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‘I fell in love with a psychopath con man who stole my £850,000 life savings’

It was coming up to closing time in the clothes shop where I worked, when in walked a handsome stranger. That jacket in the window,” he inquired, brown eyes twinkling. “Do you have it in my size?” Impeccably groomed, wearing a crisp white shirt with no tie, a suit and designer glasses, he exuded confidence. I loved meeting new people. After being made redundant from my pharmaceuticals job, I sold up and moved from Buckinghamshire to the Cotswolds town of Tetbury.

My two daughters, Lara and Emma, had flown the nest and, at 54, I was loving my independence following my divorce nine years earlier. As we chatted, Mark Conway – as he introduced himself – held my gaze and smiled. The atmosphere felt electric. So when my friend Uma popped in to tell me about a house she thought I should buy, I wished she’d leave so I could talk more to this charismatic Mark, who said he was 46 and divorced. Now I wish now I had closed the shop early and never met him.

Instead, after Uma had gone, I told Mark I’d sold my own place and was renting a cottage while looking to buy. Later, I realised this signalled how much cash I had at my fingertips.

He asked for my mobile number and the next evening we sipped champagne at a local hotel. After Eton and Oxford, Mark said he was now a tax exile working for a Swiss bank. When he said he’d flown back from Geneva that evening just to see me I was flattered.

His lifestyle sounded so luxurious. He liked only “the best” and happily paid for it. The first time we made love, two days after we met, Mark pulled himself away from me. “I’m falling in love with you,” he murmured. “This is insane.” Soon, we were calling each other by the pet name “Bubba”. “You are so beautiful,” he’d text. One evening, four days after we met, he pulled up outside a lovely empty house with electric gates.

He told me he was thinking of renting it for us. My jaw dropped. “We’re going to live together. It’s what we both want,” he said. But Mark was always flying off somewhere. He revealed that his banking job was actually a cover for his work with MI6.

This made sense. He’d “let slip” how he flew his own plane and spoke seven languages. He explained that secret agents weren’t supposed to have relationships and it would take him 18 months to get out of his MI6 contract. Would I wait for him? Hook, line and sinker, I’d fallen for him, and said I would.

Lies and spies

Mark went to great lengths to seem like a spy. He asked his driver to pull into a side street next to the MI6 building in Vauxhall, London. “Wait for me here,” he instructed, disappearing inside. He “bought” me a Volvo XC60 SUV – later I would discover it was leased – and gave me a new iPhone and laptop. Then Mark announced he wanted to buy a Grade I-listed house set in stunning grounds on the outskirts of Bath.

I was thrilled, although he wouldn’t let me visit until the renovations were complete. “I want it to be a surprise for you, Bubba,” he grinned. But less than a month after I’d met him I overheard him discussing a cash-flow problem regarding the contractors. Since I had money sitting in my bank account, I offered him the £26,000 he mentioned. It was the first of 70 transfers over the next few months. I wasn’t thinking straight. That’s what falling in love does to you.

His lies became more elaborate. He told me he knew Vladimir Putin and Hillary Clinton, and once interrupted our lovemaking to take a call he said was from the King of Spain. He’d pick me up for dates in a helicopter and everything was ridiculously expensive. At Harrods food hall he picked up a whole ham costing £1,500. Yet whenever we went to pay, he just looked straight at me and I produced my bankcard.

Mark promised me a fairy-tale wedding and to repay me once the cash-flow problem had been sorted. I never doubted him. Another time, in August 2012, Mark phoned. “Fancy going flying, Bubba?” He took me to see “his” collection of classic aircraft in Gloucestershire. It looked so romantic, but I was surprised to learn that I would be flown by Mark’s business associate, James Miller, even though Mark claimed to be an experienced pilot himself.

How could I doubt that he would one day pay back my money when impromptu treats like this were possible?

Desperate and depressed

One night, just as I was watching Homeland – a TV show I had become addicted to since Mark’s confession that he worked for MI6 – he suddenly appeared dressed in full desert combat gear. “Darling, I had to see you,” he said. “I’ve left a group of men I’m training in Syria.” Because I couldn’t talk to anyone about his work, I just became increasingly isolated.

Spending all my time alone, waiting to hear from him, I lost my confidence and slid into depression. Then that autumn, Mark told me he had a brain tumour and needed an urgent operation abroad. I was worried sick. Why was everything going so wrong? All the bills were in my name, but I couldn’t hassle Mark to give me any money when he was so sick. I ended up moving out of the house and relying on friends to put me up.

I didn’t want to live. I spent hours on the internet researching how I could commit suicide. But part of me clung to the hope that I was overreacting, and that my new life with Mark would be wonderful. By April 2013 there was still no money. Mark blamed his lawyers. He rang me every day, telling me he hoped we’d be together soon.

I tried to end the relationship, but he guilted and gaslighted me into staying with him. By June I’d had enough. In desperation, I rang James Miller – the plane pilot. I barely knew him but hoped for some reassurance. Instead, he dropped a bombshell. James said his business had been destroyed by Mark, a serial fraudster whose real surname was Acklom.

He’d made headlines in 1991 when, aged 16, he’d stolen his father’s credit card, flown to Paris by private jet and treated his friends to champagne. I remembered reading about it. He’d then embarked on a criminal career and had been jailed for fraud in the UK and Spain.

Also, he was married with two young children, one of whom he’d introduced to me as his “niece”. Plus, he wasn’t 46, only 38. Lie after lie – I felt sick I’d slept with him. And ashamed and horribly embarrassed I’d fallen for his charm and James Bond story.

That night, I went to my daughter Lara’s flat in London, where my younger daughter Emma joined us. I told them everything, trying to absorb it all. Lying on Lara’s sofa, I just wanted to die. “That f*****g b*****d!” Next morning, Mark rang. “Baby, I love you so much,” he said. “Just give me my money,” I replied. The line went dead and I never heard from Mark Acklom ever again.

I went to the police as soon as I could, but it took six years to bring Mark to justice in a British courtroom. With his name on the list of the UK’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives, he was finally arrested in Switzerland and extradited back to the UK in February 2019. That August he appeared in court, pleading guilty to five charges of fraud. He was sentenced to five years and eight months.

I’ve since realised he is a psychopath – without remorse, guilt or empathy. I lost every penny of my £850,000. The one good thing was meeting James – we got together at the end of 2013  and now rent a home in Scotland. Our match was made in hell, but we have each other. Mark ruined both our lives, but we laugh about the audacious lies. What else can you do?

I always dreamed of writing a book. This is one story I could never have made up. Sleeping With A Psychopath by Carolyn Woods (HarperCollins £8.99) is out now

Reference: Mirror: Carolyn Woods (talking to Susanna Galton)  11 hrs ago

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This is how experts advise you overcome feelings of rejection

One adjective that’s haunted me my entire life is sensitive. While it’s sometimes a compliment, more often than not it’s a comment on how I handle rejection, exclusion, and any perceived failure.

Growing up, I was that kid who ruminated over not getting invited to birthday parties. I turned into that teen who cried in the girls’ bathroom after not being cast in the school musical. And, naturally, I turned into the kind of adult who had a difficult time moving on from an ‘I’m not ready to be in a relationship’ text or a ‘We went with another candidate for this role’ email.

If any of these examples give you visceral flashbacks to your own humiliating moments of rejection, there’s a reason these memories sting. Turns out, even thinking about instances of social rejection (seeing a photo of someone who broke your heart, for example) can activate the same part of your brain that responds to physical pain, according to one study. Feeling rejected literally hurts.

From an evolutionary perspective, rejection’s harsh impact makes sense: the desire to be accepted is a survival instinct. The individuals with the highest survival rates ‘were the ones who were most attuned to behaving in ways that prevented other people from rejecting them,’ says Mark Leary, PhD, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University.

Unfortunately, rejection – in all its shapes and forms – is an unavoidable part of modern life too. ‘People personalise it and think it’s about them, when rejection really is just part of everybody’s experience,’ says Gary Lewandowski, Jr., PhD, a professor of psychology at Monmouth University.

Meet the experts: Mark Leary, PhD, is a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. Gary Lewandowski, Jr., PhD, is a professor of psychology at Monmouth University. Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, is a psychologist and the author of Bouncing Back From Rejection.

And there’s no good way to make it hurt less when someone ghosts you after a promising second date or when you’re passed over for a promotion. Your response to rejection ‘is sort of like stepping on a sharp object with your bare feet,’ says Leary. It’s painful, but the pain is actually a sign that you’re an evolved human being who doesn’t want to get hurt.

That said, there are ways you can shift your mindset to not let yourself ruminate over rejection (after that one joke that didn’t land, or that one photo of your friends grabbing drinks without you).

Having coping tools in your arsenal can help your overall mood and mental health, too, says psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, author of Bouncing Back From Rejection: ‘You’ll feel more positively about yourself, and you’ll be more persevering and resilient.’ Ready to rethink rejection?

1. Spot the difference between being rejected and *feeling* rejected
Experiencing a familiar sense of shame and sadness after a new mom friend said she wasn’t free for a playdate with the kids this week? First, try to look at what happened—really look at it—and ask yourself if it’s possible that you’re just feeling sensitive.

‘Neutral reactions from other people are often perceived as rejection because the neutrality indicates this person doesn’t particularly value the relationship,’ says Leary. ‘Many of the times we feel rejected, technically we weren’t.’ In other words, anything other than enthusiasm can be perceived as a dismissal.

Play detective and ask yourself a few questions to get to the bottom of it: am I interpreting this situation properly? Is it possible this person was simply distracted or dealing with other things in their life? Maybe we communicate in different ways? Am I really getting turned down, or am I just not receiving the response I’d like?

2. Train your brain to see the positive side of every encounter
Rejection can be a self-fulfilling prophecy, says Lewandowski – if you’re looking for it, you’ll see small rejections everywhere, whether it’s your office pal offering unsolicited outfit advice or your partner taking several hours to respond to a text. On the flip side, if you look for signs that you’re valued and appreciated, you’ll likely start noticing those too. One example: ‘That same person who didn’t text you back quickly enough did text you back,’ Lewandowski points out.

Practice taking note of when you’re accepted and included, and eventually you’ll “train yourself” to be better at noticing the positives and giving them the same weight as those negative observations.

3. Spend time with people who make you feel loved and accepted
Sometimes, a situation might leave you feeling rejected—and you won’t even recognise it in the moment, says Becker-Phelps. Maybe you always have a great time with your workout buddies, but afterward, you notice you feel down on yourself. ‘Take a moment, step back, and ask, “Do I feel good about myself when I’m with these individuals?”‘ says Becker-Phelps.

If a person makes you feel less than, try talking it out—it’s possible they don’t realise how they’re impacting you. Beyond that, focus your energy on people who appreciate you. ‘Those who handle rejection well tend to have a stronger relationship network,’ Leary says. This is also part of the reason people can become less sensitive with age – friendships and community feel more stable as you grow older, which causes ‘outside’ rejections to hurt less.

4. Expand your world—and your identity
Three scenarios for you: You just received constructive criticism at work. You got dumped by someone you were dating. You devoted years to writing and editing a novel or memoir, but it took an agent or editor just minutes to say they didn’t love it. (Not to rejection-brag or anything, but I’ve experienced all three.) It feels as if the world just ended—maybe because that job, relationship, or creative project was your whole world.

Another example is ‘someone who’s all-in on being a med student,’ says Lewandowski. ‘Their identity is so wrapped up in [their career] that when they get a bad test grade, they’re devastated.’ For someone else who has a ton of relationships and other interests, though, that same grade might still sting… but not feel like a threat to their identity.

If any of this sounds relatable, make an effort to place more emphasis on other factors that matter to you—or even just recognise the different ways you define yourself, says Lewandowski. Then, when you experience a rejection, ‘you have plenty of other things going on’ and feel a little more balanced.

5. Think about, write down, and repeat what you love about yourself
You might’ve heard that positive affirmations can elevate your self-worth. But instead of just repeating that you’re a good, worthy person in the hope you’ll believe it someday, dig deeper and find words specific to you: What unique traits make you you?

‘You might notice that you perk up a little when you think about them,’ Becker-Phelps says. Repeat these affirmations daily; you’ll start to feel more resilient and confident.

In that spirit of self-love, I’ve come to realise my sensitivity isn’t a bad thing – it’s human, and it makes me a more empathetic and thoughtful person. And while I’m okay with being attuned to the pain of rejection, what I’m ready to change is how I react to it. Because, cheesy as it sounds, I now know that every rejection has led me somewhere better.

Story by Lydia Wang:Womens Health UK.

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The secrets of a healthy divorce: ditch blame, put kids first – and avoid lawyers as long as you can

‘My parents’ bitter divorce was a lesson for me’
My parents had the most acrimonious divorce of anyone I know. Years of rage culminated in a decision to live on opposite sides of the world. I never heard my parents speak well of each other. The unexpected silver lining of this experience was that, when my marriage of 15 years was coming to an end, I knew how not to do it.

Our children were 12 and 14 and we presented it to them in a way that we hoped they would understand: that we had really loved each other and were so glad we got married and had them, but that sometimes love can change to friendship. My parents never framed their divorce in a way that was age-appropriate for me, and so I was glad that I was able to give my children the story I had wished for.

The arrangements also reflect what I would have wanted as a child: as much stability as possible. The children live in the family home with me, and their father lives nearby so that they can see him regularly. We spend Christmases, birthdays and special family occasions together, but holiday separately and step in to “babysit” for each other when we need to. We get along and, most importantly, we speak well of each other. Always.

Emma Clark, 46, Reading

‘We held a closing ceremony’
My ex-partner and I were together for four years, three of which were polyamorous. We were new to that world, and we navigated it as best we could given our inexperience, dealing with neurodivergence, and bouts of depression and anxiety. We moved in together during the pandemic but it wasn’t the right thing for us. Between lockdowns, I met someone else and began dating them. My ex-partner and I had agreed that this was OK, but my feelings for this new person showed me that things needed to end with my ex.

It was very painful and very sad, and he had to move out of our flat. Before he did, we put aside one night to spend together as a sort of “closing ceremony”. We went to the beach and lit a fire, then came home, drank wine and repotted the spider plant babies that had been sprouting from our shared plant. We told each other all the things that we had loved about the relationship, all the ways in which we had grown thanks to the care of the other.

Afterwards, we prioritised our friendship. We continued to be open with each other about our thoughts, feelings and struggles, even when that was uncomfortable. We had good weeks and bad weeks, and there have been times along the way when my commitment to the friendship may have waned. But we stuck to it and three years on we are still very close, perhaps the closest we’ve ever been.

Stella, 31, Brighton

‘We withdrew emotionally from each other’
When my-ex husband and I split up, my daughter was two years old and we tried hard to do it in the best way we thought possible. Nine years later, as I meet other people affected by divorce, I’ve realised that our experience is unusual.

We put our daughter at the centre of our minds and did what was best for her. But we also withdrew completely from each other except for factual and practical discussions. It sounds cold, but that is what was needed at the time.

You can’t be the other’s emotional support during a break-up – that sends horrible mixed signals. You may want to make them feel better but they need to lean on others for that and learn to live without you. It is important to agree on boundaries for communication straight away, such as one email a day that sticks to facts. Write that angry letter to them but don’t send it. If you receive an angry letter, be magnanimous and delete it.

Kate, 44, Cheltenham

‘People change – they don’t become bad’
My ex-wife and I met in 2001 and separated in 2017, but we have remained friends and spend time together with and without our kids. Now, we both have new partners and all operate as an extended family. We “arranged” our divorce so that the decree absolute came through on our wedding anniversary, as it made us laugh. She was a witness at my wedding.

Related: Divorce doulas: ‘like having that best friend you’ve always wanted, but you’re paying for’

My advice? Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you can’t separate amicably. People change over time in a relationship and that may make you incompatible, but it doesn’t mean they are a bad person. Try to be proud of the person they have become, and the part you played in that. Wish them happiness and don’t begrudge them finding it.

Giles Batchelor, 41, Kettering

‘Stay away from lawyers as long as you can’
After 15 years, my wife and I split up. There was no fire left; we were living as roommates. She stayed in our house: I didn’t ask for money and ended up living in several friends’ homes for about 18 months before I was able to arrange a decent place to live. Ten years later, when I really needed it, she paid me what she owed. We still see each other a couple of times a year. I know she will be there when I need it; she knows that I will be there as well.

If you can’t agree on how to divide your belongings, try to get a friend you both trust to help out. If there are some things you are emotionally attached to, ask for those and let your partner have the rest. Stay away from lawyers as long as you can: most of them are just in it for the money. Of course, if nothing else can be done, fight like hell for the rights of your kids, then fight for your rights.

Theo Veltman, 67, Amsterdam

‘We showed our son we were still friends’
I split with my long-term partner when our son was four. Our main thought was that we didn’t hate each other. The break-up was nobody’s fault – we’d just grown apart. We felt what was most important was for our son to grow up seeing his parents being friends, making joint decisions on things that affected him, and even taking family holidays together every year while our son was young. Not only did we successfully raise our son, we gave him a road map of how adults can and should behave around children.

When my ex became unwell three years ago, I discovered I was still his next of kin. I visited him in hospital while he was in a coma. When he died, my current partner and his mum gave money to help me pay for his funeral, because they knew how much he meant to me.

Kal Bird, 51, Salford

‘We always ensured each other’s wellbeing’
Our divorce attorneys, both women, said we were the model couple for separating amicably. We had agreed to a financial deal prior to even meeting them, and so all it took was to sign the paperwork. But as a gay couple, we had to undo not only the marriage, but a civil union and two domestic partnerships from the various states we had lived in. This made things more complicated: queerphobia had harmed us all our lives, but we had no idea it would be a problem during our divorce, too. Both of us now have new partners and are happy. Our guiding force was simple: ensure the other’s wellbeing, financially and emotionally, at all times.

Anonymous, 61, New York

‘I didn’t want to hate the woman I once loved’
Related: ‘I think I was relieved’: life on the other side of mature age divorce

My wife and I separated 27 years ago. It was always going to happen and we had only stayed together for several years for the sake of the children and financial stability. After the break-up, I undertook constellation therapy [looking into family history], which enabled me to understand that it was important for our two children’s wellbeing that their parents still liked each other.

At first I had to grit my teeth to do it but I always sent birthday cards, a gift at Christmas and enquired how their mother was. By the time we were both settled with new partners, it seemed unreasonable to hate the woman I had once loved and who was the mother of my children.

Stephen Cooke, 72, Bordeaux, France

‘There was no blame apportioned’
I ended my marriage 11 years ago after finding out my husband had been cheating with men. It was the need to be tested for STIs that meant he had to tell me about his sexual activity: thankfully we were both clear. I also found out that he had put thousands of pounds of debt on my credit card.

I’m not sure how it remained amicable but we never shouted at each other or argued over material things. There was no blame apportioned. We kept in touch and I tried to be a friend while he went through counselling and sorted his life out. We don’t talk often but have bumped into each other – it was nice to see him.

I have learned a lot about myself in the process. I am proud that throughout the whole thing I didn’t put anything on social media about it.

Lou, 48, Cambridge

Story by Interviews by Sarah Phillips: The Guardian:

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What’s The Difference Between Pansexuality And Bisexuality? The Terms Explained

Iremember the first instance I heard the word ‘pansexual’, used at the time by a 23-year-old Miley Cyrus opening up about her sexuality in an interview with Paper Magazine. In the days afterward, the now 30-year-old singer was ridiculed online and in tabloids as though she were some kind of exhausting child who just wanted attention. That’s what it’s like being pansexual, a relentless pursuit to justify your sexuality to a world of people that roll their eyes and raise their eyebrows merely hearing the word.

I know that now, because by Miley bringing the word to my attention, I began to understand that it might better describe my sexuality having previously identified as bisexual. But in a world that refuses to learn more about the many tangents of the LGBTQ+ community, the stigma around being pansexual has often kept me from feeling safe to use the term in conversation.

What does ‘pansexual’ mean?
The dictionary definition of pansexual is as follows: Pansexuality is sexual, romantic, or emotional attraction towards people regardless of their sex or gender identity. Pansexual people may refer to themselves as gender-blind, asserting that gender and sex are not determining factors in their romantic or sexual attraction to others.

How is pansexuality different to bisexuality?
But it’s slightly more complicated than that, especially for someone like me, who was growing up at a time when the only widely used labels for someone’s sexuality were gay, lesbian, and bisexual. I had identified as bisexual for years, and my interpretation of that was that gender didn’t factor into attraction for me – so, essentially the same thing as pansexual in my eyes.

Then, in a random conversation with a friend of a friend, I was told that the term ‘bisexual’ actually specified attraction to men and women, thus excluding anyone who didn’t fit into those binary genders, which I didn’t realise at the time is a common misconception about bisexuality. This person was projecting their own assumptions about bisexuality on to me, and since I didn’t know any better at the time, suddenly the term ‘bisexual’ started to feel exclusionary, and pansexuality became a better definition for people like me for whom gender is irrelevant.

To be clear, like most bisexual people I know, I’ve always found that distinction around gender to be unnecessary. There may well be some bisexual people who are exclusively attracted to cisgender men and women, but in my experience within the queer community, the majority of bisexual people label themselves that way because they don’t see any kind of gender as a mitigating factor in their attraction. In that sense then, the terms ‘pansexual’ and ‘bisexual’ can be used in place of one another – at least I do, but I of course don’t speak for all queer people.

Which celebrities are pansexual?
Miley Cyrus describes her choice, for example, to use the word ‘pansexual’ because she found the label ‘bisexual’ too restrictive.

‘My whole life, I didn’t understand my own gender and my own sexuality. I always hated the word “bisexual” because that’s even putting me in a box,’ she told Variety in 2016. ‘I don’t ever think about someone being a boy or someone being a girl. My eyes started opening in the fifth or sixth grade. My first relationship in my life was with a chick. Once I understood my gender more, which was unassigned, then I understood my sexuality more.’

She’s not the only Hollywood celebrity to come out as pansexual. Demi Lovato, Janelle Monáe and Cara Delevingne all identify as bisexual. British singer Yungblud has described himself as pansexual too, as has Panic! At the Disco lead Brendon Urie and actor Bella Thorne. More recently, Outer Banks star Madison Bailey came out as pansexual on TikTok, as did Dance Mons star JoJo Siwa. In 2020, Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moranbecame the only pansexual MP to publicly declare their sexuality after beginning a relationship with a woman.

How do I test to see if I’m pansexual?
With so much more awareness, you can now even do ‘pansexuality tests’ online to determine whether the label better describes your sexuality. On websites like The Proud Trust, you can learn about all of the terms used to describe different sexualities in the queer community, or chat to someone on their Live Chat to have a real conversation about what sexuality means to you.

In fact, ‘pansexuality test’ is a major breakout search term in relation to the word, as is ‘pansexual memes’ and ‘pansexual flag. In case you’re looking for some wholesome pansexual memes, check out this Instagram account for the best of the best

What is the pansexuality flag?
FYI, the pansexuality flag is pink, yellow, and cyan, designed as a symbol for the pansexual community to increase its visibility and recognition, and distinguish itself from bisexuality.

So, there you have it, the definition of pansexuality explained, as well as the many different interpretations and meanings of it!

Reference: Story by Grazia Contributor: Grazia

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A guide to maintaining intimacy in relationships

Despite “intimacy” being a word many of us throw around when talking about relationships, there are a surprising amount of misconceptions about what intimacy – and sexual intimacy specifically – actually means.

Intimacy and sex aren’t the same thing but there are connected. There’s a physical and an emotional closeness in romantic relationships that it’s important to maintain, but when we talk about intimacy, we’re talking about two different types – sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy.

To differentiate between the two types of intimacy and give us some answers, we asked Psychosexual therapist, BBC One’s Sex on the Couch presenter and author of audiobook 12 Steps to Sexual Connection, Lohani Noor for the lowdown.
What is intimacy?

“When people say intimacy, they normally think about sex. And of course, sex is part of intimacy, but it’s only a part – it’s not all of it,” Lohani explains. “Unfortunately, people make sex – or penetrative sex – the main focus of their relationship and of their relational intimacy.

“So they miss out on a lot of this stuff, and actually it’s all the other stuff that informs and feeds your capacity to have relational intimacy, or sexual intimacy. Intimacy is formed out of lots of other things.”
Why is intimacy important?
Although intimacy isn’t sex, many of us need intimacy in our sexual relationships. “You could just go and have sex if you want to, and some people swear that’s all they want and need,” says Lohani. “However, I would argue that simply because we’re human and we are organisms, we need intimacy. You can look through history books and see that isolating people was a form of torture, and very quickly they go mad. The human organism needs skin-to-skin contact, and it needs emotional contact to survive.”Of course, we can just have sex on its own without intimacy. But Lohani says sexual intimacy is something entirely different. “If you nurture the intimacy in your sexual dynamic, and allow yourself to stay very present in the moment and make a real connection with the other person, you’re on the pathway towards spiritualism. Sex leads to magic and there is something incredibly spiritual about sex. If you allow yourself to really, really be present and intimate, and be intimate means show yourself and receive the other.”

How is it different from sex?
So the act of sex itself isn’t the be all and end all of intimacy. What what about touching, kissing and stroking? Does this count as sexual intimacy?

“I prefer to call it sensation play because it shifts the emphasis massively,” Lohani explains. “I’ve pinched that word from the BDSM community, because it’s all about creating sensations or experiences. In BDSM, you agree the scene [you’ll act out] beforehand and to have a safe word, and you know what the limits are. And then you act out the scene, and the scene isn’t penetration focused. It’s focused on having sensation and emotional experiences. And the more you trust your partner, the more you give into that, the better or deeper the experience.

“So when I work with [straight] couples, I try and hold those ideas in my thinking and invite the clients to think about what they want to experience as opposed to whether or not the guy’s getting enough penetrative sex. Penetrative sex can also be important. I’m just saying it’s not the only thing.”

Common intimacy issues
Lohani says there is a major problem with how we’re raised, and that’s that we are not shown how to be honest about how we feel when we are children. “Think back to when you were three or four, and you fell over and your parent came and looked at your knee and said, is it sore? Did it hurt your feelings? In that moment, when your primary caregiver talks to you about feelings, they were containing them for you. So you build an emotional framework and internal reference system for feelings.

“Unfortunately, as a society, we’re not really good at teaching our children about feelings that you can’t see or don’t manifest on the physical. Like emotional pain, sadness, loss, grief, anger, rage, sexual feelings. So often, children grow up into adults, and they’ve got no frame of reference for that stuff. So when they have a strong feeling, like a strong sexual feeling, or a feeling of anger or frustration, it feels they’re almost out of control because they’ve got no reference for it.” And therefore, we don’t know how to manage those emotions.

Fear of intimacy

Why are so many of us afraid to be truly intimate with someone and show vulnerability? “It’s the fear of being shamed and attacked and humiliated,” she explains. “And when we start a relationship, and sometimes years and years into the relationship, we still tend to be feeling our way forward. And we’re still thinking, ‘Will I be accepted or rejected? How do I get my needs met in a way that’s okay and safe?’ And we might decide that the way to do it is in a hostile, aggressive way, because that makes us less vulnerable. But actually, all it does is it stop us from getting what we really want.”

“Again, when you’re little you might think you’ve got a really good strategy for getting your needs met. And you’ll scream until you’re sick. And someone comes and picks you up and it works. It works because it’s acceptable when you’re four. Unfortunately, our parents don’t teach us how to ask for what we want in a more meaningful way. We understand that on a primal level, that’s the strategy for getting what we want. So then when we’re an adult, and in a difficult relationship, and we’re really struggling, we’ve got no reference point and no internal narrative around these difficult emotions, we might decide to act out in a very similar way to how we did before.”

It’s no wonder as adults we can find it so difficult to ask for what we really want. Instead, in relationships we may act out in some irrational way involving shouting or breaking things. “It [feels] easier to do that in the hopes that the other person will say, ‘Oh, I get it, you want me to love you right now.’ But it doesn’t work, does it? Because you’re an adult, and it’s not acceptable.,” she says.

Signs you’re avoiding intimacy
People can avoid intimacy in their sexual dynamic by employing all sorts of avoidance methods, Lohani says.

“They’ll turn the lights out, or never look at each others’ bodies, or never speak about sex, and never be curious. It’s amazing how many people can stay in intimate relationships year in year out and not really ever fully intimately engage sexually,” she explains.

“They cover up the intimacy or avoid the intimacy by having all sorts of strategies, like not communicating what they like what they don’t like in sex, and not guiding their partner. If you want to avoid intimacy with someone, a really good way to do it is to have fast sex and put on a display with performative sex. From the outside, it could look really intimate. But the people are actually using each other for sex as opposed to being in sex together.”

How to improve your intimacy
“If only there were three easy steps,” she says. “The things I’ve listed in my book are things like connection, communication, trust, managing autonomy, interdependence, and codependence as opposed to codependency, their self knowledge, self discovery, sexual self discovery, time, give me permission to go slower, go fast,” she says.

But it’s also important to just experience mutual pleasure from sex. “If you nurture all those things, they will support and enhance your capacity to really be with one another to bring all of this out into the dynamic.”

Commit… but not like that
One of the basic things you need in order to be able to achieve intimacy, is commitment. “It’s a horrible word, isn’t it? It’s so scary. But commitment doesn’t mean forever. And we have to get over that notion that when we make a commitment to somebody or to a process, we’re making it forever. Because we’re actually making it for the moment. So it’s about being committed to being available in the moment,” she says.

You also need to be committed to speaking your truth and to being honest about what’s going on for you/what you’re feeling, too. to saying what’s really going on for you.

Communicate verbally
We can often conflate talking with communicating, but it’s actually more important to talk less and communicate more.

“Learning to communicate, not only authentically – I think that word is probably overused – but learning to say what’s going on for you without making it about the other person. So learning to speak in a way that maintains your integrity and the sense of yourself, but at the same time maintains the integrity of the person you’re speaking to.”

Use ‘I’ statements
It’s a well known piece of advice when communicating with a partner to use “I” statements instead of “you” statements – such as, “I feel like X when X happens” as opposed to “You made me feel like X”.

Lohani explains this is about “being accountable for your own feelings and not making them about the other person.” She adds, “Simply recognising that somebody doesn’t make you mad. They might invite you to feel mad, but it’s an invitation that you can refuse. It’s really taking ownership of what’s going on for you and [communicating that] rather than acting it out. So rather than acting in a crazy way, say, ‘I feel really crazy angry right now’. Just that difference massively changes whether or not your partner can hear you.”

Recognise non-verbal communication
Communication happens in so many different ways. And it’s not just verbal.

“It’s whether you face someone head on, or whether or not your body is tense,”she explains. “Recognise what you are communicating simply in the pace and pitch of your dialogue. So communication is absolutely key, and understanding something about the way you communicate, and the way your partner needs you to communicate and working out negotiating a balance between the two.”

Reference:Story by Emilie Lavinia, Paisley Gilmour: Cosmopolitan UK

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You’re better off single than in a bad relationship’: lessons in love readers learned from their parents

Nothing has a stronger influence on children than the unlived lives of their parents, at least according to various quotes attributed to Carl Jung. While that maxim may hold some water, when it comes to love, it’s often the romantic lives our parents do live that underwrite our own rulebook for relationships.

From navigating feelings for other people, maintaining one’s composure and dignity, to some unconventional approaches to long-term love, readers share how the examples set by those who raised them have helped shape their own love lives.

Know yourself and accept each other
My parents never argued, were always chatting, loved us kids and supported each other. When we moved off the farm to follow Dad’s passion for sailing, he met and married another sailor. Mum, on her healing journey, met her new partner. Both parents were mature and sanguine about this situation, which allowed us kids to accept the step-parents and allow our parents their individual happiness. By embracing our parents’ choices, we learned that life is for living and taking responsibility for your own happiness is essential.

Although my husband left me and found someone else, I was able to take my parents’ example and choose to accept his choices. This acceptance meant I was able to move on, as well as maintaining a civilised and respectful relationship with them both. It didn’t lessen the hurt or stem the tears when he left, but helped avoid secondary wounds. –Nicola, Melbourne, Australia

You need to love and understand yourself before committing to a relationship. You are not incomplete, and in need of a person to feel whole. I watched both of my parents jump from partner to partner after their divorce. Each of their subsequent relationships were filled with highs and lows, but eventually crushed by hyper-dependence. I strive to break this trend by attending couple’s and individual therapy, looking after myself and trying my hardest to love myself. – Caiti, Melbourne, Australia

My parents’ unconventional relationships showed me that love means different things to different people in different times and places. They encouraged me to work out what love means for myself. I think that the best response to a feeling or a declaration of love is to ask what it means in that moment. It might uncover a bundle of ideas and expectations about relationships, desires, personal histories and wants for the future.

Every Car Has Scratches, But Few Know This Scratch Removal Trick

The idea that we can actively learn how to love others is very old. It means that love is an intentional practice: an art form we cultivate, as well as a feeling that we have. – Clare, Sydney, Australia

Caring is key
My dad gave me my life motto, ‘it’s nice to be nice’. I’ve applied that liberally and found it gets me through angst in relationships and helps restore loving to an even keel more quickly. – John, Canberra, Australia

Life doesn’t always go to plan, but love gets you through. My mum was a tour de force, but due to renal failure she was on dialysis for 15 years before she died aged 56. My parents hadn’t factored such a life-changing scenario into their plans, but my mum always used to say that my dad never made her feel any guilt for their change in circumstances. Dad dedicated himself to making her life better, whether that was looking after her so she could have home dialysis (helpfully he was a nurse!) or driving her six hours for a crab sandwich and a paddle in the sea.

My parents instilled in me what a good relationship looks like – it’s not always perfect, but it’s full of respect, compassion and love. – Clare, Kent, UK

My mother was forward thinking. During a conversation about sex when I was about 15, she advised me that if one wants a good sex life, one should satisfy their partner first. I’ve never forgotten it and by all reports have had a wonderful sex life with my wife for over 30 years, well into our 70s. – William, Liverpool, UK

If you can’t disagree respectfully, leave
Anger is a choice. If you can control your feelings around your colleagues, friends and strangers, then you can do it around your family. It took a lot of unlearning as an adult to not behave like my parents. – Katie, Melbourne, Australia

My parents were two people who so obviously at best tolerated each other, at times openly hated and resented each other, but stayed together “for the children”.

Decades-old slights and arguments were resurrected and sharpened at a moment’s notice. The most important thing I learned was not to be like them.

Today I find myself in the most beautiful relationship, with the most incredible human I’ve ever met. We talk everything through like sane, rational people who actually love each other. I’ve never felt happier or safer. – Neil, Sydney, Australia

You won’t always hold the same opinions, so it’s perfectly normal and fine to disagree about things. A healthy exchange of views – not a screaming match – is important, whether it be about emotions or politics. My parents enjoyed discussing the ways of the world with each other, and for over 60 years showed a willingness to hear an alternative view.

My partner and I are each other’s sounding boards and often bring a new, helpful perspective to a situation. – Jayne, Adelaide, Australia

My mother always said that you were better off single than in a bad relationship. She also told me that I should leave any man who hit me immediately, and be sceptical of any promise he might make of never doing it again.

I’ve successfully followed my mother’s first principle – leaving unsatisfactory relationships. And while I’ve never had to follow her second piece of relationship advice, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to verify it when observing other couples. I’ve since passed on my mother’s excellent advice to my daughter. – Anonymous, Australia

Love doesn’t need to be conventional
My parents divorced when I was very young, and both proceeded to go through a string of marriages and relationships. Each time, both would become distracted by someone shiny and new and leave one person for the next. I saw the pain and heartbreak it causes when someone cheats, and dealt with much of the fallout myself. I realised that developing feelings for someone new is probably quite normal, but decided in my teens that I wouldn’t continue my parents’ example.

A few years into a long-term monogamous relationship, I started to develop feelings for a friend my partner and I shared. I agonised over it for some time, going through the usual internal conflict. Something could have happened, but nothing did. I talked to my partner in depth about what I was feeling and though it was painful and difficult, we realised we were both experiencing many of the same feelings for the same person.

After much discussion around boundaries and expectations, that person became a part of our relationship too and we shifted from strict monogamy to the inclusion of a third person. I’m happier than I’ve ever been and proud of myself for navigating this situation with honesty. – Anonymous, UK

My parents “separated” when I was two years old. My mum moved 60 miles south to be closer to my grandad and I saw my dad every weekend. I had no qualms with this as I got to have the “fun” dad that taught us all of his favourite skills. My sister and I had a joyous childhood. The weird part was that they were still very much in love and committed to each other, but having been together for 15 years already, they had both shifted into new, older versions of themselves and living together wasn’t so fun any more. Soon after the “separation” the weekend roster became all of us spending time together. From Friday night to Sunday night we were a complete family and spending weekends alternating between my mum’s house then my dad’s.

This went on for 16 years and then shortly after I’d left home to go to university, I got a call from Mum – she was moving back in with Dad. I remember feeling quite shocked at the time. It was so bizarre to have my parents living together!

This was 13 years ago. Now they’re happier than ever. They’re like love’s young dream. It taught me that love doesn’t need to be conventional or convenient. You can live and lead separate lives and then come back to each other. – Abi, Melbourne, Australia

Quotes have been edited for structure, clarity and length

Reference: Story by As told to Doosie Morris: The Guardian:

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‘Gender inequities are important’: why couples fall out of love

‘Gender inequities are important’: why couples fall out of love
The desire to get married is a basic and primal instinct in women,” observed the late, great Nora Ephron. “It’s followed by another basic and primal instinct: the desire to be single again.” Relationship wisdom is full of such emphatic generalisations but, according to that eternally reliable media source “a recent study”, women do appear to fall in and out of love more extremely than men.

A behavioural economist, Saurabh Bhargava of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, has published a new study in Psychological Science, the leading journal in the field, which has a number of striking findings. The first is that women reported having feelings of love almost twice as frequently as men. The second is that, over the course of a long relationship, women on average experience a much steeper decline in these feeling compared to their male partners.
Whereas men showed a 9.2% reduction in their romantic feelings towards their spouses, women underwent a 55.2% drop. A similar effect is seen in the realm of passion, where marriage leads to a 55.3% decrease in women’s desire for their partners, and a much smaller deterioration in ardour from men.

Camilla Nicholls, a couples counsellor, says the findings don’t match her professional experience: “The significant gender gap suggested by the research doesn’t really register in the consulting room.”

Yet, although there’s something a little queasy about applying statistical analysis to the notoriously elusive concept of love, these figures may at least give pause to rethink some of the familiar tropes and cliches concerning marriage.

Popular culture tends to focus on the image of the middle-aged man seeking the ego gratification of a younger woman as a fundamental cause of marital breakdown. And while there’s no denying that particular phenomenon, it might be that the less conspicuous issue of gradual female disappointment with men is a more common cause of marriages coming to an end.

Joanna Harrison is a former divorce lawyer who, having decided she wanted to help relationships before they broke down, became a couples counsellor. She is also the author of Five Arguments All Couples (Need to) Have, which bears the imperishable subtitle: and why the washing up matters.
“It’s women who more often petition for divorce,” she notes, adding that there is no means of assessing exactly what that means – other than that it shows a marked lack of passivity.

And, although there are all manner of exceptions, there are nonetheless some broad trends she has witnessed.

Men more often are concerned about a sexual relationship and wanting less frustration from their partner

Joanna Harrison, former divorce lawyer
“Women more often express frustration about communication and the division of labour,” she says. “And men more often are concerned about a sexual relationship and wanting less frustration from their partner.”

Intriguingly, as the subtitle to her book hints at, while it may appear that (many) men and women want different things, there is in fact a causal link between these disparate desires. Harrison points to “a brilliant” study, published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour, entitled: “Gender Inequities in Household Labour Predict Lower Sexual Desire in Women Partnered with Men.” The study, by Harris, Gormezano and Anders, claims to “show that gender inequities are important, though understudied, contributors to low desire in women partnered with men”. As you’d expect, it’s couched in forbiddingly academic language but one takeaway, put in crude terms, is that if men want to see more action in the bedroom, they need to think about being more active in the kitchen.

Although gender roles no longer conform to rigid stereotypes, it’s fair to say that a majority of men are not as domestically active as they would like to believe. Data in the Bhargava study shows men have a tendency to indulge in post-work relaxation and “napping”, which, moving tentatively into the domain of speculation, may not prove popular with many women.

As human beings are blessed and cursed with a relative, rather than absolute, perspective, it matters much less that technical innovation has radically reduced the amount of time we spend on domestic chores than how that reduced time is distributed between a couple.There are few things more emotionally corrosive than the slow accumulation of resentment at the routine avoidance of minor tasks.

There’s also often an inherited frustration into the bargain, with many women often keenly conscious of not wanting to fall into the default domestic position they saw their mothers occupy. “We’ve all got the models of our parents inside us,” says Harrison.

Beyond housework, however, the real crucible of marital inequality is childcare. It’s not just the work that nurturing and bringing up children involves, and how often it’s overlooked or underestimated, but also how children reshape their parents’ relationship with each other.

Bhargava found that men, unlike women, are much less likely to feel love towards their partners when they are in the company of their children. Harrison says that, in her experience, the complaint that a spouse has become more distant and child-focused since becoming a parent is much less frequently voiced by women than by men.

Micro-grievances and glacial grudges might be tough as they’re the hidden and unsexy story of marriage

Another compounding factor is elderly parents – a responsibility which women often find landing at their feet. But Harrison has some constructive advice on the matter of love on the slide.

“Where loving feelings are on the decline in one or both people, it’s important to try and understand what that’s about with each other rather than let resentments build up, because that is what really wears down long-term relationships.”

She says that such understanding is a two-way process in which both partners need to feel able to describe their feelings in a way that doesn’t make the other defensive, but also to be able to listen to experiences that may be difficult to hear. As that can be challenging at the best of times, let alone when a marriage shifts into crisis, “a couple therapist”, she adds, “could be useful.”

Another reason why talking about micro-grievances and glacial grudges might be tough is that they’re in many respects the hidden and unsexy story of marriage, the uncelebrated one that isn’t part of public culture. As incremental loss of love is seldom the stuff of high drama, fiction tends to trade instead in impassioned affairs and flaming rows. Films are good at ardent beginnings and toxic break-ups, but the mundane process of developing a thousand tiny resentments usually goes undocumented.

So while we may see the progressive embitterment of Kay Corleone in The Godfather, it’s because her husband kills people, not because he neglects the washing up.

One notable exception is Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy, which spans two decades in the lives of Celine (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), from meeting as strangers on a European train to a showdown, as middle-aged parents, on a Greek holiday. There’s a moving scene in the final film, Before Midnight, in which, after an argument, Celine says: “You know what’s going on here? It’s simple: I don’t think I love you any more.”

The reason it feels authentic and quietly devastating is because there is a sense of this declaration emerging from a history of compromise and thwarted dreams – the kind most marriages encounter – rather than from a single unforgivable incident.

But it’s not all bad news on the marriage front. A loving equality of a kind is often reached. If women are more likely to begin with a romantic view of a relationship’s potential, the experience of living with their male partners seems to be a highly effective means of lowering their expectations.

If that often means falling somewhat out of love, Bhargava’s study appears to suggest that it can result in a form of romantic parity with men, who were perhaps not feeling quite so dreamy in the first place.

In the end, love may be another word for acceptance.

Story by Andrew Anthony: The Guardian

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The Sun Through The Signs

The Sun Through The Signs

The Essential ‘I’- Your sense of Identity – Your Will and Purpose in Life – Your level of Vitality and Self-confidence – Conscious Self Expression – Your Blind Spot

AriesEnergetic and direct, with a strong sense of individuality, enjoys a challange and initiating action; hates giving up; needs to learn patience and moderation.

Taurus Patient and determined, with lusty physical appetites; values stability and possessions; dislikes upheaveal and being rushed; needs to learn to be more adaptable.

Gemini Alert and communicative, with a ‘switchboard’ capacity for learning; thrives on variety and novelty; resents mental drudgery; needs to learn the power of commitment.

Cancer Emotional and intuitive; with a strong sense of personal attachment; loves familiarity; dislikes confrontation and emotional quagmires; needs to learn to be less touchy.

Leo Warm and generous, with a flair for dramatization; flourishes when centre stage; dislikes authority and being ignored; needs to learn to soften pride and accept criticism.

Virgo Conscientious and methodical, with a fine eye for detail; loves to be of service and to create order: ‘hates not being into the know’; needs to learn self-worth and to trust feelings.

Libra Gregarious and considerate, with a strong social sense; yearns to please and to be pleased; recoils from injustice and disharmony; needs to learn to handle conflict firmly.

Scorpio Strong-willed and self-contained, with a talent for probing; prizes loyalty and total involvement; deplores indifference and superficiality; needs to learn to be more open.

Sagittarius Optimistic and sincere, with an insatiable thirst for ‘exploration’; cherishes freedom and aiming high; hates detail and hypocrisy, needs to learn discipline.

Capricorn Resourceful and persevering, with a strong sense of duty; believes fervently in tradition and order, distrusts the untried and untested; needs to learn compassion.

Aquarius Companionable and quirks, with a humanitarian streak; loves originality and independence; shuns practicalities; needs to learn to accept ‘darkside’ of emotions.

Pisces Sympathetic and impressionable with a poweful imagination; value giving, escaping and mystery; resents drab reality and suffering; needs to learn to be less self-pitying.

Reference: The Instant Astrologer: Felix Lyle-Bryan Aspland

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Neptune Is Going Direct & It’s Time To Manifest Your Dreams

Neptune Is Going Direct & It’s Time To Manifest Your Dreams

Neptune, a planet with an otherworldly and ethereal quality to it, began the six-month planetary moonwalk on 28th June – otherwise known as Neptune Retrograde. The veil over our eyes was lifted, allowing us to see relationships and situations for who and what they truly are. When Neptune turns direct on 3rd December, it’ll take us down the rabbit hole again: hoodwinking, brainwashing and tricking us in its deceptive ways. Don’t be surprised if you get lost in your emotions and believe in the impossible dream. Not only that, but our intuition and paranoias are going to skyrocket, while old wounds have the capacity to heal.

Known as “the divine discontent,” Neptune represents longing, glamour and fantasy. Visualise this: Imagine looking at distant ships that highlight the horizon across the ocean. From a faraway perspective, they may look like beautifully painted art in the sea. Up close, the big vessels full of cargo look like heaps of metal that aren’t as picturesque as we imagined. It may not always be truthful, but we believe in Neptune because it represents the facade we choose to believe in. The mind is a powerful thing and it can fool even the smartest person at times. Remember, often things, situations, and people look different from afar and, at times, we wholeheartedly want to believe that they are what we believe them to be — even if they’re not. The deceptiveness of Neptune is something we’ll be feeling when the illusive planet turns direct.

Like all planets, Neptune has wonderful qualities as well as its shadow side. Neptune is escapism at its best and worst, encouraging art, music, theatre, fashion, makeup, sacrifice, loss, obsession, addiction and seduction. Often, we can use the high or low vibration of the planet without thinking about the repercussions; so it’s important to understand how to harness the creative energy to benefit oneself.

Narayana Montúfar, astrologer and author of Moon Signs: Unlock Your Inner Luminary Power, says, when Neptune “wakes up from its long nap, its powers… could create major confusion in relationships and communication. We must be careful by practicing discernment and double-checking our work since this combination is classic for making us miss important details.” Montúfar also stresses the importance of being careful in how we use the energy during the mutable astrological seasons (such as the current Sagittarius days ahead, as well as the upcoming months of Pisces, Gemini and Virgo). She adds: “The Sun will also be squaring Neptune from 8th December to 18th December, so we should tread with care until then. After this date, Neptune’s influence will become weaker and intermittent, being active mostly during Pisces season in the Spring, and Gemini season, in the summer of 2023.”

Use the imaginative and emotional nature of Neptune to write a book or to enhance your personal style. As long as you are not leaning into the lower vibration of the planet, it’ll be easy to implement and manifest your visions into reality. Neptune is a dream maker, which is why it is important to embrace the all-encompassing sentiments that Neptune brings from our subconscious to our hearts and minds. Therefore, we should be careful and mindful in how we use this intense energy as Neptune moves forward.

But don’t feel disheartened, the magical power of Neptune can help us manufacture amazing results as well. Neptune’s waves don’t always represent doom or gloom. We can experience pure and unconditional love under the gaze of this planet, as well as understand our own emotions. Through self-care, meditation and patience, we can use the Neptune energy to help create the world we want, one soft baby step and daydream at a time.

Next year, Neptune retrograde begins again on 30th June and turns direct on 6th December, 2023. This gives us plenty of time to feel our feels and get lost in the fog, until we can conquer our fears and understand our emotions during the next Neptunian backspin.
Reference: Refinery : Story by Lisa Stardust •

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How feelings of joy and gratitude can co-exist with pain and anxiety

Having conflicting emotions can be overwhelming and confusing.

How can anger and joy, for example, exist in the same space?

It’s a common experience though, to juggle two sets – if not more – of emotion at once.

While it might feel like your brain is messy, it’s a very ‘normal’ thing to experience – and it can tell us more about the nuances and complexities of our lives.

Rarely, things are back and white.

Dora Kamau, a mindfulness meditation teacher for the Headspace app, is keen to spread this message and help people find greater ease in conflicting emotions.

Speaking to, Dora says: ‘Generally speaking, most emotions last for 90 seconds – they come in waves and are transient.

‘One moment we may be experiencing something painful and the next moment, we may be laughing and experiencing a sense of joy.

‘How we can recognise joy is by allowing those feelings to come and go.’

So how to you allow them to do that?

She answers: ‘Giving ourselves full permission to feel how it is we’re feeling in the moment, without attaching a story or identifying with what we’re feeling.

‘What makes emotions last long is rumination, our fixation and overthinking spent on what we’re experiencing in the moment.’

Creating space for positive and negative feelings

The mind has a natural bias towards negative emotions, so we’re able to spot and identify states of pain, anger or grief much easier than we can joy and happiness.

‘This is where mindfulness can be powerful by shining a light on how we’re feeling and helping us to recognise joy amidst the anger,’ Dora adds.

Rather than view a negative emotion as ‘bad’, mindfulness teaches us to allow the emotion in and observe or feel it without judgement.

When we assign labels such as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we can become stuck.

It’s much easier to embrace moments of gratitude – while also feeling unhappy about an aspect of our lives – when we can step into acceptance, according to Dora.

‘When we allow ourselves something, we’re giving ourselves permission and we’re opening ourselves up to possibility,’ she says.

‘When it comes to allowing ourselves to experience happiness while in a state of upset, we’re giving ourselves the permission to feel what we’re feeling and honouring what we’re feeling as well.

‘When we limit our emotional expression, this can create more resistance and tension in the mind and body, which can actually prolong that state of upset.

‘Regardless of the emotions, it’s important that we allow ourselves to feel and process our emotions.’

We might feel anxious about a situation, for example, but also find pleasure in aspects of it.

The pleasure doesn’t discredit the adversity you’re experiencing, but the anxiety doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to feel moments of joy.

Dora says: ‘It’s okay to let in those feelings that may feel contradictory, but can help us move through heavier and denser emotions.

‘As human beings experiencing many mixed emotions at once is quite normal.’

Tips for allowing conflicting emotions to co-exist:

Establish a routine of meditation and switching off from your phone. Pick the same time or same place when you meditate. You can even book time in your calendar so that people can’t schedule anything over this dedicated period. Start with two to three times a week, for five minutes each time and you can always build on this.

Mindfully walking around your house, garden, or your local area can prevent the mind from being distracted from stressful thoughts by allowing you to focus on the rhythm of the gait, just like a sitting meditation can enable you to focus on the breath.
Self-compassion can also allow us to feel happiness while also feeling sadness. Reminding ourselves that we are worthy and deserving of feeling joy even while upset.

If you find yourself experiencing moments of joy while also grieving, try holding both experiences instead of choosing one or the other. You can validate what you’re experiencing by placing a hand on your heart, taking a few deep breaths and reminding yourself that it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.

Reference: Metro: Tanyel Mustafa

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Love drugs could be the cure for failing marriages

Love drugs could be the cure for failing marriages

“Love drugs” could soon be used to help save failing marriages, according to an Oxford University academic.

Provided by The Telegraph Love drugs
Love is something humans do uniquely well as a species, underpinned by a battery of chemicals in our brain. Scientists have yet to master the art of bottling liquid love, but Dr Anna Machin, an evolutionary anthropologist at Oxford University, believes that feat is fast approaching.

Speaking at the Cheltenham Science Festival, the author of Why We Love: The New Science Behind Our Closest Relationships, discussed the four key chemicals in the human brain behind the mechanics of love: oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine and beta endorphin.

A cocktail of these potent molecules is released when a person is in love, or falling in love, and this changes our thoughts, behaviour and emotions.

Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle” hormone and reduces inhibitions, dopamine is our “reward” hormone which makes us feel good, serotonin is what makes us obsess over another person, and beta endorphin is an opiate that makes us addicted, literally, to an individual.

These four chemicals are responsible for love, which itself evolved as a mechanism to help people raise children.

Love evolved as form of ‘biological bribery’
Evolutionarily, Dr Minchin said, women want childcare, while men want sex. This “unequal currency” was offset by the evolution of love as a form of “biological bribery”.

She believes enough is now known about brain chemistry that certain chemicals could be prescribed to “enhance your abilities to find love or to increase the possibility that you will stay in love when it is getting a bit tricky”.

“One of the frontiers of love research commercially – because can you imagine how much money you would make – is in exploring possible love drugs.

“There’s lots of ethical questions about love drugs, that love drugs are certainly on the horizon. And there is certainly research going into them.”

Speaking after her talk, Dr Machin added: “Love drugs used in couples’ therapy could be available within three to five years.”

These chemicals are likely to be based on the four neurotransmitters, like pure oxytocin, or a drug which can elicit greater production of one of them, like MDMA, also known as ecstasy.
“Oxytocin is very popular with commercial companies right now as it could help people become more confident when dating and help them fall in love,” she added.

“Oxytocin could be available within a decade for people to squirt up their nose before they go out on a Saturday night, at the same time as having a glass of prosecco.

“MDMA, for people who go clubbing, makes them feel like they love everyone else in the room.

“But users also have a surge in empathy, so it could be used to help those struggling in their marriage.

“There are more ethical questions surrounding MDMA, so that is likely to take longer.”

David Nutt, a professor of neuropsychopharmacology at Imperial College, agreed that oxytocin and serotonin were likely involved in love but is less convinced by dopamine and beta endorphin’s roles. However, he does concur that pharmaceutical love aids, such as MDMA, may be available soon.

“MDMA was widely used in the 1970s by couples counsellors in the US to help people put their marriages back together – with anecdotal good outcomes.”

Chemicals to blame for tough break-ups
Dr Machin also explained why some people take break-ups harder than others, with beta endorphin, the lesser-known of the four neurochemicals, to blame.

“Beta endorphin is an opiate. It is produced by your body and, just like heroin, it is addictive,” she said.

And when the source of the drug, a loved one, disappears, the person goes cold turkey and physically struggles at the loss of the chemical.

“That’s actually the reason why when you get dumped it feels awful because you are going into opiate withdrawal,” she said.

“Obviously, if you’re dumped, you don’t get a slow withdrawal and that is why it is so unbelievably physiologically and psychologically painful when a relationship ends in that way.

“You go from existing at quite a nice high level of all these lovely neuro chemicals and suddenly it is gone, you’ve gone full cold turkey, and all those lovely chemicals disappear and that’s why being dumped is so physiologically painful, actually painful, it can feel like your heart is breaking.”

Dr Machin added that around one in 50 people also possess a particular gene which makes them more sensitive to this process, and for them being dumped is much more hurtful.

“Some poor people who carry a version of the new opioid receptor gene, feel social rejection much, much more powerfully than the rest of us. When they get dumped it is like a million times more painful than the rest of us.”

Reference: The Telegraph: Joe Pinkstone