As the holidays approach, how would you describe your relationship with your significant other?
(a) It's a celebration all year around.
(b) It's beginning to look a lot like abyss-mess
Most relationships include healthy portions of both sentiments. But you don't need a Christmas or Chanukah-sized miracle to restore a balance that keeps on giving all year around. On November 29th, award-winning sex and relationship columnist Marjie Killeen will bring a panel of experts to the Wilmette Theatre to discuss "Bridging the Male/Female Divide: How to Get What You Really Want for the Holidays." The show is the third in Killeen's acclaimed Sex & the Suburbs series.
Whether you and your sweetie occupy a divide big enough to hold Santa, his sleigh and all nine reindeer, or you fit like a candle and menorah, this show will benefit your love life and, okay, I'll say it, your sex life, too. Killeen promises, "There are going to be a lot of sparks flying on that stage." And that's not just because there's also going to be a wine-tasting.
Killeen will be accompanied by a dynamic panel of four experts. They include Marianne Murciano, an Emmy award winning television and radio journalist and a much loved presence on the Chicago airwaves. She will present her husband-tested program "How to Train Your Man." The husband on whom it has been tested is none other than Murciano's co-anchor at home and at work, Fox Chicago News' Bob Sirott. (Men: Do not be concerned. You are going to like this.)
Arthur Nielsen, M.D. is a psychiatrist, couples therapist and professor at Northwestern University where he teaches the innovative and popular Marriage 101: Building Loving and Lasting Relationships.
Andrea Gaines is a certified life coach based in Evanston. She is known for inspiring her clients to live life to its fullest through healthful eating, conscious language and mindset, healthy sexuality and fulfilling long-term relationships. She is also a mom and stepmom who says her 16-year marriage to husband George stays "hot and sexy because of their commitment to yogic sexuality practices." (Whew. Wine, please!)
David Klow has contributed significantly to all three parts of Sex & the Suburbs. He is a certified marriage and family therapist and trained intuitive healer who has transformed patients' lives by blending ancient wisdom with modern practices. Following a long affiliation with Northwestern's Family Institute, he opened his own practice in Skokie where he works with individuals, couples, families and groups.
I spoke with Marjie Killeen for some advice in advance. For more inspiration and to hear the experts' secrets to sweet holidays and beyond, come to the Wilmette Theatre for an experience that cannot be duplicated anywhere else.
Q: Please tell us about the male-female divide. We rarely take time to look closely at it.
A: We take very little time to talk about our sex lives as grown adults in long-term relationships. There's no safe place to do that. These panel discussions are really a conversation. Even if you don't participate, you're reassured that a lot of people are going through the same thing or it gives you a new perspective.
Q: Knowing you're not alone is such a pressure-breaker.
A: Exactly. This is my panelists' expertise. They have great information, wisdom and compassion to share and it makes it all natural and normal and something we all have in common. I have felt in the theater this vibe of relief and then, interest.
Everybody wants to connect and talk about it, but where? Where could you do that without going to therapy? And therapy is not even the same thing because it deals with your specific issues or issues between two people. Here it's more of a community.
Q: That's the word I was thinking of, too. You're creating a friendly, informative community, kind of like family was a long time ago where people could discuss the personal, while trusting it to be treated with respect and insight.
A: Exactly. And it's still entertaining because it's about sex. It's fun.
Q: So how would you define the male/female divide? And why don't men close cabinets?
A: Men and women are wired differently and communicate differently in some ways. But we're not all that dissimilar. We want many of the same things. We want love. We want respect. We want stability, security and comfort.
But where we're divided sometimes is in the expression. As women, we understand how we want something done. We know we want that cabinet closed and we expect our mate to act as we do instead of understanding how they act and appreciating that.
Women like to talk things out. They build intimacy through talking whereas men aren't as comfortable in that realm. They might be more comfortable with expressing themselves nonverbally and women often want to hear the words and have that reciprocal verbal back and forth. That's one area we'll definitely address on the 29th.
The other thing that happens between men and women, especially as time goes on, is mismatched libidos. One partner wants to have sex more than the other partner. People typically think that the woman doesn't want to have sex as often as the man, but that's not always the case. It could be a man who doesn't have as much desire as his wife. It creates an imbalance and a conflict that's ongoing. That's something we'll also discuss and provide some help and understanding and new ways of thinking.
Q: When you say, "getting what you really want for the holidays," is that sexually, emotionally?
A: We're tying it into the holidays, but the things we'll be talking about are timeless. There are a lot of aspects to getting what you want, but I think it's [most important] to communicate better with your partner so you're able to have a fulfilling relationship. And part of getting what you want is knowing what you want. Do you really know what you want sexually, romantically, intimately from your partner and have you communicated that to him?
What would it look like if he were able to give that to me and if I could give him what he needs? To get good gifts, you have to be a good gift-giver. Part of it is understanding what your partner wants and how he or she is having desires that are unmet, too. He might be more willing to give you what you want if he is getting what he needs. Flip "he" or "she" in that conversation because it goes both ways.
I'm beginning to feel remarkably sympathetic to the guys in this equation. I'm not thinking, oh, we women, we never get what we want. I'm thinking men are often pretty misunderstood and they really don't know what they're supposed to be doing.
Q: Add the different ways we communicate and a big divide can open up.
A: Women say, "We're so busy taking care of everyone that we don't have time for ourselves," but I think a lot of men feel they're definitely taking care of their family and responsibilities, as well. We need to find ways to appreciate each other in the way that the person would like to be appreciated, not in the way we want to be appreciated. In other words, it's tuning in a little bit more to each other's needs and giving that.
Q: I know I sometimes forget to appreciate what people are doing around me.
A: I think we all are like that. We want appreciation, but we also have to take time to look for what we should be appreciating in our partners. As Carole Moss said in the first show, appreciation is really sexy.
Another theme we'll talk about on the 29th, is intimacy versus eroticism. Intimacy is closeness, dependability. And that is a beautiful thing. But sometimes, all of that closeness is not all that hot.
Q: Do women want intimacy more and men, eroticism?
A: It's probably fair to say that women feel close through talking, whereas men feel close through sex, through bodily contact. But I think it's too simple to just say that. I read an article recently that said men need more emotional connection through their marriage than women do. Women have a lot of emotional connection and relationships outside their marriage where they're getting confiding and closeness and emotional validation. A lot of men don't get that with their friendships, so they really need it in their marriage. Again, how they communicate that is a different thing.
David Klow, who is such an insightful therapist, says that men want to feel effective. They want to feel competent. They want to be respected. Sometimes when they make an attempt to be romantic or connect with their wives, their wives turn them down or it's not the right way or not right now. And that hurts.
We're not going to fix everybody's problem in an hour and a half show on the 29th, but maybe we'll give people some things to think about or to talk about or to think about differently that will end up improving things for them.
Q: I can already think of things I could do better just in the short time we've been talking.
A: Are you kidding -- me, too!
Q: I can see sometimes I don't realize the "wait, I'm busy right now" moments. It's just a short little moment. I hadn't thought about how it could have a longer term impact, but I guess if he reacted the same way to me, I wouldn't feel so great about it.
A: Right. My husband seems always to want to put his arms around me or grab me while I'm cooking. "I'm cooking. Do you see the flame on the stove?!"
A: He's sort of saying, "We're together in the kitchen, I notice you. You look good to me." And I'm like, "Ugh!"
Q: I've had that experience, too, washing the dishes, and for some reason it really irks me. You want a moment? Then come here and help with the freaking dishes.
A: Well, that's true, too. Women really want men to help out. And women, because they're such multi-taskers, need some space away from everything else to put themselves in a place where they feel romantic. That might be something that a man could do, like, "you go upstairs and take a bath and for the next half an hour, don't worry about anything." We'd all be in a better frame of mind after that.
Q: What is one thing that both men and women want for the holidays?
A: The number one thing men want is appreciation. They also want to know what you want. They want you to know that they're not mind-readers. They want sex, of course. And they'd like more sex. But they don't just want sex for the sake of sex. They want you to be into it. They'd like you to initiate it. They also want to be appreciated for what they do outside the home. They feel like they work their asses off at work and feel the burden of providing for the family and take that very seriously.
Q: How about women?
A: I think that women would like more time to themselves to feel sexy, to feel desirable, to get their heads in the game. And women would like their husbands to pay attention to them, let them know they're desired, make them feel special.
Q: Are we afraid to ask for what we want from our partners?
A: I think both men and women are afraid to ask for things. Sexually, people are embarrassed or worried that they're going to be judged or that it's weird or that there's something wrong with them or they don't know how to talk about it. Men want to be respectful so they may not want to cross our boundaries, either. Yes, I think we're scared. Definitely. If we know what we want, that's the first step. Figuring out how to ask for it, that's the second step.
Q: Why is so hard to ask? Is it that women and men don't have the confidence or lose their connection over time?
A: Well, I think there's a lot of shame in our society when it comes to sex. We have kind of a Puritan ethic. Women may feel bad especially when they're moms. When you're a mom, you shouldn't be doing anything that's not clean and upstanding and respectable. We have a lot of stigma and shame around sex.
I also think sexuality has as much to do with how you feel about yourself and how it makes you feel about life than it is just about what's going on with your partner in the bedroom. Sex is a normal, natural, beautiful part of life and we shouldn't be ashamed of it. Sex between two people can get boring. Why not work on it to stay fun and fresh?
Q: What opportunities do the holidays offer couples?
A: The way we want sex to be is like getting an amazing gift or giving an amazing gift where you open it up and you're delighted and feel so considered that someone has chosen this gift for you. Not only do we want to feel that way when we're opening the gift, but we love to make our partner feel that way, too. I don't think this has to be a lot of pressure. It could just be thinking, what would be a gift for my partner? And that's going to be focusing not on what you want, but on what they want.
It doesn't necessarily have to be a complete transformation of a relationship, but trying to create a special evening. And also, I would say, be specific about what you would like. I think men want to make us happy. They want to do the right thing. But after a while, if they don't know, or they're not getting reinforcement, they're going to give up. All of this has sparked some great conversation with my husband, too.
Q: What dangers are inherent in the next month for couples?
A: The holidays are very busy. They're very stressful. There are a lot of expectations. There are tons of parties, maybe more parties than people want to go to. There's overeating and people are drinking and it can lead to everyone feeling cranky and hostile. So take some time for yourself. Take an evening or two. Do you know about the sleep-under?
Q: Yes, going to a hotel even for just a few hours?
A: Yes. Get out of your house and find a little space where you can just be together.
Q: That would be a nice break from everything and maybe create a precedent for the rest of the year.
A: Exactly. You can go online and get the hotel at the last minute. It doesn't matter which hotel. You can get a great deal that's cheaper than a dinner out. Make that the present you give one another. Forget about the cashmere sweater.
Q: Do you have a favorite holiday story?
A: You know the story where the woman cuts off her hair to get the watch for her husband and he sells his watch to get the comb for her hair …
Q: The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry! I love that.
A: Isn't that a beautiful story? They are each thinking about the other person, being so generous.
Q: The holiday spirit and the marriage spirit all in one.
A: Exactly. That they would go to such lengths to make the other person happy is so beautiful. It has a lot of sexual parallels, too.
Q: As with our last conversation, I'm hanging up feeling lighter and like the world has more possibilities.
A: That's just how I would like people to feel!
Sex & The Suburbs is on Thursday, November 29 at 7:30 p.m. at the Wilmette Theatre, 1122 Central Ave. Tickets are $20. For tickets, call 847-251-7424 or visit http://www.wilmettetheatre.com/events/.
You can read Marjie Killeen's Sex and the Suburbs columns at http://www.makeitbetter.net/better-you/sex-and-the-suburbs
For our previous conversation with Marjie Killeen about Sex and the Suburbs at the Wilmette Theatre: http://wilmette.patch.com/blog_posts/columnist-marjie-killeen-and-the-wilmette-theatre-bring-sex-home