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On the Regular and Xtended versions of today’s show …
An episode from the vault – and everyone gets the full show today.
I’m joined by Dr Ian Kerner as we discuss his new book So Tell Me About The Last Time You Had Sex.
Our conversations last week were all about the scripts we have in our sex lives. That’s what Dr Kerner’s book is all about.
To learn more about Ian visit his site – https://www.iankerner.com/
Enjoy the show!
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Better Help: This episode is also brought to you by Better Help – online counseling services accessible from anywhere. Save 10% on your first month https://betterhelp.com/smr
Speaker: You are listening to the regular version of Sexy Marriage Radio, passionatelymarried.net.
Corey Allan: Well, welcome to the show. I'm Dr. Corey Allan, alongside my wife, Pam.
Pam Allan: Hey, good to be here.
Corey Allan: Each and every week we have conversations to try to explore the topics that every relationship faces, and we seek to offer a framework so that people can have better conversations about what it is they face, so that ultimately these conversations will propel you into being more passionately married. That's the goal.
Pam Allan: That's the goal.
Corey Allan: Because we all want to be alive and vibrant in our marriages. And if you don't-.
Pam Allan: Well and individually.
Corey Allan: I hope so. And if you don't, I wonder why are you seeking out podcasts, because that's a lot of what the information that most of the podcasts try to do. So if you're new to the show or you're looking for a simple way to tell your friends, we highly suggest our episodes starter packs. These are collections of our favorite episodes organized by topic to help new listeners get a taste of everything we do here on the show, go to passionatelymarried.net/starter. And if you got some feedback for our show, which is last week was Feedback Wednesday. So if we miss something or you want us to address something specifically, or you want to add something to the conversation, call us at (214) 702-9565 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And on the subject of the feedback Wednesday from last week, that's where we're heading this week, is a follow-up with something from the vault with Dr. Ian Kerner joined us many episodes ago on his book on Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, which is largely about the scripts that we follow in last week's episode, Pam, if in case anybody missed it, was all about our sex scripts, that seemed to be the theme through a lot of the different questions. And so today we're going back into the vault to bring it this conversation back up to the forefront because Dr. Kerner's work is about this very subject and also because it's in honor of the holiday season kicking off, everybody gets the full show.
Pam Allan: Nice. Thanksgiving, they can give thanks.
Corey Allan: All that's coming up on today's show. Well, it's a privilege to welcome back Ian Kerner, Dr. Ian Kerner. Let's be official and then we'll go casual because that's the way a lot of the conversations seem to go, Ian. But Ian is a licensed psychotherapist, nationally recognized sexuality therapist, has a book, She Comes First, highly recommend, but you also have a new book coming up at the state of this recording, by the time this is airing, it'll already be out, but that's where we're going to go. So Ian, I'm honored to have you back on the air with me again.
Ian Kerner: Well, I'm happy to be here, Corey, and happy to talk about stuff.
Corey Allan: All right. So Ian with, I'm going to start this off with the title of your book because I think it's a great way to start off a session and a book and a show. So tell me about the last time that you had sex. Where did that line come from?
Ian Kerner: Okay, Corey. So yeah, the book is called, So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex. And here's the interesting thing. A lot of people go to therapy, a lot of people go to couples therapy, but when couples go to sex therapy very often they are talking about stuff that they have lived with inside of themselves for weeks, months, years, even into previous relationships and then their history. So by the time it's going to a dentist with a really bad toothache, you just need to get some relief from the pain.
So in the first session, I really want to do that. I want to give people some pain relief. So I get that I don't have a ton of time and I want them to leave feeling positive and on the path to healing. So I've developed what I call a sex in action approach and literally I'm like, I want to talk about sex in action. So that's where that question, so tell me about the last time you had sex comes in, because every sexual event is a story. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. It's a sequence of interactions that are psychological, that are physical, that are emotional and generally, so that creates what I call the sex script, a sexual event has a sex script to it. And I think that for many couples, their sex scripts are reinforcing the problems they came in with.
Corey Allan: I would agree. Yep.
Ian Kerner: They're having a sex problem and it comes down to something about the way that they're having sex. So my job is to help them rewrite the sex script. And I want them leaving the first session with a homework assignment that already starts to target that first part of the sex script that needs to be rewritten. So that's why I ask them to tell me about the last time they had sex. It's a simple question, but I'm actually looking at that event and that script through multiple lenses.
Corey Allan: No, it's an actionable question. That's what I love most about it. And then the other thing I love about it is, this is something I've landed on lately that is a phrase from Dr. Schnarch that he talked about most of the issues that we face in marriage for sure, and then for sure in sex, aren't what's missing. We seem to focus on what's missing. It's actually what's present that's the issue. And so that's the way to get to this of just let's look at what's going on because that's part of the problem is what's present.
Ian Kerner: That's right. And what's amazing is as people are describing a sexual event, you hear everything. Who initiated? Who did it? How did they get aroused? But also when there's an issue, sometimes someone will say, yeah, oh, I don't like that, or I don't like the way they do that, or I wish we could do this. And it actually goes back to something in their history. So if I'm looking for history, it'll come into the room. I don't need to have a fishing pole and go looking for it. It'll come-.
Corey Allan: You don't have to dig. Yeah, you don't have to dig because it's there and it'll come out, that's the way you even frame it in the book is the idea of the main floor in the basement.
Ian Kerner: That's right.
Corey Allan: It's a lot of things going on down there.
Ian Kerner: And just to be clear about that, I talk about of relationships like a house in terms of most of the time we're living on the main floor of life where we're eating, we're dealing with our kids, we're dealing with our taxes, our jobs, our homework, our in-laws, our bosses. If we get to have sex, wow, we are lucky up on that main floor of life because you're going to wake up tomorrow and the whole thing's going to start all over again. So the main floor of life is busy, it's where we live, but there's also a basement. And in that basement there's more of our primary or vulnerable emotions, the things that aren't so safe to experience on the main floor, right up on the main floor, we might be frustrated or angry. Down in the basement, we're actually sad or feel neglected. And we put stuff down in that basement. And like a basement, sometimes something from 2021 might be in a box right next to something from 1980-.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Ian Kerner: ... Isn't the same chronological order. So I definitely talk about knowing when we're in that vulnerable underground space.
Corey Allan: No, and that's good because that helps people, if you're dealing with something that's a repetitive long term thing like you're describing that's handled differently than frustration, because if I'm frustrated about something, then I'm supposed to tell my partner what I'm frustrated about and they fix it, which that's a whole nother thing in and of itself.
Ian Kerner: Absolutely.
Corey Allan: But I'm curious because let's go back to the idea of the scripts, because we've talked about here on Sexy Marriage Radio over the years, I jokingly will make the comment that most couples that are married, married couples that have been doing this thing with the same partner for a long time, we really land on two maybe three scripts. And I mean that as the acts of what we do to get the past done. And everybody plays their role. And as long as you stay in your lane, everything's good, but one of you gets bored, one of you's frustrated eventually. And so I'm hearing that plus more when you're talking about getting a sex script. What do we learn from when we look at how we do this?
Ian Kerner: Sure. So first of all, you're right, couples tend to have one, two, three sex scripts. Sometimes it's just one, especially if it's working, one or two scripts. And that's what they use to go on that pleasure trip together. It's when a partner is being left behind or a partner's not enjoying the pleasure in the same way, that's when scripts need to be rewritten. And some couples unfortunately from the beginning of their relationships have had sex scripts that aren't really working. And so, one or both partners have built up a level of anger. Maybe the pleasure isn't equally experienced or maybe their personalities. We have personalities including in sex, we have sexual personalities. So maybe our personalities are aren't always feel so compatible. So at a certain level we're talking about creating a script that works and I don't have any problem with repeating something that works.
So if you can get to that level of, Hey, this is eating great comfort food, I know it's always going to taste good, I'm always looking forward to it. More power to you. I love the idea of a sex script that works, but I don't like the idea of a sex script that doesn't work. And very often the reason why sex scripts aren't working, in a way, if you look at a sex script, you could just say, oh, it's a sequence of behaviors. He touches my shoulder and I know that means it's time and I do this and then we do that and then we're above the waist, then we're below the waist and then we're... You could reduce it to just a sequence of behaviors. And look, there may be something about those behaviors that need to be expanded or resequenced. I do have to say that a lot of couples that I work with, married monogamous couples sometimes place a little too much emphasis on one behavior over other behaviors.
But there's another thing about what about the erotic life of a sex script? We don't just want sex scripts that are purely sequences of behaviors, because then that could start to become boring.
Corey Allan: Yeah. That's where the monotony comes in, because then it's just, for the lack of a better simplification tab A, slot B, that's the point. And that sex is so much more than that. And then you're even touching here on the depth of other realms of us and our existence, not only individually, but together.
Ian Kerner: That's right, that's right. We want expansion, we want experience. We want different things out of sex at different times. Sometimes we may really want to feel like we're making love. Sometimes we might want to feel like we're having fun. Sometimes we might want to feel like we're using our imaginations in some kind of creative way, you name it. Sex needs to have a number of different experiences. And so I do emphasize sex scripts that have different psychological meanings to that. And I talked a lot about people not just having the physical behaviors but really having psychological arousal. There are women who can fantasize their way to orgasm. There are men who can become very visibly aroused without ever touching themselves, just listening, reading, fantasizing, watching. So, that's the power of psychological stimulation to create physical arousal.
Corey Allan: And is your experience then, because I'm curious on this, because this is something I keep running into as well, is your experience then when we say on the outset, we want those to overlap more, the physical and the psychological. But a lot of times it seems like one will shut down the other in people. And maybe this is where the scripts start to come into play, because there's deeper things in there that mean I can still, I have the psychological really rolling and the erotic is there, but something happens or we reach a point and then I just shut that down and the physical just takes over and I get the job done and I move on and I miss what it could have been.
Ian Kerner: Yeah, yeah.
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Corey Allan: This episode's also brought to you by our sponsor BetterHelp. So Pam, it's a holiday season and for many people that can be real heavy and weighty with grief, or just stress, or there's just things that just creep in during the end of the season and the holidays and family and stress and consumerism and kids and just everything.
Pam Allan: Yeah, it can be a frightening time.
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Well, our listeners to Sexy Marriage Radio get 10% off for their first month at betterhelp.com/smr. That's BetterH-E-L-P.com/smr. And then once again, as I say all the time, this is one therapist recommending other therapists because I know there are people out there that can help and finding the right fit is a great step in the right direction.
Ian Kerner: I think we don't really know how to talk to each other about sex. We don't know how to give each other insight into what we want and desire, but there's an aspect of play to sexuality. There's an aspect of being comfortable in a state of play and you watch kids in a playground and they got some kind of make believe game going and totally have it in the characters and they're in it and present and they're in that kind of flow state. And somehow we stop playing like that, or those muscles don't really get used.
So in the end I think it's easier to rely on the physical, because that's where we can express ourselves. We don't really have the language to express ourselves psychological. And in the beginning of a relationship, especially if we picked somebody we're really in love, we're in love with, are in love with. There's so much newness and novelty just fueling the relationship in that phase. We're just relying on the unknown and the unpredictability of each other and getting to know each other. But once we really know everything about somebody, where does that excitement come from?
Corey Allan: Especially when once you start knowing about them, you don't like some of what you start knowing about them. I think that starts to make the complexity of married life different.
Ian Kerner: Absolutely. Absolutely. That's sometimes why I like to also, in the book, I sometimes talk about feeling like Sherlock Holmes, I feel like because couples often come in knowing what's wrong, but they don't know why something is wrong, or the why is complex. It could be as you just said, something relational like I don't particularly like this person, or during COVID, I'm living on top of this person or this person never takes off their pajamas. There could be something relational, but it could also be psychological, my self-esteem. I'm not feeling great about myself right now or something physical. Like Oh, I haven't been exercising or eating in a way to support sexual health or I'm taking a medication. So there's lots of things that get in the way of us expressing our sexual selves.
Corey Allan: So then would it be fair to say one thought from your experience and using the label of being Sherlock Holmes and the way you go about it, that maybe we all need to start to become more Sherlock Holmes on our own journey?
Ian Kerner: I think so. I think so. We need to be able to take a little more of a magnifying glass to ourselves, to our sex life, to our partner. And I guess even in just having this conversation, what does that mean? It means bringing something close to you, bringing something inaudible your experience if I'm looking through that magnifying lens, if I'm like Sherlock Holmes, it also means being curious, not being judgemental, but you're looking and you're curious. You don't know what you're going to find but you're interested. You might have an idea, but you really don't know. So I think being able to go near experience and be curious are very important.
Corey Allan: Yeah. And I'm sitting here thinking Ian, of how courageous that is for some people, just because this is stuff they don't ever really want to explore. But the fact that they maybe will is courageous because we've been raised, at least if you've been raised under the Christian umbrella or some of the more dog-augmenting religions, then you're raised with a little bit of this. There's just a weight of what sex and sexuality is. There's just this shame or whatever it is, whether it's labeled cleanly or not. There's just this darkness or unknown that I think can make it where I don't know if I want to go explore that, even though it's an absolutely great aspect of our life to explore.
Ian Kerner: Well, I think you said something interesting, which is just that we bring a heaviness to sex very often. It could be the heaviness of how we conceptualize sex. It could be the heaviness of the baggage we're bringing or the shame, but we need to unburden ourselves sometimes of that heaviness. Look, a little heaviness is good. Taking things seriously.
Corey Allan: Absolutely.
Ian Kerner: Taking our vows seriously. Taking what's happening in our marriage bed seriously. I like that kind of heaviness. But there also needs to be some lightness, there needs to be some fun, some expand, some adventures, just some lightness.
Corey Allan: So what do you do then as far as for the listeners of SMR today, what do you say to the ones that are caught in this dilemma of, I want to bring the lightness to this. I want to bring the fun and the adventure and the curiosity to it. But I'm married to someone that just won't, they don't even want to. So how do you pivot? Obviously they're not sitting in front of you, so it's harder to actually unpack it, but how do you pivot that based on what you keep coming across?
Ian Kerner: Yeah, so in that first session, in addition to learning about a problem, in addition to hearing about the last time somebody had sex, the last time the couple had sex, I'll also ask them a question which is, so if we're going to work together for a couple months here or a few months and we're going to get on the other side of this and we're going to meet every couple of weeks with some homework in between, and we're going to solve this problem, what does that look like? What is solving the problem? What does better look like?
Corey Allan: I got you.
Ian Kerner: So first thing that happens is they're taking something that was framed as a problem and they're now seeing it from a solutions oriented perspective. But then me being a good sex therapist, I'll push it a little bit. I'll try and raise the temperature in the room a little bit and turn that solution into a little bit of a fantasy because that's the power of sexual language. That solution is wanting to be kissed in a certain way, wanting to play in a certain way, wanting to do something in a certain way. And so I'm starting to hear their fantasies. And so really couples in the room who have come in sometimes very negative and very fatalistic or hopeless, are really sharing a fantasy of what they want from the other person. And that's enticing. That's arousing. That can be hot. And who doesn't want to enjoy some of that heat?
Corey Allan: Well, I hope so because even something like that can be from the other person's perspective like I had no idea, because it could be like you talked about at the very beginning of today, what's going on buried in the script and what we do is likely the problem because I'm actually creating the dynamic or the system that's keeping whatever it is I'm hoping for possibly at bay, because I haven't really looked at it on, wait, but when I keep doing that, that creates the likelihood I'm not going to get what I say I think I really want.
Ian Kerner: Yeah, no, I think that, that is the essence of the book is having that willingness in a way. Corey, what I always say is when I give couples homework, I always say, I know then when Friday night comes around and you've decided to do this homework, you might not want to do it. You might not have desire. But if you have willingness, if you even have an incremental level of willingness, then you can show up because it's important and because you're willing to do it. So you don't have to have desire, but you do have to have willingness. So if that couple's sitting in front of me and one couple really has a lot of willingness and one partner doesn't, as long as that other partner has some portion of willingness I can work with that. We can frame a step around that, because when someone-.
Corey Allan: That's just moving.
Ian Kerner: Yeah. It's when someone has no willingness.
Corey Allan: Yeah. Yeah. Well, but even that's a move that's making it present. Now you got to figure out within the relationship, okay, this is what's actually present, this is what's going on. So now we got to face it for what it really is, not keep just hoping.
Ian Kerner: That's right. That's right.
Corey Allan: Okay. So I'm also curious because one of the things I love about the way you have framed this is when you talk about working with people, you give them homework and even throughout the book you give them, there's plenty of homework. It's almost like working with you without working with you if you really wanted to get serious and go through the process with you in this. But you even get into some of Emily Nagoski's spontaneous and responsive work, the accelerators and breaks. That's who at least I attribute a lot of that. And she's been on the show-.
Ian Kerner: Emily is great. Emily has written probably the best book that sums up a lot of science and she takes that science to really interesting places. But we all, from myself to Emily to anybody, stand on the shoulders of a lot of great researchers and theorists and therapists.
Corey Allan: Oh absolutely. And I'm all for giving credit where it all needs to go. But you did a good way of framing that idea of spontaneous and responsive. So can you walk through that? Because I think that helps. I've framed things in higher desire or lower desire, because that's in a relational context, but this even gets further into the person.
Ian Kerner: So I really look at, in a sex script, things have to get going for there to even be a sex script. So, initiation and desire are the first phase of the sex script. So what do we have to do to get both of these people moving? And so I talk more about creating a shared desire framework for couples to occupy. And I talk about the challenges of that. And this is where the dual control model, the idea of accelerators and breaks and certainly the idea of spontaneous and responsive desire comes into play, because very likely there could be a partner in the relationship who can very quickly metabolize a sexual cue. What do I mean by that? Oh, my sexy partner just came out of the shower in a towel and looks really cute right now. That's a-.
Corey Allan: I'm really digging wet hair. That's a good thing. Yep.
Ian Kerner: That's a cue. And I might have the kind of metabolism that makes me hungry. I want that. I want more of that. I feel it physically. That's really spontaneous desire. When we can metabolize a sexual cue very quickly, something visual, something we smell. A lot of women tell me the scent of their partner can really be the cue that they most metabolize. The problem is that that partner who can metabolize a single sexual cue very quickly might be with a partner who does not. That partner might need a whole cascade of sexual views. That partner's desire might be less resistant to environmental stressors. That guy or that woman is looking at their partner coming out of the shower. There may be a whole lot of stress happening at home, but they see that person coming out of the shower and they can cut through all that stress and find desire. Well, not everyone can do that.
So that's where we get into the difference between spontaneous and responsive. I sometimes liken it to go into an amusement park and one partner has a fast pass they can get right on the ride and go-.
Corey Allan: Okay, that works.
Ian Kerner: They skip the line, they get on that coaster and they're often having some fun. But you're with somebody who just doesn't happen to have the fast pass. What are you going to do? Go on by yourself or are you going to go wait online with that partner who may not even want to wait on line? They may not even want to wait on line. They may be going on the line because they know that you want to go on the ride.
Corey Allan: You're the one that wants to ride the ride. Yep.
Ian Kerner: So now we got to make waiting on the line, a very pleasurable, nice way of getting us onto the ride.
Corey Allan: Okay.
Ian Kerner: So, that's how I compare. And so the challenge, Corey, is that most couples do not share the same desire framework. If I'm a spontaneous person and my wife is also spontaneous, then we both have a fast pass and we're going to get right on and we're probably going to, we might not have the best sex ever, but we probably don't have a problem getting going. If I'm with in a responsive desire framework and I'm very prone to vulnerable, to stressors and my partner also is in a responsive desire framework, well we might not have sex much at all. We might lose that sexual connection that maybe was once there and that's not good either. Most of the time though, one partner is in that spontaneous fast pass framework and the other partner is in the responsive wait on line framework. And they see the world differently. They see the world differently. That's the big thing is that they see the world differently.
Corey Allan: And yet we constantly seem to get caught in this, but you should have a fast pass, just like me, I don't understand what's the problem? There's something wrong with you.
Ian Kerner: That's right. The fast pass is the way the media depicts sex. Two people see each other across the room. Next thing you know they're grabbing at each other's clothes. So the person who has to wait online, who has responsive desire may start to feel a little broken. The person who has the fast pass might be saying, what's wrong? You used to be interested in that ride. What's happening? Now maybe it's a problem with the sex script. If the ride isn't fun, you don't want to go on.
Corey Allan: I was just thinking that because that's where sometimes you got to think about the fact that the person with the fast pass is always jumping the line to get on the ride. That's really not a lot of fun.
Ian Kerner: That's Right.
Corey Allan: That's a better question to ask then of is what you're after really worth wanting too.
Ian Kerner: I think that's the biggest thing is you want sex scripts that lead to events, sexual events that motivate you to want to have more. And then that brings in what I call the erotic thread, which is letting your sexual selves reveal themselves without having to have sex. Why can't we just have a little bit of sexual energy in our lives? A little bit of inaudible. And so when we have working sex scripts, when we respect each other's desire frameworks where we get on the ride at the same pace and we stay on that ride together and move through pleasure and we stay connected afterwards, study after study shows that couples who have good healthy sex have higher levels of relationship positivity overall than do not. So then we maintain that connection throughout our lives.
Corey Allan: Well man, I love the framework that you're talking about in this book, and then in our conversation, because I think that's the biggest thing I want to do here with Sexy Marriage Radio, is constantly help couples frame conversations and aspects of their relationship better. Because it seems like when we can have a cleaner view of what's going on, I have the chance to be more empowered to address whatever it is that's going on. So man, Ian, this is great. How can people find more about you and the book and just everything you got going on?
Ian Kerner: Thank you, Corey. I think the best way is just through my website, iankerner.com. There's a link to buy the book. It links to a number of different bookstores. There's a lot of information on my website. I'll be doing different presentations and whatnot. So Zoom based stuff so people can find me there and on podcasts like yours.
Corey Allan: Perfect. Well, Ian, all the best on this work. I know that She Comes First was a tremendous help to a lot of people. I constantly hear about it from the SMR nation, that'll every so often just be talked about that, Hey, that's a book you got to check out if you haven't already. So I hope this one's just as beneficial across the board for you and for everyone else.
Ian Kerner: Thank you. Thank you. I appreciate it and I appreciate all the good work you do.
Corey Allan: Well, thank you, sir. It's always such a pleasure to have messages that we've gone over before brought back to our memory, or to the forefront, because I love just the simplicity of Dr. Kerner's work of every encounter we have sexually with our spouse has a beginning, a middle, and an end. And it's just look at the script on how it unfolds, the beginning, the middle, and the end. Because there's lots of different things that make up what we do and why we do, or what we won't do. And it's worth understanding all of that and where those come from, because then we can all be better.
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Pam Allan: We've all-.
Corey Allan: ... Just make things better.
Pam Allan: Yeah, we've all got something to be thankful for. So let's find those things.
Corey Allan: Well, thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.
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