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Talking to Feelings First, Then Topics - A Love Skill

Synopsis: This mini-love lesson explores the rule ‘heart before head’; then goes into ‘here and now’ versus ‘there and then’ talking; gender differences; talking to your loved one’s bad feelings; talking to bad feelings aimed at you by your loved ones; self-care while learning this love skill; and more.


Heart Before Head

When meeting her group of friends, with joy in her voice and with a great big smile Felicia proclaimed, “I’m so happy!  I got the job!  Now I’ve got to go shopping for the right clothes and brush up on my worker skills.”

Norman in rather ordinary tones replied, “Yeh, you better start practicing your work skills.  You’re probably really rusty”.  Josh blandly responded with, “I bet you already have clothes for the first week at least”.  Frank with a bright look on his face and an upbeat tone said, “You really look happy and I’m really glad for you”.  A couple weeks later Frank and Felicia became a couple and Norman and Josh wondered what he was doing right that they were not.

Frank had a very important love skill.  He knew that for helping a love relationship get started, or be maintained and grow, it was important to focus first and most on the feelings being felt and, if possible, to attend to those emotions before the topic being brought up is discussed.  He followed the lover’s rule ‘talk to your loved one’s feelings before you talk to your loved one’s topics’.

Felicia’s voice tones, face and words all spoke of her happiness.  Speaking to and sharing her happiness is speaking to her internal, personal self.  Speaking to her clothing and skills topics is okay but less personal.  Emotionally joining with Felicia in her feelings of happiness and success also conveys a pleasant, positive, personal connection with her and demonstrates the love skill of sharing heartfelt emotions.  Talking to a person’s topics without sufficiently speaking to their emotions may convey that the person is less important to you, and maybe that you are not very able to be personally, emotionally with them.  In a small, subtle way by talking to Felicia’s feeling of happiness Frank displayed a clue showing that perhaps he was able to do ‘emotional intercourse’.  Emotional intercourse so often is a major basis for romantic, healthy, real love development.

‘Here and Now’ Versus ‘There and Then’ Talking

By talking to Felicia’s happiness Frank showed he was emotionally with her in the ‘here and now’.  Talking about brushing up her skills and shopping topics left the emotional ‘here and now’ and went to the future, only addressing the pragmatic.  When we talk about what’s being felt in the here and now, instead of talking about the future and/or about practical matters, it gives more of a sense of emotional togetherness.  When we talk the topics first, after strong emotions have been expressed by a loved one, they may feel unattended to or develop a vague sense of being emotionally abandoned.  It may sort of indicate to them that their emotions are not important to you and only practical matters count with you.  Loving closeness is not likely to grow out of that perception.

Talking about the past can work if there is sufficient focus on the emotions that occurred in that past situation, or about the emotions that one now has about the past.  Without sufficient focus on the feelings connected to the past your loved one may develop a sense of being impersonally and non-intimately dealt with.  This is true whether you’re talking about your own feelings or the feelings of your loved one. And this feelings-absent talk is highly unlikely to help a love relationship.

Generally when a loved one is having strong feelings ‘in the present’, talking in the present tense is more powerful and more loving.  Talking in the future tense or the past tense without focusing sufficiently on the emotions involved in both may create more emotional distance than closeness.

Gender Differences

In many cultures men more than women seem to have trouble talking to their loved ones about emotions.  Some researchers think this is genetic but in some cultures men overcome this perhaps ‘genetic predisposition’ by good societal, communications training.  A major complaint from many women is about men not being able to talk to a woman about either his emotions or her emotions.  That in turn is seen as a major deterrent to healthy, love relationship development.  Interestingly women, while being better at empathetically talking to a loved one’s emotions, usually don’t know how to teach men how to do that form of much desired, personal communication.

Basic Instructions

To talk to a loved one’s emotions here is a simple procedure you might want to follow.
Step 1.  While your loved one is talking think “what emotion is my loved one feeling right now?”.  If you’re not sure, ask.  Asking shows you want to be with your loved one in what they’re feeling and, therefore, asking helps you to do that.  To ask simply say, “What are you feeling?” or “What are you feeling right now?” or “You’re feeling …(glad, sad, worried, upset, eager, etc.?”  Or just make a guess.  Guessing conveys you are trying and that counts too.  Remember, feelings usually can be ‘labeled’ and said with ‘one word’ each.  You can feel affectionate, fearful, excited, mad, serene, etc., there are hundreds of good labels for our emotions.  If your ‘emotions labeling skills’ are weak you might want to make a list.  Here’s a hint: There are emotion labels starting with every letter of the alphabet.  This is a homework exercise I often assign to those wanting to improve communications and learn to emotionally love a loved one better.

Step 2.  When you think you may know the emotion a loved one is feeling say that feeling label word.  “You’re happy”.  “You’re worried”.  “You’re upset”.  “You’re pleased”.  “You’re feeling eager” are some examples.  You can say these things with a sort of questioning sound or if you’re expressing it in written form you can put in a question mark.  This shows you are trying to get it right.  Remember, you don’t have to be right you just have to show your really trying to connect emotionally.

Step 3.  Really hear the response your loved one makes to what you have said.  Your loved one might say “No, that’s not quite what I’m feeling, it’s more like …(this other feeling)”.  Then again you might hear something like “you really understand, you’re wonderful”.

Step 4.  Now, ask yourself what you are feeling having heard your loved one is feeling and whatever thoughts they may have added.  Are you happy with your loved one’s expressed feeling, or angry, or upset, or proud, or threatened, or what?  Remember, ‘thoughts and feelings are very different from each other’.  A thought usually takes a sentence to identify and a feeling usually takes only a single word label.

Step 5.  Share the labeling word that expresses the feeling you’re experiencing having heard what your loved one feels. You may want to elaborate on it a bit.  Examples might be “joy, I am feeling joy hearing what you just told me”, or “my insecurity is going up and down”, or “now I’m feeling closer to you”, or “I’m getting angry but let’s talk about this”, or “after hearing what you said I feel a little more comforted”, or “I’m noticing I’m starting to feel more nervous thinking about what you just said”, or “I’m beginning to care more about how you feel and maybe understand you better”.  Yes, sometimes you will have to deal with their bad feelings or yours but usually that’s better than letting them fester.

As people practice this ‘talking to feelings love skill’ they can and usually do create improving emotional intercourse.  Then they usually start getting its many benefits.

Talking to Bad Feelings

When you’re beloved says, “I feel bad, mad, upset, scared” or anything we might call a bad feeling the usual best response is to care.  Therefore, quite often the best thing to say is “I care”.  You might include the feeling you heard them say and then “I care.” for example, “I care that you’re hurt”, or “you’re really feeling bad and I care about that a lot”, or “you’re feeling angry and that’s hard to hear but I love you so I care about how you’re feeling”, etc. are a few of the many ways you might lovingly demonstrate that.  When a loved one expresses bad feelings what’s usually best is a lot of really attentive, good listening which usually helps them get all their feelings out while your care comes into them.  That’s sort of like getting the poison out and the medicine in.

Common Mistakes

The biggest, most common mistake is to jump in, talking from your head instead of from your heart.  Analyzing, explaining, instructing, teaching, talking in a way that tries to ‘fix’ what caused the feelings, or in any other way tries to deal with the topics involved, before talking to your loved one’s emotions, usually doesn’t work.  In fact, sometimes it makes things far worse.  Once you talk to a loved one’s feelings there may be no need to do any of the explaining, fixing, etc. because what often ‘fixes’ the problem is being a really good listener.  When your loved ones expressing feeling bad, what they often need is well expressed, loving care.  Heart-felt messages do far more good than anything your intelligence is likely to come up with, no matter how bright it is.  Again, “heart before head” is the short way to say this.

Lots of people, especially guys, try to express their care through talking about how to fix, solve, mend, correct or cognitively understand the problem that’s causing a person’s feelings.  None of that directly deals with the feelings. That’s especially true for bad feelings.  Thus, “head talk” misses the ‘first point to be attended to’ – the emotions themselves.  After the emotions are brought into awareness and talked about, those other topics may, or may not, be relevant or need discussion.
It does not hurt to ask a person if your analysis or advice, etc. is desired and if it not, don’t give it.  Remember the adage, “don’t teach a course for which no one has signed up”.

Talking to Bad Feelings Aimed at You

“I’m so upset with you”, “I’m very angry at you”, “How could you hurt me like that”, and many other bad feeling statements may come your way from your loved ones.  What are you to do?  First, examine your habits.  Maybe your habit is to interpret such remarks as you are being attacked, judged, blamed, punished, unfairly picked on, threatened or even damaged.  If so, that probably triggers your primitive ‘fight or flee’ feelings.  If you think you’re under attack you may desire to defend yourself, perhaps with lengthy reasons and explanations, or with a powerful counterattack.

Then again, your habit might be to feel guilty, inadequate and get depressed.  Later you might decide you need revenge and to get even, so you may aggressively or passive-aggressively ambush and sabotage a loved one so they feel as bad as you feel, or worse.  Maybe it’s your habit to beg forgiveness, or fake sorrow and manipulate for forgiveness.  If you do any of these things you probably have learned that none of these habits do much good to change the dynamics of the interaction nor do they usually feel very good to do.  Mostly love relationships can be damaged by the habits just described because they are quite anti-loving.

What really is happening is probably markedly different than what you think is happening or interpret is happening.  A likely, more accurate, interpretation of your loved one’s statement usually goes like this.  My beloved is hurt or somehow upset, and needs to express it, and needs to experience my care coming in as their bad feelings flow out.  Again, it’s a case of ‘poison out, medicine in’.  To deliver the medicine my beloved also may need to be reassured that they are truly, deeply loved and are extremely important to me.  Furthermore, my beloved also may need to experience that I am really listening to how they feel and what they want, plus that I am sincerely willing to look at ways to make improvements and, if I agree, that I am willing to implement those improvements.

Self-Care

Remember the ancient admonition is to love others AS you love yourself.  Taking good care of yourself as you learn to practice this love skill is part of what is needed.  The way you do that is to ‘own your own okayness’ and remind yourself that any skill is learned by repeated practice.  If it were easy it probably wouldn’t be called a skill.  You also may need to remind yourself that usually the best defense is no defense.  That’s because your loved one’s ‘at you talk’ probably will turn into ‘with you talk’ as soon as hurt, or fear, or both are adequately expressed and enough of your loving care has come into them.  Staying emotionally OK while you do loving listening and perhaps do comforting behavior, is for most of us a pretty tall order in highly emotional times.

Surprisingly it’s even hard for many of us who were not well trained, by the families we grew up in, to talk to feelings that are happy and upbeat.  Talking any feelings may be hard for some people no matter what kind of feelings they are.  Nevertheless, working to develop any love skill pays off handsomely and, therefore, is an act of healthy self-love.  So, get busy and meet the challenge of developing this love skill.  See how it saves everybody a great deal of misery and brings a great deal of good-feeling closeness to you and your loved ones once you get the hang of it.

This love skill can be used in all kinds of relationships – with parents, children, family, friends, acquaintances, fellow workers, even with people you don’t know well.  If emotions are involved it’s best to attend to them first, then attend to the topic.

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly


Love Success Question
If you learn and practice this love skill of ‘talking to feelings before topics’ and do it well, do you think your relations with love ones will get vastly improved, substantially improved, moderately improved, mildly improved, or not at all improved?  Now ask your loved ones what they think.


Cheating and Love, in Love Relationships

Mini-Love Lesson   #221

Synopsis:  A rather fresh view of cheating and its problems; surprising origins; dynamics; multiple causes; possible outcomes and what to do about it lovingly is quickly, yet broadly and very helpfully, covered here.


Cheating In Spite Of Love

"I love them both, what am I to do?  I tried to break it off with one then with the other but it never works,  I secretly always go back and start up again.  Sooner or later, one of them will leave me or maybe even both will leave me at the same time so, I guess I'll just keep lying to the both of them until then."  "I'm sure I truly do love my spouse but I just have to have others, so I lie and cheat and hate myself for it but, for now at least, I won't stop."  "I'm very conflicted.  I don't know why I cheat, I just do but I also dearly love my spouse"  These remarks, and many like them, are commonly heard in the offices of every good therapist who works with love relationships.  The good news is they all represent situations that, with some hard work, usually are healthfully and positively resolved in those offices.

Many who really do love also cheat.  A great many more seriously consider cheating.  Others fearfully suspect cheating is occurring in their own love relationship.  Cheating especially is thought to occur eventually with people tangled in false love syndromes.  Studies show over 50% of the marriages in Western world countries experience affair problems usually involving a lot of destructive deceptions inherit to cheating.

Cheating often brings on a great deal of lying, mistrust, stress, anxiety, depression, conflict, guilt, shame, general misery, profound confusion, family harm, breakups and divorces even among couples who truly love each other.  However, most committed couples who experience a cheating problem do not break up or divorce.  They find another way and stay together.  Some even use the cheating experience to strengthen their love relationship.  Love can conquer and heal the harm cheating so often does.  Of course, there are those who get away with it but they usually do not escape the draining strain and stress that usually comes with cheating.  Then there is the fact that cheating is often very dangerous.  In all too many situations, it can get you beat up, hospitalized, possibly crippled or even killed.  Then why do so many choose to cheat?

It is true some people cheat because they really do not love their spouse or love mate, but quite frequently that is not the real problem.  You can love and still cheat on the person you love for a whole host of different reasons.  Nevertheless, most cheating harms love because it involves dishonesty.  Remember, It is almost impossible to build something real and lasting out of that which is false and contrived, even when real love exists.

The Importance of Getting Clarity

Cheating, deception, lies, manipulating interactions and all that usually go with cheating often cause a cluttered, conglomerate of confusion and inner conflict.  So, getting clear about some of the issues involved is highly useful.

Some say it really is not cheating unless you and another, or even third parties involved, have a clear, mutually understood agreement about what cheating is and what not to do.  In counseling I have heard people say "What I did wasn't cheating because I didn't love who I had sex with", "It was only a one night stand so that shouldn't count", "Yes, we stimulated each other to orgasm but we didn't have intercourse, so that wasn't cheating, was it?", "Even if you loved Joe only in your mind, that still is cheating on me", "If you so much as look at any other woman, you're being unfaithful to me", "Sex with others is okay but don't you dare fall in love with anybody else but me, because that's really cheating ".

Most people seem to think that everyone has the same understanding of cheating which is just like their own, but they don't.  Phenomenology shows us no one has exactly your understanding of everything, especially not anything having strong emotional impact.  So, it all has to get talked out and clearly agreed upon, hard is that often is.  If you are going to get clarity about cheating and everything related, it probably is going to take interactive, uncomfortable, mutual, hard, communication work.  Unspoken agreements are best thought of as disagreements in waiting.

Two Base Points of Cheating

In most love relationship, cheating is oriented around one or both of two points.  One point is love and the other is sex.  It commonly is suggested that males, especially psychologically immature and insecure males, are concerned mostly about sexual cheating.  On the other hand, females, especially more psychologically mature but insecure females, are concerned largely about cheating related to love.  Bisexuals and transsexuals are thought perhaps to be more equally affected by both.

What may be more important than gender orientation is the strength of one's sex drive and/or the strength of one's drive or need for healthy, real love.  Also, very much involved is one's sense of being secure about sexual adequacy and/or one's sense of security about being lovable and love able.

Cheatings Two Biggest Causes?

Cheating is thought to be pretty much nonexistent among a fair number of the indigenous tribes of South America.  That is because they share a belief that babies are best grown out of multiple contributions of different male’s semen.  Women seek out and bed men with different qualities so that their offspring will have those male’s various qualities.  Bedding just one male makes for too few qualities in one's child.  This belief system also expands the number of men who take father responsibility for helping the child grow up.

That example, and others like it, suggest and point to a possible, real root-cause of our problems with cheating.  That root-cause is our deeply incorporated, cultural training about sex, spouse type love and monogamy.  Had we been brought up with a mores like those indigenous peoples of South America, we might have no need for romantic dishonesty and, therefore, no need for cheating.

This also suggests that those who can get more free of our standard, cultural training about spousal love and monogamy may be able to better love their way through cheating and affair problems.  Indeed, freedom from cultural control may help explain why so many couples do not end their relationship when cheating and affair issues occur.

The second major reason for cheating being so prevalent may have to do with our biology fighting our cultural training.  There is a growing amount of evidence and analysis pointing to the conclusion that a particular biological imperative rules.  That is that 1) males are built and driven to plant their seed in multiple vaginas and, 2) females are built and driven to get the seed of different men who have various desirable qualities planted in their vaginas.  Especially, might this be a natural truth for both higher quality males and females who have more survivor qualities to offer the human gene pool for our species continuence?

Apparently, this two-part, biological imperative operates somewhat independently of our natural, psycho-biological imperative to love-bond with others.  Successful, emotionally close, pair bonding (poly and throuple bonding) examples exists around the world and throughout history which have not been emphasized, where sexual monogamy has.  Our natural state in love relationships may be much closer to that of the bonobo apes.  They are seen as more family, friendship and small-tribe love bonded than pair bonded while still being very actively, multi-mingling sexually.  Interestingly, various indigenous peoples around the globe are found to have similar behavioral norms and to be without so many problems of jealousy, possessiveness, sexual insecurity, divorce or cheating.  Lots to think about, right?

Other Reasons for Cheating

"I had to cheat because I had to find out if I was still desirable".  "Actually, I cheated because the outside love and care I got gave me the fuel I needed to keep working on my marriage",  " I think I cheated mostly because that's what successful people do when they reach the status I have attained in life",  "It helped me a lot with my self-love",  "I did it out of vengeance",  "Everything else we both were doing in life was dishonest, so being dishonest in love and sex came easily",  "All my friends were doing it and it seemed like fun",  "To be truthful, I identified with being bad and cheating is so bad",  "Others I knew were getting away with it and I was so envious",  "It's what the people in my growing up family did, so why could I be any different",  "My spouse was far too goody-goody, straightlaced and normal.  I just couldn't live that way, so I started a secret life apart",  "I tried it out of boredom and got to really liking it".

These are but a small sampling of the multitudinous reasons people discover for their cheating.  Only occasionally the reason given is that a spouse is no longer loving, or attractive, or sexual.  Sometimes the reason is to escape or find somebody better than their inadequate or abusive spouse.  While the reasons are important, far more important is figuring out what to do about it.

Other Forms of Cheating

Cheating and deception can concern and does occur regarding money, substance and behavioral addictions (like gambling), family, status, personal history, religion, politics, food, health and a good many other things.  But it is the love and sex areas where cheating is the big deal that concerns us most here.

The Poly Cure for Cheating

In the history of Europe and the Americas, every so often there appears a new attempt at one approach or another for solving the problems inherent in monogamy, or if you prefer, serial monogamy.  Polygamy, communal sex, group marriage, swinging, open marriage, free love, and more recently, poly amore alternate lifestyles are but a few of the many examples available.  With each attempt, there are people who make it work quite well and those who do not.  Common to many of the attempts are emphases on open honesty and getting okay with people having both sex and love in multiperson ways.  Common also is condemnation by the more conservative and those threatened by the new and different.

With the advent of the social sciences, what makes these different love relationship ways succeed for some and fail for others is becoming more understood.  One answer may be this.  It seems that those who learn and practice the behaviors that demonstrate love well may be able to make any form of love relationship work better, including monogamy.  Those who more poorly, or less frequently behave in the ways that convey love, more likely fail at each form of love relating, also including monogamy.  So, perhaps it is not the form but the love abilities of the people engaging in the form that makes the difference.

Cheating is hardly ever a loving action.  It is an action that risks hurting and harming another person and perhaps several others severely.  Cheating in some situations may be the healthiest alternative available as well as the least dangerous and least destructive to all concerned but those situations are rare.  There are those who attempt open honesty and who are willing to work out "I win, you win, everybody wins" type solutions.  And there are those who may be truly unable, as well as unwilling, to go for "tri-victory" outcomes.  Likewise, there are counselors and therapists who do not have what it takes to help others achieve two party, let alone three party resolutions, when cheating and affairs have been involved.  But with other nonjudgmental counselors, it can be done.

The Couple's Cure for Cheating

In my experience working with couples who have a cheating issue and supervising therapists who deal with similar issues, what helps the most is a very love-centered couple’s counseling, largely done in conjoint sessions where the couple meets together with the therapist.  Such therapists work in an unbiased way, are rather loving, practical, highly truth oriented and willing to experiment with couples outside the box toward possible solutions for improvement.  Couples’ group counseling may follow and greatly add to the strength of improvements.

The Individual’s Cure for Cheating

For individuals, I have found individual group therapy to quite often be the most advantageous and efficient treatment, though singular individual counseling may work well too.  The challenging but supportive and non-condemning ways of a good positive-focused group therapy can work wonders to help people give up a cheating way of going about relating and to risk replacing it with ways that are much more lovingly truthful.

For more help related to cheating, you may wish to consult these mini-love-lessons: “Love Affairs: Bad?, Good? and Otherwise”, “Trust Recovery and Love”, “Protecting Those You Love from Yourself”, “Forgiveness - A Much Needed Love Skill”, “Checking It Out - As a Love Skill” and link “Conclusions, Confounding and Corrupting Your Love?”.   I also heartily recommend reading Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan & Cacilda Jetha.  In my biased view, serious cheating issues are best dealt with with the help of a good love knowledgeable therapist, well-trained in relationship therapy, not just individual therapy.  You might be able to find one of those therapists via your national marriage and family therapy and/or counseling associations.

One more thing:  let us suggest you talk to some people about your thoughts and feelings concerning this mini-love-lesson on cheating and this site’s many other love lessons.  Think about quoting and using the following quotable love question to include in that talk.

As always –Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly

♥ Quotable Love Question:  If we can love two parents, several siblings, four grandparents and other relatives, including stepparents and multiple friends all at the same time, why do we think we can not have real love for two or even more lovers simultaneously?

Quotable Love Quotes

With our "Quotable Love Quotes" we present questions about love to intrigue and fascinate you!  Questions to help you hone your thinking and doing about love!   Questions about love and its many incredible aspects so you, and yours, can better co-discoverer your own love truths!  Questions about love’s mysteries to quote and talk over with others in ways that may become delightful and bonding!   Questions about love that can help you discover, learn and know more of the many marvelous ways of healthy, real love!  And lots more!

Here's how it works.  At the end of many of our mini-love-lessons you will find a quotable love question.  Enjoy pondering it and exploring what pops up in your own thoughts and possible answers to the question.  Then, we suggest you go quote the question to one or more others (a spouse, lover, friend, family member, your bright offspring, etc.).  Ask for the other person's input and share your own thoughts and feelings jointly while discussing whatever comes up.  See where that leads and what happens next.  Keep it friendly, after all it is about love.  Strive together to make it all enriching, refreshing, clarifying and definitely helpful to your own ways of love relating.

Quotable Love Questions irregularly will be alternated with the Love Success Questions featured at the end of each mini-love-lesson.

Elder Love

Synopsis: This love success lesson focuses on – plan ahead questions; love for health and spirited living; mindset issues; elder self-love; don’t retire instead encore; age segregation; with love older better sex.


Plan Ahead Questions

As you grow older what are you going to do about love?  As you grow older what are you going to do about getting loved and giving love?  All kinds of love are to be considered here.  So, as you grow older, and then even more old what do you know about elder romantic love, sexual love, family love, friendship love, spiritual love, love of life, healthy self-love and all the other possible ‘loves’?

Whatever your age, what are you doing about loving those around you who are or may soon be classified as ‘seniors’?  What do you want others to do about you and love?  The sooner you have well-informed answers for these types of questions the better you can build toward a love rich, elder years life.

Here is another important question.  Is there something inside you that has sort of been telling you that as you become ‘elder’ you have to give up on love?  That is a sort of subtle, societal, subconscious programming that gets into the heads of a lot of people as they grow older.  A variation of that programming tells us we have to give up on certain kinds of love.  Many have been taught that it is not socially proper for elders to be interested or active in certain kinds of love or love with certain people.  Especially is that true if anything sexual might be involved.  Gerontology research mostly says – WRONG!  It is not healthy to think this way or abide by this type of thinking.

Love For Health and Spirited Living

The more healthy, real love older people get and give the longer they live and the healthier they stay; also the more spirited is their life.  One recent study showed that lonely, less loved, older adults were 45% more likely to die in any given year than were seniors who felt meaningfully connected in love relationships with others.

Being older with one or more meaningful love relationships and having an active social involvement is related to biological processes that increase health, improve and keep our physiological systems functioning, decrease inflammatory difficulties and help people avoid stress-related, unhealthy hormone development with its resulting physiological damage.  That summarizes the findings to date of an extensive, on-going, major English research project being conducted in epidemiology.

In the US it has been found that well loved, meaningful relationships significantly assist elders to normalize blood pressure and avoid all the difficulties that go with it.  Furthermore, meaningful, positive love relationships reduce the development of destructive chemical compounds in the human body that seem to occur more commonly in the lonely and less loved.  Other findings show that more spirited, zestful, energetic living occurs with more loving.  The ‘loveless’ live much more dispirited and the well loved and loving live much more ‘inspirited’ and ‘inspired’.

So, the message is clear.  If – or – when you’re an elder and you want to live healthy and lively keep putting lots of loving into your life.  To do that you will probably have to examine closely what your mindset is about age and aging.

Mindset Issues

You may have grown up in a family, or a neighborhood or a town in which it was common to think certain ways about older people.  In some parts of the world this is very positive and older people are honored for their wisdom, maturity and the good things they have offer those younger than themselves.  In other areas the general attitude is disdainful, disparaging, demeaning or even denigrating toward elders.  Possibly you grew up around people who were just neutral, vague, unconcerned, disinterested and dispassionate about older folks.  Whatever the case, what you grew up around may have given you a mindset toward your own aging that is not of your own choosing.

Especially important is examining to see if you were programmed to have negative images and stereotypes about being older because that can have a ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ effect on your own life as an elder.  It also can greatly affect how you treat older people and how you may block yourself from receiving their enrichments.  Your mindset can have powerful negative or positive effects on your health and lifestyle.  If your mindset is positive it can assist you to an old-age that is lively, strong, agile, spirited, healthy and well loved.  Especially important are the following mindset areas.

Elder Self-Love

Coming out of his United Presbyterian Church Etheridge greeted and in a quite chipper mood conversed with a surprisingly large number of people.  He bragged unabashedly about a painting he had completed and he unashamedly flirted with females.  To the close friend who had driven him to church that day he said he was going to walk home because it was such a beautiful day.  He declined a dinner invitation because he had a speech to prepare and because he had a ‘hot date’ to get ready for that night.  Then he zestfully set off walking home which was about half a mile away.  Etheridge was 101 years old.

There is an almost endemic problem with elders living in overly youth-oriented cultures.  It is that in such cultures elderly people begin to lose healthy, self-love and with it self esteem, self-confidence, self-respect and a sense of self-worth.  In societies that revere and do well at loving, the older one gets the prouder and more healthfully self loving one may become.  When self-love diminishes there often is a diminishment of self-care, acceptance of assistance, increased social isolation, increased sense of inadequacy and increasing feelings of not being lovable or worthy of love.  As noted, when this happens biological health is negatively affected and illness and accident proneness also tend to increase.

Those elderly people who ‘own’ a healthy self-love tend not to experience negative biological effects nearly as strongly as do others.  Their psychological state tends to continue growing, remain strong, and be what some call healthfully ‘youthful’.  So, if you grow older rejecting any and all societal negative interpretations of your aging self you probably are doing yourself a big, biological and psychological flavor.

Don’t Retire – Encore

Another big mindset issue has to do with work and more exactly retirement.  It’s a sad fact that many people after retirement rapidly deteriorate and die much earlier than they might have.  Retirement seems to trigger a subconscious process in which people’s thinking about who they are triggers their biological functioning into dysfunction.  Retirement for all too many means starting to think things like “I’m no longer productive, contributing, proficient, influential, helpful, important or significant”.  Many try a lot of recreational activities and superficial socializing, and that helps for a while, but because it’s not seen as of substantial worth its helpful effect often diminishes after a while.

What to do about this?  Start an encore career or involvement.  Those who move on to encore actions tend not to deteriorate, tend to live longer, and tend to feel really good about their lives, perhaps even better than ever.  Those who have a purpose, donate themselves to a worthy endeavor, get intrigued with new learning or working on a challenge, a major pet project, or a cause do far better than the rest.  Many do this as volunteers giving time and energy to worthy endeavors.  Some do it to bring to life and nurture their long, dormant talents in the arts.  Some join writer’s workshops and begin writing ‘their book’, articles or blogs.

Still others get into consulting, advising and teaching in an area they already know.  Another group keep their careers going and never retire because they really love what they’ve been doing for many years.  They may cut down on the amount of work time or specialize in the most fun part of whatever their career was and leave the rest alone.  All this can be seen as an aspect of healthy, self-love but it also can involve a person’s love of life.

So, what is your encore involvement going to be?  It’s never too late to start an encore involvement, and probably it’s never too early to start thinking and planning what it will be.

Age Segregation

When older people allow or cause themselves to be age segregated they may live too limited and not in ways that are good for them.  There is a teaching in the East that translates something like “to become mature and wise, associate with your elders.  To retain youthfulness, associate with youth.  But to live best, associate with people of all ages”.

Some social scientists and certain public health theoreticians suggest being segregated by age groups is anti-natural, quite artificial and probably a big societal mistake.  Learning to be comfortable around and be enriched by people of all ages is a problem for those who mostly have been age segregated most of their lives.  Those who went to the type of school that practiced having no age grouped classes, and move ahead at your own speed education are thought to do better with age integration.  Do you agree that love can flow to and from people of any age and to live that way is a highly desirable blessing?  Do you agree that to live too age segregated may seem comfortable but it actually may be too life limiting?  Are you going to be sure not to live too age segregated?

With Love – Older Sex, Better Sex

Lots of older men and women think they have to give up on sexuality, so they do.  Certainly changes often are in order as one gets older but giving up on sex is totally uncalled for and decidedly not the healthiest way to go.  You see, sex is really good for you and maybe even better for you as you get older if you go about it in an age workable way.  What do you consider to be sexually normal and desirable for people of an older age?  Are you using standards that are too much the norms of youth or even middle age?  If what you consider to be sexually normal or desirable actually is more appropriate only for youth, you’re likely not to do so well.

Men in particular who have been societally programmed to believe sex is all about ‘penis in vagina’ intercourse and about climaxing have a particularly hard time adjusting to the rather different, best sexuality possible for elders.  When males learn ‘whole body sex’ and ‘love centered sex’ they do far better. (See category: Sex and Love )  Both men and women who think their body has become too unattractive or too ‘ugly’ could best start doing their sexuality in darker places or with more sexy clothing.

Women who think they can not lubricate sufficiently don’t need to believe their sexuality or femininity is lost but rather is usually just in need of more and longer erotic actions, plus the use of lubricants.  Erotic fantasy sharing, movie watching, reading, learning to think and act in ‘no pressure to perform or succeed’ ways, and to have an ‘everything can be enjoyably and okay’ mindset, plus the mindset of ‘there’s lots to enjoy in addition to, along with, and besides intercourse and orgasm’ – all or some of these often help people learn new and better ways of how older people can go about sexuality.

There are cultures in which older people seem to have great sex lives and very few sex problems.  Both men and women who engage in the sacred sex practices of two of the Hindu religion’s major divisions, the Tantric and the Shakta, tend to keep their bodies mostly healthy and their sexually functioning quite well every year of life, no matter how long they live.  You might want to investigate those.

Here’s another aspect of elder love with sex which shocks some, angers quite a few and delights others.  I know a small group of mostly females mostly in their 20s, 30s and 40s who especially like and seek sexual experiences with considerably older men and women.  People in that group say things like “older sex partners are more total and complete, and know a lot more about being loving”, “the mature know what they’re doing and the rest are just kids – cute but awkward, clumsy, unsophisticated, ignorant, sometimes stupid and sometimes dismally arrogant.  Who needs that”!  A 23-year-old I know bragged about spending weekends with a couple in their 70s saying it was the best sexuality and the most loving experience of her life.  She also told that the next week she was traveling with a professor of philosophy in his 80s and she can’t wait to get him in bed and then to talk and talk and talk.

For older participants who are ‘mixing it up’ with younger adults, the evidence seems to show outstanding results can occur.  Older men and women having sex with people 20 or more years their junior seem to get younger physically as well as mentally. (See Does "Cougar" Love Work?)  The younger participants often get more maturity and wisdom, and often some finer life experiences, so everyone usually benefits.

Sex and love go together and sometimes bring about what is called a May/ December romance and even enduring, healthy marriages.  Historically for hundreds of years this used to be the norm.  He was anywhere from 30 to 85 and his bride was anywhere from 13 to 27.  Less of an age difference was seen as shockingly unseemly.

Nowadays, in certain circles, couples who have much of an age difference are disapproved of or even rejected.  However, the evidence shows in many relationships, of the romantic type, where healthy, real love is a major component, age similarity is not needed.  The more democratic approach of letting people choose their own love-mates, irrespective of prejudicial categories of all types, seems to be more in alignment with nature and what is healthful.

Still another elder love/sex practice not talked about in many circles is the ancient, even biblical custom of what is sometimes called partner sharing.  Martha makes love, not just has sex, with both her retired husband and his also retired widower brother.  Sometimes all three go on vacations together.  They’re thinking about sharing a house and expenses together too.  Sarah was so thankful to be taken in by her elder sister and sister’s husband after her own husband passed away from a long illness.  At first they all just cuddled into the night, but that lead to other things which have been working out quite well for all of them for quite a few years.

It is to be noted that ‘partner sharing’ among older people mostly is done very quietly and secretly.  It seems to be much more common among social liberals, often ex-hippies, than among conservatives and traditionalists.  As mentioned, partner sharing is an old custom with early biblical references.  It was for ages a primary way to take care of the problem of widows and widowers, those who had been abandoned, the disabled, the infirm and also destitute relatives.

In patriarchal cultures it was recommended as virtuous for keeping alive family bloodlines because every female taken in was expected to bear the prime males of the house at least one child if possible.  In today’s world the practice of partner sharing, especially including romantic love and sex, seems to benefit a certain number of energetic, lively elder people who have lost their spouses.  Some social scientists think this partner sharing among lively, older people is likely to slowly keep growing in popularity because with the help of the health sciences there are more and more lively elders.

To wrap up then, the importance of lots of love in your life, all types with lots of different people is vital, healthy and enriching – no matter how old you are!

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly



Love Success Question Is your picture of your own life as an elder full of ‘vim and vigor’, zest, joy, sexiness, productivity and delight – or more the opposite?

Dining with Heart - A Love Skill

Synopsis: Love nourishing the heart while feeding the body; a shared and broad ethology; love infused family dining; couples dining with love; serving friendship love; love, food and Eros; love and dining with self; the dining with heart challenge.


Love Nourishing  the Heart While Feeding the Body

A loving family joyfully shares a meal together, a romantic couple share a candlelight dinner, eating birthday cake with close and jovial friends, chocolates presented in a heart shaped box, kids bringing parents breakfast in bed – all give evidence to how food can be used with the sharing and growing of love relationships of all types.  It is an ancient adage that “The best meals are those served with love”.

A Shared, Long and Broad Ethology

Sharing food as evidence of a love does not only occur in human behavior.  The animal world is full of examples of both mammals, birds and even fish bringing food-gifts to their love mates or hoped for love mates.  There also are many examples where mammals especially, lovingly provide food to smaller and weaker and sometimes sick fellow creatures.  There even are examples of cross species sharing of choice foods and of different species eating side-by-side along with affectionate muzzling, licking, grooming and other likely love-expressive actions.

The evidence suggests that if an animal brain has a limbic system it loves, and if it eats it will mix some sort of love behavior with eating behavior.  The mixing of love and food behaviors probably begins with mothers feeding babies.  Wherever it begins the sharing of food, along with various other acts of loving care and connection, can be traced all the way back into the time of the dinosaurs.  And among humans it shows up in every tribe, culture and society.

Love Infused Family Dining

Making eating together a good, constructive, positive, family love experience is a goal that can be achieved in lots of different ways.  It is interesting to note that all sorts of parents and families who have highly productive, famous offspring had mealtimes together and that those meals were treated in special ways.  Many of the children of such families learned that they were to come to dinner with something by which they could enrich the rest of the family.  Everyone brought to the table a funny story, an intriguing question, a curiosity, an item to be appreciated or perhaps even a contrary opinion.

Different families had different things to stress but they all stressed sharing and the enrichment of one another by the sharing.  In some very musical families the requirement was to sing a line or two from a song or explaining a musical refrain.  In political families it usually had something to do with news related to a cause or a conflict.  In a good many families mealtime was marked by remarks offering another family member, or guest, some sort of affirmative statement.

Praises, compliments, thank you statements and other expressions of gratitude make many families’ meal times together a more loving experience.  In some families the most positive remarks are rewarded with an extra helping of dessert.  In some there is a rule against giving negative statements like criticism, put-downs and complaining; angry or hostile remarks are certainly usually against the dining-together family rules.  The prayers offering blessings for food and thanksgiving, especially in those families where everyone adds something to the prayer, can help accomplish the making of the meal a more love-oriented event.

Sometimes families that ask everyone to hear or discuss unhappy and stressful things at the dinner table can bring about bonding when enough loving care is expressed in the process.  However, such actions may cause indigestion and might bring about an aversion to eating with others in some people who have had numerous, negative, dining experiences.  So, one must be careful about using mealtimes as a time to discuss problems.

Another important thing to remember is to really pay attention to the food and appreciating what tastes good, making comments out loud and also to verbally be thankful to whoever spent time and effort to prepare the food.

Couples Dining with Love

Did you know the romantic, candle lit dinner for two is a relatively new event and was once thought of as an indecent, radical, anti-establishment thing to do.  Typically in many ‘old countries’ the woman served the male patriarch of the family first as he sat alone at the table and she stood behind him while he ate.  Then the other males came to the table and were served, followed by the higher status females who in some lands had to eat at a different table.  Then came the children who usually had to eat in another room.

Finally,  the serving females got to eat whatever was left in the food preparation area which sometimes was outside.  To this day men and women eating together in some places is quite frowned upon.  Males and females eating together counters the male dominance in these cultures and represents movement toward female equality.  Also for a couple to dine alone together adds the chance for intimate exchanges, the sin of self chosen love, and the possibility of indecency.

The intimate dinner for two can be a love feast when there are words of love spoken in soft tones of love, with lots of loving looks and eye contact, punctuated perhaps with touches of love, mixed with loving self disclosures of appreciation and affirmation of each other, and perhaps a little sexy, under the table foot action.  A romantic meal means lots of loving sharing and good emotional intercourse while eating, with strong focus on each other and the experience being shared.  A very important element, not to forget, is making enough time available so as not to be rushed or not to have the experience cut short.

Watch out for love sabotaging actions like complaining about anything, bringing up problems of any type, being distracted by anything, not paying close attention to each other, talking about unloved others, work and other non-couple positive issues, or anything likely to be regarded as impersonal.  Especially important is avoiding unappetizing, gross and rude topics.  Generally the idea is to talk about each other and very positive pleasant things, and to forget everybody and everything else.  That way you do a good job of dining together with and for love.

If one or both of you prepared the food and/or the environmental atmosphere, lots of focus on both of these contributions with words of appreciation are definitely in order.  Focusing on the thinking and feelings of each other by asking personal questions likely to be answered with positive, pleasant words is an exquisite way to dine with love.

When I have suggested these elements of ‘Dining with love’ to some people they have said things like, “What if I don’t like the food or I’m uncomfortable in the environment?  Should I lie, or just keep quiet, or what?”.  I like to suggest that to have a love-focused dining experience with someone that you look for what you can honestly be positive about, and say so.  Then leave the rest for later, or never.

The couples’ love-focused dining experience for two is 1.  giving a couple a chance to feed each other positive, love messages, in a romantic setting, while enjoying food, drink and atmosphere together.  And 2. it is a love skill that is worth adding to your ‘love repertoire’.

Serving Friendship Love

Friends can eat together and in the process show each other friendship love.  In doing so they can substantially grow and improve their relationships with each other.  Sometimes the eating is done informally, quite often in the kitchen, sometimes it’s via a dinner party or going out to eat together in a really nice or interesting, different place.  It can be friends preparing and eating a meal together.  The most important part is the same as in all love-focused eating experiences. The food is not what it’s all about, although that’s important.

It’s the human interaction and the togetherness that are paramount.  Are the interactions of love friendly, positive, deeper than with strangers, maybe sometimes rather quite but sometimes noisy with laughter, and are they often lighthearted and sometimes deeper and quite meaningful?  The atmosphere usually is less important than in the romantic, lovers’ meals but the environment is best when it is at least comfortable if possible.  Above all is to be personable, friendly, accepting, tolerant and sincerely caring.  To joke, tell stories, tell on ones’ self, and to briefly honestly brag, to let out whatever are ones’ larger emotions and concerns, and to talk about whatever is truly important to you may be included.  Also just being able to be quiet together is sometimes a very good, friendly way to share a meal.

Love, Food and Eros

She sat him on a giant pillow and put a turban on his head.  She was dressed in a shockingly revealing, harem girl costume.  She danced back and forth in front of him, erotically bringing him delicious tidbits of various exotic foods from a nearby table.  Then with sensuous twists and turns her diaphanous garments began to disappear.  She then poured aromatic sauces over various parts of her body and offered them to his lips and tongue.  He tasted sweet and tangy juices, and he tasted her, and then she tasted him.  It was indeed the finest meal he’d ever experienced, and one of the most loving dinners she ever served.  His only quandary was how to give her an equally delicious experience when it was next his turn to prepare a love-meal for her.  Need we say more?

Love and Dining with Self

Out of healthy, self-love do you treat yourself to love-filled, just right for you, dining experiences?  When alone do you slowly savor fine tasting food and drink.  Do you think something like,  “I will take time to treat myself well with something I really like to taste?  Do you make it a lovely experience with just the right environment and accouterments.  Perhaps you might enhance a meal with a good book to read, or a special incense, or going outside with nature, or turning on background music you really enjoy.  There are many ways to be extra good to yourself by way of love mixed with food.

A Dining with Heart Challenge

My challenge to you is to be focused on the giving and receiving of love when you feed or eat with loved ones or with yourself.  The challenge also is to develop your skill at making shared eating experiences, those in which you give the heartfelt psychological nourishment of love while also taking it in.  Graciousness, artfulness, thoughtfulness and a host of other loving ingredients all can be mixed in and can become part of the meals you share with loved ones.  So, I hope you are or will enjoy developing this love skill as much as any other.

As always – Go and Grow with Love

Dr. J. Richard Cookerly


Love Success Question How loving will you be the next time you eat with someone you love?  What’s your recipe for creating love-nurturing dining experiences?