease when I think about Jake and I’m in love and I’m happy and I really really trust Jake with my vagina heart and [I want to] kiss him for hours and hours and hours and I just really really really really love being in love.”

Bachelor: “Umm….we have had such an amazing time getting to know each other (read: sexually) and there are so many things I love to do to you about you. I do love you and your ass is you’re just perfect.”

Bachelorette: [Cue beauty queen tear-fest]

Bachelor: “But …..ummmm….. Something doesn’t feel right.”

Bachelorette: [Cue devastation]  Wait for it….

Passionate love is a wildly powerful emotion that is experienced as intense longing for the selected love object, along with profound sexual arousal and confused feelings. As viewers witness each week on TV shows like The Bachelor, it can either be a blissful experience if the love is reciprocated, or a painful experience if the love is ignored.

Passionate love—also sometimes referred to as romantic love—involves a mix of a pounding heart, a choking sensation in the throat, sweating palms, and a constricting sensation in the chest.

The emotional manifestations of passionate love include idealizing the romantic partner, an intense sexual attraction, a surge of self-confidence, adoration of the love interest, and an all-consuming, selfless desire to do whatever you can for the love interest.

In short, it’s the love-struck stuff that reality TV shows are made of—but not what long-lasting marriages are made of.  Passionate love starts very quickly and often leads to what we think of as “love at first sight.”

Romantic love almost always occurs as the result of an attraction to some physical trait, like his thighs-that-could-crack-a-walnut or her so-tight-you-can-bounce-a-quarter-off-of-it rear end.

Sure, physical attraction is an important element in any love relationship—but it’s not a factor in whether the relationship will last or not.  You see, with passionate love there usually aren’t a whole lot of other things we love about that particular person.  We don’t really love that person…we only love being a attracted to a certain part of that person.

When the attraction to the particular body part begins to wane (or when we become attracted to someone else’s equally tantalizing body parts), so too does the “love.” No surprise there.

Are you in love with someone now, or have you been in love? Go hereto determine your Passionate Love score!  Come back and post your results!


Photo Credit:  Justin Bugsy Sailor (

Chocolate Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

What is love, actually? What is the basis of the giddy, walking-on-air feelings we experience when we fall in love? Recent advances in science may reveal the answer.

The initial feelings of love don’t have much to do with romance, but instead have more to do with functions of the brain. Information between brain neurons is communicated by the movement of certain chemicals—neurotransmitters—across areas of the brain. When we begin to fall in love, the “high” we experience is the result of the release of these neurotransmitters.

When two people are attracted to one another, the brain becomes flooded with a gush of neurotransmitters that mimic amphetamines (commonly referred to as “uppers”). The neurotransmitter culprits are dopamine, which makes us feel good, norepinephrine, which causes pounding hearts and racing pulses, and PEA (phenylethylamine), which causes feelings of excitement and euphoria.  (Did you know that, because chocolate has PEA, it has long been rumored to promote passionate love between lovers?)

The neurotransmitters then signal the pituitary gland (located in the region of the brain known as the hypothalamus) to release a multitude of hormones that rapidly flood the bloodstream. The sex glands, in turn, release even more hormones into the bloodstream.

It’s the combination of the flood of neurotransmitters in the brain and the subsequent release of the hormones into the bloodstream that allow new lovers to make love all night or talk for hours on end.

When these chemicals are produced over a period of time, people interpret the physical sensations as “falling in love.”

Love, actually, is a cocktail of neurochemicals. Who knew?!

Source: Welch, Kelly (2010). Family Life Now.

Photo Credit: Verity Walsh (

Lust? Love? Or Love That Lasts?

1978. South Padre Island. Spring break. Size [much smaller than I am now]. Sun and sand and surf. Shoulder to shoulder college students. And all I could think about was, “Do I love Dave?”

Not the oh-my-gosh-he’s-so-slammin’-hawt kind of love. That kind of love gripped me the first time I saw him (1976. At a high school debate tournament. I beat him.).

The question I struggled with during that infamous spring break trip was, Did I love him with a marriage kind of love?  The kind of love that lasts? (Not that he was even considering marriage at that point….but a gal has to be prepared, right?)

On that trip, one afternoon I happened to have a pool-side conversation with an elderly woman. When I asked her how she knew her husband of 50+ years was “the one,” she said something like, “When you see his face in the clouds and hear his voice in the wind, you’ll know.”

I’ll looked up to the sky. Nope. Nothing.

I tilted my head into the wind. Zilch. Zippo. Thanks, Grandma Moses.

So, how do we know if what we’re experiencing is love—or love that lasts? For decades, researchers have studied the different experiences of love, and they’ve determined that there are basically two kinds:

  • Passionate Love: This love is a wildly powerful emotion that is fueled, in part, by chemicals in the brain and by hormones. The intense sexual attraction and the all-consuming desire for the other person are the hallmarks of this bow-chicka-bow-bow kind of love.
  • Companionate Love: This love is a deep, tender, mature, affection for a love partner. Unfolding gradually over time, this love develops between partners who have known each other long enough to have acknowledged and accepted all of the failings, faults, shortcomings, oddities, and quirks of each partner—and still like them.

Hang out this week, and you’ll learn the differences between lust and the I-forever-I-do kinds of love.

Have you ever wondered if your partner was “the one?”  How did you determine if she/he was or wasn’t? Or was?
Photo Credit:

“No Matter What” Kind of Sex


Remember earlier I told you that research shows us that nearly 3 out of 4 marriages end in divorce when a woman becomes seriously ill? Other research might also help to explain why some marriages can’t survive the “worse” in those for-better-or-worse marriage vows.

I spent the better part of two years studying what happens to a woman’s body image and sexual response following a breast cancer diagnosis and/or a mastectomy. Like many other researchers before me, I found that breast cancer is intricately linked to body image in some way for most women (in 93 of the 110 women I studied).

When I did my PhD internship at a breast cancer center, I discovered that the breasts-are-sexuality-femininity connection for women is so significant that many women who needed a mastectomy yesterday to save their lives, refused to do so—primarily because they were so afraid that losing a breast (or breasts) meant that they would also lose their sexuality and femininity. Or their husband.

I vividly recall when one woman in her 30s looked at her husband in desperation and said, “Will you still love me if I’m not pretty?”

But losing a breast isn’t just about appearance and sex to women—it’s about a sense of being whole, about self-esteem, about body image….essentially, it’s about losing their identity.

(WARNING: You are about to see photographs of post-mastectomy women. Please do not read further if you believe these images will disturb you or cause uneasiness.

I include these images so that you can see the reality of breast cancer, and why recovering physically, mentally, and emotionally can be a very, very long process. I also include the images so that you can see why it’s so tough for marriages and sex to survive after an illness like this—and why teaching women to be sexual objects for their husbands can be potentially dangerous to their marriages.) [Read more...]