Advice: Heavy Bedroom Issues

Heavy Bedroom Issues

My girlfriend hardly wants to have sex anymore because she feels insecure about her weight. I think she's beautiful and tell her so every chance I get, but she doesn't buy it. I tried getting into shape in the hope that she might get excited about it too and gain some self-confidence. Unfortunately, the better I look, the worse she feels about her own weight. What can I do?

You're on the right track in doing something about your girlfriend's weight rather than talking about it. Whatever you or anyone else says on the subject, it is going to be interpreted as criticism by her. The mere act of mentioning weight makes her self-conscious. Filtering your comments through her own negative lens will lead her to translate your interest as implied disapproval. And that will only inhibit her further. I didn't say it was logical; the weird culture of thinness into which American woman are thrust distorts her experience of herself and her self-image. To really help, you need to be more partner, less paragon. Seeing you as perfect can alienate her further from herself and from you, and deepen her depression. Setting yourself up as a behavioral model by getting into shape likely comes across as implicit criticism of her rather than a loving act. Instead, mobilize her without discussing what you are doing, just with a simple, "C'mon, we're going for a walk." For now, take all the responsibility for planning outings and engaging in activities that you can both enjoy and that have enough of a physical component to give both of you a modest workout. Enjoying the time together will automatically lift her depression and give her a positive experience of her own body while building her body confidence. Over time, that is likely to translate into a freer attitude about exposing her body to you.

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In Bad Need Of Brain Stretching

I'm a 28-year-old male engineer at a company that ought to give me diverse problems to solve, but I feel bored most of the time. I start new projects with enthusiasm, but once I find the repetitive patterns and solve the core problem, I get bored. I daydream, make reckless mistakes, become blind to details and unproductive. I see my job as a source of money, not as a passion. I can't think of an activity I could label a passion. People tell me I have "the mind of a scientist," but I don't know how to keep it focused on one thing. Is this lack of passion a sign of a deeper problem?

Perhaps it signals just a mistaken attitude. Good scientists are creative. They don't stop at solving the small problems before them; they look deeper into problems and see flaws and possibilities that no one else may have noticed. They get hooked on looking for new and elegant ways to resolve inconsistencies. They open doors that no one else knew to open. You, on the other hand, see everything superficially, as an open-and- shut case, as if you are in a contest in which the first one with the right answer gets a gold star. That's not the way most scientists work. Speed is sometimes important, but it doesn't preclude deeper curiosity. It may be that you are just not being given stimulating enough problems. Take the time to correct the errors in your current work so your boss will be receptive when you ask for more challenging work. It also may be that you are putting up barriers to getting engaged with whatever problems are presented to you. The resolution is not in busying yourself with assorted time-filling hobbies. It's in seeing the hidden challenges already all around you. Perhaps you are afraid of being drawn into a dilemma that taxes you, but that is the true attraction of science—the willingness to be stumped by a problem and to spend time searching for solutions. That is often how great discoveries are made and great expertise is acquired. The effort is usually felt to be enjoyable because it is totally absorbing. Humans are happiest when their brains are being stretched by meaningful challenge. Make sure that comfort is not your highest value.

The End of Sex

My partner is on antidepressants, and they kill her sex drive. I didn't enter this relationship solely for sex, but the drugs seem to kill all intimacy. Hugs, cuddling, and just being in each other's arms rarely seem to happen anymore. Until recently, I thought it was me and drove myself to exhaustion with a weightlifting plan to give me a body she would fantasize about. I'm not asking for complete physical sex from her; I just want to cuddle. Is it possible to interest her in doing those things while she's still on medication?

Most people who take antidepressants find that it affects their libido. The important thing to realize is that they are not the only way, or even the best way, to treat depression. It's kind of ironic that one of the certain remedies for depression is connection with another human, but the drugs that are supposed to resolve depression actually get in the way of intimate relationships. You might want to encourage your partner to try cognitive-behavioral therapy instead. While antidepressants may be needed forever, psychotherapy is not. Further, it tackles the behaviors and thought patterns that are the root cause of depressive episodes and helps people learn far more effective strategies for coping. Studies show that a 12-week course of cognitive-behavioral therapy is at least as effective as antidepressants in relieving the disorder and more effective in preventing recurrence. And it doesn't kill libido as some drugs do. In the long run, it's much more cost-effective, too.

I Can't Handle Intimacy

At age 10, I was abused by a family member. After years of therapy, I feel I have let go of a lot of the baggage, but my body seems to be telling me otherwise. I just don't enjoy sex. I am 30, have had a few long-term relationships, and am in one now. I love the affection and the warmth of intimacy, but the actual act just doesn't excite me. I go through the motions, but there must be more to sex.

There's a lot more to sex, and the way to get it is by doing less. Focusing on acting will keep you from enjoying what you already have. You've worked hard to be able to enjoy affection and physical contact. It's totally understandable that you are not comfortable with more right now. Sex just doesn't feel safe yet. Don't fight your body. Give yourself permission to enjoy fully the contact that makes you feel warm and close. The more you and your boyfriend share the pleasures of cuddling, the more comfortable you will feel in the relationship, and the more likely it is to lead to more intimacy of its own accord. When it happens, you will be ready for it. If you tell your beau how much you enjoy being with him and then explain why sex right now is still a bit too much, he is likely to be a partner in your full recovery. Take the time to share the pleasures of being together and the contents of your minds. Over time, the desire for more intimacy will likely grow organically from the sexy closeness you develop.

Caught in the Act

I am a divorcee dating a man who recently started staying over. The unthinkable happened: My 5-year-old son caught us in the act. We didn't hear him, but there he was, standing next to the bed. I am devastated and wracked with guilt. What should I say to him?

Your son probably doesn't have a clue what was going on, and your guilt is almost totally unwarranted—unless Beau is a bad guy who treats you poorly. What your son is likely concerned about is the safety of his mother. To the uninitiated, sex looks more like a scary wrestling match than a lovefest. I hope you have chosen a man who is kind and loving to you outside as well as inside the bedroom. The wisest course would be to buy a lock for your bedroom door, which you turn one way just before you get locked in an embrace and the other way just after; your son needs access to you during the night. Kids worry about their parents. So I hope your son was not standing by your bed just as you were moaning tender little intimacies that have an entirely different meaning in other contexts—like, "Oh, God, you're killing me." Either way, keep a wise eye trained on your son to make sure he isn't clingy or showing signs of wanting to protect you—in which case, you need to reassure him that Mommy is fine. What you don't want to do is give your kid more information about your private life than he can handle. Sex just doesn't look the same to a 5-year-old as it does to you.

Send your questions to askhara@psychologytoday.com

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