Interview With Dr. Randi Gunther - How To Win a Man's Heart

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August 18, 2014

Interview With Dr. Randi Gunther

1. Can you explain the difference between loving someone vs idolizing someone vs being obsessive about someone?

Obsessive idolization only occurs during the first (and often ending) phase of a relationship when people are caught up in romanticism. Romantic love is criss-cross parental love mixed with sexual lust. Very heady stuff. The words obsessive lovers use, “baby”, “sweetie-pie,” “angel,” etc., are those you would never call a peer, only someone you were treasuring as a baby or idolizing as a hero. The people in romantic relationships may be very mature in other areas, or, unfortunately, young across the board, but intimacy requires the willingness to free your love to be the best he or she can be, whether they are with you or not.

Romantic love is not only based on the insecurity of potential abandonment but must hold both partners in a time warp of no change ever. “Don’t change a hair for me.” “I’ll love you forever.” Those are statements that have nothing to do with transformation, changes that are inevitable, or skills to help the partners when things don’t go the way they want them to.

There are people who repeat patterns of insecurity/territoriality/jealousy over and over because they are stuck in thinking that love is untrustable when it is not guaranteed forever-ness. There is no security, only the illusion that, if people don’t change anything, what they have will last forever.

2. Interesting, but right from the movies to the books to the popular media, the focus is so heavy on the romantic love, so much so that people may even enter into relationships with unrealistic expectations. So you explained romantic love, can you explain what real love or mature love is?

Most relationships start out with the heady interactions of romantic love, unless people have known each other for a long time in situations where they have had a lot of contact that grows into love.

The six-months infamous “end of honeymoon” phase is just the coming down when people realize that they can’t sustain the lust at the same level and that has been too much a part of the relationship. Intimacy grows slowly with bumps that both people want to resolve to know and understand each other better.

It is not the sharing so much of personal or background information, but the ease of being immediate and welcomed in those observations. In romantic connections, people take things personally immediately and at face value. Hunger and expectations become entitlements. Blending with the other person cannot stand separation and the responses are defensive and self-centered when those entitlements are not met.


“I’ve had such a rough day at work.”

“Does that mean we won’t get to make love tonight? (Immediate fear of losing connection)”

“Why do you always jump to conclusions. I just wanted some support? It’s all about you.” (Defending)

“Baby, sweetheart, I love you so much. I just didn’t want to give up what we promised each other.”

“Why is it all about you? I just said I was tired. You’re making this whole deal stupid.” (Starting to cry)

“I thought I was the most important person in the world to you. Now you don’t even care.”


“I’ve had such a rough day at work.”

“Me, too.”

“You just turned away, sweetheart, and looked down. Did my comparing my day with you take you away from something else you wanted to share?”

“Yeah, and I feel like an idiot for wanting more attention when you’re tired, too.”

“Hey, there’s room for both of us. Tell me what you wanted to say. I want to listen.”

“Okay, as long as we make time for you, too.”

3. A number of women readers write to us that they crave for intimacy from their partners whereas their partners are more interested in sex. It is not uncommon for many women to lose interest in sex due to this reason. They have the feeling that all their partners want from them is sex and they don’t really care about them as a person. And even when they have sex, it feels mechanical and passionless which the men can sense. This in turn makes the men angry and it becomes a vicious cycle creating resentment and hostility in the relationship.

What can women do to overcome this problem?

This one is difficult and very common. I deal with it every day.

Most men have a greater desire/need/appreciation for/urgency for sexual fulfillment, than women do. When women are the pursuers, even when it is less true of the gender, their men have identical responses to women when they feel as prey. Feeling as if one is prey and being able to be sexual aroused are incompatible for both genders.

Hunting, pursuit, and winning the prey is what turns on testosterone in both men and women, and testosterone and dopamine (the pleasure chemical) together is what creates sexual desire. Women, unless ovulating or possessing high levels of testosterone naturally, build sexual desire more slowly and more globally in their bodies.

That is, they crave courtship and respond well to it. Courtship is that wonderful period where you have the right to accept sexual connection or not, but the ability to flirt, fantasize, and build hunger is still acceptable and enjoyed, even if it doesn’t immediately result in sex. Women also like to stay intimate and close after arousal and orgasm. If they have both courtship and that kind of pillow talk, they are far less distressed or burdened by the middle parts of the sexual cycle, i.e., physical arousal and orgasm. In fact, once properly aroused, women are far more orgasmic than most men are.

When men’s natural more frequent desire for sex is continuous pushes their women to have sex without enough arousal, they not only lose their woman’s desire for them but also lose their most important desire-asset, their woman’s turn-on. Men are much more aroused when they feel that. They can accept being “serviced,” but can’t keep doing that without their own loss of connection, unless they are guys who just want to get off and don’t care. Women who “give in” without personal arousal for whatever reasons (never to be judged), even fake orgasms, will eventually separate their hearts from their bottom ends and be unable to reconnect them easily.

In short, most women go from heart, to head, to genitals. Most guys go from genitals, to head, to heart. When the courtship, arousal, orgasm, pillow-talk cycle is continuous, as it is in the first months of romantic lust/transference, that cycle gives both what they want and need. If longer times accrue between the cycles, women are more likely to want more of the first and last, and men more of the middle two stages. They end up in that terrible negative spiral that can make men feel like beasts and women feel frigid. Neither should be true and the conditions leading up should have been challenged way before that happens.

And, by the way, when men aren’t fearful they won’t get their needs met, they can be more romantic than many women.

4. You have authored the book, ‘Relationship Saboteurs’ Can you explain what a relationship saboteur is and how it affects relationships?

When a person creates or observes counter-productive relationship patterns from childhood and then repeats them endlessly in adulthood, he or she is much less likely to grow beyond them or to create successful long-term relationships.

I picked the ten that I have seen more commonly manifested in my many therapeutic hours with individuals and couples, talked about how they emerge, and what to do to stop them from destroying hope. The book has some creative and interesting exercises that, when people actually complete them, changes the way they choose new partners, and succeed in subsequent relationships. It really asks the readers to look inward because that is where they have the most control and can make the most difference.

My second book, “When Love Stumbles,” is for people who still love each other, have been in a long-term relationships, and have drifted apart. It helps them identify how those drifts occurred and how to bring back the love they once knew and trusted. It’s a sweeter book but not as popular as the first (except, interestingly in France) because people already in relationships are not as prone to seek help as those who are still seeking.

5. You mentioned something very interesting- people already in relationships are not as prone to seek help than those who are still seeking. That’s probably where the problem lies because there is the thinking that we both are already committed and couples tend to take each other for granted, stop appreciating the little things their partner does for them, start noticing the negative traits and over time kids, career, social events etc. take a higher priority than the partner.

We get emails from women who often say, “I can’t remember how we both got here. It feels as if he is no longer the person I married to. We feel more like roommates than a couple.”

And for some women, the feeling is even worse, “To be honest, I don’t even think I care anymore. He could be gone from the home and I wouldn’t notice nor would I miss him.”

There is so much resentment that seems to build over time that couples seem to deal with it by shutting down instead of sitting down and talking. And many women mention that they tried doing it several times and it made no difference other than being named a nag.

For women caught in a similar situation, where do they start?

Of course, it takes two people who are not only discontent but want things to get better. When couples are in a “draw,” what one person tries to do to help sets off the other’s counter opposition and they end up in the same place.

As I stated before, the initial stages of any relationship produce excitement because human beings seek challenge and prosper from the innovation it requires. Unfortunately, they also, with the same intensity, seek security, the impossible feeling that they will always remain safe if they’re with that person.

What happens is that, in the quest for comfort and predictability, couples become bored with their habits and rituals and boredom turns to irritability and blame if not dealt with. They naturally seek more stimulation and excitement outside their relationships in the form of friendships, new learnings, addictive escapes, infidelity, etc.

The man who created Ashley-Madison three years ago now has over fifteen million married people on his web site, seeking to hold on to the security of their committed relationship while adding clandestine involvement to satisfy their yearning for adventure. It may solve the immediate problem, but most often ends in disaster of some kind.

My second book is to couples who both realize they’ve lost their magic and want it back. When both do, the exercises really work. When women complain about a long-standing drift, one wonders why they allowed that to happen in the first place?

Women, by nature, are better at waiting and will often compromise what they want to hold on to some nebulous promise for the future or are afraid to complain or have a bottom line because they are afraid to lose what they have. That is only human, but the first step in compromising integrity. The next is to hold your partner responsible for your drop in value. If that is a silent process, he (or she) isn’t keeping tabs the way the woman is. Her drop in her own value will precede his.

I lovingly tell my male patients that they probably will never pay more later for what they get in advance. They agree that they want the woman to put a value on herself, not expect him to do it, and for her to hold it there.

One wonderful man told me, “I think we’re all just boys inside and, if a woman wants to give to us without asking for anything, we’ll probably just see her as a wonderful mother and forget that we should be giving her what she deserves.” Insecurity and fear of loss are the demons that drive most women to give up their own integrity to hold on to a relationship. If that imbalance continues and her man doesn’t reciprocate, she will eventually feel devalued and no longer treasured.

6. You beautifully explained why women may often compromise. But when you ask them why they do it it is the very reasons you pointed.

But they also have the fear that when they speak up they will be considered a nag. That’s one of the questions we get asked quite often, ‘How can I assertive without being a nag.’

For example, here is a common complaint women have. He tells me he will clean the garage during the weekend. At first, I gently remind him and he says he will get to it and I again remind him nicely but it never happens.

So frustrated and upset by his behavior, I nag. It is not that I get a kick out of nagging but it is something that happens naturally. And why would I even nag if he does what he says he will do in the first place.”

Experts say nagging never works but I do feel the frustration of women having similar problems. They run out of patience and are frustrated by the repeated excuses, so they resort to nagging.

So how can women balance that fine line between being assertive to get what they want from their partner to being a nag?

“Should I nag, even if it’s ineffective, or should I just shut up and be resentful?” That is a non-answerable lose/lose question.

The statement to her significant other should be what is behind it, i.e., “When I ask you to do something and you agree, I think that you will follow through. When you don’t, I’m faced with holding in my disappointments or telling you about them which you experience as nagging. I don’t know what to do and I need your help. If you are promising to do what I want just to get me off your back, but don’t intend to follow through, please don’t make that promise. If you do make an agreement, and then find you can’t follow through, please tell me. Otherwise it feels really passive/aggressive. Can you make that agreement with me?”

That’s not nagging. If he gets defensive, then you follow through with something like, “Please don’t get defensive. I’m just trying to make things better and break some bad patterns between us. If you’re not comfortable with my solution, what do you think would work better?”

Passive/aggressive behavior can be unconscious or deliberately setting someone up. If a person continues with it, the woman on the other end should only pay attention to what he does, not what he wishes, intends, or promises. Then disappointment gives way to grief, which could be what she is really feeling underneath. That could be anticipatory grief of the eventual need to leave the relationship with the conflict of not wanting to go.

7. A common question we get from our women subscribers is ‘How can I change him?’ Is it truly possible to make a partner change and if not how do you go about making a change in the quality of the relationship?

Einstein once said something like women marry men to change them and men marry women hoping they won’t change, but neither happens.

Human beings must embrace transformation throughout their lives or they are forced to rely on expectations from the past, rituals, and habits. Those who hold on to their prior attachments and patterns are doomed to let the past define the future. Then they just plug others into their pre-written scripts and are disappointed when those expectations are not met.

When love first happens, both men and women push aside any potential difficulties and focus on what they like in each other. They aren’t particularly vocal about later needs that don’t seem important in the moment, and, if they do feel them, suppress them to keep things the way they are. Women, unfortunately, do this more than men do. When they finally can’t stand the relationship’s limitations, though they have appeared to readily accept them, they begin pushing for what they now want.

Asking someone else to change is a request for a new contract and it better offer something worthwhile to the other person in exchange. It’s kind of like unsolicited advice. It never is responded to gladly unless the person on the other end has been asked if he or she is even interested in change.

The one exception, and it is legitimate, is when behaviors at the beginning of a relationship that are correlated with hunting, are then discontinued after the chase is over. It is totally reasonable to expect what you are promised. If a guy pulls back his attention and caring, any woman will push to get back what she signed up for. The same is true for men.

8. So would you recommend women to focus on changing themselves to bring about a change in the partner? Experts say it is not necessarily what you say but how you say it that matters. So when your communication stems from a desperate state of mind when you are unhappy and feel unappreciated. We get so many emails where the line of thinking seems to be “My spouse or partner is responsible for my happiness” or “I depend on my spouse or partner for my happiness.” There is almost a lost sense of identity among many women after marriage and they end up playing the role of martyrs which makes them more dissatisfied and unhappy.

The chapter in my book, “Relationship Saboteurs” on martyrdom answers this question.

My current thoughts are that most all of us are somewhat situation dependent. From the time we are born, we look for approval and support in the situations and people around us. That is natural. As we mature, however, we strive to find some kind of inner definition that holds no matter what the outer world says. Without that growing self- definition, it is too easy to fall into seeking out partners who fit our expectations from prior relationships, but, just because it feels familiar, doesn’t mean it’s good for us. Like receptors for abuse. They ask to be filled to feel “home,” but they should be healed, not fulfilled.

My questions to many of my patients are

Do you allow people to define you whom you’d wish to emulate, or those who you don’t even respect?

Do all people dismiss you as not valuable, or only your partner?

Does your partner have an investment in keeping you needing more in order to control you?

Are there any attachments you have that you’d have to give up, if you actually were treasured?

Have you ever been defined by any significant person as worthwhile?

What do you love about yourself that others agree with, and what do you dislike about yourself that others agree with?

Also what do you love about yourself that others don’t agree with, and what do you dislike about yourself that others feel are good traits?

Being dependent on other’s approval may also go with being dependent on them in other ways. Some of those attachments are life-supporting and should never be dismissed as neurotic or wrong. To the extent that we are self-defining, we are less affected by others opinions. Yet, people we respect and admire should always have a vote in the way we feel about ourselves. On the other hand, to the extent that we are defined by others, we are beholden to them. In a perfect world, we would only be that way with people of quality who had our best interests at heart. And, of course, to give that same respect to those we love.

Chronic complaining is much worse than an acute disappointment or heartache. I ask my patients every day to give up over-used phrases and create new ones to help their brains avoid the trap of unconscious repetition that stops growth. “I’m sick of this,” should be followed in ones’ mind by, “Not sick enough.” Maybe more like, “I’m paying such a high price for this relationship. I need to be sure that I’m not losing myself in it, and that I can afford what it costs without martyrdom or resentment.” At least that rephrasing opens the mind to think with less restriction.

9. What is the single most important advice you would offer women who are looking to improve their marriage?

Single most important is really hard, because different women need different guidance at different times in their lives.

If I can squeeze myself into a generic, I would say, re-evaluate what your expectations were when you married and which have been fulfilled and which have been disappointing. Understanding that, there two important questions that must be answered first: “Knowing what you know now, would you marry this person again?” and “What would it be like for you to never see this person again?” If the answers are “yes,” and “yes,” you’re marriage is not over because you still have attachments to this person and you’re not ready to give up.

All this knowledge in hand first, the single most important advice is, give up anything you’ve tried that hasn’t worked in the past, ask your partner what would work better, and commit to a new plan together to renew the hopes and commitments you once shared.

About Dr. Randi Gunther

Dr. Randi Gunther is a clinical psychologist and marriage counselor practicing in Southern California. In her forty year career, she has accumulated over 90,000 face-to-face hours with individuals and couples. She has inspired hundreds of people in her workshops and lectures to go beyond their limitations and create successful relationships. A practical idealist, she encourages her patients to give up their negative entanglements and to pursue their dreams.

She is the author of Relationship Saboteurs and When Love Stumbles.

To know more about Dr. Gunther, visit her website,