Get to know psychologist and author Dr. Joshua Coleman.
You specialize in so many interesting areas of psychology: Is there something about counselling couples that is especially challenging or rewarding?
The challenge is being able to independently advocate for both people’s perspectives when those perspectives are often quite at odds. While challenging, it also models that you can have 2 very different views, both of which are deserving of empathy and expression. That’s also what’s rewarding about the work.
One of the hardest things for a couple to make it though is an affair. Please tell us how some couples are able to manage this successfully?
I don’t have any statistics on that. I would say the biggest predictors, from my experience are:
- The ability of the person who had the affair to be empathetic for a considerable period of time as to how wounding was the affair
- The ability of the person who was cheated on to be open to understanding how their behavior may have opened the door to being cheated on
- The overall maturity of one or both members
- The willingness of the couple to see the affair as a growth opportunity for them as a couple
What is the most common marital conflict you see and why?
Typically when couples become parents we see a big uptick in conflict. This has to do with the increase in stress and expenses as well as differing ideas about who should do what with house, child, or finances.
Recently we have come across articles saying that a couple should fix their sex life before they fix the underlying problems. That is, that the age old notion that marital conflict causes problems with sex is simply not always true and that sometimes a couple should work on their sex life to fix other issues. What do you think of this?
It’s both true and false. It’s true to the extent that fixing underlying problems is no guarantee of a good sex life. In some ways, when couples become too comfortable with each other, sex can get less compelling because there isn’t as powerful of a need to connect. Some couples have lousy relationships and great sex lives while others have great relationships and a complete absence of sex.
In general, guilt, worry, and anger are sex killers. If you’re too guilt-ridden about sex, too worried about your partner (or the kids or anything else) or too angry, your sex life will suffer.
In addition, a good sex life requires differentiated people. From that perspective, a good sex life, like a good marriage, requires people who are 100% selfless and 100% selfish.
For years, therapists have been advising couples to have a “date night” to keep up the romance. What are your thoughts on date night and other tips for keeping the flame burning?
Yes, I often prescribe date night, but it has to be the right kind. One of the key rules of date night is that you don’t talk about anything controversial. You’re better off going to a movie and not saying anything and have that be a bonding experience, than going out to an expensive romantic restaurant and fighting.
Blended families are hard work. If you were to give two pieces of advice to the new parents in a blended family what would they be?
- The biological parent is the disciplinarian. Don’t expect your partner to raise your kids
- It’s okay if your kids don’t like or love your partner. You chose your partner, they didn’t. But they have to be respectful of them in the same way that they would a stranger. That said, it’s better for the stepparent to request that the behavior of the child is respectful rather than having the biological parent enforce that.
What do you do to relax?
I run every day and I record music in my home studio
If you could visit any city in the world, where would you go and why?
My wife and I are considering going to Morocco. It’s supposed to be beautiful.
What’s your favorite movie/book/song?
Book: The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy
Song: Every Day I Write the Book (Elvis Costello)
What is your favorite motto?
Just do it.
What three items can you not live without?
Running, music, family.
If you had not become a therapist, what would you have become and why?
A musician or a historian.
Crocs or running shoes?
Definitely running shoes.
If you had one last meal to enjoy, what would it be?
Indian food. Love the complexity!