You are currently viewing Episode 382: When The Sexual Withdrawers Re-enages

Episode 382: When The Sexual Withdrawers Re-enages

Welcome listeners to episode #382 of Foreplay Sex Therapy Podcast! Join Laurie and George in a discussion on re-engagement of the sexual withdrawer. In this episode, Laurie shares about recent work she has been doing with a couple as the sexual withdrawer is taking new risks in the relationship. Laurie shares that when the sexual withdrawer begins to re-engage they are getting in touch with their own internal cues, examining the space between in how they communicate about sex (“I don’t orgasm through intercourse alone. I worry my partner doesn’t like my smell.”), and get really specific about sexual technique. The SW expresses a LOT of vulnerability here as they express to their partner what they like sexually and what turns them on. Listen to George and Laurie as they discuss new moves in the sexual cycle and their hope for the sexual withdrawer.

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Show Notes

Understanding Sexual Withdrawal
– Discusses a couple where the woman feels anxious and puts up barriers during intimate moments.
– The woman believes her partner doesn’t want to engage in certain activities, leading her to withhold her reactions and not fully embrace arousal.
– The partner becomes discouraged from initiating those activities because the woman doesn’t seem to respond positively.
– Emphasizes the lack of clear communication about sexual desires in relationships.

Communication and Vulnerability
– Talks about the person feeling upset and pressured but not expressing their specific fantasies or desires.
– Explains that the person doesn’t realize that their partner’s actions (rubbing their chest) are a weak sexual come-on.
– Suggests that the partner’s initiation of sexual activity is actually a positive thing, even if it may not meet all of the person’s desires.
– Emphasizes the importance of vulnerability and open communication in achieving the desired sexual experience.
– Discusses the importance of making a block explicit to help a sexual pursuer understand the risk involved.

Recognizing Signals and Taking Risks
– Mentions a couple where the wife would initiate subtly, but the husband would miss the signal, leading to missed opportunities for intimacy.
– Emphasizes the need for withdrawers to have success for the risks they take.
– Suggests aligning the pursuer’s risking with the other person’s response to move forward in the relationship.

Overcoming Sexual Withdrawal
– Discusses the sexual withdrawal in a relationship and how it causes angst, tension, and anxiety for the pursuer.
– Talks about the person experiencing withdrawal recognizing the negative impact of the cycle on themselves and expressing a desire to change for their own sake.
– Acknowledges that their behavior frustrates their partner and leads to shutting down.
– Person wants to take a pause and reflect on themselves without feeling pressured.
– Emphasizes that the couple is in the beginning stages of working on themselves and their relationship.

Exploring Fantasies and Communication
– Speaker had the couple start by talking about their fantasies of initiation and what it meant to them.
– Discusses the woman’s disappointment when her partner didn’t respond to her desire to touch him.
– Talks about the man’s sexual fantasies and the importance of exploring them together.
– Suggests that capitalizing on the moment when the woman initiates sex can make the whole experience better, even if it only happens once a month.

Understanding Orgasms and Sexual Intimacy
– Discusses the potential for sexual intercourse to bring happiness and stop wars.
– Acknowledges that sexual intercourse is often portrayed as the pinnacle of sexuality but may not always lead to orgasm for women.
– Talks about the clitoris as the most sensitive part of a woman’s body and the importance of stimulation.
– Mentions a client who lies to their partner about not having orgasms during sexual intercourse.
– Discusses the importance of communication about sexual needs and desires.

Capturing Moments of Disconnection and Repairing the Relationship
– Emphasizes the importance of capturing moments of disconnection between couples.
– Talks about helping couples understand each other’s perspectives and fantasies.
– Suggests that when a partner opens up, the other partner becomes more engaged in the conversation.
– Discusses a woman who discovered her sexual fantasies through buying lingerie for herself.

Orgasmic Experience and Sexual Technique
– Discusses a couple where the woman does not have frequent orgasms.
– Raises the question of whether the man is aware of the importance of clitoral stimulation for the woman to orgasm.
– Talks about the woman’s previous experiences with oral sex and her current partner’s lack of engagement in it.
– Highlights the need for open communication about sexual techniques within long-term relationships.


Joe Davis – Announcer [00:00:00]:

The following content is not suitable for children.

Laurie Watson [00:00:02]:

So, George, I want to talk about what happens when it all starts to go right, when a sexual withdrawer starts to come forward. And I just think there’s so many things that are exciting about this season, and there’s so many little points where it could all fall apart. And I just thought I’d talk about it with our peeps and just see if we can help people be patient and really think through what they can do, especially the sexual pursuer can do to help everything turn around.

George Faller [00:00:34]:

OOH, that sounds good, Laurie. Let’s do it.

Laurie Watson [00:00:37]:

Let’s do it. Welcome to foreplay sex therapy. I’m Dr. Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller [00:00:45]:

And I’m George Faller, your couple’s therapist.

Laurie Watson [00:00:47]:

We are here to talk about sex.

George Faller [00:00:49]:

Our mission is to help couples talk about sex in ways that incorporate their body, their mind, and their hearts, and.

Laurie Watson [00:00:58]:

We have a little bit of fun doing it. Right?

George Faller [00:00:59]:

G listen and let’s change some relationships, all right?

Laurie Watson [00:01:04]:


George Faller [00:01:05]:

We’re talking about reengaging the sexual withdrawal, right? It’s why I started to do this podcast with you. It’s trying to figure out that question. You wrote a book on that, right? Trying to get these people who have good reasons to disengage sexually to start to engage, not to placate their partner for themselves. Right. It’s an assertion of self. It’s kind of recognizing, I like this. I like the way we feel. I feel when we do this, it makes so much sense that people should engage sexually, yet there’s so much that gets in a way for really good reasons, right? The muscle memory, the failures, the criticisms, the feeling you’re broken and what is chronic migraine?

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Laurie Watson [00:02:39]:

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George Faller [00:03:14]:

So let’s talk about how you I know you got this couple that you want to talk about that’s kind of as an example of this reengagement. So how did you get this sexual withdrawal to start standing up? And this is a female male.

Laurie Watson [00:03:29]:

So this is a female who has just started to really wonder inside about her own sexuality. There’s been a lot of conflict between them of him being unhappy with her and her feeling like she’s broken and she’s failing and not enough, and all of those things that sexual withdrawals go through. But in the process, she’s gotten to this space, which is, of course, the change space, and she started to wonder about things inside her own body and mind. And I want to just describe a few of these things so that people can see what starts happening.

George Faller [00:04:16]:

So zoom out for a second how we get there, if we’re talking about EFT or the model.

Laurie Watson [00:04:22]:


George Faller [00:04:22]:

That couple is going to start to see the problem as their communication, how they interact. Right. The more the pursuer is frustrated, sends messages, the withdrawal is failing. The withdrawal doesn’t know how to talk about those feelings and tries to go away to kind of soothe those bad feelings. And that pushing and going away creates a really predictable feedback loop that we call a cycle. As couples start to recognize that, they start to externalize the problem. Right. The problem is the way we communicate these dynamics we fall into not either person. Both people have really good reasons for the anger and the going away.

Laurie Watson [00:04:58]:

Yes. So the sexual withdrawal has begun to see kind of the angst and the tension and the anxiety in the sexual pursuer as something that is in him, and that certainly the cycle contributes to it. But she also has a desire to change this, not just for him, but she’s begun to wonder about how the cycle has messed her up sexually. There’s something that’s toxic to herself. She knows that. And she’s just taken a pause. I mean, it’s really a beautiful moment where she says, okay, I know I frustrate him like crazy, and I know that that pressure makes me shut down, but what would happen if I just looked inside, if I just looked inside for a minute? And they’re really not quite yet at stage two. They’re just at the beginning of stage two, which is where people start to work a little bit more on themselves. And she’s saying, I want to think about this apart from the pressure. So this is a sexual withdrawal, how the sexual withdrawal comes forward.

George Faller [00:06:14]:

Yes. And that’s that critical shift, right, from shifting from focusing on the partner and the performance to looking at the self, right? Normally there’s not a lot of space for that in their dynamics, right. She’s so worried about failing and being broken and not turning him on the pressure. And she starts to say, wait a second, what about me in that? Where am I besides this pressured person? Who am I sexually? That curiosity that gets directed inward is the critical shift to start the withdrawal reengagement process.

Laurie Watson [00:06:47]:

Yes. And I think a lot of this is facilitated by the clinician who is asking good, provocative questions about her own sexual experience and beginning to kind of stand alongside her and wonder with her about her. And also just very gently beginning this. So one thing she started to wonder about is do I have any desire? I mean, her sense of desire is very absent because of the cycle. So it’s been years, I mean, like 20 years since she has felt a wanting for sex. They’ve been sexual, I mean, they’ve had sex, actually. And a lot of people out there would moan and groan about this, but at least every week, if not a couple of times a week. But her own experience is very mute and flat about the sexual experience, which of course he knows and is disappointed in. Yada yada, on it goes.

George Faller [00:07:50]:

But again, I love the exploration of her longings. Right? That’s what we call the gas pedal. So often a sexual cycle is the break. We don’t know about her gas pedal because the cycle has put such brakes on this. It’s really squashed her desire. But as she starts to get more curious, you’re starting to, with your provocative questions, start to come alongside of her to start questioning her own desire. So what was she able to say?

Laurie Watson [00:08:18]:

So one of the things she came to was this internal cue that she realized one thing that was very exciting was buying lingerie for herself. She liked looking at the catalogs, she liked ordering it, she liked imagining herself in the lingerie, and she also liked imagining his reaction to her lingerie. And that’s the beginning of a sexual fantasy. So we talked about that, right? She’s a woman who says, I don’t fantasize. And I’m like, well, you do. This is how you build inside yourself, anticipation for the moment. I mean, yeah, you can’t necessarily buy lingerie every single time, but this fantasy is a turn on. So she began to see that using her mind in this one particular way was actually turning on her body, was making the moment have kind of a set up that sounded romantic to her and sexy to her. And if you can have one fantasy that works, I mean, first of all, sometimes one is all you need, but other times you begin to realize that my mind is actually sexual. And I do have sexual thoughts and fantasies. And I think so many people who are shut down in the cycle don’t realize that they have this capacity and the beautiful effect of that work, which is to turn on inside. I can find my own sexuality.

George Faller [00:10:03]:

Yeah. I love how you’re planting seeds. Right. You’re seeing this little seed around lingerie, and you start to plant it and grow it and stretch it to really help her tap into these powerful longings. There is a sexual erotic being there that can be expressed in these little ways. Then you’re now given the space to notice that. Pay attention to that, expand that.

Laurie Watson [00:10:26]:

Yes. Another thing that she does is she does have a spark of desire and she acts on it, but she acts on it in kind of a low sexual way. So when she starts to feel the desire for closeness, so she describes it, it’s like, I’m not thinking intercourse. I’m not thinking, wow, I want an orgasm. But I am starting to feel this desire to want to be close to my husband. So I’ll lean over and I’ll rub his chest, and he doesn’t do anything with that. I know he doesn’t know that it’s a sexual signal. And one of the things in the cycle that he’s been protesting for a long time is, I really want you to be direct with me.

George Faller [00:11:13]:

Initiating clear sexual ways.

Laurie Watson [00:11:15]:

Clear sexual ways. I want you to come on to me. One of the things he doesn’t say is what that looks like to him. He has a feeling about it, and he’s really upset, and there’s a lot of pressure about this, but he doesn’t get vulnerable enough to talk about his fantasy of, man, if you slipped your hand on the inside of my thigh, I would really know you wanted me. I mean, he doesn’t talk about it in ways that she can then do. And he has no idea that her rubbing his chest is a sexual come on, and it is a weak sexual come on. I know that because she’s just at the very early stages of it. But the reality is, and this is what I want them both to see is that she is initiating. She is actually starting the process, and the signals are messed up. But it’s such good news for the sexual pursuer. If he can get a hold of actually, there are moments that she’s leaning toward him sexually. It’s not as big as what he wants. But on the other hand, the vulnerability of starting to talk about, you know, I think all of us, george say, if I have to ask for it, it’s kind of, somehow or another, no good. If I have to ask for romance, then it diminishes its power. If I have to ask and tell you the way I want you to touch me or initiate, it’s not going to be the big bang that I’m looking for.

George Faller [00:12:50]:

Yeah, it’s cool. You’re highlighting a really classic block. If the pursuer has been asking and asking and gets this subtle, indirect right it’s often not enough. They don’t want to respond to it because they’re hoping not responding is going to motivate more. But you’re right, it actually does the opposite. It discourages. So how do we kind of make this block explicit to help this sexual pursuer say, wait a second, this is actually a big risk. This is the time for you to actually engage more and not kind of sit back and disengage. Right. I had a couple the wife would never initiate. It would do something similar, something subtle, and then a husband would just kind of lay there wanting more, and they would just miss each other. Getting a husband to see the opportunity, this is the time I jump out of bed and be like, let’s do it. To get that excitement. withdrawers have to have success for these risks that they’re taken. And what you’re describing with your client is a rubbing of the chest, a little initiation, and when he doesn’t respond, it leads to right, which leads back to the old moves of the old cycle. So, again, we need to line up her risking with his response to that risking given her success. It’s the only way to move the needle on this.

Laurie Watson [00:14:04]:

Yes, exactly.

George Faller [00:14:05]:

Well, let’s talk about how Laurie got this couple and move the needle when we come back from break.

Laurie Watson [00:14:15]:

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George Faller [00:16:26]:

All right, Laurie, we’re all waiting. Okay, so what happened? How did you get this guy who’s blocked to start doing something differently?

Laurie Watson [00:16:35]:

Well, first of all, I had them start more vulnerably talking about what their fantasy of initiation was and what it meant. And she had never really been explicit about touching him and her disappointment when he didn’t respond to her, he didn’t know. Come on. Once he heard that, actually, he was pretty willing to reward it with rolling over and saying, oh, baby, are you, like, thinking about touching me in other ways? He was playful, and so that was a reward because she accessed his sexual self once he realized this was her signal, and then he was able to tell her, I know it’s a lot, and you’re doing something right now by touching me. She would also put her hand on his thigh when they were sitting on the couch watching television, and it was something that he wanted. He’s like, Please slip your hand on my inner thigh. That, to me, feels super sexual and intimate, and it’s kind of a signal to me that you only have to move up a little bit higher, and then you got me. And she was willing to do that. She was very willing. Like, okay, that one I can do. I think her shutdown was right. She gets the message, I’m not enough. I’m not doing it right. And she didn’t know that there was only just slight modifications that would make him happy. And so I started having them tell each other about kind of the sexual fantasy of what it meant. And he had lots of fantasies of what he would also want. But when he saw that this was the beginning of her initiating when she wanted sex, like when she was on the verge of beginning to feel something, it’s so powerful for a sexual withdrawal to capitalize on that moment. Maybe it’s only once a month, but if the sexual withdrawal is capitalizing on that one time once a month when they want it, it really makes the whole experience better.

George Faller [00:18:54]:

Nice. That’s really nice. I mean, I love that you captured that moment where they’re missing each other. She’s feeling disappointed, doesn’t say anything. He notices something’s up because she’s not engaging. Right. He doesn’t say anything. What a missed opportunity. So you take him back to that moment of disconnection, and you help them put words to what was actually going on. Right. And he was pleasantly surprised. He found out something new, and he just opened up to that. But even if he didn’t, because he was frustrated or still resentful, being able to talk about it gives us a chance to deal with it, to work through it, to get them back into that ability to repair is the critical difference for couples who have success and couples who don’t. That’s beautiful work of you taking them back into kind of their fantasies and then all of a sudden he’s open to her initiating and what happens to her? She starts to kind of tap back into it when you bring him back into the conversation.

Laurie Watson [00:19:50]:

Yeah, I mean she does she starts getting from him kind of the sense that he’s delighted in her initiation which bolsters her courage. Like okay. And it also I think once the small movements get rewarded, there’s more courage to do the bigger things. They’re not yet at the stage where she’s going to say hey baby, fuck me. But it’s possible that she can be more verbally direct too, which he would love. She’s more comfortable with touch but I think once there’s success there, she’s probably going to be willing to use language as well. And one of the things that we’ve talked about a lot is that their language exchange, their communication is so low. So she doesn’t climax all that often and he kind of doesn’t know that.

George Faller [00:20:53]:

Before you go on to their orgasm, just the touch piece feels really important because so often she’s probably been trained touch always leads to sex. So trying to figure out when she rubs his chest because she wants to just cuddle and get closer versus rubbing his chest because she might want something more than that. She’s never articulated in a specific way the difference between those different types of touch and same with him. And for couples to really be intentional, to say like, this is a cuddle touch, I’m really exhausted because if touch always sends a signal, hey, I want to have sex, then people stop using it. Right. So helping her get clear within herself, this is a touch that’s actually more sexual versus a different touch that’s more just about connecting.

Laurie Watson [00:21:44]:

Yeah, I think that’s a really good point and I think it is in reverse as well. We hear sexual pursuers who know sometimes I want cuddle touch and my partner is not interested because they think I want sex. And so touch in general falls apart or is reduced in the yeah, really, really good point, George.

George Faller [00:22:05]:


Laurie Watson [00:22:06]:

Do you want me to go forward on the.

George Faller [00:22:10]:

With the orgasms? We don’t want to miss the damn orgasm issues.

Laurie Watson [00:22:14]:

No, we really don’t. So she doesn’t have all that frequent of orgasm and when she talks about it, I kind of explored, well, why not? And does he know that your clitoris needs to be stimulated? And she says, that’s really the only way I have orgasms. But maybe he kind of thinks I have orgasms through sexual intercourse. And I’m like, okay, let’s talk about why he thinks that. And she’s like, I really love sexual intercourse. It’s one of the highlights of my experience with him, I feel so close to him. I feel intimate afterwards, and I really do feel aroused. And I could probably make noises that indicate that I’m satisfied. And I’m like, okay, so he doesn’t really know that you don’t have orgasms with sexual intercourse. And then I said, well, what about your clitoris? Does he touch you? Well, does he know how to touch you? And she’s like, well, maybe not. And I asked about oral sex, and she’s like, he doesn’t go down. And I’m like, okay, tell me about that. And this is her primary way in former relationships that she orgasmed was through oral sex. I’m like, well, why does he not go down? And she said, and she gives oral sex, but he doesn’t. And she’s like, I don’t really know. We’ve never talked about it. I’m afraid that what I tell myself is that my genitals are ugly or that I smell weird or taste weird to him. She’s like, I’ve had boyfriends who really loved it. Really loved it. Would steal my underwear and take them home so that they could keep smelling me. Kind of loved it. And so she doesn’t have some deep sense of that I do smell bad or something, but maybe she’s like, I don’t know why, and they never talk about it. Maybe it happens, like, once a year. And this is a primary way that she orgasms when she makes love. So there’s like, one of the things that just strikes me, right? This is a long term couple that is having sex a couple of times a week for, like, 20 years, and the technique issues have never been discussed. And she’s making up in her head, go ahead. You go.

George Faller [00:24:38]:

No, I really wish the President of the United States would come on a public service announcement and really let people know. 80% of women do not orgasm during intercourse. What a gift it would be to the country and the world. I mean, again, I saw a couple newly just this week, and she’s upset that she can’t orgasm. He’s pissed at himself and her that she’s not orgasm. Everyone’s so frustrated because he goes to this not orgasm during intercourse when basic information would say it’s okay not to orgasm during oral sex. Orgasm with a vibe. There’s so many other ways to orgasm with the clitoral stimulation, and nobody knows it. Like, how do we get this information out there? Please, Joe Biden, if you’re listening, just add this to your next speech. It would be the biggest gift we can give to this country.

Laurie Watson [00:25:25]:

We would make people happy all over the world if he said that.

George Faller [00:25:29]:

Yes, we would. Might stop some war.

Laurie Watson [00:25:32]:

Might stop some wars. People would be happy at home. It would be good. I think that sexual intercourse is kind of what in our minds is the pinnacle of sexuality. We see it in the movies. That’s how we think about it. And of course, the clitoris is really the most sensitive part of a woman’s body, and it isn’t always stimulated during sexual intercourse. For some women, it kind of is. The position works, and yay, for them, that’s fantastic. But for most women, it’s not close enough to the vagina to get any stimulation when the man is thrusting. So it makes so much sense. And then she says, I can climax really easily with masturbation. It’s like two minutes. It’s no big deal. So as we started to explore that and help her kind of think about, how can he say this to how can she say this to him? She doesn’t want to say, hey, I’ve been lying to you about not having orgasms during sexual intercourse. She’s protecting him. She doesn’t want his sexual ego to be hurt. And so how do we get her to talk about it? So basically, the deal is, frequently what I do is I go through what’s normal, like how long it takes people, how much touch is involved, and then I ask them as a therapist to just kind of associate to that, how does this compare to what you’re doing? And then, of course, they’re like, he’s touching me for maybe two minutes, and then we have sexual intercourse. As soon as I’m wet enough, then we have sexual intercourse. But it really takes her a lot longer to get to a higher point where she can have an orgasm. And for him, I think he thinks she does orgasm, so he doesn’t offer afterwards to continue to stimulate her. And then eventually having the conversation about oral sex is very dicey. It is so vulnerable for her to wonder and to ask for it because she’s terrified that he’ll be rejecting.

George Faller [00:27:50]:


Laurie Watson [00:27:51]:

I’ve had that conversation many, many times with couples, like, why do you not give oral sex both ways? Probably the most dominant answer is, I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t want to know what I’m doing down there. She doesn’t respond. She doesn’t move. She doesn’t tell me what feels good. And so I feel incompetent.

George Faller [00:28:15]:

And that’s the big miss. The females think the male doesn’t want to do it, and the male thinks the women really doesn’t like it so much because when they do it, it doesn’t work so well. What a huge miss. They stop trying. Instead of doing what Laurie’s doing here, which is giving them space to just talk about it. Once they can start talking about you recognize they actually both want to do this. They’re just not sure how.

Laurie Watson [00:28:37]:

Right, exactly. I’ve been doing sex therapy for how many decades? I’ve only talked to one man who ever said, I don’t like my partner’s taste. And I’ve talked to hundreds of men who say, I love my wife’s tastes or my partner’s taste. I love it. It’s one of my biggest turn ons. But she gets anxious about it. She has to be perfectly clean she whatever, all these sort of barriers to her relaxing into it. And I think that now between this couple, she’s telling herself in her head, he doesn’t want to do this to me. So she doesn’t relax, she doesn’t make a lot of noise. She’s waiting for it to be over. She’s getting aroused, but she doesn’t really let her body get aroused and sink into it because it’s going to be over too fast, and her brain is just blocking and putting the brakes on because she doesn’t think he wants to. And so you can know he’s like, well, tried that for a little bit, and she didn’t seem to respond. So why would I be doing that?

George Faller [00:29:49]:

Well, you got something else to add to Joe Biden’s speech? Now, most men like the taste of going down. All right, we got two big messages for you.

Laurie Watson [00:29:58]:

Wait, no, no, George, you need to say that again. For all the women out there.

George Faller [00:30:03]:

Most men really enjoy the taste of going down on their partners.

Laurie Watson [00:30:08]:

The taste of a woman. Right.

George Faller [00:30:10]:

The taste of a woman. Or at least a country song. Right. Well, listen, this is great work, Laurie, in helping this couple, helping this wife really start to re engage, right. To start seeing the value for herself to be more sexual, to develop those longings. So nice work.

Laurie Watson [00:30:29]:

And I just want to reiterate, when the sexual withdrawal starts to turn around, they’re getting in touch with their internal cues. They’re also starting to examine the way the between space of how they’re talking about it, how they’re communicating. And then they’re getting really specific about sexual technique and starting to reveal this really vulnerable place inside of what they actually like sexually. So you can see all the pain points of how it could go wrong. But this couple, they’re on their way.

George Faller [00:31:03]:


Laurie Watson [00:31:05]:

Thanks for listening.

George Faller [00:31:06]:

Keep it hot, y’all.

Joe Davis – Announcer [00:31:08]:

Call in your questions to the Foreplay question voicemail dial eight, three, three, my. Foreplay. That’s eight, three, three, my. The number four play. And we’ll use the questions for our mailbag episodes. All content is for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for therapy by a licensed clinician or as medical advice from a doctor. This podcast is copyrighted by Foreplay Media.

Laurie Watson [00:31:31]:

Hi, I’m Sarah May, and I’m the host of your new favorite show, help Me, Be Me. It’s a self help podcast for people who hate self help. Help Me, Be Me is full of practical tools to help you overcome a variety of emotional challenges delivered in a way that’s caring but frank. So if that sounds up your alley, I would invite you to check out Help Me, Be Me on the Iheart app on Apple podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks.