You are currently viewing Episode 429: What Do Couples Want?

Episode 429: What Do Couples Want?

Maybe you’ve decided that you need to work on your relationship but what is it exactly that you want to work on? You don’t want to sit in therapy and rehash every argument you had that week. Most often couples want relief from their distress and for their relationship to return to a time of greater joy and happiness. Join George and Laurie today as they share how to determine what you want when you make a decision to improve your relationship. Your homework assignment for this school of love lesson is to write down a list of positive qualities and interactions with your partner and your relationship strengths. These essential qualities are often not commented on and there can be a tendency to be problem focused when you consider your relationship. Negative feedback creates more negative feedback and this is when couples become stuck in a negative interaction cycle. Next, we encourage you to think about what you want to improve and how you can take action to make some changes. Finding clarity in what you want to work on in your relationship is a great first step to creating a fulfilling and meaningful relationship with both partners. Hop on over to our Instagram account @foreplay_sextherapy and share your thoughts! 

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Show Notes

Challenges in Relationships
– Outline of common relationship struggles such as detachment, mistrust, and isolation
– Discussion on the impact of these challenges and encouragement for open conversations
– Reference to Gottman’s research on four indicators of relationship breakdown
Positive Focus in Relationships
– Importance of emphasizing the positive aspects in a partnership
– Suggestion to acknowledge each other’s qualities, shared visions, and milestones
– Strategies to counteract the negativity bias in the brain
Stages of Relationship Difficulty
– Overview of early relationship stages, including skill acquisition and power struggles
– The necessity of premarital counseling
– Transition from the honeymoon phase to reality
– How to handle the grind of day-to-day life within a relationship
Promoting Self-Improvement
– Encouragement to seek continuous relationship improvement
– Importance of hope and help in addressing conflicts
Coping Mechanisms and Addictions
– Impact of negative cycles on couple dynamics
– Underlining the need to address emotional underlying issues
Communication in Relationships
– Emphasizing the need for difficult conversations
– Strategies to foster connection and love through effective dialogue
– Commitment to providing tools and techniques in future episodes
– Support for therapists to deploy practical training
Engagement with Listeners
– Joe Davis and George Faller are highlighted as Foreplay Podcast hosts
– Invitation for listeners to submit questions via voicemail
– Disclaimer about the podcast content being for entertainment purposes only
**Product and Service Promotions**
– Edgepark and Empower mentioned as sponsors, providing medical supplies and financial advice, respectively
Acknowledgment and Celebration in Relationships
– Discussion on the necessity of celebrating positive relationship aspects
– Strategies for couples to enhance communication and intimacy


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George Faller [00:00:57]:
Children what do couples want to work on? One of the hardest things to do, Laurie, is figuring out what the hell are we going to talk about in the first place. So let’s help couples figure it out.

Laurie Watson [00:01:07]:
Okay? I want to know if I’m a couple, like, where am I at, what’s happening relationally, what’s happening in my emotional life? And let’s help them with a plan of how to have this talk.

George Faller [00:01:18]:

George Faller [00:01:18]:
And figure out what are the things they’re bringing to the table to talk about in the first place. So when I think about work, I think about two things. Work is trying to celebrate what is already working, all the strengths and beauty that we have. That’s why we’re in a relationship. That’s part of work, acknowledging that, celebrating that. And the second part of work is figuring out how do we improve? What are the new moves to the things that aren’t working so well. So let’s talk about both of those. What’s working, celebrate it, and what’s not working so well so we can improve it.

Laurie Watson [00:01:50]:

Laurie Watson [00:01:53]:
Welcome to Sportplay Sex therapy. I’m Dr. Laurie Watson, your sex therapist.

George Faller [00:01:57]:
And I’m George Faller, your couples therapist.

Laurie Watson [00:02:00]:
We are here to talk about sex.

George Faller [00:02:02]:
Our mission is to help couples talk about sex in ways that incorporate their body, their mind, and their hearts.

Laurie Watson [00:02:10]:
And we have a little bit of fun doing it. Right?

George Faller [00:02:12]:
G listen and let’s change some relationships.

Laurie Watson [00:02:16]:
So I just got to say, this is something that, as an emotional pursuer, this would be a conversation I’d be really anxious to have. And I’m just aware, like, as an emotional withdrawal, do you think this would be an emotional withdrawal?

George Faller [00:02:30]:
Favorite conversation probably not probably waiting to get hit with all the things I need to do better on. But I think it helps when we can start with a recognition of what is working and to not only acknowledge that, but we know the research is clear what you give your attention to, you grow it. If you just focus on problems all the time, you just get sucked into the negativity.

Laurie Watson [00:02:53]:

George Faller [00:02:54]:
But sometimes what are the strengths that this couple has? Maybe they fight all the time, but they have great sex, or they’re great parents, or they’re really committed towards each other, or they’re really open to some of these conversations. Their love is fierce, it’s strong, their loyalty is impressive, they’re passionate. There’s so much that comes together to make a relationship. And most couples never have this conversation. They don’t take the time to tell each other, this is what I really like about you. This is what I value, this is what I appreciate, this is what inspires me. That stuff’s just as important.

Laurie Watson [00:03:29]:
Yeah. When I think about couples that have strengths, I think about interesting people. Like my daughter in law is just one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. I could listen to her all day long. She has story after story to tell. She’s engaging, she’s positive, she’s enthusiastic. And I think that brings a real strength to her marriage because she’s always got something to talk about that is interesting, something that she’s working on, part of her work, or just now, any direction. And I think that if you have a lively conversationalist in your marriage, that’s super exciting.

George Faller [00:04:10]:
And maybe you don’t have a great conversationalist, but that person’s a good listener.

Laurie Watson [00:04:15]:
Yeah. That’s another sign they’re not going to.

George Faller [00:04:17]:
Take the microphone and make it about them all the time. Can you acknowledge that? I appreciate that you listen well. You’re able to focus on me more than yourself a lot of times. That you’re a hard worker, that you can sacrifice for the family.

Laurie Watson [00:04:30]:

George Faller [00:04:30]:
I’m thinking of withdrawers. Right. Being told what are the things that they do well.

Laurie Watson [00:04:36]:

George Faller [00:04:37]:
Or the flip side for pursuers. Being told, thank you for fighting for this relationship, that you invest a lot into thinking about these things.

Laurie Watson [00:04:44]:

George Faller [00:04:44]:
That you’re quick to bring up difficult conversations.

Laurie Watson [00:04:48]:
Yeah. I think the great listening part, my husband, who is more of an emotional withdrawer, he often gives me 30 minutes, like, we go for a walk and I’m listening all day long to people. And I just need to download a little bit. I need to download my own life. Things that I’m concerned about. And he listens very well. He does a lot of good reflection and all of that. So if I were doing this assessment with him, I would definitely point out this is a strength.

Laurie Watson [00:05:19]:
It’s very meaningful to me that you give me this time that you listen so carefully. I also don’t demand that he keep track of all that stuff. But in the moment, it’s nice that he listens.

George Faller [00:05:31]:
Yeah. So we’re hoping our listeners take a moment. Can you make a list of the qualities that you really like about your partner? Do you share that with each other? Because maybe you trust your partner. That’s something that you just don’t have to doubt. We take these things for granted. No, let’s just name that. Despite our problems, I really trust you. I know if anything happened, you’d be there in a heartbeat.

George Faller [00:05:54]:
I mean, how lucky are we if we can feel that?

Laurie Watson [00:05:57]:

George Faller [00:05:58]:
So let’s acknowledge that. Or maybe just make explicit your love. I love you despite our challenges. I appreciate your loyalty. I appreciate your openness. I appreciate your intelligence. I appreciate your honesty. I mean, the list can be endless, but most couples never take the time.

George Faller [00:06:19]:
We just take this for granted. So much of what we try to help couples do is become more intentional and deliberate, to not get so focused on what’s wrong that they make space. They focus on creating space that sees what’s right. And it’s amazing how much safety that creates when you’re seeing your problems in a context that’s not taking up all the space. It’s just put in a perspective of this bigger picture, which is surrounded by love and intimacy and connection.

Laurie Watson [00:06:49]:
Yeah. And I think that this, like anything, when we start by telling each other our appreciation for the good qualities, maybe then talking about the challenges isn’t quite as threatening. It’s like, we can hold on to. Okay, you do think I’m good. In some ways, that’s good. Maybe even as you do this assessment, we’re still in the school of love. We’re trying to help you organize how to grow as a couple. And this is one area we want you to do this assessment and maybe even writing it down.

Laurie Watson [00:07:23]:
What is our strength here? Do we have a shared vision? I think that one’s really powerful. Like, our vision is to raise our children to be as independent and empathic as possible. That’s a beautiful shared vision. And maybe you have another vision. Maybe it’s like we have a shared vision to travel the world and have as many enriching experiences possible. And that is something we both value and we’re working toward. That might be another area that you.

George Faller [00:07:52]:
Write down beautiful acknowledgments of these qualities that you like, the vision that you’ve already created, milestones that you’ve had three beautiful kids, that you have this house, that you’ve reached some goals. It’s not just your relationship that I love how you are as a son to your parents. I love how you are as a friend. I love how you are as a parent. See the whole person and see when we start from a strength position, we’re more resourced to then look at the challenges.

Laurie Watson [00:08:27]:
Right? So true.

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Laurie Watson [00:09:28]:
Situations because there are so many things to love about our partners, just like you said, I think about my own husband and the way he is as a father. He’s really a loving, available father. He will spend all day with our kids, talking through their issues. I mean, on a heartbeat notice, he would go to lunch with any of them. He would drive them anywhere they need a car repair. Hey, let me take you. I mean, he’s just really available, both emotionally and physically, to hang in there with them.

George Faller [00:10:02]:
We know the brain has a negativity bias. It wants to focus on threats because it wants to kind of create that safety. But we also know that when you have positive moments, you have to be intentional to stretch them out. Otherwise they can just kind of fall away pretty quickly. And when couples do this, they really strengthen their relationship. So from this place of being resourced. Let’s talk about some of the issues, like, how do we put all of them on the table just to know what are some of the things we want to improve upon? So I know, Laurie, you talk about couples being developmentally in different places. This might give you a snapshot of, like, where are we at?

Laurie Watson [00:10:46]:
Yeah. So I kind of have staged relationships. It’s on my website, and stage them in terms of their difficulties and what that might mean for the future of their relationship. So early difficulties. You’re in a committed relationship, but maybe you still need some skills in how to communicate. Maybe you need to understand each other’s expectation. This is often early marriage, right? We get married and we think we have found the one, and they are just like us. And suddenly what comes up is, oh, we’re really different.

Laurie Watson [00:11:21]:
We have different ideas here, and we don’t know necessarily how to talk about those things. And so this is kind of a skills acquisition stage. There’s not bad feelings. There’s still a lot of trust, but you’re beginning to see that, oops, there’s these few difficulties here that we’re running into. Maybe our families didn’t communicate very well. So, I mean, that’s kind of the beginning of where you need to work on Laurie.

George Faller [00:11:53]:
I always love when the couples get some premarital counseling, like, really just trying to get those tools, recognizing because you’re in love and filled with oxytocin, you’re not ready for missed expectations and the stuff that happens and just normalizing that, that’s just part of the process of learning two people stretching and growing and trying to figure out how to jive with each other. How do you listen? How do you repair that? Critical elements for successful couples is that ability to have conversations and have success. But if you grow up in families where you don’t do that, that can be quite challenging. So, again, just normalizing effort. New couples, right?

Laurie Watson [00:12:34]:
And they say premarital counseling reduces divorce by something like 40%. Just statistically, it’s so good. And I have a son getting married, and they haven’t had a fight yet. And I’m glad for them that it’s so great and they’re so in love. But I know, right, as a marital therapist, that negative cycle is coming for them because we can’t possibly always be smooth. We’re two different people. And so I’m counting on the fact that he grew up in our household, and he is really concerned about how to communicate. He sent me a message the other day.

Laurie Watson [00:13:10]:
Tell me, Rev. Again, tell me how you do rev reflection, evocative questioning and validation. He really wants to learn that technique so that things go better. And I was very excited that he did that. Another stage that would be slightly more difficult is really the power struggle. This is when the negative cycle has kicked in and there’s anger issues, there’s bickering, there’s fighting, there’s arguing, there’s an increase of negativity. We get disappointed by just daily living. You don’t put down the toilet seat.

Laurie Watson [00:13:41]:
I had somebody call me a client the other day who said she just blew up at me because I didn’t put my dish in the sink and told me, called me a name. I can’t believe this. And it’s like, yeah, I know. But I also know that this was an ongoing issue, and she kind of reached her end level, and she didn’t have the skills to talk about what she felt about this. And so instead, she resorted to something that was more toxic. And then, of course, he started slamming doors, and it was the negative cycle. Full on.

George Faller [00:14:13]:
Yeah. The honeymoon wears off. This is the grind of real life. When you got to work and kids and dishes and all the logistics of life. Right. The middle road stuff. We can talk about that. Couples start to lose the high road, the exciting things, the things that reconnect them.

George Faller [00:14:32]:
And you start to run on empty when you start to run on empty, you have to protect yourself if we fall into these predictable patterns. So this is stuff we’re going to talk lots about. But, yeah, just recognize. And again, there’s nothing weird that you’re struggling. It’s hard to jive two lives in two different perspectives. And this stepping on each other’s toes and finding yourself not getting a lot out of relationship for all you’re putting in, a lot of couples find themselves in that place.

Laurie Watson [00:15:00]:

George Faller [00:15:00]:
So let’s come back and talk about that next phase.

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Laurie Watson [00:17:46]:
So one of the later stages that when the negative cycle has really started to win is detachment. One or both parties might feel like they kind of are not in love anymore. And we hear this a lot, right? I mean, I think when you’re in the midst of the power struggle and there’s negative stuff going on, it’s really easy to go, do I even love this person? I think love is work. It’s not necessarily just a feeling. But I think what I’m talking about is that sense where people start to detach. Maybe the person who is the pursuer really becomes burned out and doesn’t try anymore. And the withdrawal is just like, I’ve given up. They don’t care about me.

Laurie Watson [00:18:25]:
I’m just not going to try. And so they start to wonder, do I have anything in common? They start to avoid each other. And that’s really when there’s a lack of affection in sex.

George Faller [00:18:36]:
Yeah. And I like that. We’re just trying to normalize it. Like, when you’re stuck in the grind for so long and the distance increases, it’s normal to have doubts. It’s normal to say, like, this is not what I thought my relationship was going to look like. Right. So couples who could just kind of weather this and learn how to talk about their mistrust but find each other and can repair this is easily overcome. This period.

Laurie Watson [00:19:02]:

George Faller [00:19:03]:
For a lot of couples, sadly, this is where they find someone else or they give up. And some of the research says if couples who divorced would just stay together another six months, they would get through some of this stuff and they would wind up being okay.

Laurie Watson [00:19:17]:

George Faller [00:19:18]:
So if you find yourself in this place, don’t have despair. There is a way out of it. It’s a lot of what we’re going to talk about, how to have conversations that bridge the distance. But doesn’t it make sense? When there’s a lot of distance, we start to mistrust, we start to get discouraged. We start to get beaten down by this thing. So if you find yourself there, you’re not alone.

Laurie Watson [00:19:37]:
Yeah. And you kind of led right into the next stage. Sometimes when you’re in that detached stage, people start looking for somebody else. And this is when there could be an attachment rupture, where they do have an affair or they cheat, or it’s just an emotional affair, or there’s online infidelity. And sometimes people start to notice this and it creates a lot of problems. Trust starts to be questioned. Gosh, you used to let me look at your phone, and now you don’t anymore. And why have you changed all your passwords? And I don’t see affairs as the end of a relationship.

Laurie Watson [00:20:13]:
They’re often a cry for help. Super painful. Super painful. We don’t want to minimize that. But when the attachment is ruptured with this kind of lying or cheating, it can be super painful, but there can be repair, and it can sort of shake things up in a way that it reorders. If you get the work done, if you go and you get help and therapy, it can reorder your life and you can come out of this still stronger.

George Faller [00:20:40]:
Exactly. I mean, we are connecting beings, right? When we find ourselves in disconnection with lots of distance in our relationship, then we have to cope. And it’s at this point where a lot of people turn towards someone else or they turn towards substance, alcohol, drugs, shopping, a tv, a cell phone. Just as a way of managing disconnection. It’s also where people turn towards violence or acting out behaviors. And we’re not given that permission. We’re just trying to normalize. When our needs are not being met, we’re more susceptible for finding other ways of protecting ourselves.

Laurie Watson [00:21:17]:
Yeah. So some of the things that we want you to look for, too. This is from Gottman research, and he says that there’s four symptoms that indicate that you’re really close to a breakup. And that’s profound criticism. It’s not just look at, you didn’t put the dish up. It’s character criticism. You’re a selfish person and kind of contempt, which includes behavior like name calling. If you’ve stooped to feeling so bad about your partner and so angry and you start to call names, that’s a bad sign.

Laurie Watson [00:21:51]:
That’s a sign that this is becoming unworkable, or you’re just defensive to the point and that you don’t want to try, or you just start to stonewall each other, like, I’m going about my day, but I pretend you’re not even there. And that can be very problematic. And just, we want you to observe that. Are any of these four symptoms part of what’s happening between us? Not occasionally, but it’s sort of characterizing our negative cycle. You’re in deep trouble.

George Faller [00:22:21]:
What do they call them? The four horsemen of the apocalypse?

Laurie Watson [00:22:24]:
Yes, exactly.

George Faller [00:22:26]:
He has a catchy phrase for it, but again, I hope people are not getting depressed. Listen to this. It’s just as a way, once you make something explicit and you put it on the table, you can address it. If you just keep kind of pushing it under the rug. This is what leaves couples in a place where they can’t repair it. So there’s an evolutionary development to relationships from the beginning to the end. So wherever you find yourself along the way, that ability to just talk about it. I mean, this podcast is about getting partners to talk, to be able to say, hey, listen, this is what’s working, or this is what’s not working.

George Faller [00:23:03]:
And I’m not bringing this up to beat up my partner. I’m bringing this up because I want something better. And to me, that’s the good news behind all the complaining or talking about problems, is there’s a longing inside all of us that says, it could be better. Don’t settle for just having this survival mode you find yourself in. Relationships were meant for something better than just survival. It’s where we’re supposed to thrive. We all go through tough periods in relationships, but we need to find ourselves on the other side where we can come back together and really kind of enjoy being in each other’s presence.

Laurie Watson [00:23:38]:
Yeah. So we want you to take this episode. You’re assessing your emotional connection. What are the strengths? Where are you at? What stage are you at in terms of your conflicts and your challenges? We believe, as therapists that most of these things we can help you with. Even these days, I think EFt is managing domestic violence and addiction. I mean, there are ways that there’s special training for that. So we have a lot more hope as our model expands to help with really difficult, tough issues. So we would encourage you, don’t give up.

Laurie Watson [00:24:15]:
We would encourage you get help. If you’re at one of the later stages of problems, definitely time to get in there and get some help.

George Faller [00:24:24]:
So, Laurie, you talked about addictions as an example of what people do to cope, right. And if your life is a drag and you’re grinding along and you don’t want to fight, taking the edge off becomes easier and easier to turn somewhere. Right. It’s what we call competing attachments. Like, we just look for some respite. We look for a break from the negativity. So we look for these short term strategies, and then in the big picture, they make things a lot worse, because now you’re not engaging. You’re even going further away from the other person.

George Faller [00:24:56]:
And it just feeds these negative cycles.

Laurie Watson [00:24:58]:
That’s right. I mean, I was working with a couple, and the man had come from some really difficult family of origin issues. I think he had lost his father, who he had been connected to, and his mother was kind of absent, and he used pot every day, and he used it to take the edge off. One time he tried coming to therapy high, and I was like, we can’t talk if you’re high. It’s not going to work. But it was something that it was so difficult for him to encounter intimate moments that he wanted to take that edge off, but he didn’t realize that, how it was impacting his partner, how she didn’t really feel like she ever saw the real him or could depend on those answers. But he was so afraid of criticism and just. It was so painful to him to have these kinds of conversations.

Laurie Watson [00:25:56]:
And then it became a habit, right? It was every night as soon as he got home, he’d get high. And then eventually his children and his partner, they just didn’t have them. And that was such a painful partner structure, and it was such a painful issue for the family as well, right?

George Faller [00:26:14]:
It’s one of my favorite lines that I was saying. Everybody focuses on the drinking and not the thirst. Everybody focuses on changing the behavior without understanding what drives that behavior. Right. It’s a way of coping. Ultimately, addicts have to find better ways of dealing with their pain. When they can start talking about that, they can start talking about how this guy doesn’t know how to do intimacy. What happens right before he has that drink where he’s not fitting in and he doesn’t like himself or he’s feeling discouraged.

George Faller [00:26:46]:
I mean, he’s got to learn how to talk about that and feel better. That’s the work. But it’s so hard to do that. And when every conversation leads to a fight around these topics and you want to then not have the conversations either.

Laurie Watson [00:26:58]:

George Faller [00:26:59]:
So if you find yourself addicted because your body has gotten used to something, and that’s to me, the secret of AA is getting people to come together and do vulnerability, to have these emotional conversations say, hey, I’m an addict. I’m helpless. I need the people around me to hold me accountable, to support me, to listen to my problems. People have success in these places of struggle instead of isolation and shame and despair. Right. And couples can learn to do that for each other, which is the good news. There’s so much of the addiction research is moving in the direction of attachment, saying, hey, listen, we need to see the relationship as a resource, not as just something that is threatened all the time by these things.

Laurie Watson [00:27:43]:
Exactly. And I appreciate what you just said. In order to start to heal, we have to think about, what is that feeling before the reach for the substance? What is the bad feeling that the substance is trying to mask or trying to relieve? We know this is probably going to be a tough conversation for withdrawers and probably a conversation that our emotional pursuers are dying to have. How can we get more connected? The strengths piece easy peasy, the challenge piece, difficult. We know it. Maybe write it down again. Maybe it’s just one thing that you write down as a central challenge. I feel like we get caught in the negative cycle around this and then have a limited conversation.

Laurie Watson [00:28:30]:
I say an hour on this max. It’s going to be multiple conversations. So don’t drown each other with hours and hours of talking about this. Just for some parameters around this talk.

George Faller [00:28:42]:
We got to gather the material to have successful conversations. And it starts with this first step. What are the things that we are doing well? What are the things we want to do better at? Remember what’s driving. It is so healthy. What’s driving it is wanting more from your relationship. And when couples can really get pushed in the same direction and say, hey, listen, we got to tolerate the discomfort of some of these difficult conversations to achieve the goal. That goal is more connection, more out of the relationship. And when you get that love grows.

George Faller [00:29:15]:
Love, we start to come from a place of abundance instead of a place of scarcity, which is what these negative cycles produce.

Laurie Watson [00:29:23]:

George Faller [00:29:23]:
So again, this is the first step. We’re just trying to help you all try to figure out what it is you want to talk about. And these next episodes coming up, we’re going to start walking you through some of the tools and techniques that are going to actually lead to more successful encounters.

Laurie Watson [00:29:38]:
Okay, thanks for listening.

George Faller [00:29:39]:
Keep it hot, baby.

Laurie Watson [00:29:41]:
Okay, so tell us about your cutting edge training that you’re doing on success and vulnerability, Laurie.

George Faller [00:29:47]:
We just keep pushing it. Coming up with a new module on the playbook of a pursuer, playbook of a witcher, really practical moment by moment moves of what a therapist can use. We’re so focused on what’s happening in session enough. There’s talk about theories and these global things I think most therapists are looking for. What do I do in this moment? Give me a tool, George. So that’s what we’re trying to do.

Laurie Watson [00:30:13]:
That’s awesome. I am so glad you guys are doing this work. I think it helps us be organized to see you do it. You do demos, you do explanations, teaching. It really is interactive, and I think that so many trainings that we sit through don’t give us an opportunity for that. So what you’re doing is really important.

George Faller [00:30:32]:
No, we try to emphasize to teach it, show it, do it model of learning. You need to have some ideas. So we try to teach those, and then we try to show what it looks like implementing those ideas. But most importantly, you now got to practice it. That’s how they become yours, and that’s what we want our listeners and watchers to do and become their own moves.

Laurie Watson [00:30:51]:
Find George and his call in.

Joe Davis – Announcer [00:30:55]:
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.

George Faller [00:31:16]: