When your “affair” partner is your phone, is indifference a form of passive betrayal or just benign neglect?

We don’t start out feeling indifferent or distant to our partners, even if we’re more prone to being avoidant introverted. When you fall in love, the desire to connect is not only at it’s peak but feels unmatched in intensity. However, over time we naturally become acclimated to each other and anticipate their responses through what’s called predictive memory. This cooling off period, which includes a tempering around curiosity and interest happens during the companionate, familiar, and more stable phase of love.

But it’s also a phase where complacency can set it in. You may not even notice the reversion back to old habits and behaviors, and start ignoring or acting indifferently toward your partner. I refer to this syndrome as being present but absent—present physically but absent emotionally. In other words— you’re not truly showing up in the moment. Engagement exists on a spectrum and we all need downtime —time to decompress, to be alone, to have solitude. It’s also okay to have time when you’re together in the same room while engaged in other things.

Where it becomes problematic is if it’s the norm, when we stop responding to bids for connection when our partner is trying to actively engage us. Or do what many of us do to mindlessly fill our time every single day—reflexively retreat to our phones. I often ask couples that come into my practice to share how much focused time they spend together a week with each other versus how much time they spend on their I-phones. It’s astonishing.

Many people report spending upwards of 18-20 hours on their phones and less than a half hour with their partners. It’s a real window into where their attention is. It’s a common complaint among many women in my couples that the “affair” partner is their husband’s phone.

Our addictive relationship to and consumption of digital media has become an intrusive third element in virtually all modern relationships. But extensive digital media use also leads to depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, increased stress levels and a reduced capacity for empathy and social connection.

You could argue being on your phone constantly is not intentional indifference. It’s habitual. And it’s often easier to distract yourself with your phone instead of trying to actually connect.

But while it’s not a passive form betrayal, it is passive form of neglect that is NOT benign. Disengagement and indifference are also forms of empathic failure. You’re you’re choosing to look away, you’re choosing to disengage, you’re choosing not to relate.

Eventually, the implicit belief begins to take root—-that your partner probably don’t mind when you’re not present, which is a false assumption. You can also start to feel invisible to your partner and resentful, even if you’re doing the exact same thing to them. This spells disaster not only for your intimacy and sex life, but erodes the basic physical and emotional sense of trust and security in each other as “there for you” even if you’re not explicitly betraying your partner in another relationship.

Our cultural over focus on individual freedom and the pursuit of our own happiness has obscured the power and function of healthy intimate relationships. Why be intentional about preserving our relationships in real time? Study after study shows, that healthy intimate relationships are one of the primary indicators of our overall quality of life. The phone can distract you when you’re feeling angry or sad, but it can’t replace a hug or someone authentically and compassionately holding space with you when you’re down.

If you’re aware that you either check out continuously or your partner does—instead of blaming and shaming, it’s important to be mindful and take ownership of this. You’re fighting the collective addiction we’re all in. The antidote is not to throw your cell phone away, but to be intentional about when you do connect. Small steps add up. Set limits on your phone for usage. Make sustained eye contact when you’re talking to each other. By carving out dedicated time in your busy lives, you are privileging the relationship as you seek new ways to re-discover each other—-through novelty and new experiences.

And most importantly, when you do—-try to attune to your partner. Notice what it feels lie to be more fully present and engaged. If this is hard to do initially, then consider it an invitation to keep practicing because love isn’t just something that happens to you—-love is a practice that requires our attention and can be more fulfilling and enduring than spending hours and hours on social media every day.

If our intimate relationships matter most, why do we bring the most irritable, impatient part of ourselves home?


Are you bringing your “leftovers” home?

Do you ever come home at the end of a long day and feel like you have no energy left for your partner? Or if you’ve got energy, you feel more compelled to give it to your children than your partner? If you’ve had a hard day, you may be justifiably tired and just want to relax and catch up on emails or social media. Perhaps you ignore your partner, not out of malice, but simply benign neglect. It’s not intentional. But over time, this can spell disaster for your sex and romantic life if it becomes the norm. According to sex therapist Esther Perel, we often bring the best version of ourselves to our friends and our clients at work, and bring the worst parts of ourselves or the “leftovers” home. Unfortunately, it is a pervasive fallacy about marriage that we are entitled to bring our worst selves or unconscious selves home to the people who ostensibly love us the most

Where does this notion come from? It has its roots in an out-dated and patriarchal sense of duty, obligation and sacrifice that married couples should tolerate each other through thick and thin. Historically though, women in unhappy marriages were confined to making more of those personal sacrifices because there were few alternatives for them. But the women’s movement completely changed the cultural landscape. Marriage is no longer exclusively about survival and children. It’s about choice. Marriage in the West is elective, and it now includes love, sex and romance while honoring the needs of the individual, which are very modern conceptions of love. As Perel wrote in her book “Mating in Captivity,” the modern expectations we collectively have of marriage are impossible to meet.

Yet here we are.

How do we show up in them with more awareness and sensitivity? How do we privilege our primary relationship without feeling like it’s a chore?

If we give all of our focus, our attention and our presence to others and have nothing left for our partners except our irritable, tired selves, we begin to poison the well or drain the well of love, affection and connection.

We can slowly erode the bond that we rely on when things get tough—but it’s also a naive assumption that our partners will simply agree to be there for us tomorrow no matter how badly we behave. Often times the first thing to evaporate is romantic and sexual intimacy. Your partner may stop desiring the person who criticizes and ignores her. You may begin to fight more or go for long stretches of stoney silence as bids for connection go unmet.

While all relationships require some degree of sacrifice and compromise, our sense of entitlement to our individual fulfillment can turn relationships into a zero sum game: a “me” versus “we” mentality. Many of us fear the idea of being subsumed into some kind of co-dependent dynamic in which we could lose our identity and healthy boundaries. But it doesn’t have to be. Any relationship or aspect of our life that we want to thrive requires attention and intention.

Here are 5 ways to counter our “leftovers” habit.

Take a few moments to decompress before walking in the door. Set the intention to bring your better self home. If you need time to collect yourself, ask for 20 minutes or take a walk around the block so you can clear your mind to be present with your partner.

Take care of your relationship in small ways. Do you know their love languages? What do they like? What brings them delight? Whether it’s a daily ritual of bringing coffee to each other, picking up your partner’s favorite take out, taking a walk at night together. But make sure your gestures are landing.

Comings and Goings: Hellos and Goodbyes and Goodnights.There are many natural points during the day to either hug or kiss your partner in a moment of affection before they leave or return. Hellos and goodbyes are good windows in which you can connect briefly, and let your partner know they matter.

Make Eye Contact. Look up from your phone when they are trying to get your attention. Look at your partner when you speak. Face your partner. This is so basic and yet we’re losing this skill. So much unnecessary conflict arises when we multi-task with our partners and can’t give them the time of day.

Make a point of having new experiences together. Inject some imagination into your relationship.Injecting some imagination, fun, play, mystery, novelty, courtship, adventure—at least twice a month. It could be sex, it could be going dancing or go to a concert, it could be a culinary adventure, or a hike. Challenge yourself to do something unusual, out of your comfort zone, if spontaneity is not an option.

Couples that privilege their relationship in these small but consistent ways are stronger on every front, and studies show that their children are more secure as well. Challenge yourself to leave your “leftovers” in the car for one week and observe what happens.

Desire Discrepancy Part 2: Why is it so hard to talk about sex? Here are some tips.

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Why is it so hard to talk about sex?

Talking about sex can make us feel extremely vulnerable and insecure. It’s not normal for a lot of people. And some of us would rather avoid that conversation than deal with the potential fall out from an unsuccessful one. Granted, there are fantasies you might have that you probably shouldn’t share with your partner because they will never look at you the same way again if you do. So discretion is advised.

How do I begin?

For starters, you need some degree of safety and intimacy in your communication to begin with and if that isn’t there—then talking about desire discrepancy is probably going to be exceptionally difficult. You will naturally feel some anxiety around asking for what you want, what turns you on, what doesn’t, exploring fantasies and taking risks. I suggest taking small steps and doing it not when you’re in the midst of having sex. You don’t have to take a critical inventory of your sex life in a way that will invite shame and blame. You should first share your appreciation of your partner and then make a suggestion to incorporate something new or different.

Make an agreement not to drag all the other issues you have going on into that conversation. I recommend bringing compassionate inquiry to the question. And if the whole thing sounds too scary to do by yourselves, I recommend doing it with a sex therapist or a couples therapist you trust.

How do we get back to that initial level of sexual attraction we had in the beginning?

Well, it will never be the same. There is no going back to the beginning. There’s only moving forward, and if you’re already in the companionate (stable, familiar, 2nd) stage of a relationship—it’s going to take attention, focus, and most importantly some imagination. There’s a fallacy that passion has to feel spontaneous and organic and if it isn’t—then sex is going to feel forced and in-authentic. The idea of going from passionate to intentional sounds a labor intensive but anything worth our time requires a renewing of commitment, a renewing of our attention and yes, bringing imagination into the equation. Accepting the impermanence and loss of that initial erotic sexual connection —and taking responsibility for the next chapter—is how you’re going to re-shape your erotic life.

The Desire Model Gap: Spontaneous versus Responsive Arousal

One problem stems from a basic lack of understanding of both female genital physiology but also around the nature of female desire itself. Our desire construct is based on the male model of spontaneous arousal, penetration and orgasm whereas most women become turned on through responsive desire. It’s a much slower process. Women may not immediately feel turned on when their partner does. Instead they require something to get them in the mood. They need a little mental, romantic or physical stimulation like flirtation, fantasy, play or extended foreplay,—scenarios that create erotic or romantic excitement and tension. If men typically orgasm in 3 minutes and most women take about 21, that’s a big gap to close. Dr. Ian Kerner, a New York sex therapist strongly advocates for making sure your female partner orgasms first so that pleasure is both reciprocal and mutual.

The much more elusive piece is for each partner to rekindle and rediscover their erotic sense of self—separately and together. A self that has nothing to do with —and may feel completely at odds with the confines of domestic life.

Esther Perel has volumes to say about the nature of desire and our problematic and overburdened conception of modern marriage. She has brought the conversation into the culture in a very signifiant way. I highly recommend both of her books and ted talks and she also has a terrific online course on rekindling desire.

Is there really a solution to desire discrepancy?

I’d rather frame this question as how can I have a more conscious relationship to desire discrepancy. Get curious. Expand your knowledge base. There is so much more information around sex and some incredible educators, full of humor and humanity. Two of my favorites are Emily Nagoski, author of Come As You Are —which is essential reading on women’s sexual arousal response and Dr. Ian Kerner, author of She Comes First. He goes into great detail about how to give women oral sex which many men (not all, but many) are not very skilled in or curious about.

Desire discrepancy is not necessarily a sign that your relationship is headed down hill. If there is absolutely no spark left and zero sexual compatibility, and you and your partner have really tried—then it’s time to consider alternative choices, of which there are a few, including opening your relationship or consensual non monogamy. But I would investigate what’s possible between you two first. There is a whole new world of information and resources out there that are easily available. There are also an abundance of toys, erotica, and ethical porn. You can do all of this exploration from the privacy of your home. As Proust famously said: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”

Suggested Reading

Esther Perel: Mating in Captivity & State of the Union

Emily Nagoski: Come As You Are

Dr. Ian Kerner: She Comes First

Desire Discrepancy: What is it?

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Yes, It’s a “thing” and it also has the potential to open up a whole new world of conversation, honesty and sexual exploration between you and your partner —if you’re curious and willing.

What is desire discrepancy?

Desire discrepancy is a misalignment of sexual preferences or mismatched libidos. It’s basically a situation where one partner desires sex more frequently than the other or desires a different kind or quality of sex. For example, you may be a morning person whereas your partner may prefer the evening. Your partner may prefer quickies, whereas you may prefer more foreplay and intimacy. You may desire sex once in a while your partner may want sex several times a week. Initially in the first phase when sexual chemistry is at a peak high, it isn’t much of an issue for most, but when relationships settle into more of an established routine, the discrepancy can lead to feelings of inadequacy, rejection, pressure, anxiety, and frustration.

Is it common?

Yes, it’s extremely common in long term monogamous relationships and especially in heterosexual couples. The way our modern lives are structured, it’s almost a given there will be disruptions and barriers to sustaining emotional and sexual intimacy.

Duty, responsibility, obligation, and care taking often trump the desire for sex and intimacy. From raising children to our addiction to our i-phones—there are many complex aspects of life that vie for our attention and end up taking priority over our sex lives.

We can falsely presume desire discrepancy is purely a function of benign neglect. But it can also stem from becoming bored and dissatisfied with the sex you’re having. Maybe you have fallen into a rut, doing the same thing over and over. Women actually tend to become bored with sex much sooner than their male counterparts, even though a waning libido isn’t a gender specific issue. And while drugs like Viagra can solve the problem of male erectile dysfunction, there isn’t an equivalent that deals with the more complex dynamic of female arousal.

Monogamy should be a living breathing agreement that takes change and development into consideration. However, if sexual fidelity is at the center of that agreement, than we have to treat desire discrepancy as an invitation to begin a sensitive and vulnerable conversation.

How much sex is normal?

While we’re all curious about how much sex other people are having, what’s normal isn’t so much a relevant question as much as what feels good for you and your partner. At the same time, we can’t help but compare ourselves and wonder if we’re anomalies in the event of a sexual recession. I’d venture to say that it’s normal to feel like you’re missing out because our society is so obsessed with sex —and we’re relentlessly saturated with media which can trigger feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. None of us are immune to those influences, unless you live off the grid. I think we need to calibrate our expectations during different stages of our relationship and family life.

Is it inevitable?

A temporary reprieve from sex due to life changes can become the new normal. One of the stubborn myths of romantic love is that the sexual connection and attraction are going to stay intact but over time—it starts to deteriorate unless you prioritize sex or revisit the subject periodically.

Our sexual lives and our sexual identities often diminish or go dormant altogether in long term relationships because the other roles we play in our life can tend to dominate. It doesn’t have to though. Unfortunately, many people resort to cheating to close the gap, instead of trying to work through what the next chapter of intimacy could look like. Monogamy should be a living breathing agreement that takes change and development into consideration. However, if sexual fidelity is at the center of that agreement, than we have to treat desire discrepancy as an invitation to begin a sensitive and vulnerable conversation. But if you’re curious and willing, it can open up a whole new world of honesty and sexual exploration.

Read Desire Discrepancy Part 2: Why is it so hard to talk about sex?

Do relationships ever stop feeling like “work”?


Do relationships ever stop feeling “work?”This was a question from a couple that came in with a problem around waning desire. One felt more attraction than the other. Both agreed, the sex wasn’t the same. While they loved each other deeply and were committed to each other—their sexual feelings didn’t seem to be as strong anymore. They were also feeling anxious. While engaged to be married, the desire discrepancy problem triggered insecurities around feeling worthy of being loved and committed to. Each one had real ambivalence about the serious long term commitment associated with marriage.

They recognized with a palpable sense of loss that they were out of the “erotic/romantic” phase of their relationship —and had graduated into the companionate phase.

There is a shelf life to the passionate romantic phase of falling in love. It can last 6 months or 2 years, and while it’s different for everyone, the next more stable phase of relationship is a companionate one. We lose the feeling of butterflies in our stomach. The sex isn’t quite as spontaneous or exciting. We start to notice our partner’s flaws and insecurities. We get irritated with them. And this is often when problems and issues begin to emerge.

But this is also absolutely normal and natural. Many people falsely presume that when the roses colored glasses come off and the romantic intensity fades, that the love is fading as well. That notion has more to do with an idealized fantasy of love—versus the reality of sustainable partnership. It’s not that love isn’t there, but the dynamic has changed. As a couples therapist, I thin there’s an opportunity to discover what it takes to rekindle the spark and in a way that isn’t going to look like the first chapter.

It’s exactly when the infatuation phase of love fades and the rose colored glasses come off—that’s the moment to become intentional about the relationship and with each other.

Intentional about your communication. Intentional about bringing up difficult issues. Intentional about repairing conflict. Intentional about affection, sex and intimacy. Is it work? Absolutely. In truth, any kind of relationship we commit to requires “work.” It’s a reflection of what we prioritize and value. I would re-frame the “work” as an invitation to relate to each other with mindfulness and with focused attention.

In order to stay dynamic, vital and alive—commitment requires our active engagement. Commitments lapse because our relationship to them collapses.

This concept not only extends to interpersonal relationships—intimate partners, children, parents, friends and colleagues. It extends to our relationship with ourselves: our relationship to our health, diet, exercise, money, technology, our spiritual, erotic and creative life, our work lives—all require our regular attention.

When we transition into the companionate phase, the initial work in couples therapy has more to do with changing our patterns, learning to regulate our emotional reactivity and getting curious about our resistance.

But once we acquire more relational skillfulness— it becomes less “effortful” to maintain a strong relationship —and that includes sex and intimacy. Working on your relationship becomes a mindfulness practice and an ongoing conversation with each other. An ongoing conversation that allows for us to change and grow—and calibrate our expectations when we hit bumps in the road. But it hinges on our ability to attune to each other, be present, flexible, curious and engaged. And this is the same kind of effort that we should bring to any relationship that has value. Strong relationships can give us the deepest sense of satisfaction, belonging and joy in life when they are well tended. It’s work that pays off.

Do “hacks” work when it comes to love?

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There are plenty of hacks that help us in life.  Trying to hack love isn’t one of them. Mindfulness is a far more powerful mindset when it comes to forging authentic connection.  by Shira Myrow LMFT, psychotherapist  and mindfulness educator ©2019

All of us feel besieged sometimes with the complexity of life and the demands for our time and attention. Looking for hacks that can save us time can create more space for the  things that matter.  Part of the appeal of hacks is that they can help us navigate life more efficiently and strategically. But one thing it’s important not to have a hack mentality around — is paying attention to our most precious relationships, especially our primary ones.  Research has shown that having strong, meaningful relationships are central to the satisfaction we feel in life.  

Why wouldn’t we use the same mentality to improve our relationships? Because there aren’t really short cuts to creating intimacy or for creating meaning.  Think about all the great dating and romance  advice online from love experts or the thousands of inspirational quotes circulating on Instagram—from  poets and philosophers to life coaches—meant to inspire you for the day.  As compelling and valuable as the advice is, why doesn’t it stick?

Part of it has to do with the sheer saturation of information we’re exposed to on a daily basis. But the other piece is how we integrate what we’re reading.  What is the quality of our attention we’re bringing towards the imperative to improve our intimate relationships? If we’re unconsciously spending more of our attention complaining, avoiding or even distracting ourselves,  those intentions to improve won’t have any staying power.

This is where mindfulness can make a profound difference.  Mindfulness practice enables us to witness our thoughts, emotions and sensations—from a non-judgmental position—without getting overly-emotionally attached to our experience.  Creating a practice of compassionate awareness gives us the capacity to hold thoughts and feelings in a different way, in a gentler way.  Why does that matter? 

Often times when we are triggered by our loved one, we mistake an emotional experience that we’re having in the moment as an objective truth.

Mindfulness can give us the breathing space to push the “pause” button on our emotional reactivity, that’s fueled by our amygdala (the reptilian brain) that wants to go in to a fight, flight or freeze response.  If we can take a moment and consider what’s happening from a compassionate position, we can learn to become more responsive to our partners as opposed to lash out in emotional reactivity.

Let’s say your partner texts you to say they have to stay late at work and the dinner you had to shop at three stores to make is sitting on the table and getting cold— you might feel a flood of negative thoughts and emotions around why you’re not a priority in the relationship.  With mindful awareness, you can gently allow for whatever is arising in your experience—-take a few moments to breathe, and then figure out how you can consciously respond. Here is how the process of inquiry might unfold:

-How can you compassionately take care of yourself and self soothe in the moment?

-How can you accept what is happening without a negative attribution of meaning to your partner?

-Can you acknowledge and communicate your disappointment?

-Can you honor and share  your intention to create a ritual of connection and meaning even if it didn’t go the way you planned? 

No “hack”  here can successfully supplant this intricate process of sorting through your emotions. The truth is, successful relationships not only require good intentions and commitment, but they involve a process.  Like anything else that is worthwhile, the process boils down to a daily practice— sustaining intimacy with rituals of connection, staying open and curious about your partner’s inner world, repairing and building trust after ruptures, but most importantly it is the quality of attention you bring to the practice of attuning with your partner. It is your presence, not the volume of time you put in.

There’s an old zen truism that says:  “Before enlightenment,  chopping wood and carrying water.  After enlightenment, chopping wood and carrying water, only it feels different.”

It is the presence and attention you bring to even the smallest, daily things—like bringing your partner a cup of coffee in the morning that have the capacity to imbue it with meaning or not. That’s how rituals either stay alive or become empty gestures over time. Bringing mindful awareness to your relationship can foster and even illuminate the attention, authentic presence and attunement that makes love feel like a dynamic and truly meaningful  practice.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

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According to couples researcher and marriage therapist John Gottman, couples usually struggle with an issue for an average of six years before seeking help. Gottman also discovered that how a couple brings up an issue in the first three minutes of a conflict conversation predicts with 90% accuracy— not only how the conversation will end, but predicts the dynamic over the course of the next 6 years.

Six years of fighting and arguing, or if you are conflict averse, avoiding and distancing yourself from your partner, can have a corrosive effect on your relationship. You might not even last 6 years.  It’s not hard to see how unresolved tension and conflict can foster feelings of resentment or a sense of hopelessness and despair that leaks into other areas of your marriage.  

I see it a lot in my practice. Couples come to me in fumes. They’ve been simmering with the same problems for years and there is no more good will in the bank.  I’ve been there myself.  Waiting too long to get help.

 I also find that some clients have a negative bias towards marriage therapy, even if they’ve gotten over the soft stigma of individual therapy. The association is couples therapy is the last stop before divorce. Or it’s only necessary when there’s been a discovery of an affair or a porn addiction.

For those of us that are avoidant or conflict-averse, we tend tolerate uncomfortable situations until they hit a boiling point, instead of being more proactive about changing a situation.  And that’s largely due to a lack of awareness around  how our avoidant disposition can cause bigger problems down the pike, even if we think we’re keeping the peace in the moment.

If we get a serious health diagnosis, chances are, we’ll make some radical  shifts in lifestyle. Fear after all is the  great driver of human behavior.  But when it comes to our relationship health, it’s much harder to grasp and quantify— and therefore ultimately treat.  However what the research also shows—is that the satisfaction we derive from our closest relationships is not only predictive of greater individual longevity, stronger immunity, and overall wellbeing, but it’s intimately tied to our sense of happiness and integral to the day to day quality of our lives. 

There’s tremendous value in seeking out short term, solution focused tools when you hit smaller bumps in the road or when you’re about to move into a big transition:  having a baby, have a second baby, changing jobs, moving, remodeling, parenting challenges, low libido, health issues, desire discrepancy, managing the mental load, or navigating money.  Couples counseling can be curative and preventative.   If we can learn  how to reverse the way we  are engaging in conflict and take responsibility for our behavioral dynamics, we don’t necessarily have to struggle or suffer for long, protracted periods of time.  

How to Raise Boys to Be Emotionally Intelligent


It’s a myth that boys are born less emotionally complex than girls. What is true, says LA-based psychotherapist Shira Myrow, is this is learned over time. We raise boys in a culture that continues to perpetuate that myth—and the result is that boys often learn to shut down their feelings earlier. “A gap in the capacity to express and articulate feelings—but also listen—profoundly affects intimate relationships,” Myrow says. “I see it every day with couples: Men come in with a huge deficit. They don’t have language for their emotions, and so they can’t decipher what their partners are trying to communicate underneath their emotional reactivity.”

Myrow works to help the men in her practice slow everything down and start at the beginning, which requires learning how to become emotionally attuned, engaged, and responsive to their partners. She believes, too, that this is a meaningful step we can take as parents to sensitize our sons to be become more compassionate, more emotionally intelligent. In other words, these are the steps it takes to be mindful.

Raising Emotionally Intelligent Boys

By Shira Myrow, MA, LMFT

Having emotional intelligence is equivalent to possessing a social superpower. Learning to pay attention and attune to what’s happening for you internally can help you communicate much more effectively and authentically—in all of your relationships. We may come to understand this only as adults, but we can help our children gradually build these tools for themselves.

It’s also time to dispel the myths our culture gives to boys. They are often taught that expressing their emotions makes them appear weak and vulnerable and that sexual conquest is more important than respecting a sexual partner’s boundaries. Those two myths are linked. There’s a lot in the culture—especially porn—that contributes to internalized distortions around sex and women. When we objectify others, we cut ourselves off from our own humanity, from our own moral compass. It obscures what real sex and intimacy look like. We move into a dissociative place that prevents us from seeing one another as vulnerable, complex human beings.

As parents, we have to accept that we have way less influence than previous generations did when it comes to educating our children about sex. Social media and the internet present exponentially more competition. That’s in addition to their social peer group, which naturally takes on more importance as they seek belonging and connection with kids their age. But we can educate ourselves first about the influences our children are exposed to, and we can provide alternative information while being mindful of our own anxiety. That said, it’s no easy task.

Tackling that challenge starts with an intention to overcome our own squeamishness about sex and dating in today’s world and normalize conversation about them. Casually ask your kids questions about what they’re seeing online or at school and how it makes them feel to get them thinking and talking to you. Conversation is absolutely critical. (Dr. Gail Dines is doing incredible work in this field, and she offers free scripts and questions for parents to broach the discussion, walking anxious parents through the entire process.)

Mindfulness practice is really useful in creating emotional intelligence, especially for boys. It can give them a simple process to identify the difference between emotions, thoughts, and sensations so they can become more responsive and self-aware. Mindfulness also helps us regulate our difficult feelings and impulses. Instead of shaming kids, we can teach them to gently sit with their feelings and hold the discomfort until it passes.

You can invite your teens to observe their thoughts, emotions, and sensations—instead of emotionally reacting like a pinball machine to every emotion that comes. To view emotions as if they were looking at a snow globe, noticing how the snow particles can initially swirl and then slowly settle. That’s the first step. Reassure them that all feelings come and go—and often with great intensity in the moment. But we don’t have to overidentify with any emotion as a permanent state.

The next step is to become curious about our emotions and try to name the feelings that arise instead of suppressing them. Once you can name your feeling and get clarity, you can make a much more conscious decision about how you want to respond in any kind of situation. Mindfulness fosters compassion, self-compassion, empathy, and acceptance—relational values that are critical for building healthy self-esteem and healthy relationships with others. You’re learning to listen to the value present in the emotion. What’s the emotion that initially arises? What’s your knee-jerk reaction? What’s behind the fear? And then: What would a thoughtful, compassionate response be?

Here’s an example: If your teen is doing something with their friends that they know is wrong or not respectful of another person but they feel pressured into by their friends, you might point out that the anxiety or even anger they feel is a sign that they’re not in alignment with their integrity and this could be a moment to assert a boundary. That means having the courage to say no despite being afraid of social rejection. I often suggest hypothetical moral dilemmas with my sons while driving in the car to get them thinking about these kinds of situations in a no-pressure environment.  Once they get into a basic understanding of how to use mindful awareness with their emotions, they can use it to tolerate the discomfort and confusion they can feel around sex and sexuality, which can be incredibly vulnerable and hard to talk about.


Ongoing communication: Engage in open-ended questions about healthy masculinity, mutual consent, the complex feelings that can come up around sex, and respectful and direct communication in relationships. Accept that you may feel as awkward, anxious, and ambivalent as your teens do. They probably won’t initially want to talk with you. But try anyway.

Don’t shame or blame them: That’s the quickest way to shut your children down. I love the sex educator Emily Nagoksi.  She provides a wealth of wonderful information for late-teen and college-age kids, especially about female sexuality.

Be sex-positive: Frame sexual experience as a natural, necessary part of human development. It’s natural to be curious, to have strong urges and strong feelings. It’s part of our common humanity. Sex doesn’t have to be split off from all the other conversations around maturity. Sex-positivity necessarily includes an understanding around explicit consent, integrity, respect, and clear boundaries.

Understand the difference between influence and control: You want to help your children critically assess what they’re watching in the culture—be it a TV show or porn or the news. Unpack the conversations they’re having with friends and be aware of how much peer pressure shapes and influences their expectations. Trying to issue blanket moral edicts or control their behavior through shame and guilt is going to backfire. As difficult as this sounds, allow them to learn from their experience and make their own mistakes. They need to discover and experiment and fail—especially in relationships. It’s the most natural thing in the world to want to spare your kids from suffering, but it’s through the suffering that a new awareness or understanding can emerge.

Model emotional intimacy: Authenticity, respect, vulnerability, compassion, and curiosity about the other. There’s a lot of fear around committed relationships, but healthy ones can offer so much support, love, security, and connection.

It’s critical we stop perpetuating the unnatural split between feeling and expression in boys—it’ll be better for them, and for all of us.

Shira Myrow is a mindfulness-based marriage and family therapist and meditation teacher. Myrow is the founder of the LA-based Yale Street Therapy Group and the curriculum director for Evenflow, a meditation platform and app.

How Redefining Failure Creates the Seeds of Resilience (Q & A)

“We’re all going to fail at something in life. It’s a given. So we have to figure out not how to avoid them entirely, but how to relate to them when they happen.”

“We’re all going to fail at something in life. It’s a given. So we have to figure out not how to avoid them entirely, but how to relate to them when they happen.”

Failure feels like such a loaded word. It still carries a social stigma to it. How can we reframe it in a way that is less off-putting?

I agree. On the surface, failure sounds like a final judgment, an endpoint in which there is no recovering from. And there are definitely cases where people can do serious harm or have severe lapses in moral judgement. But failures are also subjective. There’s a spectrum.  We’re all going to fail at something in life. It’s a given. So we have to figure out not how to avoid them entirely, but how to relate to them when they happen. Often times the judgment we have about our actions are overly harsh and critical. I think failures can be an invitation into a different kind conversation with yourself if you can get passed the shame and tendency to shut down.  I think of it as an invitation to develop resilience by embracing the resistance and the uncomfortable feelings to get to the deeper meaning or lesson behind it.

How does meditation and mindfulness help us with failure experiences?

When we can combine contemplative practices like meditation and mindfulness  with a compassionate, courageous form of inquiry---we can become more skillful at working with our ourselves. And when we can soften our self judgement ,we can figure out what next steps to take. Do we accept that something isn’t going to happen?  Or do we try again?Meditation and mindfulness are amazing tools for self regulation...and for calming down the anxious mind.  You can’t metabolize the lessons of failure when you’re in an emotionally reactive state. You can’t get the value or the meaning out of the experience until you can distance yourself from the web of negative thoughts and emotions that can obscure the clarity and wisdom that might just be lurking beneath them.  

How do you “redefine” failure?

Perhaps a more approachable way defining failure is a feeling of deep disappointment and loss frequently coupled with shame or frustration.  And when you define it that way--so many experiences in life can fit that description: losing a job, making a bad financial decision, going through a divorce.  Maybe we’re failing at love, or failing at parenting. It’s rather specific to the individual. One person’s success could be another person’s failure. Often times, we don’t realize that our feelings of failure have a lot to do with comparing ourselves to others, and that can influence our perception of how well or not well we’re doing. That’s something to be mindful of, so we don’t lose our connection with our internal compass.

Why are we so afraid of failure?

Failure triggers a stress response in our brains and our brains perceive the thought of failure as a threat. It’s not making distinctions though --whether the failure is an actual threat to our survival or, let’s say a perceived threat. It’s responding the same way. Social humiliation activates the same system of fight or flight in the emotional center of our brain.  None of us want to suffer with the painful emotions or hyper critical thoughts that we associate with failing. Of course we want to avoid it or even deny it. But when we don’t do the inner work, we set ourselves up to repeat the same patterning that led us to this point in the first place.

From your perspective, why is failure so critical in terms of our psychological development? And how does it foster resilience?

Failures drive our psychological growth. That’s why they’re such rich experiences to mine.  But we get so caught up in the the embarrassment or humiliation, that we miss how failures serve our development. Myself included.  A little self disclosure here. Resilience is born precisely out of adversity, out of challenge. We’re not born resilient. We don’t magically become resilient reading self books or watching TED talks. You become resilient by integrating those difficult experiences and consciously adapting.You only start to trust that you can resource yourself as you go through difficulty and crisis. And as parents, there is finally a recognition in the culture  that we’re not helping our kids anymore by taking away every disappointment from them. In fact, we’re doing them a great disservice if we never allow them to fail.

How does changing the story or narrative around failure help us become more resilient?

Language is so powerful because it shapes our experience.  If we get stuck in a shame story, we can’t move into a more  generative conversation --what did we learn? What would we do differently next time ?  What meaning can we get from this? In order to build resilience, we need a thoughtful process, an opportunity to mindfully assess and reflect so we can integrate the experience.

One way to ease the vice grip of  over-identification with failure is giving yourself  permission to learn and make mistakes or allowing yourself to be a beginner and have a beginner’s mindset when you try new things. Those are both compassionate reframes . When we change how we language our story, we can start to shift how we perceive it. I use it with the couples I work with who come in and feel like they’re failing at marriage because they’re fighting all the time. I show them that their reactive bids for connection or problem solving are what’s failing. Instead, curiosity, compassion, persistence and self-awareness, can create a set of patterns, to become skillful in relationship.

How does meditation help us with our resistance to working with failures?

Over time, a meditation practice not only teaches us how to sit with those difficult emotions, it starts to soften our resistance.  What do I mean by resistance? It’s our discomfort confronting and unpacking our feelings around failure. I like to think of the resistance as a monolithic wall that makes it seem impossible to walk through.  But the more we sit, the more the energy changes...and the wall turn into a fog that we can walk through and get curious and compassionate about. We still need courage --as we can’t always know what’s on the other side, but the resistance becomes permeable.  And it’s this experience that allows us to feel a renewed sense of possibility. That change is possible. Failure isn’t so much a barrier or inconvenience, or  obstruction in our lives as much as it is a doorway into self reflection and profound self growth.

My series on Redefining Failure on the Evenflow App is a deeper dive into that exploration of compassionate inquiry.  Making mistakes and confronting emotional challenges are extraordinary doorways to uncovering the essential questions in failure experiences but also discovering ourselves in the process.