Guest: Dr. Alexander Ryan
Guest Bio: Dr. Alex Ryan holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Adelaide, and is an expert in relationship counselling and coaching. He is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia, and is a long-standing member of the Australian Psychological Society.
Dr. Alex Ryan talks about the problem that relationships go through and how to over come it.
Health Professional Radio
Katherine: Thank you for joining us on Health Professional Radio today. Today, joining me is Dr. Alex Ryan. He holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Adelaide, and is an expert in relationship counselling and coaching. He is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia, and is a long-standing member of the Australian Psychological Society. Welcome to our show, Alex.
Dr. Alex Ryan: Thank you for having me, Katherine.
Katherine: Alex, tell me. You’re known as the Love Doctor. Humans have been falling in love since the beginning of time. Why haven’t we figured it out yet?
Dr. Ryan: Why haven’t they figured it out yet?
Katherine: Yes. Why are people constantly having love problems?
Dr. Ryan: The problem is that all relationships go through … or most relationships, I should say, go through three stages. The first stage is the falling in love stage, a stage which is otherwise known as the lust phase. During the lust phase, the energy’s pretty strong and people have this physical attraction and psychological attraction. There’s a lot of energy there, so to speak.
As time goes on, months or a few years, that type of lust energy, that desire and arousal, actually drops off. What remains then is the work required to actually develop that love into a deeper, consolidated love. Now, if you’re good at working on your relationship, this period can last almost forever. Depending on one’s circumstances and the life cycle that you’re in, this can last for a long time.
But what happens is people don’t work enough at that middle stage. They think that the first stage will last forever. They have a lot of mis-education and misconception about what love is and the cycle of love and the stages that people go through psychologically.
If they don’t do what they need to do in that second phase, they go into the third phase, which is the falling out of love, which is where people have a total indifference or lack of feeling or emotion towards their partner.
Katherine: I imagine that it’s this the third phase when couples actually come see you.
Dr. Ryan: Yes, [laughs] unfortunately. Very few people actually come and see me when they’re in a great state of happiness or pleasure. They’re not jumping around and saying, “Cure me of this great happiness that’s fallen on my head.” I don’t generally have that. That happens with all professions. Actually, if you look at lawyers, medical doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, most people are coming to a health professional in a great state of pain.
They’re asking for the health professional to guide and instruct them so they can overcome that pain, release the pain, or overcome the hurdles or barriers that create the pain in their relationship.
Katherine: Right. You do a lot of face-to-face counselling. In your opinion, is it best to have both people come to sessions together, the couple? Correct me if I’m wrong, but maybe one person is more keen to seek out counselling than the other. Maybe they’re dragging the other person along. Can you offer any advice about how people can come together? What have you seen in your practice?
Dr. Ryan: That’s a really good question, Katherine. It raises a can of worms, actually. There are two parts to what you’ve just talked about, and I hope I can address both parts. The first part you talked about … let’s go to the second part, which is that one person is more keen than the other person.
That is not uncommon. I only see couples in my practice. Let me explain that to you. I only see couples. That’s the only area that Ispecialise in, and then I do a smaller area of specialisation, anger and stress management, particularly when they affect the relationship.
I’m seeing couples, and about 30% to 40% of those couples … probably about 50% of those couples come along willingly. Both parties want to come along. One party, usually the female, tells their partner, “Look, I think we should go and see this person because I think they’re going to help us with some of the issues that are happening.”
You have that 50% of cases like that, where the partner comes along willingly. Then you have about maybe 30 to 40 % who are mainly females instigating the male coming into couples counselling. The male isn’t that keen. He’s a bit worried.
Now, this is documented very widely in the health professionals … with relationship counsellors and coaches. We know that males are more reluctant to go to counselling or coaching on this particular topic with their partner. The reason being is this: there’s a general fear amongst males that they’re actually going to get bashed by the counsellor.
There’s a stereotype out there that the counsellor is usually female, and the female is going to side with the other female and basically railroad the guy into feeling guilty about things that he’s doing in the relationship, or feeling like he has to do or make all the changes in the relationship.
I think that’s the first thing. Then about 10%, 15%, where the male is driving and the female is quite reluctant. Usually there’s layers of factors there, like the female may have a drug addiction or an alcohol habit or something like that, which would interfere with her ability to judge the situation and go in because it’s the best thing for the relationship.
In answering that question, I actually forgot the first part of your question. Can you go back to the first part? You were actually asking me something upfront which wasn’t about who’s reluctant to come to therapy.
Katherine: How can they get them to come if they’re very reluctant? Should they just come by themselves first, maybe help themselves before they help other people?
Dr. Ryan: That’s a really good question. The best scenario, really, is for the couple to come in together for that first session. During that first session, I’ll do an assessment, and I’ll check everything from their mental health through to the problem at hand and everything from their family relationships, children, blend of families, all that sort of thing. We’ll go into that and do a fuller assessment.
At the end of the session, I’ll basically say to the couple, I’ll say, “Look, in order for you to get the best results…” – particularly if there are layers of factors here and they need more than a few sessions, I’ll say to them, “In order to get the maximum results at a couples counselling, what I will need from you is a commitment—both of you—is a three-month commitment to this process.” At that stage, most people say, “Yes, let’s do it. We commit to three months. We’ll see how it goes along the way.”
What you do is you try and get them initially, and you try and get a three-month commitment. What I do in cases where there are layers of problems—and usually there are. It’s not just the relationship; it’s layers of problems, like she’s stressed out from work or there’s financial problems, or he’s having problems with his children, which are affecting their relationship, children from a previous marriage.
What I would do is I’ll say, “Okay. One of you needs to come in first,” and then I’ll maybe pick someone randomly or systematically, “You need to come in to do one session with me, and I’ll do a session with your partner. This is one-on-one. Then we’ll come back together for the fourth session, and we’ll start doing therapy.” The reason I do that is because I want to get a perspective from each partner without the other partner being in the room.
Because often they’re hiding and disguising things or not disclosing things to each other because they’re afraid of the ramifications of it. They’re afraid of incurring their wrath, or maybe there are some secrets that they haven’t divulged to their partner and they’re a bit embarrassed or ashamed or maybe even reluctant to do so.
Katherine: Getting back to the three phases of love, the middle phase, before they become despondent or indifferent, you actuallyspecialise in helping couples reignite that romance in their relationship before things get bad or they fall out of love, as you were saying before. Romance actually means different things to different people. How do you actually express to a partner what is romance to you and what you would like? What’s the best approach? Can you just tell them [laughs] what you expect or like?
Dr. Ryan: [laughs] Yeah, that’s a really good question. Romance is a very personal experience, so the important thing here is the couple to actually converse a lot about what turns them on emotionally and also psychosexually as well. So romance is different things to different people. Now, having said that, there tend to be some typical traits or patterns to females versus males. Females’ idea of romance is slightly different to males.
A lot of this, I believe, is not even brain functioning or genetics. I believe a lot of that is social conditioning, the way we’re educated through various media throughout our lives, particularly in the early stages of our lives, about what love and romance is. A female, for example, wants to be … she’s programmed very early on about the knight in shining armour comes in and sweeps her off her feet. They go into this lust period, and all of her dreams are answered and he satisfies all of her needs.
The male, on the other hand, masculinizes that, and he’s taught that he has to be manly and satisfy her needs and be a man and step up to the plate and romance her and be romantic. There are some of those stereotypes that are conditioned into the mind, the female and male mind, which can be quite constant across this society anyway, the Australian society.
Katherine: You’ve actually produced great reference material, and also, you’ve published a book about keeping romance alive. Can you tell us about Love Bites: Recipe for Romance?
Dr. Ryan: Okay. That’s a really interesting project that I’d done with my wife. My wife’s a chef and a cooking teacher. She teaches home economics. She’s been doing that for at least 18 years now. Prior to that, she was actually a chef, so she started out as a chef and she was learning how [indecipherable 10:29] completed that and worked for a year or two and decided that she wanted to take a more educational role with her cooking skills. She did a Dip. Ed. and some other studies to get her teaching degrees and her diplomas, and then went out and started teaching in Catholic schools.
What we’ve done is we’ve actually… Seeing people in the clinic is very interesting. You get people who tend to come and they’re in a great state of pain, and they tend to not be satisfied with their relationship. So I decided to change the mindset of my clients by introducing some activities that they can do that can help them connect better, communicate better, and put the spark back into their relationship, revive it, literally.
What we do is with the book, Recipes for Romance, we’ve combined our skills. Marie’s used her chefery [sp] knowledge and her ideas on recipe development and how to cook and how to prepare food, and I’ve used the psychology of love, and we’ve combined those to provide a unique book, which is the only one on the planet, we believe. We’ve done all the research on what’s out there, and this is basically a psychological aphrodisiac book.
In the book, there’s 40 aphrodisiacs and 33 recipes, and intertwined with those is we’ve got a lot of psychological information about what the triggers are for your partner and you and how to turn each other on and how to build romance in the relationship and how to build stimulation and interest and curiosity in a relationship, so you never feel like you’re bored in the relationship, you’re not under-stimulated.
Simply put, it’s a really interesting way and fun way of trying to bring love and romance and revive the fire, without actually making it a heavy process and a dissatisfying process, one which is painful. It’s a way of relieving that pain and introducing pleasure and satisfaction into the relationship. Everyone loves cooking. Everyone’s into cooking, so they want to get into that anyway. There’s a lot of equity in the book.
Katherine: Maybe eating. [laughs] Everyone’s into eating lately.
Dr. Ryan: [laugh] Yes, everyone eats. Right, that’s true. Everyone could be interested in it. They also get these side benefits, the side effects of it as well, like weight loss and looking good and feeling good as well, being healthy.
Katherine: I am actually amazed that you have been … well, actually, I’m not amazed. You are the Love Doctor. You’ve successfully worked with your wife. Do you have any advice for people who work with a spouse or partner?
Dr. Ryan: [laughs] Yes. It can be hard work at times because you’re trying to work on something. The key message here is when you’re working with a partner, you have really clear roles at work and really clear roles at home. Make sure that you’re not crossingthe roles over. See, I’m the one who generally drives the business, because my wife works still as a teacher, so she still does our work but she also does some work at school. She’s basically letting me drive it and do a lot of the writing and materials, and all the background work.
So I’m driving it, but when it comes to our relationship, it has to be like a collaboration. We have to work together. Then also with the books and stuff, it’s all collaboration as well. What tends to happen is that egos get in the way, and then one partner wants to have more of a say than the other partner. In other words, they don’t like to be told, and they like to dominate their partner inadvertently or unwittingly.
Of course, their ego either suffocates their partner—if their partner doesn’t feel like they can have a say without it ending in tears or argument or friction—or without them two clashing because they’ve both got egos and they’ve got knowledge and they have egos in the area of knowledge, say. They’ll come to grips when it comes to trying to work out what their ideas are and how to put that on paper and how to deliver that.
Catherine: Well, lots to think about. Thank you so much for your advice today. For those of you who would like to know more about the Love Doctor, you can go to the website LoveDoctor.com.au. Thank you, Alex.
Dr. Ryan: Thank you very much, Katherine. Thank you.