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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Shela Dean Interview

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


Interview with Shela Dean

As the number of dating sites and the level of technology has increased, some daters have turned to love and relationship coaches for a more personal touch. With that in mind, Online Dating Magazine readers will be treated to a series of stories and interviews with some of the top coaches in the field today. Have fun learning about their backgrounds, professional approaches and philosophies on love and dating.

This time around, meet relationship coach Shela Dean.

Shela, tell us about your background and why daters should listen to and trust your advice?

I didn’t start out in life to be the relationship coach that I’m today.  But there were two major influences that brought me to this point. The first is my 20-year legal career.  I know that to 99% of the population, “Attorney as Relationship Coach” is an oxymoron!   I get it.  But I wasn’t the kind of lawyer who sued people.  I was an estate planning attorney and, as such, had long-term, very close working relationships with couples of all ages and at all stages of life. Because I was called on to advise my clients at critical points in their life, such as marriage, divorce, death of a loved one, loss of health or wealth or the blending of families, I felt it was important to understand the dynamics of relationships.  Only by doing so, could I give meaningful advice that addressed not only legal issues, but more importantly the couple’s personal issues and concerns.  I studied everything I could get my hands on to become an expert on relationships.  Before long, I was being consulted on personal matters as much or more as I was on legal matters.  The second influence was my own self-interest. I wanted to be in a happy, healthy relationship and I kept getting it wrong. After one too many failed attempts, I decided that I needed to figure out how to do it right.  I did and I’m happy to say that I’ve been in a rock-solid relationship for 12 years now. That’s the long answer.  The short answer is I’ve been there, done it, and brought home the prize!


"Frequent Foreplay Miles" is a strategy you pioneered for maintaining a happy, healthy relationship. How does it work and how do daters know it is effective?

We’ve all heard that scorekeeping is the worst thing you can do in a relationship. While that may be true, it’s also true that, as human beings, we assess everything—be it a job, where we’re living, the car we’re driving, a friendship, or the person we’re dating—by weighing the pros and cons to see if, on balance, the pluses outweigh the minuses.  It’s not uncommon to hear sweethearts say things like, “You just lost a few points,” or, “I owe you one.”  Or to talk about how something “scored big” with one’s sweetheart or resulted in a “big fat goose egg.”   So it seems to me that telling a couple not to keep score is telling them to go against basic human nature. It sets them up for failure.

Frequent Foreplay Miles is a strategy that channels the human need to keep score in a way that supports, rather than destroys, relationships.  The strategy is based upon the premise that “foreplay” includes everything that evokes a noticeable emotion, whether that be heart-bursting love, seeing-red anger, or anything in between. Just as good foreplay leads to Wow! sex, good emotional foreplay leads to a Wow! relationship.  Here’s a simple example:  If she knows he’s a sucker for the black teddy and she’s in the mood for a romp, she’s not likely to show up in the oversized AC/DC tee-shirt she’s so fond of sleeping in. Wearing the black teddy he loves scores sexual foreplay points and, as a result, they’re both happy.  Likewise, if it’s her birthday and he knows she loves classical music, taking her to the symphony will score more emotional foreplay points than taking her to a country western show, especially if classical music isn’t your cup of tea.  

A large Frequent Foreplay Miles “account” is like having a stockpile of good will to draw against when, as is inevitable, you screw up.  So in its simplest form, the philosophy of Frequent Foreplay Miles is this:  earn as many and lose as few Frequent Foreplay Miles as possible. The more “foreplay” points you have, the better the relationship. Of course, knowing how to hit the bull’s eye can be difficult, especially if you’re just getting to know each other. How you do that in the context of Frequent Foreplay Miles is the subject of my upcoming book.

Couples too often forget that no matter how made for each other they may seem, they are different in about a zillion ways.  This is because each comes to the relationship with a unique and vastly complex set of preferences, opinions, priorities, standards, points of view, and sensitivities, shaped by their DNA, upbringing, education, life’s experience, religious or philosophical training, culture, and self-perception. All of that combines to form what I call your Personal Navigator, or, in the relationship context, your Foreplay NavigatorTM.  We all have one.  It is the guide for how we see things and how we navigate life and our primary relationship. It is how we determine if others are flying right, including (perhaps especially) our love interest.

The Foreplay Navigators of every couple overlap in fundamental ways or they wouldn’t be a couple in the first place. But it’s those zillion little ways in which they differ that leads to the inevitable head butting, stepped on toes, and crossed wires that all couples experience. It can be like playing a game with two different sets of rules with neither player knowing the other’s rules.  Everyone knows that infidelity can destroy a relationship. But most failed relationships suffer death by a thousand cuts.  It’s the little things that really make or break a relationship. So knowing each other’s Foreplay Navigator is pretty darned important!

When I work with couples, I have them actually track Frequent Foreplay Miles on forms I’ve developed for that purpose.  Tracking helps couples discover each other’s Foreplay Navigators and heal the wounds that result from the head butts, stepped on toes, and crossed wires that are inevitable. Tracking is easy, takes very little time, but produces amazing results. Although it’s not difficult, there is a process and guidelines to follow for it to be as effective as possible.

The beauty of Frequent Foreplay Miles is that it can be applied to relationships at many levels.  For daters who are just getting to know each other, they need to remember to do what’s most likely to get them Frequent Foreplay Miles and to pay close attention to what works—and what doesn’t!  As the relationship develops, they can more deeply apply the philosophy and begin the process of tracking.


Have you used your principles in your own relationship? Please share some key examples.

This strategy started in my relationship.  When my husband Dale and I were first dating he was frequently late and it drove me crazy.  I tried gentle suggestions, then a little nagging, but nothing seemed to get through to him.  One day, I had an inspiration.  I would put it a context he would surely understand: sex.  So, I said to him, “Dale, there’s something you need to know about being in relationship. Foreplay is all day, every day, 24/7, and includes everything that affects how I feel about you.  So here’s an idea for you.  Try racking up some Frequent Foreplay Miles by being on time.  The more Frequent Foreplay Miles you have, the more in the mood I’ll be.”  Well, he got it. And in his sexual self-interest he pledged to become the on-time guy.  The entire strategy grew out of that exchange.

One of the ten key benefits realized by tracking Frequent Foreplay Miles is the development of constructive candor. We need to tell our sweetheart when, according to our Foreplay Navigator, he or she isn’t flying right. Otherwise, we too often make assumptions and form conclusions about our sweetheart that are not only based on a false premise but can become grudges and long-term resentment that destroy love and intimacy.  Here’s an example from my marriage:

After my husband Dale retired, I continued to work.  When I got home, the first thing I did is look at the mail.  The first thing Dale did was start talking to me about his day.  While he talked, I thumbed.  One day, he stopped talking and said, “I’ll wait for you to finish.”  Whoops!  According to his Foreplay Navigator I wasn’t flying right. He interpreted my thumbing through the mail as being disinterested in what he had to say. But I had just spent my day in an environment where multi-tasking was the norm. Had he done the same thing, I would have thought nothing of it. Had he never told me how my behavior affected him, I would have continued to unknowingly hurt his feelings day in and day out and he would have resentfully continued to falsely belief that I wasn’t interested in what he had to say. His candid feedback allowed me to be the responsive partner I want to be.  That’s a gift for which I am profoundly grateful.  I was losing Frequent Foreplay Miles daily.  Now, because I know he wants my undivided attention, I pick up Frequent Foreplay Miles daily by giving it to him. And, because he knows I like to look at the mail, he gives me a few minutes to do so before telling me about his day.

Equally as important as pointing out when your sweetheart isn’t flying right, is letting your sweetie know when what he or she does lands squarely in your Foreplay Navigator. Dale plays the French horn in two orchestras and a brass ensemble. I seldom attended concerts until Dale gave me Frequent Foreplay Miles for being there. He said he likes seeing me in the audience.  So, now I not only go more often, I let our friends know when he’s performing and invite them to attend.  I do my best to sit in his line of sight so when we make eye contact I can smile at him and if he has a solo part, I give him a thumbs up. 

Click here for part 2 of this interview.


Dr. James Houran's "Office Hours with Dr. Jim" column is published every Monday.

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