This is the first in a new series, Ask The MiddleAged AnswerWoman.

All questions/stories are real with minor details changed in order to maintain privacy and anonymity. All answers are delivered in the format of Plan C Strategies, intelligent emotional survival tools for life in the 21st century.

Dear Middle Aged Answerwoman,

My husband and I have been married for almost 25 years. We met our first day in college and began dating exclusively. We got married two years after we graduated from college because he wanted to save money by living with his parents. During those years, I lived with a room mate in The City in an apartment. After a while, I wanted to have sex and he wouldn’t have sex with me without being married. Finally, he was ready to get married and we moved into my dream home in suburbia where we could raise our family and get old together.

We have two children who are brilliant students and frankly, perfect in every way. My son is a dream boat. Handsome, vying to be top of his class, a brilliant scientific mind and loves to stay home and work on his computer. My daughter is top of her class, she is in three orchestras and plays three stringed instruments in each (violin, cello and viola), speaks five languages (Mandarin, French, Spanish, German and Arabic), volunteers with homeless children and mothers, babysits every weekend night and cooks dinner five nights a week because I work two full time jobs. I am a therapist in private practice working with married, mothers who work outside the home; children who want to be super successful in school and any adults that want to figure out “their real life passion”. I also work at a dental office as the office manager so that we have health insurance and other benefits. I get asked all the time how I can be so busy, but I love it! Busy hands are happy hands, they say.

My husband is a deeply religious man. He spends his time studying and education himself about electrical engineering and religion. He has not had a paying job in a few years because he can’t find a job that is up to his level of experience and, more importantly, his intelligence. I try not to bother him, but sometimes I do find myself worrying what might happen if he never gets a job. But I am committed to him and our marriage. My mother told me that marriage is hard and that you have to do whatever it takes to make it work.

I know my life sounds perfect, but believe me when I tell you that it’s not.

I have “friends”, but I don’t really talk to anyone about the stress I am under because I know no one else I know has problems like I do. Actually, it’s only one problem. And it’s not my problem — it’s my husband’s problem: he does not like the vagina!

I want to have sex with him (angry as I am at him). The truth is that he does not know about, want to know about or have anything to do with sex. I thought for a long time that it was MY vagina he didn’t like, but now I understand that it is any vagina. He says he’s “just not into it”. He won’t even say the word “vagina”! He calls it “it”!

I think about this all the time, especially in the middle of the night which I hate. I wonder, worry and stress out: Is there something wrong with him physically? Is it a mental health issue? Is he gay?

I could tell you stories galore, but I’m tired. Know, MiddleAged AnswerWoman, that I’ve tried EVERYTHING (be really, really creative and if you can think of it, I tried it) and I am at the end of my rope. Can you help me? Can you tell me what could is wrong with him? What can I do to fix him?

Please, Middle Aged Answer Woman, I’ll do anything! Help me, please!!! What should I do so my husband and I have great sex like other married couples?


Sexless in Suburbia


Dear S in S,

Thank you for writing such a detailed description of your life.  Let’s begin by reframing your story and your problem.

You are in a long term marriage with two growing kids.  You are the sole earner in your family.  You have a very clear vision of who each of your kids are, as well as your husband and you are absolutely sure that your perspective is correct.  You are a person for whom intelligence is extremely important, as is commitment.  You sound like you have known what you have wanted from life for a long time and have gone about creating it.  Yet, there are parts of your reality that do not match up with your long-held beliefs about what your life was supposed to be like.  You believe that everyone else sees you as successful and this keeps you at a distance from other’s in terms of any real intimacy.


Have you gone to a therapist and/or a coach in the past to find out how to understand your problems and what to do so that you can achieve what it is that you truly desire?    Have you walked away from these experiences having learned a lot but you’re still wondering about how to STOP your negative patterns and know what TO DO INSTEAD THAT ARE NOT PLATITUDES, BUT ACTIONS THAT CREATE POSITIVE OUTCOMES.


Years ago, a client said, “I think I feel…” and it struck me:  how do we think about how we feel?   As a therapist in private practice, I began to share with my clients how I was trained and practiced to help someone with their emotions therapeutically.   Instead of playing the “tell me more” game (as I saw it after a few years), I would go right to explaining the history, the role of the brain, and the ways to look at how humans organize their disorganized emotional lives.  From there, I developed questions for my clients so that they could gain quicker and deeper insights into their patterns.  As this work developed, Plan C Strategies emerged.

After years of study, training and practice, I developed a way to communicate to people in an intelligent way about their feelings.  Plan C Strategies is an easy mental brain “game” so that my clients alter how they think and communicate without compromising their individuality and uniqueness.

With Plan C Strategies, you will:

Learn how to see your current inner communication patterns with yourself —  because that’s often the most toxic conversations you have with anyone —  and shift to kind, productive and intelligent inner talk.

Learn how to understand how to see what is really happening and what you can do to make positive changes in any situation or with any relationship.

If life is good, but your stressed out, you will learn how to live exactly the same life you’re living now without stress and non-stop frustration and fear and worry.

If you know, deep-inside, that you want to make serious changes, you will learn how to honor the difficulties of facing truths and speaking up so that these changes are positive for everyone involved.

In addition, you will be presented with critical information that describes in simple terms how to understand and deal with your fears:


  • brain development and processes
  • Four Components of the Human Experience
  • Thematic vs. Situational Problem Solving
  • specific, individualized exercises and actions
  • recommended readings




Fear happens.  Our brains are hard-wired to be on constant alert for threats to our survival.  Once fear detects a threat, worry follows fear.  

No matter what’s happening in your life, the most stressful thing you deal with are the conversations you have with yourself inside your own brain about your past, present or future

Life in the 21st century is scary.   The 24/7 cycle we are all on.    With the proliferation of technology and social media impacting our professional and personal lives , figuring out how to handle the stress is more complicated than ever before.  Where to begin?  With your own inner thoughts, your monkey mind, your worry.  It all starts with you.

Your negative thoughts about everything in your life create your experience of what is happening.  How to control them?

The conversations you have with yourself are the one thing that you can control 



Begin by breathing in and out slowly.  Right now.  Sit up straight.  Smile.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Sit up straight and smile.

Seriously.  That’s it.  It has been scientifically proven (Mirroring People,  by Marco Iacoboni, 2008) that smiling creates positive responses deep within the brain of the person smiling, as well as any one looking at the person who is smiling.

What most people worry about boils down to:

  1.  I/he/she/they are not good enough.
  2.  I am in this alone/I will get old alone.
  3.  The future is dark and filled with negative outcomes.
  4. The past is right here right now and the pain still affects me in profoundly negative ways and I hope I don’t screw up the future.

Breathing feeds the brain much needed oxygen and slows down the heart rate, calming the entire nervous system.


Sitting up straight.  Because you shouldn’t schlump.

Think about breathing.  Think about smiling.  Think about sitting up straight.  Breathe.  Smile.  Sit up straight.

Have you worried in the past minute?  No.   Why?  Because you made a conscious decision to breathe, smile and sit up straight and focused your attention.


  1.  Fear happens.  2.  Worry follows.  3.  Worry are negative thoughts.  4.  You can control your thoughts by observing your fear and worry, breathing in and out, smiling and calming your body’s fear reactions and worried thoughts.

How often do you find yourself in a situation where the person you are dealing with is being difficult?   No matter what you try to do, you find yourself frustrated, annoyed, angry, overwhelmed and you have no idea how to handle them.  

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Smile.  Seriously.  You’ll feel better right now.  Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Smile.

Communication is complicated.  For everyone.


Let’s start with the fact that we are all difficult.  



We are all difficult.  We have quirks and tics and needs and wants that make no sense to anyone but ourselves.  It happens.  It is the human experience.  The difficulty comes when there is conflict and the difficulties of someone — and or yourself — become strained in a way that communication becomes difficult and strained.  What to do?  

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Plan C: The Book...How to Handle Difficult People%22 P13


A while back I read a post on a community listserv (Arlington, MA) that resonated with me.  

A mother wrote about a predicament that her pre-school daughter was in.   She was reaching out to get advice.

The story:  Her daughter wanted to be friends with a group of three girls who were best friends.   The group was not including her daughter in their circle.

The questions:  The mother wanted to know if this was bullying. She also wanted to know how to get the other girls to be friends with her daughter.

I was struck by her honesty and openness about a painful and complicated dynamic.  Friendship is an area of expertise of mine ever since graduate school (see below for more).

My response to her and all the parents out there who are worried about how to guide their children in their relationships with their peers:

Friendship is a sticky wicket. Always has been. Always will be.

When I was in graduate school in the early 1980’s, my internship was working with a professor who was researching friendship. What I found as her “researcher” was that there was NO writings — professional or self-help’ish — regarding friendship. As a result, I have found friendship to be a passion area, always amazed by it and the various configurations these key relationships form, survive, thrive and/or end.

What these girls are doing is being little girls.

It sounds like they are living in the current culture where everyone acts like a teen in a snit.

They sound like they are being competitive in ways that girls are competitive. Ramp that up with the culture of celebrity and technology and you have a toxic mix.

The girls who are in class with your daughter know each other. They have established their “people” and are sticking with them. This is group dynamics. Unpleasant and not inclusive, but it is human nature.

Like many little girls, your daughter is drawn to the “hard to get” people. It will play out in later years as dating the wrong guys. Growing up will help, with real world experiences of being hurt by peers. She will also have help/love from her parents and other adults and peers who your daughter wants to be friends with and who want to be friends with her.

What the other kids may not be experiencing is being taught about how to be a friend. Telling kids to all get along doesn’t work as a real solution. We all DO NOT get along. It’s about how to handle getting along and not getting along with people.

I would offer, regarding your child, ask her what she thinks a “friend” means to her. What does she like to do with another person? What does she like about the people she currently likes? Ask yourself what can you share with her to help her understand that she can’t be friends with everyone. Lead her by focussing on her and how she makes friends and learns how to treat other people.

Bullying is a STRONG word. It implies an intentional act. Some girls are more spicey and less sugary and this is not bullying.

Let’s give these little girls the benefit of the doubt and understand they like each other a lot and that they don’t have to be friends with everyone, but how to choose to be kind and caring to everyone and teach them what “friend” means.




I grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan in the 1960’s when the world was in flux, surrounded by a community filled with cultured, liberal, educated people.

My parents gave me enormous freedom to do as I pleased.   They encouraged me to embrace life in The City and all it offered.

My family looked perfect.  Both my parents were Ivy League graduates. They both worked and were successful in their careers. Two kids three years apart — a boy and a girl. Private schools. Sleep away camps.  Theatre and concerts galore. Weekends in The Country with friends.

We “had it all”.

Inside the truth was different.

My father suffered with untreated narcissistic borderline personality disorder with severe anxiety. You never knew when he was going to get angry. Verbal abuse was his modus operandi. My mother did nothing when he would rage, choosing to show up afterwards to sop up the tears. The good news is that I had a great relationship with my older brother and that made up for a lot of the bad stuff at home.

From the age of 8, I rode the bus to my activities.  Alone.  People would sit down next to me and talk.   They prefaced their story by saying, “I haven’t told anyone this before, but I feel like I can trust you”.

From my perspective, this was normal.

I listened and began to understand how people appear one way on the outside.  Yet, the truth was different.  If they spoke about it, they felt better.  So did I.

After a somewhat circuitous route in my 20’s (my father was fond of saying that “she’s finding herself and she is quite lost”),  I completed graduate school.

Within 6 months of graduation, I opened a private counseling practice in downtown Boston.   Since then my work has morphed as I have gained experience, wisdom and knowledge.

All my past has come together to create Plan C Strategies, an intelligent approach to thoughts and feelings so that the challenges in life are handled well all the time.

I am passionate about sharing techniques for understanding the universality of the human experience in the 21st century and consult privately with individuals, couples and families who are seeking to live their lives informed and educated on how to handle themselves.

For information about how learning about Plan C Strategies can dramatically improve your life, please call or text 617.584.7001



Joanne Dougan, M.Ed.

The Middle Aged Answerwoman


Creator of Plan C Strategies

Author, “Survival Tools for 21st Century Humans” (coming in 2017)

Walden School, 1973

Bard College, B.A., American Studies/Women’s Studies, 1977

University of Massachusetts, M.Ed., Counseling/Psychology, 1987

Wife. Mother. Aunt. Niece. Cousin. Friend. Neighbor. Nice to strangers, especially homeless women. Volunteer with Senior Citizens. Yogini. Warm water swimmer. Really good cook. Food-based skincare maven. Voracious reader. TV watcher. Daily hula hooper. Picture taker.

Connect. Only connect. – E.M. Forster

call or text



approx. 90 second read to the end


When I became a mother, I heard all about the terrible 2’s. I knew it was going to rough. My daughter lived up to everything I knew 2 could be. We survived. Barely.

Time flew by and…

Then my daughter turned 4.

I didn’t find out until then that there seemed to be a secret club of mother’s of 4 year olds and only when your oldest turns 4 do you find out was it’s the freaking 4’s!!!!!!

Where was my terrible 2 year old?? I wanted her back!!!

My research led me to understand that 4 is the predictor of teenage years.

4 year olds are: impulsive, assertive, independent, needy, moody, out of control, never have any sense of consequences nor do they think into the future. They complain constantly and they leave wreckage behind them wherever they go. They talk a lot and ask a lot of questions about people, relationships and the meaning of life.

They are also getting ready for the biggest step of their young lives: kindergarten. Not unlike high schoolers getting ready to go to college, your 4 year old is getting ready to start his/her academic career.

Not unlike the teen years — you are now very much in control, less so in a few more years — yet you’ve got this person that is developmentally ready to move onto their next stage.

In other words: mini-teens.

Thank goodness they cannot get their driver’s license.

What I learned was that if I could understand how to handle how I wanted to parent my daughter, especially when she was her most difficult, when she was 4, maybe, just maybe, the teen years wouldn’t be so awful.

So I began at the beginning: Breathe in. Breathe out. When she was being MiniTeen, I breathed a lot. I gave myself time outs, not her. We went outside a lot to every playground and I wrote an article rating playgrounds with 30 miles of downtown Boston.

I am here to tell you that it is working. My daughter is now a junior in high school. She is happy, healthy, engaged in life and growing up beautifully. She is also very much a teen and let me tell you, it’s just like she was when she was four. Except she is getting her license!

She gets to learn how to be 16 going on 17 and I get to be the one who helps her learn how to handle being 16 years old going on 17.   Since we have been doing this for 12 years, she — and I — are doing pretty good.


Note:  This above was written two years ago.  She is now in college and our relationship continues to move forward in a really healthy way.   For me what we have achieved up to this point is outrageous authentic success since I came from a dysfunctional family and had a confusing relationship with my mother.   All of my experience I share with parents who are seeking how to parent from a perspective of love, caring, support and healthy communication so that they raise their children in an emotionally stable environment.

It was just another morning. Nothing outstanding. I was in my mid-50’s, if that counts for anything.

I don’t remember anything of the day. Yet, I made a huge leap in understanding how to “do all the things” we are told “we should” be doing in order “to be happy”.

It was still morning and I went upstairs to wash up. Usually I don’t really look at myself in the mirror. I am happy with my face and I focus on taking care of my skin. I am committed to aging without intervention.

This day, this regular not outstanding in any way day, I looked at myself in the mirror.

Really looked at myself.

What looked back at me was scary.

If I was the type to run around and scream about my body image (which I am not), this would have been a time when I would have flipped out!

I saw an angry, frazzled, fiercely unhappily lined face.

My face reflected a life spent pushing heavy rocks uphill.

Another way of putting it, my face had the expression of a life spent angry about being constipated, yet all the time was on the toilet.

WTF??? Was I really that unhappy? Is that what I was going to do to myself and my skin????? Where is the truth between how I think I feel about my life and how I really feel about my life????????? The existential angst poured out of me and back at the mirror.

I had no idea what to do. I went for the “opposite” because I had no idea what else to do. Oh, I wrote that already.

I had no idea what to do and I felt HORRIBLE looking at THAT face, MY FACE!!!

So I smiled. Just to see what that looked like, because I sure didn’t feel like smiling.

I immediately could see the happy lines in my face. I could see the sparkle in my eyes. What was reflected back looked MUCH BETTER. Especially the lines.

Then I relaxed my face.

Again, scary constipated woman who lives on the toilet TRYING all the time…Deep wrinkles all over my face.


Smoother skin. Happy wrinkles. Lit up eyes.

And I felt better inside, too.

What did I do?

I committed myself to focusing my attention, my thoughts on OBSERVING what my face was doing.

When I observed my face not smiling, I smiled.

One thing I know is that problems come in waves. For instance, there is a wave happening right now where people are dealing with issues with their partners.

People are sharing their feelings of despair, alienation, betrayal and disappointment. Their thoughts are often confused, yet hopeful. Their beliefs are that this has been going on a long time and it will all work out. Their experience is that they are stressed, tired, running on fumes and not having much fun.

What I have found in my years of practice is that people see the problem as being about an event (or a series of events, e.g. don’t you find you tend to fight about the same things over and over again?) and the solution is to withdraw, speak up, get angry, be rational, make deals and offer ultimatums.

It’s been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome.

But how do you create a different outcome with your partner?

It’s about increasing your emotional intelligence (EQ). Not changing yourself, not changing your partner. How to increase your EQ?

First see that an event is happening between you and your partner. Feel, think, experience and believe whatever comes up for you about this event.

Allow yourself to really be honest with yourself about your perspective of what’s happening.

What you want to do in REACTION to your feelings, thoughts, experiences and beliefs about the event is THE PROBLEM.

Choose to ACT (and no longer REACT) to events. Choose to ACT (and no longer REACT) to your feelings, thoughts, experiences and beliefs about an event. Especially with your partner.

Choose to focus on calming down. How to start to calm yourself?

Breathe in. Breathe out. Slowly. Deeply.



Yesterday was, again, a snow day. All this time snowed in is really not helping.

In any case, Chloe has been edgy and demanding, but nothing like over the weekend.

She asked me on Sunday to not ask her how things were at school for a few days. She would bring it up. I agreed, unless I saw that she was particularly out of control. She agreed to that.

Last night, driving to her exercise class, she asked if she could ask a question. She asked if we were ever “really friends with the Lacks family”. I said yes, that daddy and I thought they were our friends. I told her that for a while, they thought we were a lot like them, but as they got to know us, they saw that we were very different. When they realized that we were not open to being saved by Jesus, they realized they could not change us and this became a deal breaker for them.

She told me then that she had seen Mr. D., the principal, the day before. She told me he was very nice and told a couple of stories and asked a few questions about how she was doing.

She then told me she went back to her next class (lunch? not sure) a bit late. Kids asked where she’d been and she told them. She said that Gia said that she (Chloe) must be in trouble. Chloe said that she wasn’t.

Gia, according to Chloe, looked at her and said that yes, Chloe was in trouble and that was why she was going to Mr. D.

Chloe then said she told Emily (another girl) the whole story about everything and why she was talking to Mr. D.

She told me last night at bedtime that she thinks that she will likely never socialized with anyone from School again. No reason given. I didn’t probe. I am learning it best to listen and when she asks me for my thoughts, then speak — and not a lot (which is extremely hard for me!).

I asked her if there was any backlash from my having had a conversation with Mimi’s mom about social stuff at School. She said no. She said that Mimi is the only one who tells her she wants her to stay for next year — their freshman year in high school.

The alleged big problem was the closeness and exclusivity that Chloe and Gia had. Mr. Lacks told me how unhappy he was with their closeness. Said it led to bad outcomes when girls start dating boys. I always felt they thought it was Chloe’s doing — her jealousy that was keeping them so close. Yet Gia seems to definitely be hanging with more people, but she nonetheless is very close with Mimi and spending a lot of time with Mimi at school and outside of school. Not Chloe and Gia close. But very close. And Chloe is close with no one. This, too, is like elementary school. Seemingly everyone thought it was Chloe who was the problem, yet when she left public school, the power players continued to rule and destroy.

My instincts still are telling me that Gia has been told by her parents that she must be completely cut off from Chloe.

I am breathing in and out. I am smiling. I am choosing to focus on how I am handling what is happening. My values are calm and love. For myself. Then my child. Then every body else I come into contact with. I am understanding of myself and all others that we are all doing the best we can in this experience of being human.

by Susie Green


I believe that the power is in the questions because you cannot figure out your answers until you understand the questions.  Here are the questions you can consider:

Am I interested in learning how to understand the connection between my thoughts and my feelings?

Am I committed to becoming the best version of myself?

Am I ready to simplify what is most challenging for me?

Am I open to learning how to actually DO what it is that I SAY I want to do that will improve my life?

Am I confused, frustrated, and overwhelmed by the demands of life in the 21st Century and want a simple set of tools to know how to handle everything that happens to me?

Does technology and social media create stress in my life and make me feel genuinely disconnected rather than authentically connected?

Have I lost sight of what success and happiness really means for me?


What am I waiting for before I go for what I really want?



If you are open minded, curious, inquisitive about personal change and ready to achieve what you truly desire, you will find working with me is a unique experience.


People describe me as  authentic, intelligent, funny, smart, intuitive with years of experience as a therapist and educator and unlike anyone they have ever worked with before.


I brings all of my skills as an teacher and counselor to each and every meeting.

My primary goal is to ask authentic and deep questions of my clients about their thoughts, feelings, beliefs and experiences of themselves and their lives.

All the work is based on the history of brain development and Plan C Strategies, an intelligent approach for handling the components of life in the 21st century and achieve happiness and success.


I am committed to bringing these tools so that they are understood, digested and implemented easily by everyone of all ages.


Another skill I am known for is my ability to hear the underlying messages that people are communicating and verbally reframe what I hear so that clients gain insight into their desires quickly.

I approach teaching using a differentiated learning style — e.g. I  assess individual learning styles and teach in that modality be it verbal, auditory, visual etc. — so that anyone can understand how they best learn how to apply Plan C Strategies to their lives immediately.

I am available to speak live to groups of all kinds.  I strive to be a dynamic presenter and enjoy the give and take with a wider audience.

For those who are interested in “personal graduate school”,  I work with a select group of people on an intensive basis* (Plan C Strategies Concierge Consulting).  You can also hire me on an hourly basis to discuss specific issues, personal and or professional.  This work happens in person, on the phone, Skype, and FaceTime.  All of my work is appropriate for all people, ages 5 to 117.

An advertisement for Infiniti cars, early 1990’s.  It could also be an ad for Joanne Dougan, M.Ed.  

*A one hour (no charge) interview is required to be considered to become a Plan C Strategies Concierge Consulting client.