5 Ways to Create Intimacy Without Taking Your Clothes off

While it’s the rare marriage that thrives without sex, she says there are many ways to be intimate without it.

By the time your kids are asleep, your mood is exhausted, not erotic. In theory, you want to connect with your partner. In reality, you’re too tired to make the effort. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone.
It is totally normal for your sex life to take a dive when you have kids, says Dr. Jenni Skyler, certified sex therapist and director of The Intimacy Institute. But that doesn’t mean you can’t – or shouldn’t – seek intimacy in other ways. According to Dr. Skyler, the definition of intimacy is quality connection and it is essential to a healthy relationship. And while it’s the rare marriage that thrives without sex, she says there are many ways to be intimate without it. In fact, Dr. Skyler co-created a model that identifies eight different spheres in which couples foster intimacy – and only one of those spheres is sexual.
Opportunities for intimacy might be less scarce than they seem – if you know where to look.

1 | Talking

Experts and couples agree uninterrupted conversation is an excellent way to create intimacy. While the first step is finding a sitter, putting the kids to bed, or scheduling a lunch date while the kids are at school, the second step is just as important: Put away your phones. “We’re so busy replying to texts or checking social media that we hardly hear the one we’re with. This is toxic to relationships,” says marriage therapist Jill Whitney, LMFT.
Once you create a distraction-free space for a conversation, you might be surprised where that conversation leads. Sarah Protzman Howlett, a mom of four-year-old twins describes a simple ritual she and her husband share. He says, “So tell me things,” and from there, they might discuss anything from work to travel plans to politics well into the night. Relationship expert Lucinda Loveland says research confirms, “couples who share with each other more, like each other more.”

2 | Kissing

Kissing (with all your clothes on) is something you can do virtually anytime, anywhere – even in front of the kids – and it’s incredibly intimate. I’m not talking about the chaste kisses Mike and Carol Brady exchanged before bed. I’m talking prolonged kissing with tongue. Skyler recommends what she calls a “kissing date,” in which kissing is not a means to sex, but rather the main event. Kelly Burch is a strong proponent of kissing. Though she and her husband have always enjoyed it, now as parents of a three-year-old and working opposite shifts, it has become much more important to them. Burch explains,“Kissing only takes a minute and builds that connection and intimacy.” As Natalie Rotelli recalls, she grew up thinking kissing was “first base” or just something to cover on the way to “home plate.” Now married with two children, she finds kissing is in fact, “the most intimate thing [my husband and I] could do.”

3 | Touching

The power of touch is huge. “Whether it’s a kiss hello or goodbye or holding hands, even non-sexual touching builds connection between partners,” says therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW.
David Bennett, a certified counselor and relationship expert, explains this phenomenon in terms of neuroscience: “Any form of longer-duration cuddling and touching causes a release of oxytocin in the brain. This is the chemical that bonds couples together. So, any type of cuddling or hand-holding (just make it longer than 20 seconds) will build intimacy.” While Bennett maintains nothing beats intercourse when it comes to releasing oxytocin, touching is the next best thing.
Rhonda Milrad, LCSW, relationship therapist and founder of Relationup, agrees that while touch is no replacement for sex, it’s incredibly valuable. While many new parents are plain old tired, there is limited privacy with little eyes and ears at home. This is why Milrad recommends foot and hand massages as a way to connect: “Being touched and nurtured is sensual and connecting and can feel like the two of you are sneaking a guilty pleasure.”
Some couples just have a habit of touching. Chase McCann, the mother of a 17-year-old says she and her partner have a habit of holding hands whenever they’re out. “We hold hands on the street or in parking lots (also sometimes in the mall, if he’s afraid I’ll wander off). Sure, in our case it’s a practical thing, but it also means that even on days when we’re busy and not thinking about intimacy, we’re maintaining that touch connection.”
Marc and Stephanie Trachtenberg swear by the extended hug. With two sons, their home is busy, but there’s always time for a hug, whether it’s in the morning, after work, or any random moment. What matters is that the embrace lasts “at least seven seconds” according to Marc. (Stephanie estimated their hugs last a minimum of 10 seconds).

4 | Engaging your senses

If you’re not in the mood to be touched, or if physical affection just isn’t your love language, Skyler reminds us that the five senses include not just touch, but also sight, hearing, smell, and taste. She says sharing a sensual experience is an excellent way to connect. This could be listening to music together, enjoying a meal together, or looking at something beautiful. When a couple sits outside to watch the sunset together, all kinds of good things happen. “Stress decreases, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, neurotransmitters are released and your mood becomes calmer,” says Rhonda Milrad, LCSW. “Consequently, you both are more open to connection and communication.”
It doesn’t take much to create a sensual experience in your home. Relationship expert Lucinda Loveland encourages couples to use dim lighting, candles, and music. According to Loveland, “This is a great way to create a warm and romantic environment without doing anything physical.” Many couples I talked to enjoy sharing a meal after their kids are in bed. Amy Bailey, a mom of three, says she and her husband of 16 years look forward to their “date nights in.” Whether dinner is a meat and cheese plate or a steak dinner, they savor the food and each other’s company.

5 | Sharing a hobby

As parents stretched in many different directions and with a “scarcity of resources” as my husband is fond of saying, it’s easy to forget what attracted you and your partner to each other in the first place. Doing a hobby together can be an excellent reminder.
Especially when time together as a couple is at a premium, “sharing something novel helps keep your relationship from getting stagnant,” says Jill Whitney, LMFT. Julie Burton can attest to this. With two daughters, now ages 11 and eight, Julie felt that she and her husband Scott were moving in separate directions, until they started fishing together. Living in Kansas, it’s never inexpensive or convenient, but “it’s always like falling in love again.”
A hobby doesn’t have to be novel or exotic to create intimacy, though. Jacob Brier and his wife have a young son and a shared passion for fitness. For the Briers, working out together equals “heart rate up, sweaty, out of breath … clothes on. Plus, you’re helping to stay healthy together.”
Natalie and Matt Rotelli have a nightly ritual of doing the Sunday New York Times crossword together. “He knows all things mythological, vocab, history (US and world), locations and cute little plays on words,” she says. “I generally figure out the algorithm for the long answers associated with the theme of the crossword and all things pop culture.” Natalie says their mutual admiration for each other’s skills is a source of connection.
Intimacy encompasses so much more than sex. It’s about connection – whether it’s a game of tennis, a conversation, or a hug. It’s natural for kids to put a damper on your sex life, at least for a period of time. And while you can expect your kids to ruin certain things, (e.g., your sleep), your connection with your partner doesn’t have to be one of them.

Determined…to Lighten Up

Lately, I’ve seriously resolved to take myself less seriously. It’s a paradox, isn’t it? Just like so many aspects of life. As time goes on, I’m finding that many age-old oxymoronic mantras ring true: less is more, pride brings low, humility brings high, giving is receiving, and so on.
As I find myself five-and-a-half years into marriage and two years into parenthood, I’m creating my own paradoxical saying. I’m determined to not be so determined, or I’m serious about being less serious (whichever you prefer).
I find striving for control a natural instinct. Though the motives of my heart may be pure (e.g. – “I just want what’s best for my family.”), the ripple effects of this habitual behavior in our home are almost palpable. It discourages, undermines, and steals away from what could have been an otherwise pleasant situation.
Manipulating the environment around me to be “just so” tends to go hand-in-hand with taking life too seriously in all the wrong ways, as well as fretting over outcomes that are beyond my control. Allow me to provide a few examples:
Correcting the way my husband loads the dishwasher.
Over-analyzing something he said innocently in passing.
Harping on things I want to get “done” around the house at a time that is only convenient for me.
Worrying excessively about my son’s milestones and whether he’s meeting them.
Comparing him to other children.
Being anxious over my every action as a mother, while spiraling down a wormhole of fear as I consider how each expression and word spoken might impact him as an adult.
(Cue: loud exhale)
There is a time and place to consider and address (almost) all of the examples above. I’m not suggesting that forsaking healthy order and parental responsibilities is the way to go. But letting these petty instances become the soundtrack in my home will suck the joy right out of the people living here.
To what end? That has been the question I’ve been asking myself lately. Why do I do this, and what is it all for in the long run?
Ultimately, the dishes will get cleaned, even if the way in which it happens is not the most efficient. My husband and I will hurt one another’s feelings, whether we intend to or not. Things around the house will get done, and it’s okay if it’s not on my preferred timeline. My son will reach his milestones at his own pace. He already possesses strengths and weaknesses, just like every other human being.
Yet, here’s the doozy for me lately: Not everything I say and do is going to powerfully impact my child. Sadly, it is pretty guaranteed that we’re all going to mess up our kids. This is unavoidable, so I can let that fear go right now.
We’re also going to do some really amazing things for them. Ironically, I think that the more we try to be perfect, the more we’ll probably mess them up.
When I take myself less seriously and simply be me – as a wife, mom, friend, and whatever other role I play in life – I’m reminded that I’m the best wife for my husband and he is the best husband for me because we intentionally chose each other, regardless of whatever our fleeting emotions might tell us.
Similarly, I’m the best mom my son will ever have. He was given to me and I was given to him purposefully, because we suit one another in spite of whatever challenges come our way.
So I will continually try to let go of controlling each facet of my life. I might even resolve to enjoy the imperfections as a sort of beautiful chaos. I aim to free up my husband and son to be themselves while providing them the extra respect, love, grace, patience, and understanding that I hope to receive from them.
I’m determined to stop wasting energy on the insignificant and the inevitable. It’s time to lighten up.

When One "Snore" Closes, Another Door Opens

People fall apart over money, stress, jobs, lies, but not freaking snoring, unless the issue is of course not about snoring at all.

“Do you think anyone has ever divorced her husband over snoring? Asking for a friend.”

I jokingly wrote this on social media a few weeks ago because I was up late listening to my husband slumber away. When I say that I was listening to him sleep, I mean I was unfortunately really listening. There he lay, a foot away from me, snoring loud enough to shake the walls of our home (I swear it). It was the loudest, most wretched sound I can describe to you good readers: a mixture of gurgling, choking, gasping, coughing, mumbling, and good old traditional snoring. A real medley of marital unhappiness, if you will.

This is the soundtrack to my life between the hours of 10 p.m. and six a.m., and it has been like this for a number of years. Unfortunately, as we enter middle age, the snoring is only getting worse. The infant cries in the night have been replaced by this crap and, sadly, I can’t just pop a bottle in the hubs and make the noise cease.

I roll him “beached whale style” constantly, jab him in his ribs hard enough to leave him with physical reminders of my constant frustration and irritation, and wake him out of his pseudo-slumber several times a night in hopes that I can quickly fall asleep as he startles awake and tries to settle himself back down. My tactics no longer even leave a dent in the snoring.

Just a few years back he used to snore only after he had a few beers or stayed up late watching sports. Now I swear it starts before he has fully closed his eyeballs. I don’t think he even has to be asleep to snore!

I used to become agitated, but I could deal…or move beds. I am a mother to four young daughters, so musical beds is nothing new to me. As the snoring developed into a nightly experience, my agitation also developed into anger, aggression, and really negative emotions.  Every single morning we would bicker via text regarding the previous night’s snore-a-thon.

Why doesn’t he go sleep on the couch? When is he going to call and schedule a sleep study or buy some fancy mouth guard over the internet? Why doesn’t he care that his sleep selfishness is causing me to be exhausted and perpetually pissed off at him?

At the root of it all, this marital impasse wasn’t about the actual act of snoring. It was about something so much deeper: Why does he always come first? Does he think that he needs rest more than me because he has a high stress job that requires him to keep people alive while I’m at home vacuuming and doing laundry? When we jointly decided that he would work stressful, late hours at the hospital and I would give up teaching to become a Goddess of Domesticity, did I accidentally also give up my right to a good night’s sleep? Did I sign on some dotted line that I agreed to be the lesser person in this marriage and, therefore, if one of us had to sacrifice rest, it would automatically be me so that he could be his best?

Well, hold the phone dammit!

I started to firmly believe that his nightly snoring was a personal attack on my wellbeing. He might as well kiss me good night and then say, “Good night. If you get no sleep tonight that’s probably okay because you stay home all day and do nothing, so rest up then.” Of course he never said that, he isn’t suicidal or anything. In fact, he never said anything other than sorry or that he doesn’t mean to snore. Sorry didn’t matter to me though, the resentment was so thick you could slice it with a knife.

Now I’m not exactly the type of woman who bottles up her emotions and buries them deep down in the depths of her soul. No. If I’m pissed, you’ll know about it. If you’ve upset me, you’ll hear about it, over and over and over again. There’s no guesswork in deciphering how I’m feeling. He knew that the snoring was causing major anger and rifts in our marriage. I made it fairly clear to him.

Snoring! People fall apart over money, stress, jobs, lies, but not freaking snoring, unless the issue is of course not about snoring at all. So why didn’t he just do something about it!?

As usual, we had to hit marital rock bottom before we were able to discuss the “whys.” Beneath his gurgling, snoring, middle-age manliness was some serious insecurity he was dealing with all by himself. Unlike me, my husband is the kind of person who bottles up his emotions and pushes them deep down only to have them explode once in a great while. He knew that he’d gained some middle age weight, which was contributing to the snoring. Even though he runs each and every day, he too was struggling with the beast that is “the thirties tire.” Facing middle age was another mirror that my husband wasn’t wanting to look in. While I seem to be accepting the fact that we are getting older, fatter, and grayer, he isn’t accepting that as easily. He still wants to eat, live, and drink like he’s 23 years old. No one wants to admit the golden days are long gone, I suppose.

So he kept on denying his snoring and I kept on hating him – every day – until we were able to get down to the root of his insecurity and the root of my feelings of being the lesser important human. Those kinds of marital talks are never fun. They are exhausting, they sting, they go on forever and ever, but they’re totally and completely necessary.

A week ago he went online and purchased a snore-guard. It can’t be the most comfortable thing to wear all night long, but sweet Lord it is working! He still lightly snores, but it’s tolerable – so tolerable. More importantly. I’m so grateful that this simple gesture of wearing his snore guard shows me that he does care about my comfort. It makes a world of difference in my sleep patterns and a world of difference in my appreciation for him.

Thank you, husband. Thank you for wearing your cumbersome mouth guard at night so that I can sleep and so that I know that you love me.

Fellows, if your wife tells you that you snore, then you snore. If you love your wife, if you value her and see her as equally important, buy yourself a snore guard. Nothing says I love you like a snore guard.

What This Magic Ratio Says About Your Relationship

For every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.

Whether it’s about not having enough sex, the dirty laundry, or spending too much money, conflict is inevitable in every marriage.
To understand the difference between happy and unhappy couples, Dr. Gottman and Robert Levenson began doing longitudinal studies of couples in the 1970s. They asked couples to solve a conflict in their relationship in 15 minutes, then sat back and watched. After carefully reviewing the tapes and following up with them nine years later, they were able to predict which couples would stay together and which would divorce with over 90 percent accuracy.
Their discovery was simple. The difference between happy and unhappy couples is the balance between positive and negative interactions during conflict. There is a very specific ratio that makes love last.
That “magic ratio” is 5 to 1. This means that for every negative interaction during conflict, a stable and happy marriage has five (or more) positive interactions.
“When the masters of marriage are talking about something important,” Dr. Gottman says, “they may be arguing, but they are also laughing and teasing and there are signs of affection because they have made emotional connections.”
On the other hand, unhappy couples tend to engage in fewer positive interactions to compensate for their escalating negativity. If the positive-to-negative ratio during conflict is 1-to-1 or less, that’s unhealthy, and indicates a couple teetering on the edge of divorce.
So what’s considered a negative interaction?

The one negative interaction

Examples of negative interactions include another predictor of divorce, The Four Horsemen, as well as feelings of loneliness and isolation. While anger is certainly a negative interaction and a natural reaction during conflict, it isn’t necessarily damaging to a marriage. Dr. Gottman explains in “Why Marriages Succeed or Fail” that “anger only has negative effects in marriage if it is expressed along with criticism or contempt, or if it is defensive.”
Negative interactions during conflict include being emotionally dismissive or critical, or becoming defensive. Body language such as eye-rolling can be a powerful negative interaction, and it is important to remember that negativity holds a great deal of emotional power, which is why it takes five positive interactions to overcome any one negative interaction.
Negative interactions happen in healthy marriages, too, but they are quickly repaired and replaced with validation and empathy.

The five positive interactions

Couples who flourish engage in conflict differently than those who eventually break up. Not only do the masters of marriage start conflict more gently, but they also make repairs in both minor and major ways that highlight the positivity in their relationship. Below is a list of interactions that stable couples regularly use to maintain positivity and closeness.

Be interested

When your partner complains about something, do you listen? Are you curious about why he or she is so mad? Displaying interest includes asking open-ended questions, as well as more subtle signals such as nods, making eye contact, and timely “uh-huhs” that show how closely you are listening.

Express affection

Do you hold hands with your partner, offer a romantic kiss, or embrace your partner when greeting them at the end of the day? Expressions of affection can happen in small ways both within and outside of conflict.
Within conflict, displays of physical and verbal affection reduce stress. If you’re having a difficult conversation and your partner takes your hand and says, “Gosh, this is hard to talk about. I really love you and I know we can figure this out together,” you will likely feel better because their display of affection is bound to reduce tension and bring you closer together.

Demonstrate they matter

Our motto for making marriage last is “small things often.” The small acts that demonstrate you care are powerful ways to enhance the positivity in your marriage.
Bringing up something that is important to your partner, even when you disagree, demonstrates that you are putting their interests on par with yours and shows your partner that you care about them. How you treat each other outside of conflict influences how well you’ll handle your inevitable disagreements.
For example, if your partner has a bad day and you stop to pick up dinner on the way home, you’re showing him that he is on your mind. Those small gestures accumulate over time and will provide a buffer of positivity in your marriage so that when you do enter a conflict, it will be easier to engage in positive interactions that outweigh the negative.

Intentional appreciation

How you think about your partner influences how you treat them. By focusing on the positives of your marriage such as the good moments from your past and your partner’s admirable traits, you put positive energy into your relationship.
Negativity is bound to enter your thoughts, especially during conflict. Intentionally focusing on the positive will counterbalance any of the moments when you struggle to find something good about your partner.
Now turn your thoughts into action: every time you express your positive thinking and give your partner a verbal compliment, no matter how small, you are strengthening your marriage.

Find opportunities for agreement

When couples fight, they focus on the negative parts of the conflict and miss the opportunities for what they agree on. When you seek opportunities for agreement and express yourself accordingly, you are showing that you see your spouse’s viewpoint as valid and that you care about them. An alliance in conflict, even minor, can fundamentally shift how couples fight.

Empathize and apologize

Empathy is one of the deepest forms of human connection. When you empathize with your spouse, you show that you understand and feel what your partner is feeling, even if you express empathy nonverbally through a facial expression or a physical gesture.
Saying things like, “It makes sense to me that you feel…” will help your partner see that you are on their team. Empathy is a profound connecting skill that all romantic partners can and should improve, and there is no limit to the amount of empathy you can express.
If your partner is upset with something you said or did, simply apologize. If you can find a moment during conflict to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings. That makes me sad,” you will provide a positive and empathetic interaction that reinforces your bond.

Accept your partner’s perspective

An approach that drastically improves conflict is understanding that each of your perspectives are valid, even if they are opposed to each other.
While you may not agree with your partner’s perspective, letting them know that their perspective makes sense will show them that you respect them. One of the best ways to do this is to summarize your spouse’s experience during a conflict, even if you disagree. Remember that validation doesn’t mean agreement, but it does signal respect.

Make jokes

Playful teasing, silliness, and finding moments to laugh together can ease tension in a heated conflict. Most couples have inside jokes they only share with each other. This highlights the exclusivity a couple has.
However, a word of caution: remember to find a way to joke around that maintains respect and appreciation for your spouse and that serves to bring you both closer together.

Test your ratio

Is your relationship unbalanced? Observe how you and your partner interact. For every negative interaction that happens, are there more positive interactions? If not, take it upon yourself to create more positive interactions in your relationship, and also try to notice the small moments of positivity that currently exist there, and that you may have been missing.
Keep a journal for one week that notes the positive interactions, however small, in your marriage. As Dr. Gottman’s research has revealed, the more positive actions and feelings you can create in your marriage, the happier and more stable your marriage will be.
Remember to maintain the Magic Ratio in your marriage with our 5:1 Tumbler.
This post was originally published on The Gottman Institute blog.

The Snip: 7 Things We Didn’t Expect From a Vasectomy

My husband’s vasectomy was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

A long time before we were ready for children (possibly before we were married) my husband and I agreed that after three kids, he would have a vasectomy. This was an assumption that we both simply carried through our married life, and when our youngest daughter was a few months old, he went to our family doctor and asked for a referral. What followed was a relatively straightforward process, but there were still some things we hadn’t expected.

1 | We didn’t expect questions about why

For many people, the assumption that the final child is followed by a vasectomy isn’t a given, and when it came up in casual conversation my mother-in-law asked what prompted the decision for him to have the operation rather than me. There are, of course, many reasons: it’s more effective, less risky, a much shorter recovery time, and generally just simpler for the male to be the one to take care of permanent birth control. It never even occurred to me that he might object to this plan and ask me to undergo major surgery instead.
“Gabi did the pregnancies and births three times, so it only seemed fair that I do this,” replied Andrew, my husband.
Fair is a bit of an understatement – I would have gone for “the least he could do” – but it was a sufficient answer for my mother-in-law.

2 | I expected questions about our family that he didn’t get

Andrew made the appointment for the initial consultation and went to see the doctor. Aside from some general health questions, it was as straightforward as signing a consent form and booking in the surgery for three weeks later. The doctor did ask how many children we had, but Andrew tells me it was more small talk than something the doctor might have had an opinion about – we also have a friend who had the operation in order to remain happily childless. But I had been prepared for him to ask about our kids’ ages, our ages, whether I was on board with this decision or not. Nope. The doctor treated Andrew as a man who had total autonomy over his body and his relationships.

3 | We didn’t expect recovery to be so quick

The appointment was made for a Friday morning, which was usual practice for the surgeon. He explained that this was so that his patients could take Friday off and return to work on the Monday. The doctor said there would be no need for prescription strength pain medications, just paracetamol (Tylenol) or ibuprofen would be fine.

4 | We didn’t expect the operation itself to be so quick

The whole thing was over and done with in less than an hour. I drove him home, but the doctor did say that some of his patients drive themselves. If you’re a man worried about having surgery, let this be a reassurance that a vasectomy performed by an experienced surgeon really is quite simple. And maybe skip the next paragraph …

5 | We didn’t expect recovery to take so long!

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. On the Friday morning, we arrived earlier than needed and pulled up to a cafe near the surgery. As soon as I opened the car door, our three-year-old vomited on the pavement. And as it turned out, she spent the rest of the day vomiting. That evening, our five-year-old son started. And in the middle of the night, my poor husband stumbled to the toilet, the feeling of being kicked in the balls compounded by an untimely dose of gastro (or stomach flu, as it’s sometimes called). So in the end, he wasn’t back at work on Monday as the surgeon had anticipated. And every male who has heard this story since has winced in sympathy.

6 | He didn’t expect the little things (but should have)

Things like shaving his pubic hair beforehand. The awkwardness of a female nurse applying numbing cream before the anaesthetic. The itching as the hair grew back, which by the end of the week was more irritating than any residual pain from the operation itself. The three to four months of continued condom use before he could take a semen sample back to check if the surgery had worked. Having to abstain for at least four days before producing this sample. These were the things that made sense, but he simply hadn’t thought about beforehand.

7 | I expected a change to his hormones and libido that didn’t happen

It’s not that I expected a permanent adjustment, mind you. But you’d think if there’s any time the phenomenon of morning wood might take a break, it would be the morning immediately after a vasectomy and a gastro bug. Nope. While Andrew himself wasn’t ready for sex for a week or two after the operation, his hormones continued exactly as normal. This probably added to his discomfort a bit, but it might be reassuring to know that you can expect your sex life to bounce back pretty quick. Certainly quicker than after having another baby!

How to Know You’ve Turned Into a Country Bumpkin

When you first move to the country, after living in the city your whole life, you stick out like a perfectly manicured thumb.

When you first move to the country, after living in the city your whole life, you stick out like a perfectly manicured thumb. You don’t know the rules, the customs, or the subtle societal mores dictating behavior. You have misgivings about fitting in: Why doesn’t anyone else wear bangs? Am I supposed to dry clean this Carhartt coat? Will I lose my chopstick dexterity without a Korean barbeque within walking distance? To your rural neighbors – most of whom belong to one of three familial factions – you are an outsider, an interloper, a passing transient who won’t last through the harvest.
But you do.
You make it through that harvest and the next, and before you know it, 10 years have passed since you moved to the sticks. Your initial reservations dried up long ago like the spring mud that evaporates into filthy summer dust and covers everything. Now, you feel like Linda Hamilton in “Terminator 2” with a chiseled resilience to endure any hardship thrown your way: 15 snow days in one month due to impassable roads? Meh. Local grocery store doesn’t carry Sriracha sauce? Whatever.
But be honest, City Girl, you are still a socially-driven creature with a hardwired need for acceptance. A fleeting doubt escapes: Do I pass? Am I one of them? If you’re still not sure whether your transition from City Slick to Country Hick is complete, here are 18 ways to tell:
1| You’ve conceded that it takes 30 minutes to drive anywhere, but you have zero tolerance for traffic. If you can’t go 65 mph the whole way without stopping, you fly into road rage – UNLESS you spot a turtle moseying across the highway, in which case you slam on the brakes and help the little feller to safety.
2 | When your friend’s baby registry includes a camouflage crib set, not only do you not snicker, you buy it for her.
3 | You’ve synched your kids’ vaccination schedule to match your septic tank evacuations so you don’t fall too far behind on either. Let’s see, the last time we had the septic tank pumped, little Janey got her MMRI … and now the toilets are overflowing, so she must be due for her booster shot!
4 | When you say “My hood has some rough places” you literally mean “The triangular amenity attached to my coat that covers my head in a storm has some places where the material is not smooth.”
5 | You’ve witnessed at least one squirrel/possum/rabbit giving birth, then Googled: “What do I feed newborn squirrels/possums/rabbits?” Followed by: “How to raise baby squirrels/possums/rabbits?” And finally: “How to dispose of dead, possibly diseased, baby squirrels/possums/rabbits?”
6 | The Lands End catalog makes you feel frumpy and out of style.
7 | What you find most offensive about the show “Naked and Afraid” isn’t its derogatory depiction of women, its cheesy dialogue, or the ridiculous premise; no, you’re most offended by the phony way they split firewood. An axe? Please.
8 | You’ve attended a donkey basketball game and knew most of the players.
9 | You don’t object to your husband’s decision to mow giant crop circles in the yard with the tractor in order to “add a little mystery to summer.”
10 | In the winter, you don’t drive anywhere without chains, a winch, blankets, boots, road flares, and a dish to pass, because country folk are known for their flash-mob-stuck-in-a-ditch potlucks.
11 | Your kids have spent more time in hunting blinds than in a shopping mall.
12 | You are proficient in vehicle mud spatter. By the subtle variation in color and texture of the muck dried onto someone’s car, you can tell the exact road they live on.
13 | Homegrown tomatoes have absolutely ruined you for the pale, mealy ones in the grocery store, and even though you spend a small fortune growing your own, every spring you feel compelled to plant a vegetable garden.
14 | You schedule your kids’ dentist appointments on the opening day of rifle season because you know there won’t be any school.
15 | You couldn’t care less about wearing white after Labor Day, but you wouldn’t be caught dead without the snowplow on your tractor after Halloween.
16 | When your husband gives you a diamond bracelet for your birthday, you smile politely and thank him, but deep down you’re disappointed because what you really wanted was that set of Waterhog floor mats.
17 | You’ve become a venison snob; if it’s not a bow kill, you want no part of it.
18 | You learn the secret to a happy marriage isn’t spending time together; it’s letting your husband have a pole barn.
Obviously, “You can take the girl out of the city, but you’ll never take the city out of the girl,” is just a meaningless adage intended to keep the blood lines pure. Rest easy, sister. You’re killing it in the country.
This article was originally published on Sammiches and Psych Meds.

Goodnight, Sleep Demon

After years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before. But it kept going.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
“My stomach hurts.” “I can’t sleep;” “Can you close my closet?” “Can I just sleep with you?” Sound familiar? You are not alone – and neither is your child.
Obviously all children have times of anxiety when leaving their parents, or meeting new people, or going to a sleepover for the first time. Most will even go through a period of wanting to sleep in your room. But most toddlers or young kids grow out of that.
What they don’t generally do is stay awake all night long, miss school, throw random tantrums about leaving you; or turn down sleepovers with their close friends. What they don’t generally do is bring that anxiety into the school years.
They also don’t spend two years trying to sleep in their own bed, alone in their own room, but just being incapable of it. Seriously.
Approximately 12 percent of children suffer from separation anxiety disorder before they reach 18. While that’s not a huge amount, it’s enough that it should be talked about, highlighted. There should be information out there for parents to know what’s typical and what isn’t. You know what to look for in the flu, but where’s the document about anxiety, or Anxiety – and the differences between them. I wish i had clued into any of the telltale signs before I did. But honestly I didn’t know what those signs were. All my friends had kids who had had some trouble sleeping. And when you are living through it, it feels singular; like you alone are battling these ever-elusive sleep demons.
For a while I traveled a couple of days a week for work – and my leaving was excruciating. It was also excruciating when I called home and could barely understand anything being said through enormous fits of tears and “Come home, Mommy; please come home.” It broke my heart. My husband was hassled, frustrated, and downright cranky: Trying to get her to school was anything but pretty in the mornings I was away. I felt enormous guilt and was torn between trying to calm and comfort Carrie or telling her to just suck it up and go to school. I often hung up in tears myself. But I comforted myself. I just thought “ this too shall pass”.
That all changed one day when my daughter’s kindergarten teacher saw me dropping her off and said “oh it’s so great having you home – no more tummy aches.” EXCUSE ME?? That was the first I had heard of those apparently daily events. The fact that they disappeared when I was home was clearly a sign that she was distressed. Carrie had worried I would get hurt or die in an airplane, or not come home, or any number of things all the time. But we didn’t know that – she didn’t have the words to tell me, was too scared to say it, and Dave and I didn’t stop to ask the right questions.
Things improved when I was home more often. There was continuity, I was clued into her sensitivity and she felt safe. So again, I wasn’t too concerned. She went to school just fine, she liked her teachers, had friends, and had fun. She was actually back to being a bundle of joy, laughter, and creativity. Until she wasn’t.
You know that story of when he was good he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was terrible? Well, let’s just say I do too. Carrie started to turn down play dates – or would only have them at our house. She wanted to only play one on one; she said she felt like a prisoner at school, and she was always worried. She needed to know what the plan was and when it changed? Then watch out – tantrums like crazy came on. Inconsolable tears; fits where she would straighten her back and not get into the car to save her life. She stopped going to sleep overs, or would go but have to be picked up in the night – and believe me, that was not good for anyone.
And then, after years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. Just stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before or something. But it kept going. Night after night, we would check her room and closet for bad guys and people that might want to hurt Mom. She couldn’t sleep because what if there was a fire? What if someone broke into the house; what if she was kidnapped? Or worse, what if her brother was?
Clearly something was off. There was no talking logic to her and there was no sleep for any of us. So when we were beyond ourselves with exhaustion and frustration, we found a counselor and had her start seeing someone to talk to and work through the fears. But now on top of the no sleep, the stomachaches were back; and panic attacks going to school were starting. Carrie was seriously struggling. Unfortunately, by then we were all struggling. Dave couldn’t understand that for Carrie these issues were completely real. Their conflict, the stress and walking on eggshells to keep the peace was taking a toll.
Our efforts to calm her or use reasoning were completely ineffective. Sick of the arguing and tears, we tried letting her sleep with us for a very little while. Wrong choice! So wrong. Then no one slept because the bed was too small and she thrashed around all night. Finally, counselor number two suggested we try something different: put an extra bed in her room and one of us sleep there. That was step one – get her to sleep in her own room again. Eventually, it worked; she got some sleep. Me? Not so much.
Step two was that once she fell asleep, we then returned to our bed. That worked … until she woke up, saw we weren’t there anymore, and started screaming. Or woke up from a nightmare. Back one of us went. By then we were so tired ourselves that we might fall asleep in her room before she did – thereby not affecting any change in the right direction.
A tired mom is a short-tempered mom. A tired dad might be even worse. The house that was once so joyful and peaceful was now filled with angst, anger, and just plain exhaustion. I wasn’t sleeping; my husband fell asleep in her room confounding the issue. So then we were tired and at odds. Add to that an older brother who was tired of all the fights and of his sister being such a nightmare. Everyone’s patience had dissolved long ago and family dynamics hit a new low. Clearly we needed more help and so did she.
By now we had tried all of the tricks to solving this issue. Gentle bedtime routine? Check. Regular bedtime? Check. Warm bath; stories; snuggles? Check, check, and check. We encouraged rituals that soothed her – gave her her blanket and favorite stuffy. We tried meditation, soft music and then white noise when that didn’t work. She read. We read to her. You name it, we tried it. At this point we realized she had some serious Anxiety and we were well beyond our abilities to solve the issue. So we found a new therapist to help us face this sleep demon.
Our new therapist was great – Carrie really took to her and looked forward to seeing her and, I think, to having someone of her own to talk to. One of us was still staying in her room at this point. We again tried leaving after she fell asleep. More tears. Then the doctor suggested a more gradual approach. After getting her to bed and completing our nightly, calming rituals, we (one of us) sat in her room. Not on a bed, not lying down. Sat in a chair so we would not fall asleep. Which, if I’m honest, had it’s own issues, but still.
When she fell asleep, we were supposed to move to the hallway and sit there. Slowly, ever so slowly over many nights, we moved a little farther away within the room, then into the hallway, then further down the hallway, until finally we made it to our own bedroom.
So how did our new therapist help? A few ways. She had Carrie talk about her fears and give voice to them. Apparently that sounds way easier than it is. The Anxiety that Carrie felt also meant she had had a hard time voicing or admitting to the scary thoughts. So her therapist had her look at What Ifs. She talked about those What Ifs. Then Carrie would tell me about them so I could help her at home. For instance if she brought up a fire, we could lead her through that. “Have you ever had a fire or known anyone who did? If not, was there a reason her house might get one? Did anyone smoke or leave on the gas? No, well then was it possible no fire would happen?” Same with a burglar or an airplane trip – or whatever; we learned to walk and talk her through her fears. Which sounds good and is a great starting point. But of course that alone didn’t do it, as this Anxiety is not rational.
Another helpful tip was having her picture her fear and describe it. Then draw it and name it. That helped put some distance between the fear and her. Plus we could use humor and come up with ways for her to yell at it or tell it to go away; we were able to make it a little, tiny bit fun and less scary. Sometimes I had her draw her feelings and we’d throw the drawing away or burn it so it couldn’t come back.
Another winner? While we had tried relaxation and meditation apps (didn’t work for her) her therapist taped her own soothing voice in a little meditation for Carrie. Reminded her what to do, how to relax, how to help herself. We had her play that in her bed when she was experiencing a tough night. And as we got one night of sleep, it went to two, then maybe back a step – but eventually we were able to have enough success that she set up her own goal and reward system.
She would choose how many nights she would stay alone and if she was successful, what fun thing we would do. It became hers; she controlled it. She was sad, mad and therefore determined to banish it. Thank God for her stubborn streak at those moments.
Lo and behold, it took. She realized she could make the sleep demon disappear all on her own. She owned it and she conquered it. And eventually, she even went on a successful sleepover again.
Last week she came back from three weeks away on a service trip where she didn’t know anyone. That is a beautiful thing.

Practice Doesn't Always Make Perfect

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
My husband is perfect. Don’t be mad. But he is. He a great dad, a great provider, a great friend, and he’s top at everything. It comes easily to him. But he’s so damn nice and humble that it’s not annoying. Everything he tries, he succeeds. Be it at work, games, relationships (Hello! Happy wife here!) – anything and everything. Whatever he aims for, he achieves. Our eight-year-old son is the same. A mini version of his dad, everything is easy for him. So when my Mary Poppins husband (practically perfect in every way) didn’t achieve a goal, it was just what my son and daughter needed to witness.
The hubs is a runner. And the man is fast. Like a 5K in 18 minutes fast. Insane marathons fast. Therefore, when he set his sights on qualifying for the Boston Marathon, of course we assumed he would have no problem achieving this challenging goal.
To clarify – the Boston Marathon is incredibly competitive. So many people strive to enter the race that every year the qualifying times become lower and lower. To qualify, a runner must complete an approved marathon at a particular pace. For the hubby, it was three hours and 10 minutes. That’s 7:05 a mile for 26 miles. But the man is determined and when he sets his eyes on a goal, he achieves it. Every time.
His first attempt was early this year and, due to the race and weather issues, he did not qualify for Boston and we thought not much of it. Can’t blame Mother Nature. And so he trained, and trained, and trained. The kids saw him wake up early, strap on his shoes, and go at it. It wasn’t easy but he was focused and he quietly demonstrated to them the hard work that goes into a challenge. His regimen was on point. He was set. We were so sure he would, of course, qualify, that I had plane tickets set to purchase and our Boston hotel reserved.
But when the qualifying race came, his final time was 3:13. Three measly minutes short of Boston. No one could believe it. I told my sister and she texted back, “I don’t understand. Did something happen?” Of course, in our society these days, it’s valid to assume there was a bombing, an injury, or hurricane Irma that was set to hit our Florida house the next day and done some early damage.
I wondered how he would react. In our 19 years together, I had not experienced this. And, as always, he was perfect.
First, he was a little quiet. He processed it and visited the race medic. And when he returned, he told us, calm as can be, “I’m happy with how it turned out. I did my best. I set a new PR.”
A PR is a Personal Record. And in the hubbub of qualifying for Boston, the fact that he shaved eight minutes off his personal best marathon time was temporarily overlooked. This wasn’t a failure, but a major success.
Our son, his doppelganger, pleaded. “Let’s just buy it for Dad. He tried so hard.” If a person does not qualify for Boston, the runner can enter with charity donations. While I appreciated my son’s desire to fulfill his father’s dream, I tenderly looked at him and replied, “Nope, honey. That’s not what Dad wants. He wants to qualify. That’s his goal.”
The kids saw how their father reacted in the face of disappointment. Not do as I say, but do as I do. He showed by example. He didn’t yell or declare a system failure. The kids, by watching him calmly process the outcome, learned that you can’t always fix it. It ends how it ends and you decide how you want to handle that and if you want to try again. He showed that just because you try your best, it doesn’t mean you will succeed.
I am hoping they remember this. When my son doesn’t win his swim meet or my daughter doesn’t make it to the finals with her science project, they will remember the way Dad ran his race. He did his best, he set a goal he was determined to reach, and he faced the challenge. And while he still didn’t overcome that challenge, he set a new record and demonstrated a life lesson to his kids. He couldn’t have been more perfect.

When I Got Married, I Realized My Mom Missed Her Calling as a Wedding Planner

So what did all this neurotic attention to detail result in? The most magical wedding I could ever have imagined.

No wedding season would be complete without one or two bridal boutiques going belly up, leaving the unfortunate soon-to-be brides not stranded, but potentially naked at the altar. Don’t think “Say Yes to the Dress,” think, “Where the Hell is my dress??” The news stories focus on the shock and horror of these now-frantic young women, their last minute scramble to buy – heaven forbid! – off-the-rack, and, more often than not, their struggle to recoup their hefty deposits from these now bankrupt establishments. These women are in crisis, and a bride unhinged is not a pretty sight.

All weddings pose challenges, sartorial or otherwise, especially for type A-plus overachievers like me, who like things to go according to plan. My plan.

In the months before my wedding, I was studying for the New York State bar exam. Engulfed in torts, contracts, and criminal procedure, I had absolutely no energy left for picking between roses and orchids, lamb chops and prime rib, so I reluctantly ceded all decision making to the only person on the planet who was more of a control freak than I: my mother. I relied on her excellent taste and good judgment. What I forgot to factor in was her perfectionism.

If I’d been paying more attention, I would’ve realized early on that my mother was approaching the wedding planning from a heightened emotional place. The first time we went to look at a venue, there was a wedding ceremony taking place. My mother, my fiancé, and I stood at the back of the hall, assessing the space, the atmosphere, and the seating capacity. When I turned to look at my mother, there were tears streaming down her cheeks, and she had her fist in her mouth, stifling a sob.

“What’s wrong, Ma?” I asked, genuinely alarmed.

“Nothing. It’s just so beautiful.” She wiped away her tears with a big pink hanky clearly brought for just this purpose, and then blew her nose noisily into it. A few of the bridesmaids turned to stare.

“But we don’t know these people!” I countered. This, apparently, was thoroughly beside the point and did not even merit a response.

My mother’s detailed project management knew no bounds. One evening she summoned my future husband and me to her house to help assemble the wedding invitations for mailing. Before we were even over threshold, she held something out to us that looked suspiciously like plastic surgical gloves.

“What are those?” I naively asked.

“They’re plastic surgical gloves,” she answered. “You’re going to wear them while we put together the invitations.” My mother didn’t register one iota of recognition that there was anything out of the ordinary about this pronouncement.

My fiancé tried logic. “You do realize that the mailman will not be wearing gloves,” he said.

“I can only control what I can control,” my mother responded, almost reasonably. Her statement did have a certain ring of truth to it.

The night was far from over.

Unbeknownst to us, in addition to the printed white cards with driving directions that my mother had been given by the synagogue, she had separately printed directions on off-white colored cards, to match the invitations. She failed to inform us that some invitees – her guests who were sophisticated enough to notice such a thing – were to be given the off-white cards, while the others – like our colorblind friends – should be given the white ones. Not even recognizing the issue, we randomly included white or ivory with each envelope we stuffed. When we were about three quarters of the way through our assignment, my mother blanched white (or off-white), and announced that we had made a fatal mistake, necessitating that we start over.

Only his great desire to marry me (and my hand over his mouth) kept the groom from uttering unspeakable words that could never be retracted. Well, maybe one or two escaped.

As the actual wedding day approached, the frenzy only increased. A few days before the event, the caterer invited us to the synagogue to see a sample table set for the occasion, to make sure we were all happy with how it would look.

“Ma,” I asked, plaintively, “can you go without us? Really, I’m happy with whatever makes you happy.” I was trying to avoid another showdown over whatever problem she might perceive.

“Absolutely not! It’s your wedding!” she declared.

We walked in single file behind my mother, expecting the worst, but the table, even without the floral arrangement, looked lovely. My mother circled the perimeter, checking every aspect, until, with one nod, she gave her approval. We thanked the maitre d’ and raced out to the car, my father leading the way in a hasty retreat.

We climbed in, ready to go out for a celebratory dinner at the local diner. My father started the engine and, just as we were about to pull away, my mother gave the order.

Stop the car.” Without another word, she marched back into the synagogue.

When my mother got to the table, she took one deliberate look, and called the maitre d’ over.

“This will not do,” she said, calmly. “The tablecloth is white, and the china is off-white.” We all stood in flabbergasted silence.

The maitre d’ foolishly tried to reason with her. “There will be so many additional things on the table: the flowers, bottles of wine, carafes of water, no one will ever notice that slight –“

My mother, her lips in a tight grimace and her eyes closed, raised one hand in the universal sign for “stop talking before I bite your head off,” and silenced the well-intentioned maitre d’. She shook her head slowly. Then she turned her back on the table and conceded defeat, walking slowly back to the car. White and off-white would have to coexist.

So what did all this neurotic attention to detail result in? The most magical wedding I could ever have imagined.

Try as I might to be more chill, I will likely be just as persnickety when it is my daughter’s turn to get married. One thing is for sure, there will be no wedding-eve lawsuits against a defunct David’s bridal. No, my daughter will wear my white wedding dress that my mother freeze-dried, I mean vacuum-packed, after the wedding and which now waits patiently in my attic. Even if she has her heart set on off-white.

The Silly Sex Dream That Woke Me Up

After I stopped laughing at him, I started to reflect. Why would he be dreaming about bad sex with 80s icons? It had to be our lame sex life, right?

14 years of marriage is like two seven-year itches combined into one giant wool sweater. Even extra-strength balms like wine and frosting don’t offer much relief anymore. At this stage of life, the stressors are real and the responsibilities are not sexy. We used to be so into each other. Now, any person-in-person action is strictly for prostate health.
Recently, my barely sexually-maintained husband told me about a sex dream he had. Apparently he’d been hoping to get some when he came to bed that night and as usual, I had not. I guess I had homelessness or the plight of sea turtles or something equally depressing on my mind, so we talked tragedy until we fell asleep. Still, somehow, he managed to have a sex dream.
It wasn’t just any sex dream. It featured Beverly D’Angelo, in her prime. He kept saying “in her prime” as if it were crucial for me to know he was referring to the version of her from the “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” poster, in which she rocked a gold bodysuit while clinging to the meaty calf of Chevy Chase. I mean, anyone who grew up in the 80s and who has seen the deleted scenes from “High Fidelity” has a healthy appreciation for Ms. D’Angelo in all her eras, but it’s not like we have the poster above our marital bed or anything.
Yet.
The worst/best part of his dream was that he could tell Beverly D’Angelo wasn’t really into it. She wasn’t comfortable in the position they were in and kept trying to change it up and it just didn’t go well.
So he woke up, unsatisfied, having not satisfied Beverly D’Angelo in her prime.
After I stopped pointing and laughing at him, I started to reflect. Why would he be dreaming about bad sex with 80s icons? It had to be our lame sex life, right?
There’s not a lot of intercourse happening at this stage of marriage. When there is a miraculous hour that the children are asleep in their assigned beds and the adults are awake in ours, the pressure is just too great for me. I find myself reaching for my phone to read the news or wander Facebook and before I know it, I’m mired in the world’s pain and disgusted by whatever it is they put into chicken nuggets. My poor husband just wants some good, good loving and I’m crying, yelling, and wiring money to chickens.
I remember when we were more hot than tired. Now there are big bills, kids to maintain, endless meals to prepare, and Louis CK shows to watch. These all trump intercourse.
Having kids took over everything, especially for me. I was their comfort, their food, their Elvis. It was intoxicating but also exhausting. That level of need, plus a full-time job outside the house, left no energy for intimacy. We used to want each other. These days, a million other priorities pull us in every direction, and I just want to be left alone.
It’s taken me several years to realize that I need to put some of me back together again. I am still gaga for my kids, but I think I have finally learned that I truly cannot give them more than I have. I need to hold some back for me, and maybe for my husband, too. Besides, even if I do try to give my kids everything I have, they will just take it and spill nachos all over it. They will take it and still complain. They will take it and call it a “diaper head.” Sigh. I’m learning this lesson slowly.
Somehow, despite all this, he still wants to have sex with me. And Beverly D’Angelo, in her prime. But mostly me.
While the details of his dream were endlessly amusing to me, I was not surprised that he is having dreams about being sexually unfulfilled. My lack of interest in sex seems to be hurting his feelings, and that’s not good. I want him to be confident and feel wanted.
In an effort to reward him for sharing that wonderful, terrible dream, and to rekindle at least some of our early enthusiasm for each other, I began making an effort to be kinder and more affectionate. I tried so hard not to interrupt foreplay with stories about what I found on the bottom of one of the children’s feet. (Feces. It’s always feces). I found opportunities to do fun things we used to enjoy, just the two of us, to try to feel light and free again – like playing Cribbage, which is a real panty-dropper math card game. We began getting away on dates more, even if they were just to Ikea.
“Just to Ikea.” Ha! Who am I kidding? There’s chocolate and coffee and mattresses and organization units at Ikea. It’s like a self-help aphrodisiac. Say “Hemnes desk with add-on unit in the white stain” again. Yessssss.
At night, I’ve committed to putting away my phone so that the miseries of the world won’t join us in bed. And most importantly, I’m working on the hard task of finding myself in the midst of motherhood. If I’m confidently me, maybe I’ll confidently want to shag. That’s the plan, anyway.
Overall, he’s glad he shared the dream with me, because it opened up a lot of dialogue and opportunity for growth in our relationship.
Though I do think he wishes I wouldn’t insist on calling him “Sparky” now.
We don’t always get what we want.
This article was originally published at Together Magazine.