Writing about music is like dancing about architecture. This famous dictum, variously attributed to Laurie Anderson, Frank Zappa, Elvis Costello and Thelonius Monk, to name a few, could also be applied to museum exhibits about sex: They are destined to dissatisfy, to miss the point, to prove hopelessly inadequate compared to the experience of the thing itself. Nevertheless, undeterred, notebook in hand, world of therapy went to investigate the Wellcome Collection’s Institute of Sexology exhibition, where you are invited to “undress your mind.”
There’s an area devoted to Sigmund Freud, as you might expect. The father of psychoanalysis did more than anyone to bring sex out into the open as, in his view, not bringing it out into the open was a problem—the major cause of neurosis. You can read some of his philosophies, listen to a marvellous self-righteous recording of him from a 1938 BBC interview—it sounds like a Monty Python parody—and see a small sample from his vast collection of cultural artifacts. His favourite was a small bronze of Athena from the 1st or 2nd century which has lost her spear—a perfect symbol for Freud of penis envy.
Freud was also fond of double-faced figures. There’s a 3rd century BC Etruscan bronze with one face of a Satyr and another of a Maenad, which for Freud illustrated the binary nature of human existence. We are governed by antagonistic forces, polarities that pull us in opposite directions. We are made from a male and a female, and both parts live within us (according to Freud humans are inherently bisexual). We love and hate; live and die (Freud spoke of Eros and Thanatos—our libido duels with our “death drive”). We want intimacy, we want to be alone—come here, go away (another exhibit from Freud’s collection, another metaphor, is a porcupine—Freud noted that they huddle with others for warmth but then they poke each other, get hurt and separate). Maybe you have your own particular polarities, too—perhaps you are a rebellious conformist, or a privileged outsider (or deprived insider). A self-sacrificing narcissist (or a greedy do-gooder). Highly emotional yet numb. A cheerful depressive. A creative accountant. Spiritual atheist. Champagne socialist. Fully alive, but deeply diseased. And so on. Life is an oxymoron; a double bind.
And so it is with sex, too. Personally, culturally, historically, there are powerful opposing forces of liberation and repression at play. Stop! No, don’t stop! Both are on display at the museum. One the one hand there are early copies of the Kama Sutra (written between the year 200 and 400), ancient phallic amulets, saucy postcards and other erotica. On the other there are old papers detailing the moral dangers of sex, female desire resulting in “hysteria” for instance, or masturbation causing a range of disorders from nervousness to paralysis. In Berlin on May 6, 1933, three months after Hitler came to power, the forces of oppression broke into the library of sexologist Magnus Hirschfeld—an outspoken advocate for the study of sex and justice for sexual minorities—seized his vast collection of books, documents, photographs and artifacts, and threw it all on a bonfire. Hirschfeld was Jewish. He was out of the country on a speaking tour at the time; he never returned to Germany.
Besides Freud, the exhibition details the lives of some other notable names:
• Richard von Krafft-Ebing’s influential Psychopathia Sexualis, published in 1886, was the first book to describe in forensic, scientific detail the variety of human sexual practices. It popularised words like sadism and masochism and became the definitive psychiatric and legal guide to sexual pathology. Despite his professional interest, von Krafft-Ebing believed sex was strictly for procreation, not recreation.
• Havelock Ellis wrote the first textbook on homosexuality, Sexual Inversion, in 1897 and went on to study narcissism, autoeroticism and transgender phenomena. Ellis married a lesbian, and suffered from impotence until the age of 60, when he made the surprise discovery that he could become aroused by the sight of a woman urinating.
• Marie Stopes’ incendiary book Married Love, turned down by several publishers, was an instant hit when it was finally published in 1918. She dared to speak the unspeakable, dispensing advice of relationships, sex, marriage, children and birth control. The Wellcome exhibition includes some touching letters of gratitude to her from people who had no one else to turn to for guidance. Today, Marie Stopes International is an NGO devoted to sexual and reproductive health around the world. (These pioneers weren’t unanimously enlightened. Stopes, like Ellis and many prominent Victorians of the day, believed in the oppressive and usually racist philosophies of eugenics and social Darwinism: the elite decides it wants to improve the human gene pool by encouraging breeding by the “right” people—people like them—and discouraging the “wrong” people, sometimes with extreme measures such as compulsory sterilization or “ethnic cleansing.”)
• From 1915 to 1918 anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski studied and lived alongside the inhabitants of Papua New Guinea’s Trobriand Islands, detailing a society where sexuality "dominates in fact almost every aspect of culture," and where some sexual behaviour among children was the norm.
• In a similar vein, Margaret Mead’s study of the people of Samoa in 1925 also highlighted a relaxed, permissive culture of sexuality that challenged the more constrained attitudes in the West.
• Wilhelm Reich was an Austrian psychoanalyst who like Freud believed that neurosis could be a symptom of thwarted or denied sexual desires. Unlike Freud, however, for Reich, sex and psychoanalysis were also political: He believed the rise of Nazism in 1930s Germany to be the result of a national culture of sexual repression. Reich, author of The Function of the Orgasm, among other works, invented the “Orgone Accumulator”—a cabinet that patients sat in and got blasted by “orgone” radiation that he claimed could cure cancer, liberate repressed sexual energy, and heal the world. The “sex box” became increasingly controversial, Reich became increasingly delusional, and he was charged with contempt of court in his adopted home country, the U.S. He died in prison in 1957.
• Alfred Kinsey discovered there was more scientific literature on the sex lives of farm animals than people. In the mid-20th century decades, McKinsey and his team set about filling in the blanks: They interviewed more than 18,000 Americans about their sex lives, highlighting the prevalence of homosexuality, extramarital sex and other sexual activity which departed from the supposed “norm.”
• William Masters and Virginia Johnson recorded physiological changes during sex—their results, published in 1966, revealed the intricacies of the “female sexual response cycle” and bolstered the feminist movement and calls for women’s sexual liberation.
Fifty shades of sex
The Wellcome exhibition leads us on a historical journey of sexual culture. Where has it led to—where are we today? Is society generally more permissive about sex? Or are the forces of repression and discrimination still at play?
Yes, and yes. Evidence abounds that from the 1960s onwards there has been a kind of sexual awakening in western life and culture. But all the action has inevitably been met with an equal and opposite reaction.
Psychotherapist Tanya Glyde writes in The Lancet that today there is much more acceptance of alternative, kinky, BDSM practices, and a hunger for them, as evidenced by the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon—the book has been bought by more than a hundred million people (evidence too of a masochistic tolerance for painfully poor writing).
“Is BDSM an orientation, a lifestyle, or both?” writes Glyde. “Some people are wired to be dominant or submissive from birth. Some discover a love of it when young, and some get into it later in life. This could be because they discover that it enhances their sex life, or because conventional genital sex doesn’t work for them, and they are looking for other ways to deepen physical and mental connection. People tell me they have experienced a personal renaissance when exploring BDSM ... Many report profound, life changing, therapeutic, and even spiritual experiences.”
But Glyde argues that, while kink is far more widespread than we think, it happens in secret because of prejudice, not least from a prudish mental health establishment. The free-spirited “id” goes underground (sometimes literally); the restrictive “super-ego” is given free reign.
The cultural anthropologist Gayle Rubin describes the “charmed circle” of sexuality: if the sex is heterosexual, married, monogamous, procreative, non-commercial, in a couple from the same generation, in private, and involving bodies only, then it is considered “normal.” The “outer limits,” by contrast—bad, unnatural, damned, perverse, socially unacceptable—is sex that is homosexual, promiscuous, recreational, commercial, alone or in groups, casual, cross-generational, in public, sadomasochistic, or involving pornography or sex toys.
Continues Glyde: “This is not taught on psychotherapy courses (at least none that I know of) because awareness of gender and sexual diversities is barely taught at all. And in some branches of psychotherapy, the further a person departs from being heterosexual, monogamous, vanilla (non-kinky), and cisgender, the more disordered and perverse they are labelled by default.”
I once went to a talk entitled, “Help! My client wants to talk about sex.” The speaker said that people in therapy will often desperately want to talk about their sexual difficulties—a taboo subject with everyone else in their lives. So, battling shame, they gingerly try to raise the topic, often very subtly, in coded language, testing the waters. An experienced therapist will respond and open up a space for exploration, but many do not because they are uncomfortable with the material. Or if they do engage, they might subtly or not-so-subtly try to steer the client back toward some kind of societal norm instead of being interested in them, their experience and their difficulties.
There are many sexual difficulties. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) includes complaints such as: delayed ejaculation, erectile disorder, female orgasmic disorder, female sexual interest/arousal disorder, genito-pelvic pain/penetration disorder, male hypoactive sexual desire disorder, premature ejaculation, and unspecified sexual dysfunction. Sex addiction, like any addiction, can devastate lives. If any of these sound like you, don't suffer in silence—specialist help is available. But beyond these pathologised realities, so many sexual problems—and so much of human distress—are the result of trying and inevitably failing to live up to some supposed ideal, to be who we think we should be instead of who we are, to conform to other people’s standards or desires. These “shoulds” are so often in conflict with our innate personhood, and with each other, and can be profoundly unhelpful. Being a slave to such strict internalised demands is bondage of a most unenjoyable kind—a guarantee of suffering.
In and out of the bedroom, our challenge is to find ourselves. Instead of conforming to some imagined uniform, plain-vanilla conception of normality, we are free to embark on a postmodern exploration of individual preferences and practices in all their glorious multicoloured variety (and we are free not to, too, of course). There are infinite enjoyable ways of expressing libidinal energy; straight sex is but one.
The new rules of sex
So how are we to proceed in this confusing modern world? If none of the old rules of engagement apply, and "anything goes," how are we to live and love?
In Rewriting the Rules, Meg Barker summarizes the tired old prevailing western “rules” about sex:
• Sex is very important, and a defining feature of our relationships and identities.
• We should have normal sex in our relationships.
• We must not stray into abnormal sex.
• It should be great sex.
• We mustn’t communicate openly about what we really want sexually.
Then Barker rather splendidly rewrites the rules. She too invites us to undress our mind:
• Sex can be wonderful but it doesn’t need to define us or our relationships. It is something that ebbs and flows throughout our lives.
• There is a wide diversity of ways of expressing sex and sexuality.
• It is fine to be sexual in whatever ways feel right to you, so long as it is consensual for all involved.
• Sex can be all kinds of things at different times, just like food. Expecting it to be great every single time is a lot of pressure to put on it.
• We must communicate openly about what we do and don’t want sexually (with ourselves and with the people with whom we are sexual).
It's up to each of us to make and break our own rules. The answers lie within ourselves, our experiences, our relationships. And there is guidance, too—from partners, therapists, workshops, books, and from people like Barker who, from Marie Stopes to the present day, have given us permission to be ourselves. They are on the side of freedom, expression, discovery and release. Our most pressing question is: “Am I normal?" They respond unanimously, with a resounding verdict: “Yes! yes! yes!"
It’s Valentine’s Day. The day when there is some kind of Big Brother (or Big Sister) command from on high that today you must be romantic, offer cards and pink fluffy things to the person of your dreams, make grand gestures intended to demonstrate the extent of your commitment, and perhaps go out for an evening meal in a red rose-strewn restaurant offering a “special” (ie. monumentally overpriced) menu. For many couples, Valentine’s Day is a day of judgment—a day spent feeling bad that their relationship does not measure up to how love “should” be (Christmas can have a similar effect). One study found that relationship breakups were significantly higher around Valentine’s Day than at other times of the year. Some couples resent the obligation, the command to conform, and all the crass mass marketing of love that goes with it, and deliberately do nothing at all to observe the day. For people in the early, fledgling days of a new relationship, Valentine’s Day can unhelpfully raise the stakes. For people who are suffering from loneliness, it can make you feel 10 times worse. Crisis hotlines will see a spike in calls today.
Valentine’s Day can be great of course, a start, or a celebration, a renewal. But love, romance and sexual arousal don’t tend to respond to command. Perhaps overall, on the balance sheet of human joy versus human misery, Valentine’s Day is a net contributor to the latter rather than the former.
Neverthless, with love I offer here a humble buffet table with some Valentine’s Day morsels and delicacies about love, sex, relationships etc.
• Dealing with love, romance and rejection on Valentine's Day
• The psychology of why Valentine's Day ruins relationships
• 7 science-based tips to make you sexier on Valentine’s Day
• A Valentine's Day look at sex through the ages
• Happy couples are probably deluding themselves
• What straight couples can learn from gay couples
And good advice from The Guardian’s Oliver Burkman: All dating advice is as terrible as the people who give it.
Your relationship demystified
The key to happiness is love and understanding. The more you know someone, the more you can love them; the more you love them, the more you know. Attachment style—mine and yours—is the scaffold upon which a relationship is built. To understand the dynamics of your relationship—past, present or future—check out the 6 relationship types. What colour is yours? (This is far and away the most popular, most viewed thing I've written on this blog.)
The latest news
Shocking to hear that Black Eyed Pea Fergie and Josh Duhamel are in marriage counseling after six years together—if those two beacons of togetherness are struggling, what hope is there for the rest of us ... the Ministry of Social Affairs in Saudi Arabia is implementing a mandatory pre-marital couples counselling program ... a similar mandatory scheme has recently been proposed in Colorado ... a voluntary government-funded marriage counselling program in Australia was recently dumped after attracting just 10 per cent of the expected participants ... pre-marital counselling in Jamaica ... domestic violence can sometimes be perpetrated by women against men as this report from Ireland points out.
• 42% of UK marriages end in divorce
• Almost half of divorces involve children under 16
• In 2011, 66% of divorces were on petition of the wife
• Of every divorce in 2011 - it was the first divorce for both partners in 70.1% of cases, while in 19.7% one party had been divorced previously, and in 9.6% of cases both had divorced previously
• Second marriages are more likely to be successful than first marriages. If one or both partners are remarrying they have a 31% chance of divorce, compared to 45% if it is both partners’ first time
• 34% of marriages are expected to end in divorce by the 20th wedding anniversary
• 16% of marriages reach the 60th wedding anniversary without separation or death
• Those who marry younger are more likely to divorce. Having children or staying childless has no clear effect on risk of divorce
• While divorce rates are falling—people are getting married at older ages and are increasingly cohabiting beforehand—the number of divorces among the 60+ has significantly increased from 1991 to 2011
• Reasons proven for legal divorce:
--36% of divorces granted to men and 54% of divorces granted to women were due to unreasonable behaviour
--32% of divorces granted to men and 22% of divorces granted to women were granted following 2 years of separation and consent
--16% of divorces granted to men and 9% of divorces granted to women were granted following 5 years of separation
--15% of divorces were granted for adultery, same across genders
--Less than 1% of all divorces were granted due to desertion
• In 2010-11, one third of all children aged 16 and under were not living with both of their birth parents
• Almost 25% of families in the UK are lone parent families
--44% of resident parents said their child either splits their time equally, or sees their other parent at least weekly
--29% of resident parents said that their child never sees their other parent
--20% of all resident parents said that their child has not seen their other parent since separation
• There are 7.7 million families with dependent children:
--4.7 million (60%) are married couple families
--1.2 million (15%) are unmarried opposite sex couple families
--1.9 million (24.5%) are lone parent families (8.8% of lone-parent families are lone-father families, the remainder are lone mother families)
--8,000 (0.001%) are civil partnered couple families
--5,000 (0.001%) are same-sex cohabiting couple families
• The first UK civil partnership was on the 5th December 2005: approximately 120,908 individuals entered civil partnerships between 2005 and 2012
• The number of civil partnership dissolutions granted in 2012 was 794, an increase of 20% on the 2011 numbers. By the end of 2012, 3.2% of male and 6.1% of female civil partnerships in England and Wales had ended in dissolution
Relate also offers 6 secrets of how Relationship Counselling works, and from the Huffington Post: Everything You Need To Know About Premarital Counseling.
The top-10 nations for divorce
It’s nice for Belgium to have something to be famous for: It’s the country with the highest divorce rate in the world.
According to The Richest: “A first glance, Belgium appears an example of European modernity: a nation with a rich history and splendid architecture which is the centre of power for the European Union and Parliament. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll realise that all is not well in the nation so famous for its chocolate. Politically, Belgium is fiercely divided between the French speaking south, which includes the capital Brussels, and the Flemish speaking north, close to Holland. The nation is so divided that successive elections have resulted in collapsed governments with Belgium going a record 535 days without a government as a result. Against this backdrop divorce levels have been climbing, with the decline of the Church cited as a key factor in these figures.”
Ratio of divorce rate to marriage rate
1 Belgium 71
2 Portugal 68
3 Hungary 67
4 Czech Republic 66
5 Spain 61
6 Luxembourg 60
7 Estonia 58
8 Cuba 56
9 France 55
10 United States 53
I live in you, you live in me;
We are two gardens haunted by each other.
Sometimes I cannot find you there,
There is only the swing creaking, that you have just left,
Or your favourite book beside the sundial.
To a stranger
Passing stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me,
as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall'd as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me, or a girl with me,
I ate with you, and slept with you- your body has become not yours
only, nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass- you
take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you- I am to think of you when I sit alone, or
wake at night alone,
I am to wait- I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.
On Raglan Road
On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.
On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay -
O I loved too much and by such and such is happiness thrown away.
I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May
On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -
When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day.
—Patrick Kavanagh (sung here by Sinead O’Connor and here by Van Morrison and here by Mark Knopfler)
My Funny Valentine
Chet Baker sings it in 1959, 29 years old, already a hardened heroin addict, but with the sweet voice of an angel. You can see the ravages of time and hard drugs when he plays it again 28 years later in concert in Tokyo. A year after that he fell to his death from a hotel room in Amsterdam.
Obligatory quote from Gandhi
“Where there is love there is life"
What colour is your relationship? When we walk down the metaphoric aisle towards coupledom, we’re both dragging behind us a sackful of experiences, memories, ideas, habits, fantasies and other oddments collected over the years. An important part of all that baggage is our attachment style, our habitual way of relating to other people—a tendency we might crudely characterize as either hot, warm or cold. It's how we learned as children to be in the world. We adapted to our environment.
Our early attachment experiences as babies and infants inform all our relationships in later life. They are the backdrop to every romantic entanglement and disentanglement, to every Machiavellian workplace manoeuvre, to how we operate as parents. They can be felt in the raw anguish of John Lennon’s voice as he sings “Mother.” It is through early attachment that we become who we are. Attachment, too, provides an X-ray vision into our relationship patterns, which as a result can be broadly broken down into 6 different types. But first, a little background.
Attachment: How we relate—then and now
The idea that children seek strong, nurturing early relationships with caregivers for optimal social and emotional development, was formulated by John Bowlby in the 1950s, following a World War in which so many attachments were violated. His ideas were strenuously resisted by the psychoanalysts and drive theorists of the day, but gradually his position became accepted as more child studies revealed the impacts of early maltreatment. Paraphrasing Schopenhauer, attachment theory, like all truth, first was ridiculed, then violently opposed, then accepted as self-evident.
Largely thanks to Bowlby, many of the old parenting norms, such as limiting newborns’ exposure to their parents in maternity wards, rationing the attention parents paid to babies, and even subjecting them to prolonged periods of isolation outdoors, fell out of vogue in the 1950s and ’60s. These anachronistic attitudes live on in spirit still, however, with notions of “controlled crying” and bestselling parenting guides that reject “baby-led” approaches in favour of the imposition of strict and sometimes cruel one-size-fits-all routines peddled by the likes of Gina Ford.
In the 1960s and ’70s, one of Bowlby’s former researchers, Mary Ainsworth, devised and developed a study in which infants were subjected to brief, controlled separations from their mothers. It became known as The Strange Situation. Ainsworth discovered that the children’s behaviour fell into specific patterns of responding, which were dictated by the habitual patterns of communications between mother and child. This gave rise to a classification system of attachment styles or “schemas”:
• “Secure”: The infant misses the mother on separation, shows signs of distress, is comforted on return, then quickly resumes play. Ainsworth said that securely attached children are beneficiaries of “maternal sensitivity”—the mother’s ability to notice the infant’s signals, interpret them correctly, and respond appropriately and quickly—a skill known as attunement. Two-thirds of infants are estimated as being “secure.” Or, at least, secure enough.
• “Insecure-avoidant”: The child shows few overt signs of missing the parent on separation, offers little protest, then ignores and avoids her on return and continues to play throughout—an apparent unemotional indifference. However, physiological studies show there is a significant nervous/stress response. The child has typically experienced consistent maternal unresponsiveness, insensitivity or rejection—postnatal depression can have such consequences—and in response deliberately detaches.
• “Insecure-ambivalent/preoccupied”: The infant is greatly distressed on separation and highly focussed on the parent, and cannot be soothed on return, alternating between clinging and displays of anger, and generally failing to return to play. This is associated with inconsistent responsiveness or availability from the mother, sometimes including moments of intrusiveness—when mothering becomes smothering. This parental Jekyll & Hyde inconsistency, an example of “intermittent reinforcement,” leads to a maximised focus on the attachment system—the baby becomes an expert in interpreting and predicting the mother’s mood. Donald Winnicott memorably described this as “studying the weather.” (A fourth category, “insecure-disorganized/disoriented,” added in 1990, is reserved for those rare, tragic children whose odd, erratic and inappropriate behaviour shows no consistency. They have generally been victims of frightening or disorienting patterns of communication from the parent; fear and love get mixed up. Such children are at the greatest risk of developing psychiatric problems.)
Many studies have shown the persistence of attachment styles across generations. Secure children generally have secure mothers; insecure-avoidant children have “dismissing,” unresponsive mothers; insecure-ambivalent children have “preoccupied,” inconsistently responsive mothers. (Insecure-disorganized/disoriented children have “unresolved,” terrifying mothers.)
These categories are of course gross simplifications. I like to think of attachment as a spectrum; a bell curve. The dial on the attachment meter is marked “cold” at one end and “hot” on the other. Dismissive/avoidant people are deactivated; underinvolved with emotions and with other people, cherishing their own autonomy, self-reliance, stiff upper lip. Preoccupied people, by contrast, are hyperactivated; overinvolved with emotions and other people, organising their behaviour around their emotions, often letting their heart rule their head. Secure people—“warm” on the dial—fall somewhere in the middle. We all constantly jump around on this scale—the “temperature” is in constant flux—though for each of us there is a default setting dictated by childhood attachments.
What’s your default setting? And what’s the setting of your partner, or partners past, or imagined partners in the future? Here are my 6 archetypal relationships derived from the matrix of possible hot-warm-cold combos—again, I acknowledge that this is just a simple model, a coarse categorisation that masks all kinds of varied partnerships. Each and every relationship, of course, is unique. Read the descriptions, decide what colour your relationship is, then tell us by taking the poll.
The 6 relationship types
1. The Yellow Couple: When “avoidant” meets “avoidant” (cold+cold)
Terry & June
This can be a stable but oh-so-quiet, arid kind of connection. These are the couples who keep a polite distance from their own feelings, from each other, and from everyone else. They marvel that over all the years, they’ve never had an argument. They sit in silence in restaurants with nothing to say. Conversation—and sex—petered out years ago; they’ve lost any physical and emotional intimacy, if they ever had it. They appear to be biding time, waiting for the end, existing rather than living. “Anything for a quiet life” is their coda. They sip their tea from matching mugs that say: “Keep Calm and Carry On.” This can be a stale, fetid pool where marriages might collect if left unattended. I can’t really remember much about the unrelentingly beige 1980s sitcom “Terry and June” save that it seems to represent perfectly a certain kind of suffocating, suburban existence. For American readers, it’s hard to find an equivalent to this uniquely British celebration of the mundane. Maybe Terry and June are roughly what "Friends" Chandler and Monica might become after moving to Connecticut.
2. The Red Couple: When “preoccupied” meets “preoccupied” (hot+hot)
Burton & Taylor
Fireworks every day! This relationship—which often starts as an illicit affair—is a volatile, tumultuous, dramatic roller-coaster full of passion, obsession and jealousy, with violent storms and ecstatic sunsets; a potent cocktail of love and hate, break-ups and make-ups, and lots of sex. Alas, whether it’s Romeo & Juliet, Bonnie & Clyde or Sid & Nancy, the relationship is doomed to self-destruct. The fireworks burn everyone in sight, or simply burn out, and the show is over. Motto: “Can’t live with you, can’t live without you.” Richard Burton and Liz Taylor were both married when they began their affair. They had a white-knuckle ride of 10 years of marriage, then divorced. “You can't keep clapping a couple of sticks [of dynamite] together without expecting them to blow up,” said Burton. The divorce didn’t hold: they remarried a year later, then redivorced a few months after that. Between them they had 13 marriages.
3. The Blue Couple: When “avoidant” meets “preoccupied” (cold+hot)
Charles & Diana
Opposites attract . . . until they annoy. The former, the avoidant one, loves the excitement, drama and passion of the latter. The latter loves the security, peace and calm of the former. But gradually, after the honeymoon period, these kinds if couplings can dissolve into a never-ending argument between never-enough and always-too-much, the nagger and the nagged, Felix and Oscar in “The Odd Couple”; "Abigail's Party." The avoidant half is mystified that he is constantly berated for leaving his shoes in the wrong place, or buying the wrong kind of pasta, or any number of seemingly-trivial offences that the preoccupied partner sees as more entries on the huge and ever-growing rap sheet of you-don’t-really-love-me slights. So he curls up in a ball, like a hedgehog, which enrages the neglected partner even further, exacerbating the problem. Maybe she eventually abandons the boring hedgehog and his unwelcoming spikes and goes looking for love instead. After 13 years together, Prince Charles said his marriage to Lady Di had “irretrievably broken down.” What’s remarkable is it lasted that long. The monarchy hoped it might turn yellow, or perhaps beige, but Diana wanted brighter colours.
4. The Purple Couple: When “avoidant” meets “secure” (cold+warm)
Bogie & Bacall
A well-adjusted person, often female, might be drawn to a “strong, silent type,” often male. The latter gets to bask in the charm, vivaciousness and social network of the former without actually having to contribute or do much. Eventually the more secure partner tires of the avoidant’s moribund lack of generosity, his paucity of spirit, his refusal to engage—to live. She now sees his once so seemingly strong silence for what it really is: fear. She leaves him behind—he can’t be budged from the sofa, or his laptop—goes out on her own, and has a good time among her many close friends. Maybe she meets someone new. Unless they can meet halfway. “Successful marriage is the infinite capacity for taking pains,” said Humphrey Bogart of his fourth-time-lucky union with feisty Lauren Bacall, 25 years his junior. “I guess I didn’t take quite enough pains over the other three.”
5. The Green Couple: When “preoccupied” meets “secure” (hot+warm)
Bill & Hillary
The secure partner can be a real anchor for the preoccupied person, if she’s willing to put up with his excesses and be supportive. Preoccupied people ride on emotions—their own and other people’s. As a result they often have an ability to connect, swiftly and deeply. They have a lot of libidinal energy that can manifest in conversation, charm, creativity—and cheating. They love their partner dearly . . . but they love everyone else, too—especially other highly-charged, preoccupied people. Lots of successful people have a high-rev, preoccupied attachment style—and a secure, rock-steady partner. There are lots of David Furnishes who put up with the tantrums and hissy-fits of the Elton Johns of this world. There are lots of Marge Simpsons who forgive their Homers time and again. Despite the enormity of the public humiliation and shame, the Clintons are still together—Hillary did not desert Bill. Society is however far less forgiving of women who stray and too much follow their heart. From Anna Karenina to Madame Bovary, from the bunny boiler in “Fatal Attraction” to the disgraceful contemporary phenomenon known as “slut shaming,” the femme fatale gets punished.
6. The Black and White Couple: When “secure” meets “secure” (warm+warm)
John & Yoko
You are alike but not too alike. There is safety and security but also uncertainty and excitement. Your partner is someone you know really well, yet also a complete mystery. There is yin and yang. On the vast, complex board game of relationships, this might seem like the winning square, the destination; a place to call “home.” The optimistic goal of hopeful but troubled couples who haven’t quite yet given up on their ancient vows, who doggedly drag themselves week after week to see a relationship counsellor, who keep trying, against the odds, despite it all, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health.
In truth, we never quite get there. Thinking that we “should”—that there’s a fundamental flaw in any relationship that hasn’t arrived in this exalted place, this mythical land of wine, roses and happily ever afters—is a major cause of marital dissatisfaction, discord and divorce. In fact, any of the 6 relationship types can work just fine. No one can say one is better than another. Every square on the board game contains a potential treasure chest of love and happiness.
Not getting there, actually, is kind of the point. Love is a process, one that is not meant to run smooth. For as long as a relationship lasts, it is a commitment, a choice, a belief (“I don't believe in Beatles,” John Lennon sang in “God” in 1970. “I just believe in me. Yoko and me. And that's reality.”) It is work, the kind of work that is really helped along by insight into, understanding of, and making allowances for your self, your partner, and the relational dynamics between you. It is helped, too, by communication, not just in words but feelings; by generosity; by play; by laughter.
Love is not a destination. It is not some kind of heaven. Because heaven, as the song goes, is a place where nothing ever happens. If you ever find yourself there, there’s one thing you’ll know for sure: the game is over.
What colour is YOUR relationship?
• Sexologist: people wonder "am I normal?"
Sex three times a day. No sex at all. Asexual. Highly sexual. Scared of sex. Sex drought. Can't stop thinking about it. Am I normal? And the answer, you will be pleased to know, is almost always yes. Australia’s largest study of sexual activity and attitudes has found that people have sex less often than a decade ago but their sexual repertoire has increased. It found that people experience oral sex earlier; condom use has become more common; and an increasing percentage of people watch pornography, though this remains more common for men (65 per cent in the last year) than women (20 per cent). (Sydney Morning Herald)
• Cognitive therapy, mindfulness may help with menopausal depression
Psychotherapy and mindfulness techniques could help many women who experience depression during menopause, according to a review of existing research. (Reuters)
• Africa faces mental health crisis as life expectancy improves
University of Queensland researchers warn that many countries in Africa's Sub-Saharan region could be on the verge of a mental health crisis, because people are living longer. “The demographic shift has significant implications for mental health issues and substance abuse, as people aged between 20 and 54 are most likely to be represented in both categories,” said epidemiologist Fiona Charlson. (Medical Xpress)
• Broadmoor episode two: riot training, counselling and patients move out
Review of second and final part of ITV documentary on the notorious psychiatric hospital. Cameras follow patients taking part in a group drugs counselling session and capture staff taking part in riot training too. (stv.tv)
• Evangelicals increasingly putting faith in medicine to treat mental health issues
Church leaders target stigma and old attitudes: a study last year that said nearly half of evangelical Christians believe that people with serious mental disorders can overcome their illness with “Bible study and prayer alone.” (The Guardian)
• Mental health and the military
Study raises concerns about the effect of tour length on the mental health of the UK armed forces. (The Lancet). Meanwhile, in the U.S., new statistics are raising concerns among the military community: suicide became the top cause of death in both 2012 and 2013, according to the Pentagon’s medical surveillance monthly report (Fox News).
1. Diagnosing Trump